Manage Your Hungers, Part 1

March 5, 2024 • Life for Leaders

Scripture — Psalm 140:8; Psalm 37:4 (NRSV)

Do not grant, O LORD, the desires of the wicked;
    do not further their evil plot. Selah
Take delight in the LORD,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.


It seems clear that one of the first steps toward managing our hungers is knowing them, and this requires intentional inner work. Physical hunger makes itself plainly and easily known. Emotional hungers, however, may be less obvious. They may be more layered and elusive.

Today’s devotion is part of the series: A Biblical Guide to Inner Work.


In their excellent book, Leadership of the Line, Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky devote a whole chapter to the subject, “Managing Your Hungers” (pp. 163-186). They state, “We all have hungers, which are expressions of our normal human needs” (p. 164). In Leadership on the Line, they focus especially on “power and control,” “affirmation and importance,” and “intimacy and delight.” These hungers are not necessarily wrong, according to Heifetz and Linsky. They explain, “Every human being needs some degree of power and control, affirmation and importance, as well as intimacy and delight. We know of no one who prefers to feel entirely powerless, unimportant, or untouched in life. Yet each of these normal human needs can get us into trouble when we lose the personal wisdom and discipline required to manage them productively and fulfill them appropriately” (p. 164).

Though I have found the chapter entitled “Managing Your Hungers” helpful, I must confess that the authors’ use of “hungers” differs from the use with which I am most familiar. In my cultural setting, it’s just fine to be hungry for dinner, but you should be careful about admitting to other hungers. If, in an interview, you were to say, “I have a hunger for power,” I’m not sure you’d be helping your cause much. I’ve never heard anyone say “It’s okay to be power-hungry, even just a bit.” We tend to use “hunger” for an overly strong desire for something, a desire that may not be intrinsically good and would certainly be hard to manage. I’m pointing out the way Heifetz and Linsky use “hunger” so that we aren’t put off by what they’re proposing in their book. Where they speak of hungers, I would be more inclined to talk about desires, longings, yearnings, and the like. They can be good, bad, or, as is often the case, somewhere in the middle.

Desires are a mixed bag, not only in our lives and leadership, but also in Scripture. Often, desires are understood to be evil, as in Proverbs 21:10, “The souls of the wicked desire evil.” Similarly, it says in Psalm 140:8, “Do not grant, O LORD, the desires of the wicked; do not further their evil plot.” In the New Testament, James echoes this negative view of desire: “But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15).

Yet that’s not the whole biblical perspective on desire. It can also be a good thing. One can, for example, rightly desire God’s ordinances, even more than “fine gold” (Psalm 19:9-10). Psalm 37:4 offers this promise, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” So, clearly, not all human desires are evil and should be avoided.

Because desires are not necessarily good or necessarily evil, we mustn’t be governed by them. Rather, we need to understand our desires and discern which are honoring to God and which are not. We need to learn to manage our desires or, as Heifetz and Linsky would say, “to manage our hungers.”
In the next few Life for Leaders devotions, I’d like to reflect on how we can do this. How can we manage our hungers? Of, if you prefer, how can we manage our desires?

It seems clear that one of the first steps toward managing our hungers is knowing them, and this requires intentional inner work. Physical hunger makes itself plainly and easily known. Emotional hungers, however, may be less obvious. They may be more layered and elusive.

For example, when I was a young preacher, I worked very hard to preach good sermons. If you had asked me what I desired, I would quickly have answered, “I desire to preach excellent sermons.”

That was true, but not the whole story. Beneath my desire for excellence was a need for human affirmation. I wanted people to think I had preached a fine sermon. This desire for approval, not necessarily wrong, could easily have gotten me in trouble, however. It might have led me, for example, to soften the blow of a particular demanding biblical passage. So I needed to do inner work to identify my need for approval and discover what was energizing this need.

At the same time, I wanted to preach good sermons because I had a genuine desire to please the Lord. I wanted to say what was true and be used by God to communicate grace and truth effectively, not only for my approval, but also for God’s glory.
This example from my leadership demonstrates, I think, the importance of doing inner work related to our hungers. We will not be able to manage them if we don’t know them. Knowing them doesn’t automatically lead to effective self-management, but it is a crucial element along the way.

In future devotions, I will consider further how we can know our inner desires and how we can manage them in God-honoring ways. For now, let me encourage you to reflect on your own hungers, or, if you prefer, your desires, longings, or yearnings.


What do you desire most in life?

As you exercise leadership, which of your desires are influencing your thinking and behavior?

What helps you to know your desires?

What helps you to manage your desires, especially those that have the potential to lead you in the wrong direction in your leadership?


Set aside a good chunk of time for quiet reflection. Ask the Lord to help you see your core desires in life. Talk with God about what you discover and how you feel about it.


Gracious God, you have created me as a being with desires. Unfortunately, sin has corrupted what you intended. Sometimes I desire what is good. Sometimes I desire what is not good. And most of the time my desires fall somewhere in the middle.

Help me, I pray, to know my desires truly. Show me what lies beneath my superficial hungers. Allow me to understand my longings so I might manage them wisely, and so that I might grow in my desire for what glorifies you. By your grace, may I be able to turn from my sinful desires, rejecting their influence. Set me free, Lord, of all that keeps me from wholeheartedly offering all that I am to you as worship. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Real Simple.

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