The significance of desire in the Christian life

At early morning prayer, I wanted to share a quote from E.M Bounds on lengthy prayer, Every time I read an EM Bounds book on prayer, I always uncover valuable insights. And as I searched for my text, I unexpectedly came across a striking passage on the importance of desire in the Christian life. It was very à propos for us at that moment. It’s a key aspect of my personal journey with God. I believe that all believers should make it a priority to pray for and cultivate it regularly. Desire plays a crucial role in prayer. Bounds writes:

Desire is not a simple wish. It is a deep-seated craving, an intense longing for attainment.

Desire to help

I shared with the prayer group how, when I became a Christian, I had this one desire: to help people. And the way I intended to go about it was by giving counsel and encouragement. Despite being only 22 or 23, I sensed I possessed wisdom beyond my years. I had witnessed adults making a mess of their lives, observed serious, avoidable mistakes, and always felt we could endeavour to do better. A desire was born in me to help other Christians through advice and support, always informally, on a one-on-one basis. I had no interest in formal ministry, preaching, or any other role. Those thoughts were so far removed from anything I could have imagined.

Fast-forward to today and I find myself fully immersed in ministry. It’s impossible to imagine living any other way. I now write books, despite having given up on that pursuit in obedience to the Lord at one stage in my life, when it was all about fame and worldly success. I do it because God has brought it back persistently in a different form. This was not on my agenda, and it was not something I wanted.

Desire makes a difference

What made the difference? Certainly, the realisation along the way, that there was a call on my life, had much to do with it, but it was desire that truly transformed my journey. It was not just a clench your fist, grit your teeth, and obey scenario; rather, He birthed within me a profound longing to do and only do His will and fulfill His purpose. He created an overwhelming and continuing desire to know His purpose intimately and to live solely for its fulfillment. Through a gradual process of dealings, involving extensive prayer and diverse experiences in the Word and in life, the precious things of the Father became precious to me. Therefore, all of my prayers are born out of this place of yearning, especially when they involve matters of God, our relationship with Him, and His mission.

‘The deeper the desire, the stronger the prayer’, writes Bounds.

One day, following a sermon on knowing God as Father and having a passion for His kingdom, it was time for prayer. We prayed for God to show us His purpose and will, just as Jesus instructed us. I specifically encouraged them to pursue a passionate desire for the kingdom. As I observed them praying, I deplored the lack of fervour. It occurred to me that if I were to ask them to pray for financial prosperity, the temperature would likely be vastly different. Yet, at this moment, their prayers seemed casual, lacking the fervour that genuine desire brings. Is it possible that desire for God and His ways is increasingly unappetizing in the church today?

Desire for air

Allow me to share a story many of us know which I shared with them on that occasion if memory serves me well, or it may have been during the prayer group meeting; we are not splitting hairs. A young man approached an old sage and asked, “How can I truly know God?” In response, the old man pushed him into a nearby pool, submerging his head underwater. The young man struggled desperately, trying to get his head above the water to get some air. He finally did, gasping for air. Confused and perhaps a little alarmed, he wondered what this eccentric elder was playing at. Finally, when he could breathe again, the old man said, “When you desire God as desperately as you desired air just now, you will truly know Him.” Desire, then, is the key.

There is a strong correlation between the consciousness of need and the birth of desire. Many of us fail to fully realize our need for God and the critical significance of living our lives for Him, without which we will a wasted existence. Not once did the young man think about air until he was in a situation where he desperately needed it. According to Bounds, in this same lovely chapter on prayer and desire, it is the inward consciousness of spiritual need that creates desire which then breaks forth in prayer.

Desire is an inward longing for something of which we are not possessed.

The fuel of desire

Our prayer for revelation of God must be fuelled by desire. In our involvement with God’s work, we should have a passionate desire for its success and pray fervently for it, whether it’s a task in His church or our own personal pursuits. And if we lack desire, we can cry out to our God who Himself enables us to will and act according to His good pleasure. He stirs within us the longing to know His will and to carry it out.

Certain believers have no prayer life and lack the Word of God in their hearts. When you enjoin them to change their ways, their responses betray a lack of desire. Sometimes they claim extreme occupation, leaving them no time to pray or read the Word. Such are men of no understanding, who are ignorant of the fact that the enemy of their souls reigns in their affections and imprisons their souls. They must pray for desire, holy, burning desire. They must do what they ought, out of principle and wisdom, but if they will ask, the Lord will grant them all consuming desire. But many do not. I tell people that backsliding does not begin when a person draws away from fellowship. It begins when the desire for the Word and prayer starts to wane.

Aligning action with desire

For many, even within the Pentecostal movement, prayer can often be reduced to speaking specific words to God, possibly with speaking in tongues, while the heart remains aloof. We say prayers without genuinely desiring what we request. Our actions after praying serve as the litmus test. Do we align our lives with what we’ve petitioned for? When we pray for souls, are we actively working to bring souls into the kingdom? When we pray for church growth, are we serving in such a way as to bring men to church?

Do we genuinely want what God wants? Sometimes, our hearts harbour conflicting desires. Consider this scenario: imagine praying for church growth, it’s a noble request—one that aligns with what we know God desires. Yet, you are doing so while fearing the challenges that growth might bring. We pray for the salvation of souls, but also worry about feeling lost in a larger congregation.

Sustaining desire

Beware of false contentment. This is a common occurrence in numerous lives. When faced with material or physical challenges, people eagerly seek God. Their prayers flow with urgency. They are willing to travel long distances and make sacrifices just to find a place to pray. However, when the egregious problems are solved, complacency sets in. Contentment can dull spiritual hunger. The need for God’s presence and guidance is obscured if not forgotten.

Beware of letting your desire for material things overshadow your desire for God.

There are those who aspire to material blessings, personal success, or a comfortable lifestyle. While these are natural, they should not be our sole focus. The church’s great need today is hearts set aflame with holy desire—for God Himself and His kingdom. When we redirect our longing from material gains to intimacy with God, prayer becomes constant. It’s no longer a duty; it’s a passionate conversation with our Creator.

Let us cultivate a burning desire for God—a hunger that draws us continually to the place of prayer. May our hearts echo the psalmist’s words: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God” (Psalm 42:1, NIV).

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