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The Proper Order of Our Desires

The desires of our body are both good and natural. They were given by God and their fulfillment plays a vital role in continuing the human race. However, we have wrongly elevated these desires and now believe that satisfying the sensual desires of the body provides the basic reason for living. Whether it be food, drink, sleep, or sex, we mistakenly believe these will play a crucial role in satisfying our insatiable desire to be happy.

Andy Stanley believes this is a significant issue. He makes this observation:

Appetites bring zest and passion to life. But they are terrible filters for making decisions. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that your responses to your appetites will determine the direction and quality of your life. You’ve certainly seen friends and family members wreck their lives over their seeming inability to say no to themselves. So this is a big deal.

Clearly, controlling our appetites is at the heart of being a person of strong character. We have to be able to restrain our desires. To build character is to build the muscles of restraint.

Self-control is spoken of often in the Book of Proverbs, because it plays a pivotal role in being a wise person. We would all have to agree that a person without self-control is not going to live wisely and make good decisions.

In Proverbs 23:19-21, it speaks of people who are gluttons and drunkards. It says they will come to poverty and “drowsiness will clothe them with rags.” It says this type of person’s life is characterized by drowsiness. They can’t stay focused on the significant issues of life, such as earning a living and being an attentive spouse. It does great harm to their lives.

Proverbs 25:28 says: “Like a city that is broken into without walls, is a man who has no control over his spirit.” In Hebrew, the word spirit means your energy, your passions, and your longings. A person who cannot control his passions or longings is compared to a city without walls. In ancient times, a city without walls faced disaster and destruction. Without walls, a city could not survive. In order to have a safe and vibrant community, you had to have the security of walls.

Properly Ordered Desires

Tim Keller gives great insight into the subject self-control. He says the basic desires of the body—food, drink, sleep, and sexuality are all good things. They were given by God and there is a proper place for them. However, when they become the source of joy and happiness in your life, and they become the way you deal with the pressures of life, then they have become disproportional. Your desires become out of control and they squeeze out the important priorities of life.

So what is self-control? It is the governing of one’s desires. In Greek it has the literal meaning of “inner strength” and refers to that strength of character that enables one to control his passions and desires. In other translations, it refers to “sound judgement.” Logically, we need both of these to have self-control over our desires and our appetites.

Those who have self-control have their desires properly ordered. They are able to discern what is important in life over the urgent desires of the body. In other words, a person who has self-control has ordered his desires so that the most important things in life are desired most, and the secondary things are desired less.

What I have found is that some of the happiest and healthiest people in life are those who have properly ordered their desires. They are free because they have not allowed themselves to become enslaved to their desires.


Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.

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