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Living in the Tension Between What We Want and What’s Valuable

One of the first phrases a child learns to say is, “I want…” And the leap from “I want Thomas the Tank Engine” to “I want a Tesla” isn’t very far at all.

So strong is our desire — for a relationship, a nicer car, a trip to the beach — that I once heard a speaker say if a surgeon cut each of us open, he was sure he’d find a “wanter” inside.

For many of us, what we want is something that can be found in a store. One study cited by Boston College Sociologist Juliet Schor in her book, “The Overspent American,” found that nearly two-thirds of us “always have something in mind that we look forward to buying.”

So, if we’re going to spend so much time and energy wanting, it’s worth taking a closer look at the question: “What do I want?”

That’s the focus of a series of messages I’ve been listening to from Andy Stanley, Senior Pastor at North Point Community Church in Atlanta.

What follows are some of the key points from the first two messages in the series. I present them not as a substitute for listening to the series yourself, but hopefully to whet your appetite to listen and wrestle with this important topic.

Message 1 – ‘Careful What You Want For’

  • What we want is a surprisingly tricky question to answer
  • Oftentimes, when we get what we want now, we don’t get what we really want later
  • Sometimes, what we want damages relationships (“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” – James 4:1)
  • Most of us don’t know what we really want because we’re so distracted by what’s in front of us—what we could get right now
  • What we really wants lurks in a realm we rarely explore
  • “You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” – James 4:2-3
  • When we ask, sometimes we do not receive because what we ask for will only temporarily satisfy
  • God wants more for you
  • You’ll never get what you really want until you discover what you really value

Message 2 – ‘Don’t Be Deceived’

  • What’s more important than your surface wants are your deeper values
  • Pursuing what we value is more difficult than it seems because choosing what’s valuable does not come naturally
  • Even the apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, struggled with this
  • “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” – Romans 7:15-19
  • What we naturally want often comes from our sinful nature, which is why we don’t get what we really want
  • “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry (putting things before people), sorcery (trying to control people), hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.” – Galatians 5:19-21
  • “…Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters.” – James 1:14-16
  • The tension between what we naturally want and what’s valuable is a battle. We have to consciously choose what’s valuable over what we naturally want.

Wow. You can see why he started the series by making the point that the question, “What do I want?” is trickier than it seems.

You can watch the messages online or do what I did—search for “North Point Community Church” through your podcasts app and listen to the messages on your way to and from work. Then download the discussion questions and work through them on your own or with others.

What’s your response to some of the key points above?

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4 Responses to Living in the Tension Between What We Want and What’s Valuable

  1. michelle February 13, 2017 at 1:45 AM #

    Thanks Matt. I have enjoyed Andy Stanley’s teachings on quite a few topics including finances. Thanks for giving us this to think about. Personally, in the big picture, I want security and freedom from having to struggle. God has blessed and has taken care of me all my life. I have been wise as much as I know how to be and that’s a good feeling at age 56. I realize anything can happen to change that so my faith has to be in Christ for that security. I realized long ago that things are just things and I have not had a problem with material things (plus I like saving money!).

    p.s. did you get my email about the replica of Noah’s Ark in Williamstown, KY? It was great. Michelle near Memphis

    • Matt Bell February 13, 2017 at 9:38 PM #

      Thanks for your feedback, Michelle. As you’re describing, gratitude is huge, as is holding loosely to the things of this world.

      Thanks for the recommendation about the Noah’s Ark replica. We live fairly close so we’ll have to check it out.

  2. Karen Howard February 7, 2017 at 3:25 PM #

    Hi Matt,

    This was an interesting post – and it sounds like an interesting message series!

    I have one point of disagreement with the Message 2 bullets: Idolatry is not putting things before people, it is putting anything (things or people) before God.

    Thanks for posting!

    • Matt Bell February 7, 2017 at 3:44 PM #

      That’s a great point, Karen. And I agree.

      That definition — putting things before people — was what Stanley said, but I have to assume he meant that as just a partial definition.

      Thanks for writing!