Not everything we desire is worth pursuing:
A key biblical truth has to do with what we desire, what we seek, what we wish for. We can desire good things or bad things. Which one we desire makes all the difference in the world. This is true both of believers and non-believers. Let me look at one classic biblical example of this. It involves ancient Israel, and their craving for food.
We have at least two descriptions of this. Just after the exodus, the people have already started complaining about the good old days back in Egypt. What great food they had there, while now as they wander in the wilderness, it is slim pickings. As we find in Exodus 16:2-3:
“And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger’.”
The chapter goes on to discuss how God graciously provided for them manna. But when we get to Numbers 11, we find that the Israelites are STILL whining about food. They are still complaining, and they are still wanting to go back to Egypt to have some ‘real food’. They were already sick and tired of God’s provision of manna.
As we read in verses 4-5: “Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, ‘Oh that we had meat to eat!’ We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.”
After way too much complaining and ingratitude, God finally acted. He gave them what they desired, but it was judgment, not blessing. As we find in verses 31-34:
Then a wind from the Lord sprang up, and it brought quail from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, around the camp, and about two cubits above the ground. And the people rose all that day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail. Those who gathered least gathered ten homers. And they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck down the people with a very great plague. Therefore the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had the craving.
Wow, that should serve as a warning to us all. And the rest of Scripture refers back to this incident more than once. Much of Psalm 78 for example has to do with this story. Verse 18 says this: “They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.” And in verses 26-31 we read:
He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens,
and by his power he led out the south wind;
he rained meat on them like dust,
winged birds like the sand of the seas;
he let them fall in the midst of their camp,
all around their dwellings.
And they ate and were well filled,
for he gave them what they craved.
But before they had satisfied their craving,
while the food was still in their mouths,
the anger of God rose against them,
and he killed the strongest of them
and laid low the young men of Israel.
Psalm 106 also speaks about this sad episode in Israel’s history. This is what it says in verses 13-15:
But they soon forgot his works;
they did not wait for his counsel.
But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness,
and put God to the test in the desert;
he gave them what they asked,
but sent a wasting disease among them.
Verse 15 in the KJV is one of the more memorable versions of this biblical truth: “And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” That should serve as a very important lesson to every single one of us. Watch out for what you wish for.
One more psalm can be mentioned here. Psalm 81:10-12 puts it this way:
I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
But my people did not listen to my voice;
Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
to follow their own counsels.
Again we see this idea of God giving folks what they really desire – to their own severe detriment. And this idea of God giving people over to their lusts and evil desires is also found in the New Testament. Indeed, we find similar terminology being used there. For example, Paul in Romans 1:18-32 speaks about sinful, rebellious mankind. Three times in verses 24-28 he speaks of God giving them over to their evil lusts:
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
The rest of the Bible often speaks of evil and ungodly desires. Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:1-6 for example looks back to the complaining Israelites in the wilderness and uses what happened to them as a warning to us believers today. He says this:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.
Let me mention just one more passage on evil desire, which is rather all-inclusive. I refer to 1 John 2:15-16: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
Watch out for your strong desires. But, some might protest, what about Psalm 37:4? That well-known verse says this: “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Of course it all comes down to one’s main motivations and intentions. Is what we desire all about pleasing and glorifying God, or is it just about serving our own selfishness and greed?
The point is, there are good and bad desires, and we all need to discern just what it is that we are wishing for. We can desire the wrong things so much, that in the end, God will grant us our wishes – but to our own detriment. It WILL send leanness to our souls. It will be a curse, not a blessing.
But we certainly should have godly desires and wishes. These are always worthwhile. And if you are wondering just what good and godly desires might look like, try these out for starters. David said this in Psalm 73:25: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” Or as he said in Psalm 27:4:
One thing I have desired of the Lord,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord,
And to inquire in His temple.
And consider some of the things the Apostle Paul desired. Here are just a few of them:
Romans 10:1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.
1 Corinthians 12:31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
1 Timothy 2:8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;
1 Timothy 3:1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.
Let me encourage you to do a bit of Bible study here. As part of your personal concordance, draw up a list of what Scripture says about desires and wants and cravings. It can be broken down into three parts at least:
-Things that God desires.
-Things that we should desire (godly desires).
-Things that we should not desire (evil desires).
And as you compile and study these lists, make it a matter of prayer as well.