Needs or Wants?

Have you noticed the recent minimalism trend? Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed an increase of podcasts, blog posts and books, like this one, encouraging people to get rid of clutter, downsize their wardrobe, simplify their finances and reduce their purchase and the accumulation of stuff. I am fascinated and encouraged by this trend. It reminds me of some basic Bible principles, which all of us as Christians should embrace. Ultimately, however, the trend will fail to satisfy the inward longing of any person who embraces a minimalist lifestyle without embracing Jesus Christ as well.

As a Christian, I need to find my satisfaction in trusting and obeying Jesus Christ. I need to focus on the relationships and priorities that God says are eternally worthwhile, not on the temporal gratification of things and experiences that money can buy. To do this, I must clearly understand the difference between a need and a want. Do you?

  • A need is something that is necessary for living.
  • A want is something that is not necessary for living and is not necessarily sin, but may or may not be appropriate for me to experience or possess.

What is a need? Jesus teaches that food, water and clothing are needs (Matthew 6:25). Without these things, you cannot carry out the responsibilities of daily life. Yet, as simple as this list may be, we still find it difficult to identify our needs. Why?

There is something inside of us which the Bible calls our flesh. This twisted, inflated, selfish appetite strongly desires the things and experiences that this world offers, deceiving me into thinking that these things are actually needs. The flesh desires things that seem to be needs, yet are exaggerated, distorted and misrepresented versions of genuine needs. Scripture calls this “loving the things of this world” and “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (1 John 2:15-17).

We need food, but should avoid gluttony (Proverbs 23:2). We need hydration, but should avoid intoxicating beverages (Proverbs 23:31-5, 31:4-5). We need sleep and rest, but should avoid laziness (Proverbs 6:9-11). We need clothing, but should avoid excessive inventory (Luke 12:15).

Unfortunately, United States culture (and international culture) inflates and exaggerates our definition of a need. We believe that we need far more things, and far more expensive things that is actually the case. We look at our neighbors, we see the advertisements and we listen to our own exaggerated hearts. And what is the unhappy result? We think we need so many things, when so much of what we accumulate and pursue is nothing more than a want. So much of our debt, schedule and stress is the result of pursuing things that we don’t need in the first place.

Rather than clamoring for all of the things that the world at large calls a need, you should learn to define your needs in a biblical way. As you grow in discernment, you will happily discover a more simple, less stressful life. You will also learn to be satisfied with the sovereign provision of God (Matthew 6:25-33). Furthermore, by studying the Bible you will developed a balanced perspective.

I like what one resource, here, from Crown Financial Ministries says about this balanced perspective that the Bible provides:

“A steward’s response to materialism is neither asceticism not extravagance but rather to find the appropriate, individual balance between this world and other-world living.”

It is not always sinful to purchase or acquire something that is more than a need. In fact, Scripture teaches that God enables some of His children to experience material riches in this life (1 Timothy 6:17). The problem we face is believing that we need certain things which God does not call a need. When we fail to properly identify our needs, believing that we must have and experience things which we don’t actually need, then we enter into unfortunate stress, anxiety, weariness, overload, sorrow and loss (1 Timothy 6:6-10).

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

Here are some questions for you to consider:

  • When you pause to evaluate your financial habits and the amount of stuff that you own, can you say that you know the difference between a need and a want?
  • Do you notice anything about your financial commitments and habits, or the things that you own, that are causing unnecessary and unfortunate stress and anxiety in your daily and weekly routine?
  • Do you see any way that you can simplify your life in a biblical, balanced way (which the world may consider to be radical), enabling you to focus on the relationships and priorities that God says are eternally worthwhile?


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