WARNING: This post is much longer than normal. For the quick answer, scroll to the bottom where it says “Conclusion,” and then come back when you have time to read the details!
Found this image online, loved it, can’t find the original artist. If you are the artist, I’ll gladly give you credit!
“I just read your original prayer post and the phrase about God wanting to give us the ‘desires of our heart’ towards the end is a concept I have been struggling with. I am not sure I believe it…is this something we should be hoping in as much as we seem to?” ~AH
This question was asked by a friend after reading an earlier post on prayer, and it’s probably one of the most important ones Christians should ask on the subject, because we have all thought about it one way or the other, but many of us are afraid to ask it out loud for fear of being seen as ungrateful or even ungodly.
Her actual message was much longer and full of the same struggles many of us have had when we’ve prayed for something over and over, but it doesn’t come to pass. Do we believe God wants to give us our heart’s desires like the Psalms say? I honestly don’t have a solid, waterproof answer. However, I can give you what I’ve found in my readings on the subject and hope it brings you something you didn’t have before.
First off, know that this is basically THE question Christians have struggled with throughout all our history: How much control does God have, how much does he exercise, etc. Theologians attached the word “sovereignty” to it, basically meaning “authority.” Most people agree he is “completely sovereign” (i.e. has ultimate authority). Where the disagreement lies is in how he uses that authority.
Christians in the “western church” (US, Europe, or regions heavily influenced by them) tend to believe – for the most part – God controls all. So if something bad happens, it’s to teach you a lesson. God has a blueprint that is followed by history in each detail, even down to the individual. So, if you pray for something and you don’t get it, then it must be because you didn’t have enough faith, or God didn’t want to give it to you, or there weren’t enough people praying with you, you did something bad and your prayer’s effectiveness is tainted, the color of your hair displeased God, whatever. Unfortunately it doesn’t take into account one very important and crucial variable…
God is battling evil. For whatever reason, he has decided to not handle it all himself, but to partner with humanity to bring about it’s destruction. There will be a time when God says “Ok, let’s wrap it up! Time to call the end and create a new heaven and earth,” and to some extent that happened through Christ, but not fully. Christ was the cornerstone that God built his entire strategy on for conquering evil. What’s left is putting the final bricks in place to complete the building.
We don’t know why he’s holding off. Peter (yes, the Peter who wrote some letters in the New Testament) see,s to think it is because he’s waiting for more believers (2 Peter 3:9), but when it comes down to it we are all just guessing at why he’s holding off. You just have to trust that’s he’s doing it for a good reason.
Now on to answering the question more specifically!
God DOES want to give you the desires of your heart, but here is something about that phrase: it is a verse that comes from poetry – the Psalms. Poetry is, by definition, exaggerated and hyperbolic. It is meant to communicate an ULTIMATE truth, not answer details about theology. This was true of ancient times and it’s true of poetry now. The underlying message of that line is God is FOR you, not working against you. But, when that is combined by preachers in today’s churches to “God is in absolute control,” you get something that’s a bit perverted: Since God wants to give you your hearts desires, and you didn’t get your heart’s desires, something is wrong with you (lifestyle, prayers, etc.). After all, the first part of that verse is that you have to delight in the Lord, so if you didn’t get the “desire” then you are not properly delighting in the Lord, right?!?
God is not a formula to be worked (“My Delight in God” + “My Desires” = “I Get What I Ask For”). He is not a genie to be wished from or a Santa Claus to submit wants to. He is a divine being who is trying to remain in relationship with us without taking over our minds and making the decisions for us. And so he must fight.
God is saddened by the state of the world. He is even MORE grieved than you are when you lose a child, a job, a boyfriend, a marriage. But he is working hard to get things right. The only other way to do it is remove free will and just make it all happen perfectly by controlling us like robots, but where’s love in that? Where is faith? Where’s the desire to be close to him as father and child? He desires these things more than an automated world, and so he must battle. He battles against disease, poverty, crime, hate, and hunger. At times, he even battles our desires! He battles our brokenness and our sorrow.
He battles evil.
But he doesn’t do it alone. He has chosen to work with humanity in partnership to make it happen. His church are the soldiers. He empowers us to work and expand the Kingdom, but he still works THROUGH us. He is not powerless – in fact, he is more powerful because he can still make the ultimate goals happen despite our resistance to work with him.
And so I finish with this: It is not a false hope. When the horrors happen in your life that you just don’t understand, it was not because God willed it or you didn’t work the prayer formula right, it is simply because the world is fallen and still in the process of being redeemed. Paul in Romans 8:22 talks about all of nature groaning in anticipation of that final redemption. From a Hebraic perspective, he sees the state of the world as tied directly to the state of humanity, and when man fell in Eden the world felt the effects. Disease, pride, death, all these evils entered at that time and made our lives difficult. And from that moment God began working to bring us back to him.
But it hasn’t happened fully yet.
Have your dreams. Work for them. But if they don’t happen, just remember:
God is more interested in your heart than in your dreams.
He is more interested in having a relationship with you than making your perfect life happen. If people turn away because they didn’t get everything their heart desired, they’ve misunderstood what God is trying to do. He is not granting wishes, not giving gifts to the good boys and girls, not giving desires as trade for your love and support, not bribing people for their faith with “happy lives,” and DEFINITELY not punishing people for making mistakes by causing misfortunes.
He is at war and trying to redeem the world one heart at a time.
That is the most I can offer as an answer. It is not fully understood by anyone why this stuff happens, but that is the best one I’ve come across so far. I like it because it shows God’s heart to both be in relationship with us but also recognize that the relationship is with the world at large as well as with us individually. It helps me to know that when something crappy happens, he’s as disappointed as I am. But it also helps me to know that he has chosen to work WITH us in making the good things happen rather than remove the relationship part.
Being on God’s side does not mean we get the perfect life, but it does mean we get him. Because of Christ, we are not condemned for our sins. We are not left stranded in our broken state. We are given a community of believers – a body – to help lift us through hard times and for us to help in return.
So my questions for you are:
How are you helping the fight?
Who are you lifting up around you?
In what ways are you treating God like a wish granting genie instead of carrying out the desires of HIS heart?
Don’t focus on what you’re not getting. Instead, focus on what you could be doing.
~If you got something from this post, you may also consider:
You might also really enjoy reading Gregory Boyd‘s “God at War” or “Satan and the Problem of Evil.” These books really opened my eyes to what might be going on around me that I don’t see, and both are in my Gold Star Collection.