Monday, 10 January 2011

Desire and direction

Elizabeth Elliot writes, ‘For a long time I took the view that whatever I might want to do could not possibly be what God wanted me to do … A better understanding of Scripture has shown me that even I, chief of miserable offenders that I know myself to be, may now and then actually want what God wants. This is likely to be the case more and more as I practice obedience …’ Oswald Saunders refers to the ‘myth’ that if there is something we want to do desperately, the likelihood is that God won’t want us to do it.’ As we have seen from texts like Ezekiel 36:26 and Philippians 2:13 God works in our wills so that we can expect that often what we want to do coincides with what God wants us to do.

So, for example, in the Old Testament Nehemiah told people of what God had put in my heart concerning the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls (Neh. 2:12) and in the New Testament the apostle Paul told the church at Corinth of how God put into the heart of Titus the same concern that I have for you (1 Cor. 8:16). At times we may use the language having a burden for someone or some course of action. As one writer puts it, ‘there will be grace within us that drives us to reach out to those for whom God has burdened us.’

However, I want to sound a word of caution. Not every desire to do something that is good is an indication that God is calling us to do that particular thing. King David had it on his heart to build the temple, and God commended him for this desire of his heart, but nevertheless it was not God’s will that David would build the temple (2 Chronicles 6:8-9). A desire to do a good thing may not necessarily be God’s directing to take that particular action.

A more common problem in using desires in determining God’s guidance is the problem we face of mixed and selfish motives. The New Testament teaches that the Christian struggles with a battle of desires. There are the desires of the sinful nature (Gal. 5:16) and those desires consistent resulting from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (see Gal. 5:17). Rather humorously John White points out that ‘[i]t would be simple if only we consistently desired the opposite of what God wanted. In that case guidance would consist in doing all the things we hated and avoiding everything we liked. God’s will would be easy enough to follow, but hardly pleasant.’ As well as the problem of sinful desires there is the struggle with understanding our desires. Again, John White says that half the time when we need guidance, we don’t even know what are true desires are.

So to conclude this thought on desire as a means of direction I want us to note three points:
(1) God influences the will of his people and at times places people or issues on a person’s heart. This means that God may be using our desires as a means to guide us.
(2) The ongoing struggle with the sinful nature means that we need to carefully examine our desires. Jim Elliff points out that, a ‘concerted effort to rid ourselves of selfish desires as they relate to our decision is foundation.’ Similarly Bruce Waltke points to the importance of walking close to the Lord so that he is shaping your desires and highlights the need to develop a heart for God.
(3) Finally, the fact that even a good desire for a good thing is not necessarily an certain indication that God is directing a person to a particular action means that desires need to be complimented by other means of determining God’s guiding. Therefore, if we have a desire for something that seems to be commendable this should prompt us to explore the possibility that God may be seeking to lead them in a particular direction but it does not necessarily determine that this is what we are to do.

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