A wise man once said that the first things we do in life are to map our world and to want what we don’t have.
In the story of the first man and woman, Adam named everything in his world. The Bible shows he and Eve pretty much had it all: a beautiful home, good job, access to the tree of life, with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil the only thing they were denied. But humanity's first parents learned the hard way that we can derail our own happiness by wanting wrong things, or even right things in the wrong way.
Interestingly, the Garden of Eden story identifies more than one type of wanting. Eve saw that the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil was “good for food . . . pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise . . .” (Genesis 3:6), so she and her husband ate from it. The three forms of wanting here correlate with our physical needs (good for food), our emotional needs (pleasant to the eyes), and our deeper psychological aspirations (to make one wise).
None of these human desires is wrong if properly guided and controlled, but the story shows that when we look to forbidden sources to fulfill even healthy desires, the result is dangerous — even deadly.
Ancient Israel also found this to be true. During their wilderness wanderings, the Israelites focused on their physical needs and comforts, while complaining about what God gave them. The manna narrative in Exodus 16 illustrates this, and Psalm 106:15 tells us that although God gave them their requests, He sent leanness into their souls (see also Psalm 81:10-12).
Do we live with a dissatisfied mind? Just as the Israelites did not find happiness in the fulfillment of their desires, we learn by sad experience that getting our wants doesn’t always make us happy.
Rather than being content with our possessions as Scripture teaches (Hebrews 13:5), we tend to envy those who have things we want: a more expensive car, nicer home, bigger TV, latest iGadget, or any other physical thing. What item is at the top of your personal “want list” in life?
Overcoming envious and shortsighted desires comes to some through learning that the quest for bigger and better things is endless and can never be satisfied. But contentment can come quickly to those who cultivate gratitude for what they have and understand that God offers everything truly important if we seek it with a right attitude according to His will.
Whether being expelled from Eden or dying in the wilderness, the story of unguided and immoral wanting ends the same. Psalm 37 reminds us of the fate of those who try to obtain their wants in wrong ways (Psalm 37:1-2). But in this psalm, David also points to the potential for fulfillment of all our right desires.
First, he discusses our physical needs: “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and enjoy safe pasture” (Psalm 37:3). Here, a life combining faith and good works puts us in position for God to care for our basic needs. Even though economic hardship sometimes happens to His people, God does supply the needs of those who walk with Him (Psalm 37:25).
Next, the psalmist covers emotional needs for those whose devotion to God goes past the minimum level of obedience: “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). As our perspectives change and we begin to “want” rightly and unselfishly in all areas of life — especially in our relationships with others — it becomes normal and natural that our deepest emotional desires will be granted.
Then, David points to a total commitment to God: “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun” (Psalm 37:5-6). Commit here does not mean any weak statement of life-purpose. The word is a form of the Hebrew gol, used for the concept of “rolling” as in a large, heavy stone (e.g., Genesis 29:3, 8). It implies a fully energetic moving or thrusting of our will – an all-out effort toward God’s way. This kind of commitment, David proclaims, results in eventual fulfillment of even our highest spiritual goals.
In this psalm, then, we see the fulfillment of everything we really want in this life and beyond: physical needs, emotional desires, and ultimately our spiritual aspirations. This is no selfish investment program of giving more to get more, but rather the development of our dedication to God and the resulting fulfillment of our needs and desires that He wants to meet.
Wanting the best
While fulfilling physical desires according to God’s will is good, they still fall short of the greatest things we can want: God’s own attributes, and especially His love, as the apostle Paul stresses (1 Corinthians 12:31—13:3). The gift of love is itself composed of many aspects (1 Corinthians 13:4-7), and it is those qualities of patience, forgiveness, lack of envy, humility, and kindness that bring lasting happiness to ourselves and others, and that are the very gifts that God most desires to give us through His Spirit. These same aspects of God's nature are, Paul wrote, the things we too should desire above all else. So why not make up a want list of some of the truly important things – and ask the Giver of every good and perfect thing (James 1:17) for those gifts?