The importance of desire

Buddhists believe that passions and desires lead only to trouble, and the way to peace is to attain a state in which we no longer have such longings.  Some Christians likewise seem to think that our desires and passions are inherently evil and should always be denied.  But that is not the picture we get from the Bible.  True, the Biblical writers do warn us that some passions are destructive and will lead us into sin if indulged, but they also speak of desire or longing in a positive sense.   The characters who populate the pages of Scripture are not weak, insipid, colourless, passionless wimps – they are people with strong emotions, who do not hesitate to express those emotions and desires.

Take Bartimaeus, for example.  He was a blind man who lived in the city of Jericho during Jesus’ lifetime, surviving by begging from passersby.  When  he heard that Jesus was on the road and heading his way, Bartimaeus cried out at the top of his lungs “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”   The people around him tried to get him to be quiet, but Jesus approached him and asked him what he wanted.   He then told Bartimaeus that his passionate shouting was an expression of faith, and rewarded that faith by healing him.

Jesus’ response to Bartimaeus is evidence that our problem is not desire, but wrongly directed desire.  God is not offended by the fact that we have passions or longings.  In fact, he created those desires and longings, and without them we cannot live.   Even the desires that get us into trouble are perversions of desires that were originally built into us by God.  The Devil is not creative enough to come up with anything truly new – he can only twist the desires that God originally placed in us into perverted forms, or tempt us to fulfil legimate desires in illegitimate ways.

As someone who ministers emotional healing to others, and as a passionate person with strong desires of my own, I have struggled to rightly understand this aspect of human nature, and have found little positive Christian teaching on the subject.  For centuries, in a well-intended desire to combat sin, much Christian teaching has implied that desires in themselves are evil and should be suppressed, but I have always known intuitively that this could not be the whole picture.  Recently I was delighted to find many helpful insights, and much encouragement, in a wonderful little book by Mike Bickle on the subject of desire.  It is titled The Seven Longings of the Human Heart and is available as a free download from International House of Prayer.

Bickle writes,

When we wake up in the morning, whether we realize it or not, we are being driven by innate desires that demand answers and refuse delay. These longings are inherent to us as human beings. We have longings, yearnings, placed deep within us by God, for the purpose of wooing us into His grace and presence. As we understand their origin in God, we begin to cooperate with these longings in accordance with His will. We find the answer to our longings in the One who put them in us.  (Mike Bickle, Seven Longings of the Human Heart, © 2006 Forerunner Books, p. 5)

Bickle then goes on to identify seven longings which, rightly understood and channeled, can propel us forward in a wholehearted pursuit of the God who made us :

  • the longing for the assurance that we are enjoyed by God
  • the longing to be fascinated
  • the longing to be beautiful
  • the longing to be great
  • the longing for intimacy without shame
  • the longing to be wholehearted and passionate
  • the longing to make a deep and lasting impact

My heart has been stirred and my understanding has been strengthened by reading this book.   I have been given fresh motivation to pursue God with my whole heart, and renewed confidence that this is what I was made for.  I would highly recommend it for any Christian believer but especially those who are intercessors, pastors or small group leaders.  Thank you, Mike Bickle.


3 thoughts on “The importance of desire”

  1. “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desire not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, we are like ignorant children who want to continue making mud pies in a slum because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a vacation at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
    -Clive Staples Lewis

    This, in fact, is the premise of John Piper’s book “Desiring God” which I heartily recommend to anyone wishing to be challenged to a deeper relationship with God.

  2. Thanks, Wes. I note that two of Piper’s books (“Desiring God” and “The Pleasures of God”), as well as other classics on this subject, are available for purchase from the IHOP on-line bookstore, as well as elsewhere I’m sure.

    Incidentally I didn’t mean to suggest that Mike’s book was the first on this subject. There have probably always been Christian writers and teachers who have understood the positive function of desire. It’s just that theirs has often been (or seemed to be) a minority voice in Christian teaching, and it is refreshing to find that this theme is being rediscovered in our day.

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