In the thirteenth century, Saint Thomas Aquinas famously noted, “Every sinful behavior is rooted in a legitimate god-given appetite.” A bold claim, but how could that possibly be true when our sinful desires seem so contrary to God’s will? Today, we seek to find the answer to that question. To get there, we need to look past unwanted sinful behavior and examine the needs and wants that propel us forward, often without our even knowing it.
Most Christians who struggle with pornography feel they have a problem with their sexual desire—and that they must therefore crush that desire or somehow hold it down and manage it the best they can. In some sense, it often comes as a relief to realize that struggles with pornography typically do not stem from having too strong a desire for sex, but instead, in the sexualization of deeper desires of the heart that are not overtly sexual. This is important because if we think our problem is sexual, we will try to bring a sexual solution to the table. But if we realize that our problem is that we are trying to use sex to meet deeper longings, we will be one step closer to bringing the root of our struggle into the light and exposing it.
In his groundbreaking book, “Surfing For God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath the Sexual Struggle,” author and counselor Michael John Cusick lays out seven god-given desires that we try to meet through porn and other forms of compulsive sexual behavior. He does not offer this as a comprehensive list, but rather as a helpful tool to get you started in the direction of identifying the god-given desires that can be the driving force behind your struggles. Some of these desires are:
- Attention — the longing to be noticed and liked
- Affection — the longing to be enjoyed and delighted in
- Affirmation — the longing for the validation and blessing of others
- Acceptance — the longing to belong and to be desired
- Satisfaction — the longing for a sense of fullness and well-being
- Significance — the longing to matter and to be powerful
- Security — the longing to know your needs will be cared for and met
There are of course more desires that we could list, and you’ll have the chance to do just that later in today’s freedom work—but there is something here you need to notice. Take a good look at that list. Now ask yourself—is it sinful to want and desire any of those things? Each of these longings is simply a different way that we experience being loved. Who put those desires in your heart? Did they come from God or the enemy?
When you realize that the core desire and need is not the problem—but the way you go about meeting those desires and needs, it can be a turning point in your battle for freedom. For each one of the appetites on the above list, there are plenty of healthy ways to get those needs met through your relationship with God and the people He’s placed in your life. The problems begin when we become convinced that we know better than God does how best to pursue getting our needs and desires met. This leads us to take matters into our own hands. At this point, our behaviors can quickly become compulsive and destructive.
The apostle James does not mince words addressing this.
“Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:14–15 ESV)
You don’t need to kill the desires of your heart. You need to learn what they are and then learn healthy ways to pursue getting your desires fulfilled—through God and the people he’s placed in your life. Yes, this will definitely involve disconnecting your desire from the sins you’ve come to depend on and even love in some ways—but this is not a killing of desire, but a rescuing of it.
Do you know the desires that lie beneath your struggles with porn or other compulsive sin? Discovering these desires can be half the battle in getting free. Naming these core desires and then redirecting them toward something healthy is a major step in your journey toward freedom and a key aspect of learning to fill your life with the right things. Remember, freedom isn’t just about what you remove from your life, but about what you put in. When you begin learning to get the core longings of your heart met in healthy, god-ordained ways, you will find yourself well on the way to a more free, more fulfilling life.
Day 14 Freedom Work
Scripture Reading — Read John 5-7, taking careful notes about what they say about desires and the longings/thirsts of your heart.
Journaling Exercises — Answer the following questions at length in your journal. Aim to write for about 5-7 minutes per question:
- From the list of core longings outlined above in this lesson, which three do you connect with the most? How have you tried to get these desires met through porn? Has it worked?
- What are one or two other core longings not on the above list that you feel drive your struggle with porn or other sins? Are these desires good or bad? Is the way you’ve tried to get these desires fulfilled good or bad?
- It may be difficult to remember, but as best you can, try to come up with a few instances in your life where you felt you were able to get your core longings met in healthy ways. Whether you can think of many examples or only a few, what are some ways you can be more intentional about getting these needs met in healthy ways going forward rather than relying on porn which leaves you empty and broken? (If you have a hard time coming up with answers here, this would be a good question to process through with a trusted friend/ally.)
Prayer — Father, I thank you that you have filled my heart with legitimate appetites for good things. I have taken these longings and pursued them in many ways that have been contrary to your Word and your ways—and for that, I repent. I see that after all of my attempts to get my needs met with porn, I am still thirsty. I long for something more that truly satisfies. Thank you that I do not have to kill my desires—but to simply bring them to you. Show me how to drink deeply of your Spirit. I want to drink the living water you offer rather than keep trying to draw water from wells that do not satisfy. Amen.