Living with Unfulfilled Longings: 3 Ways to Flourish

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

Philippians 4:11 NIV

One of the hardest things we face in this life journey is living with unfulfilled longings. Whether our gaze is fixed on the material (a bigger home, newer car, or a better wardrobe), or we yearn for relief from our circumstances (a difficult marriage, demanding job, or health challenges), we tend to feel restless and unsettled while waiting for our needs to be met.

We may be tempted to question God and even demand that our longed-for hopes be realized. Lord, are You listening? I don’t understand this circumstance. Don’t I serve You faithfully? I shouldn’t have to suffer in this way. Do you even care that I’m unhappy?

Having a heart of contentment when we’re denied a few wants, may—on the surface—seem like a contradiction. But there are ways to temper our longings and recognize the purpose in our struggles. Even the apostle Paul claimed he had learned to be content (and we all know that learning can be a strenuous process).


Here are 3 ways to flourish in the midst of unfulfilled longings:

Acknowledge that unfulfilled longings are a given on our life’s journey. There’s a song I often hear on oldies radio called, “Mama Said (There’ll Be Days Like This).” In God-given mama-wisdom, the mother in the song has counseled her daughter not to give her heart to the first boy that looks her way, but to wait for another. In a sense, she gives her starry-eyed little girl permission to live with her unfulfilled dreams in an attitude of hope and expectation for future joy. 

How much more does our Heavenly Father want us to live in eager expectation and with a joy-filled eternal perspective! How He longs for us to trust in His love and timing—to believe that He knows the plans He has for us (Jeremiah 29:11), even when we can’t seem to trace His hand in our present circumstances.

And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently).

Romans 8:23-25 NLT

Remember that only God can fill the deepest needs and longings of our hearts. An upgrade in our circumstances will not satisfy our inner longings or bring relief from the itch of discontentment. No person or thing on this earth will ever touch the deepest yearnings of our soul. Not even the man of our dreams. Not even our most precious friendships. Not even the blessings of marriage, motherhood, or a career.

Only God is able to save us from an eternity without Him (John 3:16), endow us with value, vision, and purpose (Ephesians 2:10), and complete the work He started in us (Philippians 1:6). 

Ecclesiastes 3:11 gives further insight into why we will never be fulfilled outside of total surrender to our Creator. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end (NIV).

Earthly dreams and pleasures—while not inherently wrong unless they take God’s place on the throne of our hearts—cannot provide soul-quenching fulfillment because at best, they are temporary and incomplete. They don’t satisfy because God has planted eternity in our hearts—along with an insatiable hunger for the holiness and righteousness found only in Him.

Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth.

Psalm 73:25 NLT

Recognize that unfulfilled longings have the potential to increase our yearnings for God and His Word. The key word is potential because the choice is ours. We can grow bitter and stagnant in our demands for fulfillment, or with the strength of the Holy Spirit, we can nurture a heart of contentment and trust in the One Who knows our every need.

Is it possible that God wants to use our difficulties and deepest thirsts to draw us to Himself? In our present situation, is He gently touching our face and whispering, Look at Me? 

Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! Fear the LORD, you his godly people, for those who fear him will have all they need. Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the LORD will lack no good thing. 

Psalm 34:8-10 NLT

In her devotional, A Lamp unto My Feet, Elisabeth Elliot writes of unfulfilled longings in her own life and of her inner battles to lay those longings at the feet of Jesus. She ultimately learns that in surrender, she grows in holiness and in love for God and His will:

So instead of hammering on heaven’s door for something which it is now quite clear God does not want me to have, I make my desire an offering. The longed-for thing is material for sacrifice. Here, Lord, it’s yours. He will, I believe, accept the offering. He will transform it into something redemptive. He may perhaps give it back as He did Isaac to Abraham, but He will know that I fully intend to obey Him.

Elisabeth Elliot

Oh, that we will make our unfulfilled desires an offering to our Abba, Father. May they be “material for sacrifice” to the only One Who is able to plumb the depths of our soul’s hunger and thirst.

And may we be able to pray in complete submission, Oh Father, I love You more than my unfulfilled longings and I love You more than an answer to these difficulties. I want to know the true freedom that comes in a life of obedience to You.

Yes, Lord, yes. May it be so.


Oh, that we will make our unfulfilled desires an offering to our Abba, Father. May they be “material for sacrifice” to the only One Who is able to plumb the depths of our soul’s hunger and thirst. @lthomaswrites #fulfillment #hope


10 thoughts on “Living with Unfulfilled Longings: 3 Ways to Flourish

  1. I think we all have “unfulfilled longings” Ms. Leigh Ann; it’s part of being human I suppose. I also think we’ve all cried out to God in our longing for those things now and again. A tactic that I can’t say I’ve perfected, but one that definitely helps, is reminding myself that “My wants are far fewer than my blessings.” When I start longing for something I want, but God does not want me to have, I start making a list of all the blessings He has given me. Family, continued life, a full stomach, a full pantry, a beautiful and peaceful place to dwell and grow, wonderful friends, the promise of eternal life, and the list goes on. My point being, if I spend time thanking God for all the blessings He pours out upon my life, I realize how little I really need whatever it is I’m longing for. Wonderful post ma’am. Thank you!

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  2. Leigh Ann, thank you for addressing this topic in a beautiful and scriptural way. These questions encouraged me to pray. (“Is it possible that God wants to use our difficulties and deepest thirsts to draw us to Himself? In our present situation, is He gently touching our face and whispering, Look at Me?”) The idea of offering our desires as a sacrifice is an act of worship.

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    1. Oh, yes … and what a privilege to honor and worship our Lord in this way (even though letting go of our longings through obedience to Him is sometimes hard to do). I’m thankful for the help and influence of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for your encouragement, Jeannie!

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  3. Thank you, Leigh Ann, for insightful and godly ways to deal with those longings we each have. I especially appreciated your prayer that tells God we love Him more then those longings and Elizabeth Elliot’s quote to make these material for sacrifice.

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  4. Leigh Ann. Amen.

    Your post led me through every word without effort. Who doesn’t relate to unfulfilled longings? I relate. What Christian can honestly confess they haven’t grappled with an elevated since of disappointment solely based on our relationship through Christ? I can’t. Thank you for relating with me. Thank you most of all for reminding me of the truth that sets me free 🙂 May all who read say the same.

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    1. Thanks so much, Charla. Laying our longings at the feet of Jesus is an ongoing process … and I’m so thankful for His patience and unconditional love as He waits for us to grow and trust.

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  5. In my 23 years of following Christ I have LEARNED that contentment is a precious gift from God when we embrace and accept our circumstances as appointments from a sovereign God so that we are driven to or back to Him in our time of need.
    Great job of tying in the cross references to make your points. The one that just popped for me was Ecclesiastes 3:11. I hven’t read that verse in a while and it speaks strongly of God’s sovereignty. And then your quote “we can nurture a heart of contentment and TRUST in the One Who knows our every need.”
    Those words reminded me of what Jesus said to Jairus when his little girl had died. ”
    “Do not be afraid, only believe.” Mark 5:36 NASB
    Well said, well written, well done!
    Thank you

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