By David Kowalski
Misused words can change the way we think about things, and I believe one of the most misused words in the Christian vocabulary is “need,” as much of what we denote with the term is actually only a reference to a “want.” As Lloyd John Ogilvie says, “There’s a great difference between wants and needs.”
A look at the biblical use of the term shows we are often out of step with that usage. Job described the needy as those who had “no covering” (Job 31:19 NASB). Paul’s exhortation to contentment clearly implies that his concept of need is limited to things absolutely required for sustaining life:
If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. (1Timothy 6:8 NASB)
Jesus’ exhortation to trust seems to imply this same, limited view of need:
For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. (Matthew 6:25 NASB)
We would be mistaken, though, to think that God does not bless us with more than we need. Paul said “God…richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1Timothy 6:17 NASB). We are not called to the extreme asceticism of a homeless hermit.
It is important to recognize, though, that these “extras” are superfluities or luxuries – not needs, for failure to do so can lead to a spiritually unhealthy attitude. If we think of these extras as needs we start to think of them as promised (Philippians 4:19 etc.)
Consequently, our attitude in prayer about such things can become one of errantly “claiming promises” rather than making requests, and if we do not get the wants we have “claimed,” we may become discouraged as we think that either we or God have failed somehow.
On the other hand, if we do receive the things we want, we may be encouraged to carry a continuously presumptuous attitude toward God with regard to wants. At its most extreme, this attitude may cause believers to try to bully God into giving them unpromised superfluities by reminding Him of His “promises” in a demanding tone.
The confusion of needs and wants can also make us ungrateful. When God has given us so much more than our genuine needs, we may fail to properly appreciate this fact with appropriate gratitude if we only think of His luxurious blessings as minimum requirements that can be taken for granted. We should be “always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (Ephesians 5:20 NASB).
To almost quote a former United States president – it all depends on what your definition of “need” is. I consider it important for our spiritual lives to define it properly.
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