Desire. It lives within us. It drives us and can consume us. In and of itself, it is not wrong, although it can be. Scripture tells us that “after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:15). This kind of desire, which leads to death, is desire gone awry, desire that is outside of God’s good and proper order. It pays no heed to the laws of God and in my experience, usually springs from a warped and short-sighted understanding of reality, demanding instant gratification. It is desire that will not wait, but rebels or ignores God in order to obtain its object.
Because of this, we can give the word “desire” a negative connotation. We feel we need to repent of it, as if it was wrong to want. As sinful beings, our desires can’t be trusted, but must be stamped out. And so, we go about trying to deny that we long for anything. We can live in fear of wanting. The truly righteous must be those who have successfully beat down their desires, locking them away so they can serve God fully.
I would like to suggest, though, that it is easier to attempt to kill our desires than to face them. To live openly with the depth of our longings, makes us incredibly vulnerable. It takes far greater faith and strength to allow ourselves to desire fully and deeply, all the while waiting upon God to supply fully and deeply, than it does to smother and deny the the reality of our desires.
Indeed, Scripture tells us that the righteous are not emotionless robots who want nothing and think only of duty, but that they do have desires, desires which God promises to fulfill. He tells us that “what the righteous desire will be granted” (Proverbs 10:24) and that “the desire of the righteous ends only in good” (Proverbs 11:23).
So we see that desires are not wrong. On the contrary, God created us to have them and He wants to use them for our good. So what to do we make of desires that are not granted? Do we conclude that it must have been sinful to want them? Did we want them too much?
We can often feel that way, that God is somehow unhappy with the strength of our wanting. We can see God as a stingy miser in the sky, who delights in withholding from us the things we want most. The truth is that God is just the opposite. It is He “who satisfies our desires with good things” (Psalm 103:5). The picture that Scripture paints of God is that He is rich in love and mercy and that He delights, not to withhold His riches, but to pour them out to do good for those whose hope is in Him. He lovingly says no to some of our good desires because He eagerly desires to give us something far greater.
So I wonder if it is not that we want too much, but that we do not want enough. Maybe God frowns not upon the fact that we want, but that we want so little when He wants to give us so much more. C.S. Lewis understood this saying, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too week. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Perhaps then, God refuses some of our desires not to kill them, but to refine them, awakening them and directing them to higher and more worthy objects and pursuits. He says no to things we want, not so that He can deprive us, but so that He can give us more of Himself, the infinitely merciful and loving, the supremely majestic and worthy, the altogether good and righteous God. Thus in answer to the deepest desires of our hearts, we receive a far greater treasure than we sought: “Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).