All I wanted was a North Face fleece. Many my friends had North Face fleeces, so I wanted a North Face fleece. Nonetheless, the one my mom bought me was from Land’s End or Eddie Bauer. It was a nice fleece, it was warm, it was a good color…but it was not a North Face fleece. It did not have the same tag on it that the fleeces my friends had on that June 1996 day as we drove into the small, mountain town of Crested Butte, Colorado. And I decided to share, nonchalantly mentioning, “I need a new fleece.”
An adult responded by asking me if I really needed it? Like as if my life depended on it? Or if I merely wanted it? Riding in the back of that 15-passenger van, it dawned on me, for the first time in my short teenage life, that I had no idea what it would feel like to truly need something that I couldn’t get. Food, water, shelter, clothing – all of those things weren’t necessarily provided in extravagance but they certainly weren’t missing from my everyday world. I had no unmet needs on which my life depended. Yet, I still felt like I needed things. Especially a North Face fleece. Of that, I was certain.
It’s not bad to want things. It’s not bad to get things. It’s not bad to have things. I never did get that North Face fleece, but there have been many other possessions that I claimed to need and would pick up along the way. They weren’t really needs. Not the big ones that have consequence when not met. They have almost all been wants. Things that I would prefer to have but didn’t necessarily need. My definitions of needs and wants was gradually altered with my words catching up slowly.
Perhaps it’s because that moment is one that sticks with me after all these years or perhaps it’s because I work with teenagers now in a more affluent community than one in which I’ve ever lived and hear all about needs that seem more like extravagant and OK wants, but whatever the reason, the idea of needs and wants getting mixed up is one on the forefront of my mind and at the center of conversation more often than that which is probably normal.
Like I said, it’s not bad to want things, get things or have things. However, when we don’t have a clear perspective on the matter, we tend to mix up what falls into which category, and, unfortunately, that includes God. In youth ministry, we want teenagers to have an authentic, real relationship with the Living God. We want them to serve others. We want them to experience the love of God and want to love God and others. We want them to want to worship, pray and read the Bible. We wrap all of these things in shiny packages with bows on top in the form of programs, trips, retreats, studies, events and outings. We want them to want Jesus.
It is not bad to want a relationship with God. It is not bad to want to want more of a relationship with God. However, it’s terribly tragic and dangerous when we forget that what’s more important and what should be more prevalent in our approach to the Living God who created and is still intricately involved with the world in which we live is our need for God.
We need God. Period. We need God for everything. He created us in all of our distorted glory. He knows that we are perfect creatures born into a sinful world who can only be restored to our original creation when we have a relationship with Jesus that will ultimately bridge the massive gap between us and Him. Only through a Savior may we even begin to dream of an eternity in Heaven as described in the Bible. He tells us in His word that there is not a blade of grass out of His of dominion, so why should we think that He is not Lord over our lives, as well? He loves us enough to have created us, to die for us and to continue to interact with us. Yet we like to talk in our own terms of how much we want of Him.
When we put such limitations on God, which is actually quite silly and ridiculous to consider so it is more as if we are tricking ourselves to think that we are in control, we neglect to acknowledge God’s glory, grandeur and grace. We forget that there is no one like Him. We forget that we a can never fully understand His hugeness, magnificence or holiness. And we forget that there is nothing we can do to make Him love us any less and nothing we can do to make Him love us any more. And by defining God on our own terms, we fall into a downward spiral of deciding when, how much of and why we need God. We approach Him with an arrogance that dangerously dictates how we define our faith that can bleed into how we live out our faith, respond to others and live our lives, and what kind of faith is one that is on our own terms?
Isn’t the beauty of God and all of His wonder that we need Him and He wants us? How exhausting is it to turn the tables and put the dependence of our faith and salvation on our own shoulders, when there is a God who has taken care of that on our behalf because He loves us that much?