The Danger of Getting What We Want

We often choose earthly treasures that we can’t keep over eternal treasures that we can’t lose.

Tim Keller paraphrased and quoted a columnist back in the 1980’s in a recent sermon he gave. The columnist knew a number of celebrities personally. Keller paraphrased the columnist: “I knew them when they were working behind the counter the cosmetic counter at Macy’s, and I knew them when they were bouncers at the village clubs, and all that, and then they became famous, and they became movie stars, and then they became more unhappy then they were before.”

Keller paraphrased further: “That giant thing they were striving for, that ‘fame thing’ that was going to make everything OK, that was going to make their lives bearable, that was going to provide them personal fulfillment and with ‘ha ha happiness’, it had happened and nothing changed. They were still them. The disillusionment turned them howling and insufferable.”

Keller then quoted the columnist, who said, “If God really wants to play a rotten practical joke on us, He grants your deepest wish and then giggles merrily as you suddenly realize you want to kill yourself.”

God made us for Himself.

Of course, the idea of God “giggling merrily” is obviously not biblical, but the rest of it is. God made us for Himself. He weeps at our choosing to follow after the things we want instead of Him. He weeps for us because it can never fulfill us.

I write this on the heels of my last article in which I reflected on celebrity Christianity. More accurately, celebrities who have recently become Christians. In the article, I also reflected on “celebrity” Christians, people who were thrust into the Christian limelight at an early age, before a firm foundation of spiritual growth and relationship with God.

And I wonder how those celebrities turning to Christianity will fair into the future. They are used to the warm (and sometimes harsh) light of public celebrity. That is where they live, but what they need is the nutrient rich soil of God’s word, prayer, relationship to God, fellowship and all the things God must do in us in the dark recesses of our hearts, well out of the light of public life.

Like the rich young ruler who was searching, but found it too difficult to leave behind all his wealth to which he had become accustomed, celebrity  fame and fortune may difficult to give up. Even though it doesn’t satisfy the deepest longings of the soul, it is still (likely) everything they thought they wanted.

Riches, and celebrity, and comfort, and recognition become a trap. We are lured in. Our own desires propel us hard in the direction of the sunlight. We strain our whole lives with all of our effort. All of our thoughts, hopes and dreams carry us along, and the things we gain along the way, even if they turn sour in our hands, are difficult to give up…. If it was all we wanted.

Keller’s sermon is based on the Lord’s prayer (“Thy kingdom come….”) and the example of God’s kingdom given to us by Jesus (Luke 6:20-23):

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.
“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.”

And the admonition that follows (Luke 6:24-26):

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”

The “woes” are all the things we want: riches, comforts, good food, laughter, reputation and recognition. Keller points out that “woe” is not meant in the sense of a curse from God, but in the sense of sadness – sadness that people choose the temporary things over the eternal things. We tend to want to choose earthly treasures that we can’t keep over eternal treasures that we can’t lose.

Elsewhere, Paul admonishes, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:10) Money, itself is not the issue; the issue is when we love money, when we crave it and wander after it in place of God.

The same is true for comforts, good food, entertainment, celebrity, recognition and all the things that are temporal and will not last. The writer of Ecclesiastes is right, “Everything is meaningless under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

Generations come and generations go. The sun rises and sets; winds blow this way and then that; streams flow into rivers, and rivers into oceans, and the oceans are never filled. They evaporate into the atmosphere, and the process starts over again. (Ecclesiastes 1:5-7) The universe was here long before us and will be here long after we are gone, absent interference with the natural processes by God.

Our lives are like a vapor

Our lives are like a vapor or mist (James 4:14, like a plant that flowers one day and falls to the ground the next (Job 14:2; Psalm 103:15), like a shadow (Job 14:2) or grass that grows for a short season before withers and dies away. (1 Peter 1:24). This is the message of all of Scripture. It is the message we get when we look out on the universe and contemplate our place in it.

These things should help us to realize that we shouldn’t make temporal things our ultimate desires.

Into this meaningless world that was subjected to futility (Romans 8:20[1]) by God, God introduced Himself in the form of a man, like us in every way, to show us that there is more – there is hope. He left behind His power, position and privilege as creator of the world, and He emptied Himself of these things to become one of us, to become a servant to us[2] – a servant to the ultimate goal which is to lift humankind who were made in the image of God, made for relationship with God, to the position of being able to receive the ultimate thing that will alone satisfy all of our deepest desires – the adoption by God as His sons and daughters.

Through His death in human flesh and resurrection, God made a way for us to follow Him, to be born again into an ultimate reality for which He made us, to be adopted as His own. He has specifically prepared for us this “place”[3], and He prepares us for that reality[4] when we let go of all our earthly desires and seek him first, above all other things.[5]

Therefore, we should not seek our treasures on the earth; these treasures are spurious, a mist, subject to decay[6] and cannot ultimately be retained by us. (“You can’t take them with you when you go”, as they say.) God has something far greater in mind for us[7]. We have to let go of this world to grab onto the things God has prepared for us.

The danger is that we often pursue earthly (momentary) things over eternal things. If we obtain those things that we desire, as many have, we will know the utter emptiness that remains. We will know that those things don’t satisfy the deepest desires in our hearts and souls. But we will have spent our lives and all the momentum of our lives pursuing them. It’s difficult to change course.

As with the rich young ruler, it’s difficult to let go. There is a danger in getting what we want. That danger is that, having gotten it, we are trapped by it, like the monkey not willing or able to let go of the object it holds that is chained to a fixed object (a monkey trap). And though the monkey is able to escape the lion that approaches by letting go, he is trapped by his desire for the thing he can’t ultimately have. He won’t let go, and so he is doomed.

We can become trapped by our desire for things we can’t ultimately have.

We can become trapped by our desire for things we can’t ultimately have. The things we desire on this earth are things we can’t ultimately have. Not only do they decay, but we die. And if all we have gained in our lives on this earth are temporal things, we ultimately have nothing of substance, nothing of eternal value.


[1] Romans 8:18-23 (“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”)

[2] Philippians 2:5-8 (“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”)

[3] John 14:1-3 (““Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”)

[4] Romans 8: 21, 23 (“the freedom of the glory of the children of God…. … adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”); 1 Peter 1:4 (“an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade…. [an] inheritance [that] is kept in heaven for you….”) 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 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.”

[5] Matthew 6:31-33 (“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”)

[6] Matthew 6:19-21 (“’Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.’”) But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’.”)

[7] 1 Corinthians 2:9, quoting Isaiah 64:4 (“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”)

2 thoughts on “The Danger of Getting What We Want

  1. For the longest time, I pursued recognition as an author. I wanted it fiercely and I suppose I became quite selfish in my pursuit of it. But, it hasn’t made me happy – or at least happier.

    I’ve surrendered that desire. I still write and have a new project that I’m working on, but it’s less about the end goal for me than it is about the craft of writing, assembling a story, creating the characters, visualising the setting.

    I’m driven now by something deeper – a desire for exploration, for illumination. There is something far more valuable in that.


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