As someone has said, “we do what we do because we want what we want!” Our behavior comes from the desires of our heart (James 4:1).
In one catchy phrase, you have the key to human behavior. Now, go forth and want something different! Change your desire! And you will change your behavior!
Human Behavior is More Complex
Not so fast. Human behavior is not that simple. How do I change the desires in my heart? What changes the passions that:
- cause me to exhaustingly clamor for the approval of everyone I meet?
- put me on a never ending treadmill of climbing the corporate ladder?
- result in addictions to the pleasures of food, the highs of drugs, the escape of alcohol, and the pain-free living in alternate imaginative realities?
We Know This Instinctively
One of my favorite musicals is the Disney Broadway Musical called Newsies. In the musical, the main character, Jack Kelly, is a “Newsie” who spends his days in NYC selling newspapers under the oppressive child labor conditions at the turn of the 20th century. Jack Kelly, fed up with the grit and grime and oppression of the big city, dreams about leaving to a new town out west called Sante Fe that captures his heart.
Part of the tension in the movie is the constant pull of Jack’s heart to run away to Sante Fe during the unexpected battle that ensues when the Newsies go on strike and begin to force the issue of child labor practices.
In the end, the child labor practices are exposed and the Newsies get a fair deal, but the question remains: will Jack Kelly stay in the grit and grime of NYC?
Will his desire for Sante Fe draw him away?
What compels him to stay however, is that his heart was captured by a greater delight than Sante Fe; the female journalist that helped the Newsies seize the day!
What changed Jack Kelly’s heart’s desire from chasing his dream of Sante Fe was an even greater desire— his delight in this relationship.
The musical is inspirational on a number of levels but it nails the theme of what changes the heart—one desire was supplanted and overcome by another desire—that of love.
This is not a new insight regarding the human psychological disposition.
We see this dynamic regularly in life:
- A young man whose behavior changes because of a love interest
- An addict who must get the next high with a new drug
- The attempt by parents to bribe their children into obedient behavior with the substitution of one desire that the child is clamoring for with a greater offer that may quiet the child temporarily
All of these examples showcase the “expulsive power of a new affection!” as Scottish minister Thomas Chalmers has written.
The Nature of the Human Heart
The secular world cannot explain this clamoring and longing phenomenon of the human heart. In fact, the naturalistic and material world has no place for an immaterial concept of the human “heart.” Today, most reduce human behavior down to materialistic explanations of chemical reactions and neurons reacting in the brain. If a desiring, noisy, clamoring, addictive being can obtain the right chemicals and biological fixes then all should be well, right? Sadly, the solution is still evasive after millennia of human experience.
The obvious “desiring” and “delighting” capacity of man was woven into him by his Creator—the one true God, revealed in the Bible. God made humanity and placed them in the “Garden of Eden.” Eden means delight. God made mankind to be with Him in a life-giving relationship where there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11).
When mankind is apart from a life-giving and joy-filled relationship with God, man will seek to fill his existence with temporary pleasures that cannot finally and fully satisfy.
In terms of a cliché, God has made man with a God-sized hole in his heart that can only be filled with God. Thus, without God, man’s heart will be constantly trying to find rest, pleasure, meaning, or significance in something. Thomas Chalmers states,
“Such is the grasping tendency of the human heart, that it must have something to lay hold of and which, if wrested away without the substitution of another something in its place, would leave a void and a vacancy as painful to the mind, as hunger is to the natural system…The heart must have something to cling to”. (The Expulsive Power of a New Affection)
The Changing of the Heart’s Desires
So, how do you desire differently? What will rescue you from running after the earthly pleasures and treasures that do not finally and fully satisfy your heart and, in fact, actually make your life more troublesome?
Again in Thomas Chalmers’ words,
“The love of the world cannot be expunged by a mere demonstration of the world’s worthlessness. But may it not be supplanted by the love of that which is more worthy than itself? …The only way to dispossess it of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one”. (The Expulsive Power of a New Affection)
The “expulsive power of a new affection” is the dynamic that was occurring with Jack Kelly in the Newsies.
The “expulsive power of a new affection” must be the dynamic that occurs in your heart. But what can captivate my heart and rid it of its love for all of the deceitful, enslaving desires that rule it?
Behold the Love of the One Who Loves You
The Son of God, Jesus Christ was the only individual who only and ever delighted in God, His Father. All He knew from eternity past was the fullness of joy in the bosom of His Father (John 1:18).
Yet, Jesus Christ, on the cross was willing to forego His greatest delight when His Father’s presence was taken away from Him. He did this out of obedience to His Father’s will and out of love for you. He forfeited the presence of His Father on the cross so that you might have the eternal opportunity to be in the Father’s presence in the fullness of joy.
Beholding this love, meditating on this love, and rehearsing this Gospel to yourself, over time changes your desires and subsequently your behavior.
Christians overcome the world by seeing the beauty and excellence of Christ. They overcome the world by seeing something more attractive than the world: Christ. (Thomas Chalmers, The Expulsive Power of a New Affection)
Beholding Christ and His love for you is the expulsive power to change the desires of your heart.