Many of us have asked this question at some point in time. We might have a strong desire to attend a certain school, date a certain person, or go to a certain place. Did God place the desire there? Is it direction from the Holy Spirit? Do our desires originate from our own thoughts or sin nature? Or can desires sometimes be a neutral decision—neither good nor bad?
First, let's talk about the nature of the human heart. Jeremiah 17:9-10 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick. Who can understand it?” The human heart is the source of all kinds of immorality. Jesus said in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” Basically, deep down, people are not inherently good. Our hearts are deceptive; our hearts can even deceive ourselves. The true motivation of a heart is something only the Lord can truly know. It can be very dangerous to attempt to assume the will of God based solely on the inclination of our hearts. The heart is unsearchable without God's help.
So are we hopeless in our searching to know the will of the Lord? Of course not! God has given us His Word so that we "may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:17). If we have a certain desire in our heart that we're unsure about, we should check it against what Scripture says. If what we desire is consistent with what we see in the Bible, more than likely, it is okay to pursue it. (Also see: How can I know God's will for my life?; How can I know if I'm hearing God?)
Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” We see in this verse that if we love the Lord, His desires become our desires. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” We need to keep God's Word in our hearts, filling us with the things of God rather than the things of the world. That means studying the Bible to learn who God is, how He has interacted with His people, and what He expects of His children.
Of course, without the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us, there is no hope for any discernment or change in our hearts at all (John 16:13). When we put our faith in Christ, God takes out our hearts of stone and gives us a new spirit and a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Ephesians 4:22-24 tells us to "put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Allow the Holy Spirit to help you discern where your desire is coming from. It may be a selfish need or it may be from God. Or it may even be a neutral decision that is neither good nor bad to your life or your faith. If you take a moment to examine your heart and your motivations, with God's help, you'll get closer to the answer you seek.
And, friend, if you have not yet put your full trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sin, please consider this important decision. You will be given a new heart and will begin to grow in your faith, becoming more like Jesus Christ in thought, deed, and desire. And then when you have a desire in your heart, you will begin to find more and more that your will aligns with God's will.
"Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act." —Psalm 37:4-5
The human heart is the source of all kinds of immorality (Matthew 15:19). Sometimes we can even deceive ourselves. The Holy Spirit is needed to have any holy desires whatsoever (John 16:13). To discover if our wills and desires align with God's, we must check our motivations against Scripture (2 Timothy 3:17). God will not give us a desire to sin or go against His Word. The more our faith and love for God grows, the more our desires will begin to align with God's will (Psalm 37:4).
Jeremy is a homeschooled high school student. He enjoys teaching spiritual truth and helping out at his church. He believes in the sufficiency and objectivity of Scripture over the subjective and unreliable nature of the heart (1 Timothy 3:16; Jeremiah 17:9). He also enjoys pin trading, marksmanship, and visiting theme parks.