By: Emily Miller
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial.
“I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.”
1 Corinthians 6:12
I, like you, am a creature of desire. At any given moment I can have several different and often conflicting desires: I want a lean, strong physique and to eat whatever I want. I want to be a Christ-like servant and to do whatever I want. I want to speak wisely and to say whatever I want; even if that leaves you crushed in the wake of my carelessness.
The list could go on and, depending on which desire is winning out, you might experience me as the gentle friend or the relentless antagonist; the generous host or the self-centered recluse; the affectionate, encouraging wife or the nagging, selfish one. All of those are me.
I used to treat time with Jesus as just another desire. I would wait for my desires to spiral me toward spending time with Jesus. I would neglect seeking Him until I so felt like it. I excused my impulse-driven relationship with Jesus by viewing any worship of Him that I didn’t feel like doing as inauthentic, maybe even hypocritical.
In this way of seeing things, I placed desire over Christ and was surprised when desire proved itself to be a cruel god. My desires ruled me and left me dissatisfied and guilty. So, I would swing between trying to control my emotions with strict rules to weakly surrendering to whatever urge happened to come along.
Eventually I surrendered to Jesus. I learned to submit my desires to Him by reading the Bible every morning whether I felt like it or not and I learned several things about desire along the way:
1) Long-term Good is Often at Odds with Short-term Impulse
I’m not often consumed with an over-powering urge to eat vegetables. I don’t weakly give in and exercise for an hour. I don’t need a plan to successfully eat a whole pizza. I don’t need to be intentional to binge-watch Netflix.
Impulses invite me to do what I want now and suffer the consequences later. Self-control leads me to resist the power of my impulses and reap the long-term benefits.
Don’t wait for an impulse to spend time with Jesus. Impulses don’t often work like that.
2) Desires are Powerful: Good and Bad
Every day I have lots of small and big desires that go off in every possible direction. I want to pet my fluffy cat, clean my house, and eat a bag of Reese’s. I want to love my children well and to be left alone by them. Desires can be anywhere from good to evil and their consequences can be anywhere from harmless to life-changing.
If desire is in control of me, I follow my heart and go where it takes me. Desire can fuel my love for my husband or send me chasing after some other man; leaving a wreckage of divorce, betrayal, and pain as I chase after them. Desire overwhelms with a promise that I’ll be satisfied once I get whatever, or whoever, I happen to want at the moment. But desire is not contentment; she loses interest in her objects almost as soon as you finally have them. Desire is cyclical and so are her consequences if you follow wherever she leads.
If Christ controls my desire, I have the freedom to evaluate desire instead of just obeying it.
I use my quiet time as an opportunity to tell Jesus about the desires I notice in my heart. I evaluate them according to what His word says and then surrender them to Jesus as an act of worship. I trust Him and want to obey Him in spite of all the other things I might also want from day to day. He’s the One Who can help me and He knows everything about me already; I’m not going to shock Him.
3) My Desires Can Change
God makes plants grow, and gardeners simply know how to fertilize, water, and place the plant in sunlight to help the process along. Good gardeners also know to prune off diseased or unhelpful parts to make the plant healthy and strong.
God made me, saved me and is sanctifying me by His mighty power and complete goodness. He has given me some responsibility in tending the desires of my soul. I’m told to die to myself again and again in His word. While I can’t control what desires come my way, I can nurture the desires that are good for me and snip off the desires that destroy me.
I still like junk food but it’s a lot less appealing if my stomach’s full of veggies. It’s my job to hide the bag of Reese’s in a cabinet so that it doesn’t stir up my appetite for what won’t fill my stomach with the what it really needs. Over time carrots start tasting sweet and candy starts tasting too sweet.
The same thing is true of my soul: if I fill up my soul with scripture, worship, and prayer; my desire for sin gets weaker. As I run to Jesus, temptation becomes less appealing as my desire starts craving the One Who truly satisfies my thirsty soul.
With Christ as Lord of my affections, I’m slowly learning to live with my full-range of desires without being owned by them. I’m tasting the freedom of doing what is beneficial for me eternally. As God’s Word redirects my desires toward what is lovely, good, and eternal, I see my impulses weaken and my contentment growing. It’s easier and easier to go to Jesus each morning and let my small desires die, asking for desires big enough to embrace all the joy He offers.
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are halfhearted 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 the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” C.S. Lewis
Emily is a mother of two young children and has little time for much else. She began a daily quiet time at age thirteen, and her relationship with Jesus has remained a constant for Emily as she went from being a missionary kid in Mongolia, to working as a barista in Oregon, to marrying and starting a family in Florida. Emily enjoys writing poetry, dancing while doing housework, watching storms, and laughing at her husband, children, and herself.