The longings of our heart

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Over many years, I learnt much about the area of ‘Identity’ from the Bible and as I worked through issues in this area of my heart. I also had the privilege of walking with others, as they delved this area of their hearts. I learnt how to work with my memories, wounds, beliefs and the resulting emotions and reactions, when these old wounds were triggered by life circumstances. It was comforting to experience Jesus bringing his healing touch to my soul and to witness others encountering him and finding freedom from their inner suffering.

But it was only a couple of years back, that I first began to learn about another even deeper level of the heart, that sits below Identity and influences its formation. It’s the area of Desire, which refers to the Longings or Needs of our heart. We’re all aware from time to time, of the deep longings of our heart – for love, significance, recognition, a sense of worth, belonging, freedom and so on. But what many of us are not aware of, are the ways in which the Bible speaks about this area. And how it’s such a crucial area of our hearts to which we need to pay attention, if we want to develop an intimate relationship with God.

A key Scripture which speaks directly about the topic of Desire, is James 4:1-4. Let’s take a look at what it says:

Jas.4:1-4 (RSV) “What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions (hedone) that are at war in your members? You desire (epithymeo) and do not have; so you kill. And you covet (zeloo) and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions (hedone).”

Below are some observations about this passage:

  • Overall, the passage is talking about desire—the cause of wars and fightings. The Greek words used in scripture for desire are translated differently in this passage (“desire”, “passion”, “covet”, “pleasures,” sometimes even “lust”) and that throws us off. In the passage above, I’ve highlighted all these different words for desire in bold face.
  • The outward problem that James is asking us to look at is conflict—wars, fighting and killing. To James, this is the outward symptom of a bigger internal problem—the thing that causes wars and fighting.
  • The cause of this outward problem is unmet desires. The problem is not that you have desires, but the way you try to fill them. (“You desire and do not have, so you…“)
  • When our desires are unmet, we take over trying to fill them, to the point where we fight to get what we want from the people around us. Surprisingly, James states here that interpersonal conflict has the same causes and outcomes as international conflict – you fight with your spouse for the same reasons your country fights wars.
  • James’ solution to the problem is to ask God to fill the desire with himself. If you lack peace, for instance, just ask God to give you his peace. You don’t have it because you’ve never asked. 
  • If you added the missing nouns to the last sentence in verse 2, You do not have [your desire] because you do not ask [God] [for your desire.]
  • Why do we try James’ solution and sometimes find it doesn’t work? What does it mean in this context to “ask wrongly?”
    We ask for a thing in this world we think will give us our desire. To “ask wrongly to spend it on your passions” is to ask God for a thing, outcome or relationship you think will fill your desire, instead of asking him to fill the desire with himself. For example, when we desire significance, we ask God for accomplishments (to fulfill my destiny!) instead of asking him how we are significant to him. The (good) thing or outcome we ask for is a substitute for God – an idol.


Take some time to sit with this passage and ask Jesus questions like:

  • Jesus, when I ask you for _____ (an outcome), what is my heart longing for, beneath it?
  • How do you want to fill my Desire for _____ (e.g. Peace) with yourself?
  • Jesus, if I never get _____(the outcome), how will you still fill my Desire for _____?


Credit: Image by Anastasia Gepp from Pixabay

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