For about nine months I followed my diet perfectly. I went out of my way to choose healthy foods. Sometimes it meant bringing my own meal to a Christmas party or eating nothing while my friends indulged in desert.
But one day my will power ran out. I guess I had just had enough of the healthy routine. It started with one piece of candy. Then, chips and salsa. Soon, I entertained a piece of chocolate cake –and then another piece of chocolate cake (on the same night). It’s as if my desires had been reawakened after months of hibernation.
Here’s an earth-shattering thought: We act according to our strongest desire. I know, it sounds simple. But this little thought has powerful implications.
No matter what you are doing right now, your action is directly correlated with your strongest desire. In simple terms, it means that we eat when we are hungry, stop when we are full, and smile when we are happy.
Of course, very few (if any) of our actions are that simple. You may not eat when you are hungry. I skipped many free cookies over the past year because my desire to be healthy was greater than my desire for a snack.
Here’s another example: Imagine you spot a young man in a flower shop purchasing a dozen roses. Do you think his greatest desire is to own twelve red flowers? Probably not. But, his actions (purchasing roses) are determined by his greatest desire (pleasing his girlfriend).
What about times when you might say, “I really don’t want to do this,” or “This isn’t what I chose to do”? In those situations, the action itself may not be your greatest desire, but that the action is dictated by your greatest desire. That’s why parents work second jobs to put their children through college.
We could continue the discussion by trying to identify the thousands of desires that work together in shaping our decisions and actions, but the basic idea always comes back to the fact that we act according to our strongest desire.
By the way, God designed us this way for a purpose. His desire is that He would be our greatest desire.
Jesus referred to this concept when He said, ““The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). The man found something that fulfilled his (and our) greatest desire –the desire for joy. The result is that he was more than happy to sell everything for the sake of joy.
The problem is that our hearts are already set on other affections and we are blinded to the joy to be found in the treasure of Christ. Because we are born into sin, we desire sinful things that exalt ourselves rather than desiring the glory of God.
Here’s the challenge. If our desires and affections dictate our actions, how can we change our desires? The simple answer: we can’t.
That’s why diets eventually fail when our desire for unhealthy foods outweighs our desire for a slimmer waistline –you can only psyche yourself up for so long. Will power is never a permanent solution.
The Bible explains the difficulty of changing our desires by referring to our hearts as “hearts of stone” in Ezekiel 11:19. In this passage God condemns Israel for not changing their hearts when they heard his Word.
But wait, isn’t that unfair of God to condemn them for something they are powerless to overcome? Sure, it would be unfair, except for the fact that man chose to become a slave to sin when he sinned in the garden. It is our own fault. And, to be just, God is condemning our condition. This concept is sometimes referred to as the “Old Covenant” in which God told man to obey or die (Genesis 2:17).
But that’s not the end of the story. God doesn’t just leave man helpless. Instead, God continues the conversation by saying, “I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them.”
In other words, God says I will change their desires by replacing their stone cold hearts with soft receptive hearts that desire Me. This concept is called the “new covenant.”
The new covenant changes a rebellious sinful heart into the heart of Christ, whose chief desire is to glorify God in all things. This heart transplant does not come without a cost, however. Because our rebellious hearts deserve death, Christ died in our place. His sacrifice absorbed Gods wrath on our behalf making a substitution possible.
And that’s where we come back to desires. In the Garden, the night before his arrest, Christ prayed expressing that dying on a cross was not His greatest desire. However, His strongest desire was to do whatever pleased the Father. “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). It was “for the joy that was set before him [that he] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2) and through his blood we now enter into the new covenant Ezekiel had prophesied about (I Corinthians 11:25).
Christ’s greatest desire is to please the Father by making our greatest desire to please the Father as well.
So if you struggle with a particular sin or a recurring pattern in your life that doesn’t please God, remember, will power is not the answer. You need a change in desires that you cannot perform. Instead, you must rely upon the power of God to perform the change within you.
That doesn’t mean you just sit back passively and wait for your desires to change. King David, when facing the same dilemma of the heart, prayed for God to change his desires:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:10-12)
His desire was not for will power, but a willing spirit. And he wouldn’t be satisfied with new habits, but only with soul-satisfying joy.
I don’t know about you, but I have a desire for that kind of desire!