Q&A: The Desires of My Heart

The Desires of My Heart

Question

I have known my Lord Jesus for quite some time. I am part of a church and basically everything is fine there also. However, I was concerned about the desires of my heart. You see this desire directly relates to my future ministry. Well, I was going to ask God directly for an answer to this question, but maybe that is a bit drastic. Maybe you can help me out:

  • Proverbs 10:24 states that the desire of the righteous shall be granted.
  • Proverbs 11:23 states that the desire of the righteous is only good.
  • Psalm 37:4 states that he shall give me the desires of my heart
  • Psalm 84:11 states the God will withold no good thing from them that walk uprightly. Now, I can't say I walk uprightly and perfectly every day of my life, but I can affirm that I do walk full rightly in his righteousness. I hope this is enough!
  • John 16:24 states that if I ask in his name I will recieve, that my joy may be full.
  • 1 John 3:22 states that whatsoever we ask of him we recieve them of him, for we do the things which are pleasing in his sight.
But here is where it all falls down: "And this is the confidence we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us" (1 John 5:14). So how do I know my desires are in line with his will? How can having a godly desire in one's heart guarantee that it is automatically acceptable and will be fulfilled by God? Doesn't his will count for anything?

Answer

First and foremost, please let me encourage you always to approach God boldly. You need never fear that going directly to God in prayer is too drastic.

Regarding the Bible's teaching on the desires of our hearts, we are told a variety of things. The picture is rather complex. On the one hand, as fallen, sinful people our desires are corrupted and sinful (Jer. 17:9). Our hearts are the source of great evil (Gen. 8:21; Matt. 15:18-20; Mark 7:20-23). Even as redeemed believers our hearts still are not perfected (Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17) until we die. On the other hand, the Bible teaches us that as believers our hearts are renewed and improving (Phil. 2:13). Because we can desire good things as well as evil, we struggle with sin, even in our desires (Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17).

Therefore, we cannot assume simply on the basis that we are saved that any particular desire is good. Neither can we assume simply on the basis that our salvation is not yet complete that any particular desire is evil. The best way we have to determine the good or evil of our desires is to compare them to Scripture, but in doing this we must also consider every other factor in Scripture. Our desires may have good and bad aspects. For example, desiring to go into the ministry may be a good thing, but not if we desire to do so for power or fame.

Further, we must understand that much of what the Bible teaches about God granting our desires is not absolute. In the verses you provided, you may notice that many of them are from poetic sections of the Bible such as Proverbs and Psalms. Poetry tends to be hyperbolic (it uses exaggeration as a literary device). Also, Proverbs do not state absolute truths; they state proverbial wisdom, things that may apply in a given situation, but which require wisdom and discernment in their application. This is why proverbs sometimes even contradict one another, such as when they tell us both to answer a fool according to his folly and not to answer a fool according to his folly (Prov. 26:4-5). Either may be the wise thing to do, and only wisdom can recognize which one to do in any given situation. When we base doctrine on these kinds of passages, and when we apply them to our lives, we must be very careful that we understand them correctly.

Moreover, we must also recognize that some of these passages offer great blessings (e.g. granting the desires of our hearts) if we obey God and are righteous (e.g. Pss. 37:4; 84:11). But the fulfillment of these offers will never be fully realized in this life. This is because:
  1. The offers are part of the blessings of God's covenant.
  2. Jesus Christ is the only perfect covenant keeper, and the only one who inherits the covenant blessings for himself (Gal. 3).
  3. Jesus shares the covenant blessings with us, but we cannot partake of them fully until the end of the age when Jesus himself has finally defeated all his enemies (1 Cor. 15:23-26).
The offers are genuine, but notice that nowhere does the Bible promise that they will be totally fulfilled right now. We are given a foretaste (Rom. 8:18-24), but not the full blessing. This is why people who certainly walked uprightly did not receive the full blessings of the covenant in this life. Consider Paul, who held himself up as an example for our own conduct (Phil. 3:17) -- God let him suffer, and did not take away his "thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor. 12:7-9). This is why all who walk uprightly still have yet to be glorified. Even Jesus himself has not yet received all the covenant blessings -- the world is not yet restored (Rom. 8:23-24; Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:20), and his final enemies are not yet defeated (1 Cor. 15:23-26). The desires for these things are good, but it is not God's good pleasure to grant them now.

We also must factor in God sovereignty. God controls circumstances according to his will and for our good (Rom. 8:28-30), but he does not always do so in ways that make sense to us. For example, he did not permit Paul to preach the gospel in Asia or Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7). It would seem that such evangelizing would have been in keeping with the command to make disciples of all the nations (Matt. 28:19). Nevertheless, God was not pleased to allow Paul to do this work.

Regarding answers to our prayers, John 16:24 is not a promise that all our prayers will be answered as we desire, but rather an encouragement to pray in Jesus' name, and an assurance that God was concerned for the joy of the apostles (and by extension also for our joy). In John 14:13-14, Jesus asserts something a bit stronger, namely that God will grant whatever the disciples ask. But this assurance is not for all believers -- it was part of the apostolic gifting that the disciples received in order to witness to their authority and the authority of their message. John 14:12 in some translations misleads people from this meaning, sometimes appearing to teach that the promise applied to "anyone who has faith" -- but this is not really what the Greek says. Rather, it literally says "the one who has faith." In this context, the assumed audience is the disciples. If any of them ask in faith, their prayers will be answered.

In 1 John 3:22-23, John extends to all believers the offer that God will grant the requests of those who obey him, who believe in Christ and love one another. But this is not for the purpose of establishing authority, and it is not absolute -- it does not say "always," nor does it include any other qualifier that would suggest such prayers will be answered without fail. The point is rather that we may ask anything of God -- no request is too big or too small -- and God may grant any such request. But the fact that God is willing to grant any kind of request does not obligate God to fulfill every actual request. The scriptural examples of prayers by righteous men which God denied demonstrates that God does not always do what the righteous ask, or even what the apostles asked (e.g. Dan. 9:4ff.; Acts 26:29; 2 Cor. 12:7-9).

In conclusion, you can't really know for certain that your desires are God's will, and you can't be absolutely sure that God will grant your prayers in the way you want him too. You can only do your best to understand his will in Scripture, and to recognize his will for your life when you see it. We live in faith and dependence, pursuing wisdom and righteousness, and yet sinning and erring continually. When questions of great significance arise, the best things to do are to seek the counsel of wise people and the prayers of righteous people, to pray, sometimes even to fast, and to seek God's will in Scripture. There is no guarantee that this will bring you to the right conclusion or to a pleasant one, but it is a much better way than just trusting your desires. Eventually, of course, you must make some decisions, no matter how hard they seem. As Henri Frederic Amiel put it, "The man who insists upon seeing with perfect clearness before he decides, never decides."

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.