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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Your writing is a timely blessing! I have been encouraged at the timing of things I had already been thinking about today, and I opened the email with your article at “just the right time.” Words of confirmation.
Thank you for sharing!
I’m so glad this served as confirmation for you and came at just the right time! I just love how God works like that. Thank you for your kind words, and you are so welcome! Blessings!
Thank you Carina ! This article of yours has inspired me to be patient knowing that if my desire is from God – it will happen in His timing, I just need to be patient and trust Him fully !
Hi Gina! You’re welcome, and thanks for reading! I’m so glad it inspired you. Praying blessings as you trust Him and wait on His timing!
I have been widowed for 27 years and have lived in my home for 36 years. My desire now and for a long time has been to move and begin a new life. I have been fearful and longing at the same time. I read your article and it literally has given me hope and encouragement. Thank you Keep up the good work. By the way, I am a retired professional counselor and loved the work.
Thanks so much for your kind words and for reading! I get what you said about that combination of fear and longing. It reminds me of a quote from C.S. Lewis that has stuck with me. In The Silver Chair when he’s describing Jill and Eustace as they’re about to enter Narnia, he wrote, “Although she had been longing for something like this, Jill felt frightened.”
Our dreams can be a little scary sometimes, but when they are from God, something truly wonderful is on the other side of that leap of faith, and God is so faithful to see us through. I’m so glad that my article has given you hope and encouragement. I pray that as you continue to seek God He will open doors for you and move you into a fresh new season. And so fun that you were a counselor too!
Many blessings in Christ,
I just chanced upon your article and related ones on this topic. Recently God has given me a very strong desire for a lady in my church for months and I have tried to ask God many times to take it away from me if it is not his will for us to be together. I have struggled with rejection and the hurt from it for almost all my life, first from my family and then other crushes with girls I had in church, so I definitely do not want to go down the same route again as this would definitely affect my walk with God especially if I start my her my idol and having delusional fantasies. Yet after these few months of interaction with her (we have known each other and talked to one another for years, especially so during the COVID-lockdowns), I began to see signs that she is always open, frank and responsive to me, and perhaps some indication of interest on her part too.
It was really an assurance for me as for the bulk of my 20s I have always yearned for a relationship and a spouse – these are definitely not ungodly desires on their own.
The path for searching for love or love that was missing in my life had led me astray so many times – even seeking strange relations, un-natural affection (same-sex) and a even a brief period of fornication. Thank God he sent my mom to intervene and Thank God I stopped within a month. Pornography then became an outlet and I have struggled with quitting it for years even while I was becoming more active and even serving in various fellowship groups in my church.
On hindsight I know that God has a time and place for everything (cf Ecclesiastes 3), and I was definitely not ready to be in a committed relationship. Even now, I still have doubts If I am even ready to take the lead and be responsible for and to another person in my life if I just started crawling out of that unhealthy addiction. Yet, somehow God just led me to ask her to meet up for lunch to confess to her this coming Saturday and she immediately said yes for the meet-up. I guess if the desire is godly, according to his will (she is a like-minded believer, shown characteristics of a born-again Christian), and the only final part is if she says yes (cooperative will of God).
Thank you so much for this article and for giving me the encouragement and assurance on this matter. Do pray for me!
Hi Nick! Thanks so much for your comment, and I’m so glad to hear that this article has been helpful to you!
And thank you for sharing about your journey. I can understand how past hurts and struggles contribute to how you are feeling, but I also hear how you are committed to seeking God and following His will, even when it takes courage, and I really admire that, and I know God honors that too.
I will definitely pray for you as you continue seeking God and continue to get to know this special woman. May God continue His restorative work in your life, may you have hope for your future, and “may he give you the desire of your heart” (Psalm 20:4) in His perfect time!