Christian Living

What is your heart’s desire?

We all have them. They may be wishes on a wish list. Or we call them dreams and talk about “my dream holiday” or “our dream home”. The poet Longfellow wrote of “longings wild and vain”.[1] The Bible speaks in Psalm 37 about “the desires of our hearts”.

Some people have clearly defined ambitions. CS Lewis splendidly described the ambition to get inside what he called ‘The Inner Ring’, to be accepted into a particular group, an outsider no longer.[2]

Can you identify your heart’s desires—the things that rank as priorities in your life?

Once you have put your hand to the plough of discipleship, said the Lord Jesus in Luke 9, don’t look back. Alternatives to Christ as our first focus are alluring and countless and deceitful. As 2 Timothy 3 says, some religious people love themselves and money and pleasure more than they love God. Commenting on Numbers 11 Calvin wrote: “Such is the malignity and ingratitude of men that they count all God’s bounty for nothing, whilst they are brooding over their own importunate lusts”.[3] The Bible provides many examples of this.

An unvarying diet of manna, miraculously provided daily, caused grumbling among God’s people. They longed for meat. What happened? As Psalm 106 recounts, God gave them what they asked, but they suffered for it.

God is your King, protested Samuel to his people when, wanting to conform to the patterns of surrounding nations, they called for an earthly monarch. 1 Samuel 8 tells the story. No good will come of it, if you have your way, Samuel warned. And so it proved when God granted their request.

Those who craved praise in the time of Jesus were ostentatious in their prayers and giving and fasting, as Matthew 6 makes clear. They received people’s praise—but no blessing from the Lord.

It is a common experience that we set our hearts on things that so dominate our hopes that we cannot rest until we get them. Then the appetite dies, often leaving a residue of regret or even guilt.

We would much prefer a residue of joy. But joy is an inappropriate goal. It is a by-product, a consequence of pursuing a higher priority. When the psalmist says in Psalm 40 “I delight to do your will, O God”, he means in part that his happiness is the fruit of obedience. Joy and disobedience never go together; disobedient Christians are miserable.

The opening question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism is “What is the chief end of man?”. And it gives the answer: “To  glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever”.[4] To what extent, we might ask ourselves, do I enjoy God?

Psalm 37:4 points us in the right direction: “Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your hearts”. The priority is clear, so is the consequence. Repeatedly Paul told the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord.

There is little enough reason to rejoice in our circumstances. Uncertainties abound. Even if we reached hedonistic or materialistic goals, the pleasure of achieving them would be short-lived anyway. Have you not experienced such dissatisfaction?

It is time for a change of focus. As the saying goes: look around and be distressed; look within and be depressed; look to Jesus and be at rest.

Did he not say in Luke 21 that when calamities alarm us we should look up and remember our redemption? And as Isaac Watts wrote:

God is the refuge of his saints

When storms of sharp distress invade;

Ere we can offer our complaints

Behold him present with his aid!

A year before his execution, William Tyndale courteously requested his prison’s governor to provide him with warmer garments and Hebrew texts. He concluded his letter: “…in return may you be granted your greatest desire, as long as it is consistent with the saving of your soul”.[5]

God instructs Christians in 1 Timothy 6 not to set their hopes on their assets, which are so vulnerable, but on God “who gives us richly all things to enjoy”. Let us count our blessings. Let us be thankful for the certainty of divine promises and power. Let us shift our attention away from this fallen world, shrouded in hopelessness, to our gracious Saviour “whose glories shine through endless days”.[6] He will not fail us or forsake us. Let us delight in him and pray that “among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found”.[7]

[1] Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ‘My Lost Youth’, 1855.

[2] CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, William Collins, London, 2013.

[3] John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries, vol. 3, Baker, Grand Rapids, 1979.

[4] The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647), accessed at (viewed 27 July 2020).

[5] GE Duffield (ed.), The Work of William Tyndale, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1965.

[6] Joseph Grigg’s hymn, ‘Jesus, and shall it ever be’, 1765.

[7] Hebrews 13:5; Book of Common Prayer, Collect for the fourth Sunday after Easter.