Learning How to Keep What You Want From Controlling You

Learning How to Keep What You Want From Controlling You

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What do you want? What would you like to have? Do these desires come from the heart of contentment? To want something does not have to be wrong. We should always want all kinds of things throughout our lives. To not want things is not to live. The heart of the matter for any of us is when our wants begin to control our thoughts. When that happens, another “god” begins to rule our lives.

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It’s Human to Desire

God made you different from animals. He gave you an imagination, desires, wants, hopes, and dreams. To aspire and long for prospective eventualities is part of what it means to be an image-bearer. When Jesus walked among us, He wanted things (Matthew 23:37). To be human is to desire.

Christians long for heaven (Philippians 1:21). We hope many people will come to know Jesus, especially our relatives (Romans 9:3). Paul encourages us to pray without ceasing, which is an implied mandate for unceasing requests (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:2).

If you are a Christian, you bind your faith to a desire for things. Thus, if you penalize yourself for craving things, as though all desires are evil, you could be making a mistake. There is a better way to address the concept of hopes and the human heart. The more vital question to interact with is the motive for your wants. Why do you desire [fill in the blank]?

Working from the Overflow

What is the motive of your heart when it comes to the things you want? Do the dreams you have for your life come from a full heart, or do you want those things to complete you? I’m asking you the “overflow question.” Do you operate from an overflowing heart?

When David thought about his life with God, he concluded that the Lord was enough. As a sheep standing in the Lord’s corral, he could only boast (1 Corinthians 1:31) about the fullness that he experienced by knowing and being known by the Lord (John 10:14). Imagine saying something like that to your friends.

It is a bold statement to say, “I shall not want.” It is a radical life. David could not state it any other way, but he did not stop with that bumper sticker. As he continued to talk, he said, “My cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5). An overflowing cup is analogous to a heart that is full of contentment. The person with an overflowing cup does not live in an “I want because I am a needy person” world.

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Not Controlled by Desires

Paul was like David. He and David were two peas in the same contented pod. In a sense, Paul is the New Testament version of David. He had learned one of life’s biggest secrets, which was to be content. Through the course of his life, Paul was able to find satisfaction in Christ alone. David would say, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Paul paraphrased this perspective for the Philippians.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content (Philippians 4:11).

If the cupboards were full or bare, through any circumstance, Paul learned how to be content (Philippians 4:11). He found a better plan through Christ Jesus, who gave him the ability to live the un-needy life (Philippians 4:12). Paul had a trajectory for his sanctification, which prohibited any circumstance or person from managing his emotions. To be content was one of his highest aims—a goal he did attain.

Paul learned how to embrace the radical notion of no needs. Whatever remained on his list were wants, wishes, and desires but not needs. But here’s the thing: even his wants were under the influence, control, and management of Christ. Because of his overflowing satisfaction in Christ alone, he was not under the controlling spell of his hopes.

Operation Overflow

It appears Paul lived a contradiction. On the one hand, he was full, complete, and in need of nothing because he had learned contentment, but we know he wanted things. Every letter he wrote was full of desires, wants, requests, and appeals. We learn at the end of the message to the Philippians that both of these things are true: “I need nothing, and I have many things I want.”

Paul’s puzzle brings us back to our key question: do the things that you desire to happen in your life come from a heart of contentment? If any kind of desire happens where contentment is not the heart’s preexisting condition, your desire will not be God-centered or others-focused. Before you can truly enjoy the riches of giving to others or receiving from them, you must be content.

To want something is not wrong, but the thing you must examine is why you want what you want. When you go through the list of the things you would like to have, why are they on your list? This query is where Paul gives us clear insight. Do you see Paul’s motive when he talked about getting stuff?

Even in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit (Philippians 4:16-17).

Other-Centered Desires

Paul already said that when he spoke about wanting something, it was not because he operated from an empty or half-empty cup (Philippians 4:11). He did not have to have [fill in the blank] to be happy. He was already content (satisfied), so the things he wanted for himself were not for making himself complete. Paul’s “desire list” was not primarily about him but about others. He knew that if he needed something, the good Lord would supply it—a condition of the heart that countered stress, worry, and fear (Philippians 4:19).

This worldview is where you need to scrutinize your heart. Your motive for “giving and receiving” reveals how you think about God and what you expect from others. What do you want, and why do you want it? Are the things you want or need primarily for the benefit of others?

This kind of worldview removes the power that your desires can have over you. The person with the full heart (overflowing cup) can (and should) want things, but if those things do not come to pass, they will always be okay because their wants were not for personal completion’s sake but for the benefit of others. John echoed this perspective.

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth (3 John 4).

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John’s life, like Paul’s, was wired for the benefit of others, and that is where he found his greatest joy. The disgruntled, always longing, cannot be a happy person will never enjoy the rarefied air of others-centered living. The needle of their lives will always be pointing toward empty as they seek one more fix from the people they believe should give them what they want. When our love turns inward, our souls will eventually rot.

There is probably not a more fertile ground for a need-deficit theology to gain traction in our lives than in marriage. You can usually predict this when you pop the “why do you want to get married” question during premarital counseling. There are two possible answers.

  • I want to get married to glorify God more effectively and bless others, especially my spouse.
  • I want to get married because I would like to have [fill in the blank].

The attitude of their hearts will determine the quality of their future marriage. If you index forward ten or twenty years, you will see if they have been operating from the overflow or if they have been demanding the other person to make them happy. In too many cases, the future newlyweds had a self-focus. God may be in their wedding picture, but He is pushed to the side as the young couple seeks to get their longings met through each other.

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Who Will Manage You?

Empty people have expectations from their marriage partners to meet, or they will pour their disappointment on them through anger and other forms of manipulation. They place the accent mark on what they expect to get out of marriage rather than on what they can put into it.

Full people experience disappointment, just like empty people. Their disappointing experience does not control them because they know God will supply all their needs through Christ’s riches (Philippians 4:19). Nearly every young Christian couple will tell you that Christ satisfies their every need, but the real test comes at the first series of disappointments they experience from their new spouse.

It would be unfair to expect any young couple to be mature enough to respond well when disappointment comes. But young lovers need to learn this attitude of “the contented heart” if they want to have a Christocentric marriage. This perspective on desires is critical learning for them. If they do not master it, their unmet hopes will manage them.

Five Steps to Desire

Paul’s theology for giving and receiving was sound, which allowed him to enter into giving and receiving discussions. It is safe to talk about what you want if the thing that governed Paul’s heart is overseeing yours. Here are the five sequential and essential steps for wanting something.

  1. Paul did not need anything (Philippians 4:11).
  2. Therefore, Paul was content (Philippians 4:12).
  3. Paul knew that he could overcome any deficits through Christ (Philippians 4:13).
  4. Based on this foundation, Paul could talk about what he wanted (Philippians 4:14-16).
  5. Paul’s motive for wanting things was not for self-serving reasons (Philippians 4:17).

You now have a life-transforming question to answer. Are you full? If you are, you do not need anything. Not needing anything is the basis for contentment. The contented sheep says, “The Lord is my Shepherd, and I shall not want.” This condition is not only an experiential shalom; it is a life-shattering, transformational shalom.

Becoming Non-manipulatable

The individual who lives in contentment understands the release from the certain manipulations and disappointments that come from others. Others cannot control the contented person. May we all learn from the great apostle. Paul could not be disappointed because he had learned not to need anything.

Though it sounds like a contradiction, if there were something he wanted, he knew Christ would fill it. Paul lived in the perfect tension of not needing anything but expecting to have his needs met through Christ. With this kind of confidence in Christ, Paul could talk to the Philippians about giving and receiving.

We often enter into discussions about what we hope from others before we have learned contentment. This kind of undeveloped sanctification is dangerous and relationship-damaging. If contentment does not manage your heart first, the things you say will have a self-centered, self-motivated flavor. You will have a greater interest in yourself than others (Philippians 2:3-4), which will make you an addict to those who have something that you desire.

Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit (Philippians 4:17).

Call to Action

Because of Paul’s contented condition, the things he wanted were not primarily for himself. Godly parents are like this; they want nothing, but when it comes to their children, they want many things. Paul looked at those he served as his children in the faith (1 Timothy 1:2). The things he wanted to have were for their benefit. May you learn and live like Paul (1 Corinthians 11:1).

  1. Why do you want what you want? What is driving you to want what you want?
  2. There is only one right answer to these questions (1 Corinthians 10:31; Matthew 22:36-40, 6:33). If what you want is primarily for the good of others and the Lord’s glory, your desires are flowing out of a full cup. If the things you desire are more about your emptiness and you are trying to fill your cup, you will be on an insatiable journey. People, places, or things will never fill your cup. Contentment comes from Christ alone. What specific way do you need to change after reading this article? Will you implement a practical plan to make those changes today?

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