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Wants Versus Needs

Wants Versus Needs

We all have wants and needs. I would guess that most of us concentrate on the wants. I’ve personally often had little comprehension of what my needs truly are.

In life, we will constantly run into situations where our wants are not met. Despite this, it’s quite remarkable how often our needs are met. Think about it. What do you really need in life? Food, shelter, health, money, family and friends—these rank pretty high on most people’s lists. What is underlying these “needs?” Is it not happiness? And what is the root of happiness? Is it not love and acceptance?

The spiritual path reveals a different understanding of wants and needs. What the world tells us we should want, the spiritual life shows us is mostly a sham. We don’t really need a new car or the latest big screen television. We typically eat more than we need. Oh yes, of course there are people who are truly in need of a meal, a home, a job and many of the things taken for granted by the over-commercialized society we live in. For those of you who are not part of this Western world where commerce and materialism rule, please don’t feel indicted.


In Christ’ incredibly profound “Sermon on the Mount” (Mathew 5:1-12), He lists a number of conditions that most of us would not want to be in: sorrow, hunger, spiritual poverty, persecution. All these situations are painful and self-sacrificing.

He also talks about a number of things worth striving for: mercy, peacemaking, righteousness and purity. Are any of these wants for us today? There’s no doubt they are desperately needed in our world.

Here’s the lesson that is slowly getting through my thick skull (or denial, take your choice). Wants are mostly concerned with me and my way. Needs (and the providing of them) are God’s business.

I hope you examine closely what your wants and needs are. It’s important to learn to differentiate between the two. Human nature “wants” it all. God wants for us to be happy, joyous and free. God knows what we really need.

Why is it that many people living without all the trappings of success (as measured by our false system of wants and needs) appear to be so happy, so joyous … so free?

Maybe it’s because they don’t have the opportunity to be trapped like we do. If you are simply grateful for a little food, a smile, a bit of kindness and security from the elements, then the really important things matter more.


Years ago, a song by The Rolling Stones contained the profound statement, You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need. That statement contains some significant truth.

It seems that everything that I’ve ever really needed came about by doing things I didn’t want to do at the time. I’m not normally excited about humility, tolerance for those I find irritating or working hard for some unseen payoff far down the road. Rarely do I jump to the unpleasant task of closely and honestly examining my faults. If I do, I’ll rapidly see where I am lacking in generosity and kindness. Hey, I like to think about myself as a pretty good guy! What is the motive behind that? If it is recognition and approval—money, power and prestige—then once again I am on a slippery slope.

Over and over gifts of happiness, joy and satisfaction have come directly from doing for others, for putting someone else’s needs ahead of mine.


This can all seem counter intuitive. If it does, then you have a wonderful opportunity to change, to recognize that the reality that you (like me) have accepted for much of your life is false. It’s not who dies with the most toys. It’s not even getting your own way most of the time, even when your motives are good—you know the quote from C.S. Lewis: “The good is often the enemy of the best.”

So, now what? Does this mean we must all sit around with long faces and accept our lot in life? No, rather than sitting on our pity, we need to get busy. There are things to do, people to help and life to live!

Zig Ziglar is known as a pretty good salesman, speaker and motivator. He’s got some funny stories and a serious message under it all. He’s fond of saying, “You can get anything you want in life if you just help enough other people get what they want.” I’m not sure if that is completely true. Getting rewarded for helping others is great, but that can’t be my motivation. Nevertheless, I do believe that Jesus was speaking truth when He said that the first will be last, that anyone who wants to be in a position of authority must be willing to serve and that love is always an action, not just a sentiment.

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