Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart,” but this verse can lead to confusion. Does God give us the desires of our hearts or our hearts’ desires? And how do we discern the difference? Here are five questions to help you determine whether the desires of your heart are from God or not.
One of the biggest surprises of my life came on a moody September morning. I was five years into my career as a professional counselor, and I was deeply disappointed with my chosen vocation. Curled up on the chocolate-colored suede couch in my home office, I vented my frustration to God, daring to be brutally honest about how I felt.
To my astonishment, in the midst of my angsty, slightly angry prayer, I felt God reveal that I was not meant to be a counselor and that, instead, He was calling me to be a writer.
While I was surprised by how radically God was reorienting my life, I was perhaps most startled by the fact that God was calling me to do something I had actually wanted to do for a long time. Like many Christians, I was suspicious of my desires. I worried that what I wanted would distract me from God’s plan or that my desires might be self-indulgent or impractical. While I had dreamed of being a writer for years, these concerns kept me from pursuing that desire.
But that autumn epiphany and the journey God has taken me on since then have transformed my perspective. I now know that, rather than impulses to be automatically resisted, our dreams and desires are often signals God uses to lead us into His purposes and callings for our lives.
Of course, not everything we want is from God. So how can we tell when a desire is truly from Him? Here are five questions I’ve found helpful to ask when I’m trying to determine whether what I want lines up with what God wants.
1. WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT THE DESIRES OF MY HEART?
When assessing a desire, there’s no better place to start than God’s Word. Do you want to write poetry, design jewelry, or start a family? Study what the Bible says about your desire, and as you read and meditate, ask God to reveal whether what you want to do is what He is leading you into.
If what you want to do is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, search for underlying biblical principles that could pertain to the activity. For example, the Bible doesn’t talk directly about musical therapy as a career, but it does talk a lot about music.
Of course, if what you want is something the Bible condemns, such as retaliating against a family member who betrayed you or having a sexual relationship with someone you’re not married to, the answer is clear: The desire is not from God.
2. WHO HAVE I BEEN COMMUNING WITH?
How we spend our time has great power to shape our desires. In his book “Dreaming with God,” Bill Johnson illustrates this reality by explaining the meaning of the word desire. He says, “A good way to remember the intent of the word desire is to break it down by syllables. ‘De’ means ‘of.’ And ‘sire’ means ‘father.’ All desire is ‘of the father.’”
Johnson goes on to state that we can commune with God or with the devil. When we entertain thoughts about how we’ve been wronged, for example, we’re fellowshipping with our enemy, and that communion may father within us the desire to get revenge or withhold love. However, the reverse is also true: When we commune with God, holy, God-glorifying desires are formed within us.
Who and what we give our attention to has so much influence over us that, when it comes to determining the source of our desires, Johnson says the question shouldn’t be “Are my desires from God?” as much as it should be “With what or with whom, have I been in communion?”
As you consider your desire, think about who you’ve been spending time with. If you’ve been praying, reading the Bible, and worshiping God, there’s a good chance the desires in your heart are from Him. On the other hand, if you’ve been dwelling on past hurts, watching movies that promote immorality, or listening to someone who loves to gossip, proceed with caution. Before pursuing your desire, be sure to spend time with God and seek His guidance.
3. WHY DO I WANT WHAT I WANT?
When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a nuclear physicist. However, I eventually realized that the motives underlying this aspiration weren’t healthy. My desire to be a physicist was less about an authentic passion for science or a sense of God’s calling and more about my need to boost my self-esteem—I thought people would think I was smart if I was a scientist, and I imagined my perceived intelligence would earn me the approval I longed for.
As you assess your desire, dig deep to determine why you want what you want. If you want a new job, for example, is it because of the prestige it would afford or the extra money you would earn? Or do you want it because that job is an authentic expression of who you are and what you believe God has called you to do?
If, rather than being driven by superficial or unhealthy motivators such as status or fear, you determine that your desire is fueled by the longing to grow closer to God, steward your gifts, and bless other people, you’ve found another clue pointing to the possibility that your desire is God-given.
4. HAS MY DESIRE BEEN GROWING OVER TIME?
As I mentioned, long before I fully understood that God was calling me to be a writer, I had the desire to write. Over the years, that desire grew steadily stronger, until I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I felt like the ancient prophet Jeremiah who, speaking of his calling to preach God’s Word, said: “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9, NIV).
Does what you want feel like a burning flame that you can’t extinguish? If your desire is intensifying, this can be an indicator that the Holy Spirit is at work in your heart and He has something He wants to partner with you in doing.
5. HAVE I SURRENDERED MY DESIRE TO GOD?
In Proverbs 3:5-6, we’re promised that when we submit—or surrender—our ways to God, He will direct our paths. Surrender creates the atmosphere necessary to accurately perceive God’s leading. When we freely give our desires to God and choose to believe that He is good and has good plans for us, we can rest assured that He will confirm whether or not our desire is from Him. If, after having surrendered it, your desire persists, it may very well be that what you’re longing for is what God wants too.
ENJOY THE JOURNEY
Whether you want to write, like me, or paint, or teach, trust that, in His perfect time, God will confirm whether your desire is from Him. Meanwhile, remember that God cares more about deepening our relationship with Him than He does about us making the perfect decision. As you seek His guidance, I encourage you to release any worry, relax in His presence, and enjoy the journey!
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