What is Our Desire?

Oniomania is a medical term describing the compulsive desire to shop. It is generally considered a pathology. However, given our current economic crisis, governments and corporations alike wouldn’t mind if we were all stricken with a little oniomania.

How about you? Have you felt the desire to shop lately? Do you feel a patriotic duty to do your part for the economy? Before you rush out to buy another shiny new object, consider this question: what is the role of desire in a Christian’s life?


Desire is fundamental to being human. We are made in God’s image and God Himself has desires. Our very existence is a function of His desire. God’s desire to have children was so great, He and Jesus Christ were willing to endure great suffering (John 3:16; Luke 22:15; Hebrews 5:8).

Like God, as a result of our desires, we are moved to action. Nothing happens without desire. The world runs on desire. The problem with the natural man is he is riddled with desires but lacks wisdom to guide and direct those desires. He is, therefore, governed and buffeted by impulses.

“Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” (Ephesians 2:3)

Fulfilling desires can be addictive. Accomplishing desires brings great fulfillment (Proverbs 13:19). When we are unable to fulfill our desires, we experience pain (Proverbs 13:12). Consequently, without God, we can easily fall into a trap of continually cultivating desires and pursuing them. We get on a treadmill where we never feel truly satisfied. When one desire is fulfilled, we develop another. Without God, we feel empty and inadequate and repeatedly chase the next desire hoping it will bring a more complete sense of fulfillment.

Our Minds at Work

This ongoing cycle may eventually cause some of us to examine ourselves. When we do, we tend to think of ourselves within an intellectual framework. That is, we tend to think of ourselves based on our conscious thoughts. A significant portion of our mind, however, predates conscious thinking.

Intellect requires language. It represents higher order processing and although we are all born with this capacity, we do not initially possess it; it must be developed. Prior to its development, our sophisticated minds are already at work. At this pre-language stage, they work with images. First we perceive images, and then we learn to create images (i.e., use our imagination).

For example, the toddler watches as those around him walk on two legs. He then imagines himself walking on two legs. He develops a deep desire for the image he has created in his mind and calls upon all of his resources to fulfill this desire. When he finally takes that first step, he and his parents are thrilled (Proverbs 13:19).

As we mature, this rudimentary image processing never leaves us. Instead, we lay on top of it more sophisticated ways of thinking. We gather knowledge with language; then we learn to reason with the body of knowledge we have gathered.

We learn to communicate in sophisticated ways with those around us and as we do, we become adept at fooling them and ourselves about our true state of maturity. Without God’s Spirit, we remain immature. Despite our sophisticated use of language, what really drives us is what drove us before we could speak: our imagination! We formulate images with our mind and we cultivate desires for those images. We then strive to fulfill those desires.

“But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.” (Jeremiah 7:24)

It’s the Economy

The western economy is built on the insight that we desire what we imagine. Without God, man suffers a deep feeling of emptiness. Mistakenly, he believes if he can only get something, he will feel fulfilled. Manufacturers develop products and advertise them showing us how fulfilled we will be if we acquire them. Advertisements are presented as images to bypass our intellect and trigger that base part of our minds. We put ourselves in the picture and the emotion of desire is aroused within us.

Once we finally acquire the desired object, its power to fulfill us quickly fades and we cultivate a new desire. Wash, rinse, repeat. The cycle continues ad infinitum—until another emotion kicks in— the emotion of fear.

Fear, like desire, bypasses all intellectual processing. It triggers imagination of negative consequences and results in immediate, split-second reactions that override all other actions. All of the advertising in the world won’t get people to shop if the panic button has been pressed.

Unfortunately, we must continue to engage in hyper-consumption if the economy is to have any hope. According to economists, we must cast aside rational thought and plunge deeper into debt and enjoy today’s fleeting sensations. However, as more bad economic news unfolds, we feel panic-stricken and spend less. As we spend less, the economy weakens further. This causes us to hear more bad news and we fear to shop. However, we are constantly encouraged to spend to ‘help the economy.’

How have we reached this state where failure to consume like impulsive children threatens the world economy?

We must realize that the foundation of the world’s economy is anti-God. For the economy to function properly, mankind must remain insecure and unsatisfied—ever seeking but never being content. Mankind must worship things and not God. When we worship God, we no longer feel insecure. When we worship God in spirit and in truth, we experience a great sense of contentment (Philippians 4:7, 11).

The Role of Desire

To come back to our original question, what is the role of desire in the Christian life? The scriptures tell us that without vision the people perish. When our future with God is clearly seen, it arouses desire within us. When desire is aroused, we set clear goals and we avoid distractions. It is only when spiritual desire is stirred within us that we will “mortify [subdue] the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13).

An example of this is found in 2 Corinthians 7. The apostle Paul observed that the Corinthian church went from a state of harbouring sin to zealously driving it out of their midst. A key ingredient in their success was the deep desire they experienced:

“For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” (2 Corinthians 7:11, emphasis added)

The term translated “vehement desire” is the Greek word epipothesis. It means to have a deep and earnest longing for something. The word “zeal” is translated from the Greek word zelos. Zelos is passion, ardour, or enthusiasm. The Corinthians desired to change with a deep passion and fiery enthusiasm. Once this deep desire was triggered, true change was inevitable.

Another example of this desire is written by the prophet Isaiah:

“Yea, in the way of thy judgments, O LORD, have we waited for thee; the desire of our soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee. With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early: for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” (Isaiah 26:8-9)

Once the right desire is activated, we will be motivated to pray, study, fast, and meditate and to resist and overcome Satan. Desire is critical to our success as Christians, but that presumes we are cultivating the right desire. Oniomania, is not the type of desire a Christian should, or would pursue. Sadly, it’s nothing more than a form of idolatry and will only leave us feeling empty and unfulfilled.

“And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” (Luke 12:15)

With the right desire in place, we will not suffer from recurring bouts of emptiness. We will be spiritually fulfilled. Moreover, with the right desire in place, we will not be troubled by a failing economy as we will know that our heavenly Father knows what we need.

“(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:32-33)

As we continue to hear news of a failing economy, let’s not panic and let’s not be fooled into thinking shopping for material things is the answer. Instead, let’s cultivate a compulsive desire, built on passion and enthusiasm for God and the things that we can do to please Him.


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