God wants you to know that conflict starts in the heart. Many of our conflicts happen because we want our own way and make choices to get it. The Bible talks about our selfish desires as the reasons for many of our conflicts.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. (James 4:1-2)


Our selfish desires are at the root of many of our fights with other people. Sinful, self-serving desires often take control of our hearts. The heart is like a battlefield where our selfish desires are at war with what we know is right. Our desires can fool us. We will often think that our selfish desires are right, but if they lead us to disobey God’s Word, they are wrong! When we give in to them, we often end up in a conflict with someone. Here are some examples of times when you could find yourself in a conflict if you let your selfish desires rule over you:

  • You want to stay up longer, but your parents say you need to go to bed.
  • You want to go swimming, but your friend wants to go bike riding.
  • You want to go outside to play, but your teachers says that you must stay in to do your work.
Root desires that can lead to sinful choices

Plants get their nourishment through their roots. If those roots are good, a plant will produce good fruit. Likewise, bad roots will produce bad fruit (see Luke 6:43-45). Like plants, we have a root system in our hearts that produces different kinds of fruit. This root system is made up of the desires that are in our hearts. The fruit that grows from these roots is all the choices we make to say and do things. If our hearts are filled with selfish desires, the fruit will usually be sinful words and actions that result in conflict and broken relationships. On the other hand, if our hearts are filled with love for God and a desire to please Him, then the fruit will be words and actions that promote peace and strengthen relationships.

Some of the desires in our hearts are clearly wrong, like greed or selfishness, and will produce bad fruit. Other desires may seem to be good, like wanting to get good grades, but even a good desire can produce bad fruit if you desire something too much. The desire can become a sinful demand. When you demand your own way, you are likely to offend others. This is how conflict often begins (see James 4:1-2).

Root: You think you are better than others. You don’t like to be wrong.
Fruit—Pride: You become defensive and argumentative when someone corrects you.

Root: You want your own way.
Fruit—Selfishness: You will argue, nag, whine, lie, or throw a temper tantrum to try to get people to give in to your desires.

Root: You want more, and you are not content with what you have.
Fruit—Greed: You complain that you don’t have what other people have. You take things that don’t belong to you.

Root: You are afraid of what others will think of you. You want too much to be liked and accepted. You want other people to approve of you and applaud your efforts.
Fruit—Fear of Others: You won’t tell your friends that you are a Christian because you are afraid that they will think you are strange and reject you. You go along with your friends, even when you know that what they are doing is wrong, so that they will accept you. You need constant reassurance that you are doing well.

Root: You feel sorry for yourself and you want others to feel sorry for you, too.
Fruit—Self-Pity: You pout and say, “Nobody has as many chores to do as me!” or “You never let me do anything!” or “Nobody likes me!”

Root: You want what others have. You are not content with what you have.
Fruit—Envy: If your sister gets a new shirt, then you want one as well. You make fun of your brother because he gets good grades and yours aren’t as good.

Root: You don’t want to work. You resist responsibility.
Fruit—Laziness: You refuse to do your chores or schoolwork. You sit and watch TV instead of doing something constructive.

Root: You are afraid of losing the love or friendship of someone special if that person pays attention to someone else.
Fruit—Jealousy: You become angry at your friend for inviting another friend to go skating. You try to do everything you can to break up their friendship.

A heart that desires to love and please God

The good news is that you do not have to be controlled by sinful desires! You can ask the Lord to forgive you for following your selfish desires. More importantly, you can ask him to replace those sinful desires wit the very best desire of all: to love Him with all your heart and to please Him in everything you do. As God changes your heart and gives you the desire to love and please Him, you will be able to say no to your selfish desire and make the kind of good choices that lead to peace. This is the kind of fruit that God loves to produce in our lives through His Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23).

Let’s look at the fruit that comes from a heart that desires to love and please God.

Root: The desire to love and please God.

Fruit—Love: A loving heart shows an unselfish concern for others and desires to do good to them. For example, you will choose to play a game with your friend, even if you don’t particularly enjoy it, because you know it is your friend’s favorite game.

Fruit—Patience: A patient heart will wait without grumbling or complaining. For example, you will choose to wait your turn instead of demanding to go first. You will patiently wait for someone to give you something you have asked for.

Fruit—Kindness: A kind heart is interested in the well-being of others and will be considerate and helpful toward them. For example, you will choose to befriend someone who is seen as different instead of ridiculing the person as others do. You will treat others as you want them to treat you.

Fruit—Gentleness: A gentle heart is compassionate toward others. It is kind and loving, not harsh or violent. For example, you will speak with a gentle voice to someone who speaks angrily to you. As Proverbs 15:1 says: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Adapted from The Young Peacemaker by Corlette Sande. Published by Shepherd Press. Copyright © 1997 by Corlette Sande. Used with permission.