Desire, Will, and Action


I recently wrote about “desire” – an internal “want” to long, hope, or wish for something (Webster).  More specifically I wrote about a “desire to do good continually.” I wish to expand that thought to include more depth and meaning, and to express more of my own desires for growth in a more cohesive way.

In Proverbs 3:13-20 it reads (KJV, emphasis added):

13 ¶Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.

14 For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold.

15 She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.

16 Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour.

17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.

18 She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her.

19 The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens.

20 By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew.

The biggest challenge I encounter when meditating on the “desires of my heart” is how I might direct and control them. It is one thing to say I wish to desire only good, but in reality my weak human heart desires much more than just good. From time to time I find that my desires aren’t what they should be. Sometimes I desire to be lazy, sometimes to shirk my duties and responsibilities, sometimes to get something for nothing. I know what it means to “desire good” but I don’t always know how to focus that concept.

The scriptures above show me my that my desires should be focused on getting wisdom and understanding. According to Solomon, there is nothing I could desire that would be of more value that wisdom and understanding, and in fact nothing that even compares. Wisdom and understanding are likened unto a “tree of life,” which we learn the symbolic meaning of in 1 Nephi 11:21-22 (emphasis added):

21 And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?

22 And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.

Notice how the word “desire” helps correlate these two passages. We should focus our desires on wisdom and understanding, which are a “tree of life”; and we see that the symbolism of the “tree of life” is in the love of God, something that is more desirable than anything.

Going back to Proverbs, it is amazing to note that in verses 19-20 we see that the heavens and earth were founded and established through wisdom and understanding. What power and potential! And if all things were made by the Word, which is Jesus Christ, as John stated, then that Power could also be Jesus Christ. What better evidence of the love of God toward men than Jesus Christ, and what better symbol of understanding and wisdom to focus the desires on!


To me, desire and will are interconnected, but not the same thing. A linguist may argue, but speaking strictly of spiritual interpretation, I view desire as something that is born in my heart, and will as the solidification of desire. First I desire something, then I decided and it becomes my will.

Jesus Christ taught many things, but one thing that he taught repeatedly was this (John 6:28, KJV, emphasis added):

38 For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.

The Savior taught this over and over, that He was here to do the will of the Father, that he could only do the will of Him who send Him, and “thy will be done.”  We were shown the example of One who would always do the will of the Father, and we were told to do likewise (Matthew 7:21, KJV, emphasis added):

21 ¶Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

During perhaps the most difficult time of His mortal life, that is the suffering in the garden and His death on the cross, Jesus Christ demonstrated just how far his will was swallowed up in the will of the Father. While He accomplished the atonement, the single most important event in all of eternal history, Jesus said (Matthew 26:39,42, KJV, emphasis added):

39 And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

42 He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.

What I find interesting in these sacred verses is that during this incredibly difficult ordeal, Jesus Christ demonstrated a desire for things to be different, but an absolute will to do what the Father asked. He pleaded for the Father to “let the cup pass,” yet remained dedicated to doing whatever the Father required.


Action is where our desires that have solidified into will find expression. Action is where our thoughts demonstrate themselves, and our accountability becomes complete. To paraphrase a multitude of wise ideas that I’ve read from many authors, what we do is the ultimate measure of who we really are, the manifestation of our character.

When I set out to meditate, pray, and ponder on “desire” and “will” it was really because I wanted to find a way to change my “actions.” I realized that trying to change my actions is like trying to hack at the leaves of a tree in order to remove it from your yard. The leaves take care of themselves if you hack at the trunk. We change our desires, then our will, and then our actions.

But what happens when we have big ideas, grand desires, yet our actions don’t ever fall into place? I encounter this frequently, especially in projects and efforts that are protracted or delayed. At the beginning of the undertaking I am full of energy and prospects. But then as time goes by, I lose steam. Sometimes, I even lose the will to act.

In the Book of Mormon there is a remarkable young man named Moroni. In about 74BC, at the age of 25, Moroni became the leader of all the armies of his people. He was a righteous man that turned to God for his direction, and who looked forward with faith to the coming of Christ. In all that he did he was valiant, active, and committed.

Between the years 74BC and about 57BC, Moroni lead his armies through several great wars against a people that hated his own, and that did not believe in God. In the course of those battles, Moroni’s people themselves had internal conflicts that lead to the temporary overthrow of their government. During that time, Moroni and his armies did not receive the support, both in troops and in supplies, that the government was obligated to provide.

In response to the want and lack of their armies, and before he was aware that the government had been overthrown, Moroni sent a letter to the leader of the government in which he corrected him for his lack of action. The story is a phenomenal one, with many great insights, but I wish to only touch on a few words. For those that would read the whole account, you can read it here (read chapters 43-63, but the letter mentioned above is in chapter 60.)

As I read chapter 60 recently, my attention was drawn to a few verses in particular. Remember, in this letter he was demanding that the government maintain the armies, and send supplies and help. He was also correcting the government leaders for their inaction, and asking them what the cause for their laziness was. Note some of the wording as I pull a few verses out of context (Chapter 60:10, emphasis added):

10 And now, my beloved brethren—for ye ought to be beloved; yea, and ye ought to have stirred yourselves more diligently for the welfare and the freedom of this people; but behold, ye have neglected them insomuch that the blood of thousands shall come upon your heads for vengeance; yea, for known unto God were all their cries, and all their sufferings—

When I read this it hit me: we can’t wait for something external to “stir” us to action. We ought to be stirring ourselves. Verse 11 continues:

11 Behold, could ye suppose that ye could sit upon your thrones, and because of the exceeding goodness of God ye could do nothing and he would deliver you? Behold, if ye have supposed this ye have supposed in vain.

Here we see that Moroni was pointing out that we can’t just sit around and expect God to do everything for us. We can’t expect God to solve our problems or make our lives better, if we’re not willing to act, or to stir ourselves. The idea came up again in verse 24 of the same chapter:

24 And now, except ye do repent of that which ye have done, and begin to be up and doing, and send forth food and men unto us, and also unto Helaman, that he may support those parts of our country which he has regained, and that we may also recover the remainder of our possessions in these parts, behold it will be expedient that we contend no more with the Lamanites until we have first cleansed our inward vessel, yea, even the great head of our government.

The phrase “being to be up and doing” stood out to me. It’s the same idea: we have to act, stirring ourselves, and be doing good, not just thinking about it. He touches the idea one more time in verse 29:

29 Behold it is time, yea, the time is now at hand, that except ye do bestir yourselves in the defense of your country and your little ones, the sword of justice doth hang over you; yea, and it shall fall upon you and visit you even to your utter destruction.

Again, Moroni is demanding that these people “stir” themselves. In my own life, I think I wait for motivation to come from an external source, and then when that motivation comes, I expect it to continue indefinitely, giving me the desire to act. In fact, reality is quite different. Motivation may come from external sources from time to time, and desire might burn brightly at the beginning of a work, but neither motivation nor desire should be required for us to “bestir” ourselves in doing good.

My hope in learning these things is that I might be able to take the good things that I know I need to do in life, and do them. I hope to be able to use my desires, will, and abilities to stir myself into action, without waiting for anyone else to do it for me. I pray that I might be able to hold on to my inspirations, personal revelations, and even my dreams and aspirations, and propel myself forward in doing all that I can to achieve them. I know that this is God’s will for me on this earth, to become more like His Son, to help others, and to do all that I can do, and I know that He will help me in my efforts.


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Desire to Do Good

To paraphrase a variety of philosophies, writings, and even scriptures that touch on the matter, I would like to put forth the premise that our thoughts become our desires, and our desires eventually become our actions. The book “As a Man Thinketh” takes this a few steps further to observe that our actions eventually become our habits, and our habits become our character. For the purpose of this topic, I would like to focus on the birthplace of our life’s works: our desires.

I believe that most people, in most things, are basically good. But I also believe that we all “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) I don’t believe that those sins and shortcomings are born in an instant, or spring up out of us spontaneously; I believe that our desires have to be in the wrong place first, before we sin.

In about 124 B.C., a people that had been taught about God’s laws and instructed in everything relating to the Gospel came to a critical point in their faith where they had to truly choose in their hears whether the would do good, or not. They were asked outright how they would choose, and they chose to follow God. In the Book of Mormon, the book of Mosiah Chapter 5 verse 2, we can read why they so chose [emphasis added]:

…because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.

Now, these people didn’t start out with a desire to do good continually. They first had thoughts, instruction, and experience. And finally, the Spirit of the Lord changed their natures, their desires, toward good. The end that they arrived at is one that every Christian seeks, and one that I am seeking continually.

Like all humans that roam this earth, I have sinned and fallen short. I have been in places where my thoughts and desires were not good, but evil. I have experienced those things, and I can honestly say they never lead to joy or happiness. Regardless of how the world views good and evil, my own thoughts, learning, and experience burn an indelible impression of good versus evil in my heart. I know for sure that “wickedness never was happiness.” (Alma 41:10)

Luckily, I have also learned that I have the power to control my actions. That power starts in my thoughts, and then extends into my desires. My goal is to become like those who have had a “mighty change of heart” and have “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” To achieve that goal, I realize that I must start with my thoughts, and then my desires.

As I work on controlling my thoughts with the aim of controlling my actions, and even my habits and character, I am coming to realize that I have metrics and indicators that can help me along the way. Specifically, my desires can be a measure to me of how well I am doing at controlling my thoughts. If my desires are in the wrong place, then my thoughts are in the wrong place, because that is where my thoughts are born. If my desires are wrong, the solution isn’t to fight against my desires (though, that may certainly be required as a stop-gap measure), but rather to determine where my thoughts have gone wrong, and make the correction there.

At a level, all of my desire is to do good, and live with God after this life. Much of what I aim for flows from there. But at another level, I fall short. That is my nature, as it is the nature of all that are here in this life. For that, feeling bad will do almost no good. Instead, I intend to feel good about my overarching desires, and work diligently on the rest of my desires that are in opposition to that, starting with “the thoughts of my heart.” I know that as I do that, I will come closer and closer to my Savior, and the example He has put forth for me.


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