I recall the years of struggling with sexual addiction and calling out to God to take away the sexual desires, and wondering why He didn’t. After all, I thought, this was my struggle and God is supposed to help me to overcome my struggles! I did not realize that I was asking God to make me less of a human than he created me to be.
I was asking God to remove or help me overcome something that is natural. To desire is to be human; it is how we were created.
As Henri Nouwen wrote: “Desire is often talked about as something we ought to overcome. Still, being is desiring: our bodies, our minds, our hearts, and our souls are full of desires. Some are unruly, turbulent, and very distracting; some make us think deep thoughts and see great visions; some teach us how to love; and some keep us searching for God.”
In a recent study, researchers from the University of Texas-Austin, Yale and UCLA have suggested that having too much desire is not what gets us into trouble; rather it is our lack of self-control that is the culprit.
“We all have these desires, but whether we act on them is a function of control,” says Sarah Helfinstein, a post-doctoral researcher at UT Austin and lead author of the study.
No wonder one of the New Testament themes regarding Christian character is self-control. It is not about trying to overcome or get rid of desires but learning how to exercise self-control over our God-given desires and fulfilling them in the ways God intended.
When our desires control us the end result is usually addiction of some kind. Desires left unchecked usually lead to us hurting ourselves and those around us. When our desires are not controlled, Henri Nouwen observes, “… our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls become one another’s enemies and our inner lives become chaotic, leading us to despair and self-destruction.”
Controlling our desires should be centered in our desire for God. Only when our desire for God becomes the primary desire driving our lives will we be able to control all other desires and fulfill them as God intended. According to Nouwen, “Our desire for God is the desire that should guide all other desires.”
As believers we still have the same desires as non-believers; the difference between the believer and non-believer should be that as believers we are not controlled by our desires, nor do we seek to fulfill them as we see fit. We should always seek to honor God when fulfilling our desires whether the desire is for love, sex, food, emotional comfort, companionship, wealth, etc.
In this culture of me, myself, and I, talk about controlling our desires and fulfilling them as they honor God is generally considered offensive or prudish. But as followers of Jesus Christ, this is how we are called to live. It is not optional nor a suggestion; rather it is how we are commanded to live.
Driven by our desire for God, through the use of spiritual disciplines such as, prayer, meditation, fasting, confession, solitude and Bible reading, we develop the self-control necessary to fulfill our desires in God-honoring ways. As Henri Nouwen reminds us, “Spiritual disciplines are not ways to eradicate all our desires but ways to order them so that they can serve one another and together serve God.”
God did not take away my sexual desires as I had prayed so many times when I was struggling with my sexual addiction. What He did show me when I finally surrendered all of my life to His care and control, and through use of the spiritual disciplines, was that sexual desires are normal, and I should – as with any other desire – seek fulfillment in ways that honor Him.
There really is no middle ground in our desires. Either we control them, or are controlled by them. Are you being controlled by a desire or desires in your life to the point that your life is out of control?
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