All of us know people who never stop wanting. They’re always after the next trend, the newest gadget, the latest fashion, the next promotion.
They’re like a dog chasing a porcupine. The hunt is exciting, but the catch doesn’t satisfy. And so they’re perpetually pursuing another challenge, a goal or a goodie they want even more than the last one they grabbed.
It’s easy to criticize people who want the wrong things. But some Christians are burdened by an unexpressed fear that it may be wrong to want anything. After all, the Bible lessons and sermons we’ve heard since childhood are replete with stories of selflessness and sacrifice. The very word desire is used most often in the New Testament when speaking of covetousness or lust.
James 1:14, 15 is a prime example. The passage warns us against a downward spiral toward ruin that begins with “evil desire.” The writer reminds us that our temptations do not originate with God but within ourselves. Once we are “dragged away” by the wrong that we want, this desire “gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
But the Greek word translated desire sometimes denotes good wants. Jesus told the disciples he desired to eat the Passover with them (Luke 22:14). Paul told the Romans he had been longing to see them (Romans 15:23). He wrote the Philippians that to live is Christ and to die is gain and admitted that his desire was “to depart and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23).
And so it seems that the downward staircase described by James—desire, sin, death—could be matched by an upward path whose first step is also desire.
A member of a Bible class I was leading last month expressed it well. “The upward staircase could be labeled desire, action, life,” she said. She reminded me of Steven Covey’s suggested “habit” for effective people, “Begin with the end in mind.”
The problem is never the fact that I want something. We can’t stop wanting, and if we’re honest, we’ll admit that we mostly do just what we want. So the issue for me is what do I want? The challenge is learning to want what God wants.
Wanting is something to be embraced, not feared. Every year, maybe even every day could begin with the question, “What do I want?” Filtered by biblical precept and followed by a plan for action, our answers to the question can lead us toward abundant life.