Fulfilling the unmet needs of our longing souls
We can attain all the good things we want in this life but yet not feel fully satisfied or rested within our being. Deep inside, there seems to be a thirst or hunger that hasn’t been satiated, no matter what we do. There’s nothing we can do to reach in and soothe the ache we feel. There seems to be some unmet need that lingers on. The Bible describes this as the longings of our soul that only God can satisfy.
Ecclesiastes 6:3 ESV If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.
Psalm 107:8–9 ESV Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.
The distress of the human soul
The Bible has a lot to say about our souls.
Our soul is our eternal personhood. It is the core of who we are. Our soul is the part of us that sins and the part that is purified and saved through obedience to God’s Word. Our souls are affected by what we experience in this life. If we are distressed and grieved, not only will our bodies feel it, so will our souls.
Ezekiel 18:4 Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.
James 1:21 ESV Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
1 Peter 1:22 ESV Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,
Psalm 31:9-10 ESV Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away.
For example, our souls can feel:
- Anguished | Isaiah 53:11 ESV Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
- Bitter | Job 7:11 ESV “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
- Distressed | Psalm 31:7 ESV I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul,
- Downcast | Psalm 43:5 ESV Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
- Grieved | Job 30:25 ESV Did not I weep for him whose day was hard? Was not my soul grieved for the needy?
- Hatred | Psalm 11:5 ESV The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
- Troubled | Psalm 6:3 ESV My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O Lord—how long?
Unsteady | 2 Peter 2:14 ESV They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children!
- Vexed to death | Judges 16:16 ESV And when she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death.
Because Jesus, the Son of God, humbled Himself to be born as a man, He too had a soul. As He prepared Himself to be led to the cross to be crucified for our sins, our Saviour graphically described his soul as feeling very sorrowful and crushed with grief to the point of death.
Mark 14:33-4 ESV And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.”
By showing us that He understands our sorrows and grievances in life, Jesus is truly the perfect “Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.”
1 Peter 2:24-25 ESV He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
24 important needs of the soul
Babies who receive good nourishment from infancy tend to grow up with stronger immune systems and are less prone to falling ill. It is the same with our souls.
Our souls are nourished and satiated when:
- our deepest desires are fulfilled | Proverbs 13:19 ESV A desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul, but to turn away from evil is an abomination to fools.
- we are fed with gracious words | Proverbs 16:24 ESV Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
When we ignore such inner needs, something deep inside us suffers and does not feel healthy. We may describe this as feeling inside us as “empty,” “restless,” “unsteady,” “unfulfilled,” or even “dead.”
Every person flourishes when they are given, receive, or develop the following from a young age:
- Consistency, order, and structure
- Consolation, encouragement, and reassurance
- Correction and discipline
- Exploration and creativity
- Emotional connection
- Guidance and instruction
- Hope and aspirations
- Opportunities to ask questions, clarify, and understand
- Opportunities to be heard and understood
- Opportunities to express one’s feelings and desires
- Play and laughter
- Physical affection
- Physical space
- Security and safety
- Freedom to choose, make mistakes, and learn
- Peace and harmony
- Purpose, meaning, and responsibility
- Trust and respect
Such needs and desires are natural and instinctive for every soul. Young children will not know how to articulate such needs but will still be able to sense that something is missing, although they cannot put a finger on what that is.
When such needs are left un-met, our souls can be left feeling “thirsty” and “longing”. And when we try to fulfil these desires using our own understanding, it often leads to sinful, wicked behaviours.
Psalm 10:3 ESV For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord.
The Bible shows us that our inner thirst is only quenched when we reconcile with God. God Himself has promised us, “To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”
Psalm 63:1 ESV O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Psalm 42:2 ESV My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?
Revelation 21:5-7 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.
The impact of parenting
As our earthly guardians, our parents will make an impact on the condition of our souls. If they were able to nurture and provide for our deepest inner desires and to speak the gracious words that we hungered for — precisely when we needed them the most — they can be said to be perfect parents.
Yet no parent is perfect.
Romans 3:23 NLT … we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.
Most parents do their very best to provide for what they see as the core essentials of raising children; good shelter, good food, and good education. Not all are aware of how to nurture the part of us that is eternal, our souls.
As a result, most of us try to meet the unmet needs and constant longings of our souls by forming attachments to people or the things of this world.
For instance, we hope to find a true love who will make us “feel complete”, mostly to be disappointed. We seek approval from people we look up to. Or we keep striving for things with the hope that the more we gain, the more we will feel fulfilled. Perhaps if we just try this new thing or reach the next level, we will finally reach a state of deep and everlasting inner joy and peace.
But our souls are never really fully quenched and satisfied. There is always more to be desired. We can exhaust all our best efforts and options. Some can slip into hopelessness and even depression.
Mark 8:36-37 ESV For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?
The meaningless striving to quench our longings
King Solomon was possibly the most remarkable and accomplished soul who ever lived.
He is known to be exceptionally wise. His kingdom was renowned. His personal wealth would have been worth three trillion dollars in today’s terms. He even had 700 wives and 300 concubines. At the end of his remarkable life and glorious achievements, however, Solomon sadly described it all as “chasing / striving after the wind.”
The king described each of the following as futile, wearisome, and meaningless:
- Seeking great wisdom and knowledge | Ecclesiastes 1:16–17 ESV I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.
- Indulging in pleasure and the rewards of one’s hard work | Ecclesiastes 2:10–11 ESV And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
- Striving to leave a legacy | Ecclesiastes 2:16–17 ESV For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.
- Building up a life filled with meaningful things | Ecclesiastes 2:26 ESV For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
- Competing with others and envying them | Ecclesiastes 4:4 ESV Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
- Hoping to be loved and remembered for one’s hard work and contributions | Ecclesiastes 4:15 ESV There was no end of all the people, all of whom he led. Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind.
- Studying endlessly and writing many books | Ecclesiastes 12:9-10,12 NLT Keep this in mind: The Teacher was considered wise, and he taught the people everything he knew. He listened carefully to many proverbs, studying and classifying them. The Teacher sought to find just the right words to express truths clearly. But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out.
Most of us would view such endeavours as meaningful and fulfilling. This can certainly be true for a period of time, but the satisfaction does not last for very long.
Here is what king Solomon, who certainly had “been there and done it all”, had to say to all of us: “What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God. And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God’s purpose is that people should fear him. What is happening now has happened before, and what will happen in the future has happened before, because God makes the same things happen over and over again … Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.” (Ecclesiastes 3:9-15, 12:13-14 NLT)
Our souls need God to fulfil us at the deepest levels
Praise God that we do not have to endlessly strive to find meaning and fulfilment for our souls, when we can find it all through our Creator.
Ephesians 2:10 ESV For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
- It is God who gives our souls rest | Matthew 11:29 ESV Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
- He will satisfy our weary and disheartened souls | Jeremiah 31:25 ESV For I will satisfy the weary soul …
- He will refresh and replenish our souls | Jeremiah 31:25 ESV … every languishing soul I will replenish.”
- He will cheer our souls and give us peace | Psalm 94:19 ESV When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.
God is a good and perfect Father who will satisfy our souls like no other can. God the Father is:
- Comforting | 2 Corinthians 1:3 ESV Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,
- Compassionate | Psalm 103:13 ESV As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
- Disciplining i.e. guiding, teaching and correcting | Hebrews 12:6 ESV For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
- Everlasting | Isaiah 9:6 ESV For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
- Faithful | Exodus 34:6 ESV The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
- Forgiving | Numbers 14:18 ESV ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’
- Generous | Ephesians 1:3 ESV Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
- Good | Psalm 31:19 ESV Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!
- Glorious | Ephesians 1:17 ESV that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,
- Just | Deuteronomy 32:4 ESV “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.
- Loving | 1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are…
- Majestic | Psalm 104:1 ESV Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
- Omnipresent, everywhere at all times | Ephesians 4:6 ESV one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
- Patient | 2 Peter 3:9 ESV The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
- Peace-giving | Philippians 1:2 ESV Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Perfect | Matthew 5:48 ESV You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
- Powerful | 1 Chronicles 29:11 ESV Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.
- Kind | Titus 3:4-5 ESV But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
- Merciful | Luke 6:36 ESV Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
- Redeeming | Isaiah 63:16 ESV For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.
- Righteous | John 17:25 ESV O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me.
- Splendid | Habakkuk 3:3 ESV … His splendor covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise.
- Strong | 1 Corinthians 1:25 ESV For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
God is good and faithful to any person who seeks Him and He will bring our souls out of trouble.
Lamentations 3:25 ESV The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
Psalm 143:11 ESV For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life! In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!
If we recognise that we have been trying to quench the longings in our souls without God, here is an opportunity to repent and turn back to Him. God promises to meet all our needs when we seek Him with all our hearts (desires and motivations) and all our souls (inner being).
Deuteronomy 4:29 ESV But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.
A short prayer to seek God with all our souls
“Dear Heavenly Father,
I confess that I have been striving to find meaning and purpose in life and to satisfy the deep longings of my soul on my own, longings that only You can satisfy. Please forgive me for my ignorance and for not looking to You, my Creator, to fulfil all of them and show me my purpose and meaning.
Thank you that You have been patient, faithful, and good to me. I been wandering around like a lost sheep, and today choose to return to the good Shepherd and Overseer of my soul, Jesus, Your Son. My soul has been thirsting for You all along and today, I humbly stretch out my hands to You and ask You to please receive and accept me.
Psalm 143:6 ESV I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
I confess that I have been longing for (list your desires) and have been placing my hopes in (list the things or people) instead. I have not been able to find deep and ever-lasting fulfilment. I have been going around cycles.
Job 7:11 ESV “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
You did not create me to simply exist or to keep striving. You give Your children rest and protection.
Today, I offer You my entire being: my heart, mind, and soul. Please come into my heart as my Lord, Guide, Saviour, and Friend.
The desires of my eyes and anxieties of my heart constantly entice me away from You. These are the passions that “wage war against my soul” but I will commit to wait on You, Lord, to satisfy my soul in Your perfect way.
1 Peter 2:11 ESV Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
Psalm 130:45 ESV I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
Nothing here will last forever. Only You are enteral, and I choose to live a life that is focused first on my eternity with You. I will fix my eyes “not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Please deliver me from my distress when my soul feels faint. Teach me how to seek You with all my heart and all my soul. You are the Refuge for my soul!!
Psalm 107:5-6 ESV … their soul fainted within them. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.
Psalm 142:4-5 ESV Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul. I cry to you, O Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”
In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen!”
The following is a moving testimony of how the longings of our soul can lead us to anxious coping mechanisms, and how God’s Word reminds us of who we are and how His Spirit will minister to us when we humble ourselves before Him.
“I had been searching for intimacy with men for as long as I remember. Deep down in my heart, there is a strong desire to be fully known, accepted, and loved by men. This desire for connection with men dated as far back as six years old, well before I was separated from my father due to my parent’s divorce.
Although my father was physically present during my childhood, I have considered myself a fatherless child as I never felt like he cared or showed interest in me. This, coupled with my experiences of rejection by male peers, caused me to form a deep resentment toward men. The perceived rejection from my father and male peers caused me to question my masculinity and feel that I will never be accepted as a man.
Out of pain, I formed many unhealthy conclusions about men, believing that they are irresponsible, unemotional, and shallow. My experience as a victim of toxic masculinity caused me to reject men and prevented me from feeling safe with them.
But deep down in my soul, I was still yearning for intimacy. I longed to have a male ‘best friend’ who could know me intimately and love me unconditionally. This longing carried into my adulthood, even after I devoted my life to following Christ.
Fast forward to today, I still find myself trapped in the cycle of entering unhealthy and codependent friendships with men. When I meet a man or a brother-in-Christ, whom I see potential to become a close friend, I would eagerly open up and yoke to that person, hoping that my vulnerability would deepen our intimacy.
My experience with these friendships felt very intense, to an extent that the person would consume all of my thoughts. I would subconsciously seek ways to please that person and create opportunities to spend time with that person exclusively. (Manipulative, I know, but I could not control myself from acting out of a place of deprivation and deep hurt.)
These efforts to force intimacy soon led to disappointment when I realised that those friends were unable to reciprocate the same level of affection or they felt overwhelmed by my desperate pursuit. This often leads to rupture in these friendships, which leads me to judge and hate them, followed by shaming myself for being toxic and manipulative.
These short-lived friendships reinforced the idea that I would never be accepted by men and that I am unlovable. I know, cognitively, that these statements are untrue, but the pain of rejection convinced me that I am of no value or worth.
There were many times when the pain cuts too deep that I would unknowingly entertain thoughts of suicide and fantasise about ways to take my own life.
Having received much support from prayer ministry and counselling throughout the past few years, I was frantically trying to push away these dark thoughts and seek the right prayers to say.
“God, I have already done so much inner healing and deliverance work, what else do I need to pray about? Who do I need to forgive? Where did these suicidal thoughts come from?” My anxiety shot through the roof as I tried to make sense of the chaos in my heart.
At that instant, I received a call from a friend. I shared with her what I experienced and the cycle that I have yet again found myself in. My friend paused and very gently reminded me, “While it’s good to have insights about where your pains come from, you also need to exercise your full armour. Do not let the enemy deter you from knowing the truth.” Immediately, Jeremiah 17:7-9 came to mind.
Jeremiah 17:7-9 NIV But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
Do I place my trust in what my Lord says, or do I place my trust in human relationships or my own feelings? Will I ever understand my deceitful heart? Just like the thorn in Paul’s flesh, this desire for intimacy may not be completely fulfilled, even by my own spouse, until the day Jesus Christ returns. Yet God, by His grace, has given us His words and promises to demolish the accusations and lies that the enemy throws at us. I am reminded to exercise my sound mind, and not let my broken heart throw me into turmoils.
2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
These feelings of rejection still creep up quietly every now and then, but I try to remind myself that God has given me the freedom to not obey my flesh and has given me authority and power through the Holy Spirit.
These days, I always pray for God to give me experiences that counter these lies that I am unlovable or not accepted. One of the prayers that I pray is for God to touch me, and allow me to feel him physically.
One day, as I was praying, I saw Jesus standing before me in my mind. He extended his hands to me and showed me the nail-pierced scars on his forearms. He invited me to touch his scars and hugged me tightly with those arms. I was deeply moved and overcome by a great sense of comfort knowing that I am known and seen.
Isaiah 53:5 NIV But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
Just like Jesus resurrected with scars on his arms, I will also carry scars with me even as a renewed Christian. The goal is not to remove these scars, but to know that Jesus shares my pain with me through his scars and that he will return one day to restore all things to perfection.”
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