Thinking Through Your Priorities is More Important Than Thinking Through Your Needs

January 3, 2013

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“For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” (Luke 12:23)

We often separate desires into arbitrary categories of “wants” and “needs” to help us make decisions with our money. But this way of thinking can be problematic: almost nothing is technically a “need.” Because of this, honest attempts to manage your desires can either lead to guilt (My conscience won’t let me eat anything besides tap water and vitamin paste) or self-righteousness (If God wanted man to wear shoes we would have been born with Velcro on our feet).

Also, avoiding “wants” leads to a negative focus—self-denial and asceticism—rather than a positive emphasis—on Jesus and his mission. (Col. 3:20-23) If you give up one latte per week in order to pay off debt and give more to your church, the focus is on you and what you should not do (buy a latte) rather than on God and what he’s called us to do.

The truth is, my list of “wants” is really, really long. I want a lot of things. For starters:

  • I want to wear clothes.
  • I want a roof over my head.
  • I want to buy things for my family.
  • I want to drive a car.
  • I want to take my wife out on a date.
  • I want a new iPhone.
  • I want to take a vacation.
  • I want to have people over for dinner.

A straight-up comparison between my infinite “wants” list and my three-point “needs” list inevitably leads me to think in terms of guilt rather than grace. I should be embracing the finished work of Jesus on my behalf, but instead I begin to construct my own pathway to righteousness, wondering, “How many ‘wants’ can I keep and still be ‘holy’?”

This mentality implicitly denies the gospel in favor of a list of rules that I must follow (religion) in order to alleviate guilt and condemnation. I’m not arguing against discernment, self-discipline, or moderation—a good steward must pursue all three. But if you’re in the habit of always rejecting God’s material blessings because they violate some arbitrary regulations, you’re probably rejecting the fullness of his ultimate blessing as well: amazing grace. (Col. 2:20-3:4; Rom. 6:14)

Since the Bible does not draw any absolute distinctions between needs and wants. We’re simply called to trust God for our needs (Luke 11:13; 12:24-25) and be good stewards of everything else he provides. (Matt. 25:21) Most “wants” are not inherently evil, but they are never-ending. Our resources, on the other hand, are finite, which means we must prioritize.

PullQuote wants vs priorities

Pastor Bill Clem writes in his recent book Disciple, we follow God “as redeemed image-bearers, worshipers, a community, and missionaries.” We can get a good idea of godly priorities based off of these categories:

Prioritize Jesus. Our identity is found in the person and work of Jesus. Without him we are lost, so we must prioritize our relationship with him, and live our lives in worship of him. More than that, he is worthy of being our highest priority.

Prioritize human relationships. We were created to need community—to love, serve, and help one another. Therefore, we must prioritize our relationships with people, beginning with our family (first spouse, then children), then our church, friends, and neighborhood.

Prioritize mission. God has given us the mission to make disciples, (Matt. 28:19; Acts 1:8) and he calls his disciples to participate in this work. We must prioritize the gospel, using our resources to bless, care for, and share the gospel to those in our circles of influence.

Once we align our priorities according to life as a disciple, we can begin to evaluate our wants in light of this framework.

“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Tim. 4:4-5)
This post was adapted from my book Money: God or GiftBuy it for $2.99 and read it on your Kindle, or on a free Kindle Reader application.