Feeling guilty for wanting things

Straight Talk

The Question

Is it wrong to want things? I’ve listened to sermons encouraging me to have hopes and dreams and goals. But then I’ve also heard sermons warning against greed, self-centeredness and covetousness. I’ve reached a point where I feel guilty if I want anything. I’m really confused.

Sheri From Ohio

The Answer
Part 1: Balance
Part 2: Watch what you hear

Balance (Part 1)

Let me assure you that you can have hopes and dreams and goals and yet avoid self-centeredness, greed and covetousness. Both are possible. But I know what you mean. Balance in this area is not always a piece of cake and I’ve struggled with it myself.

When Jesus was telling his disciples not to worry about day-to-day life he told them, “’But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.’” (Luke 12:31) He was telling them that if their priorities were in order they wouldn’t have to worry about provision. The thing is, how does that play out in specifics?

If our car is getting ready to die, do we have to settle for a used one or can we desire a new car? If it’s a new one, are we allowed to have it loaded or should we settle for bare bones so we can send more money to missions? Should we always choose the very least expensive thing so we don’t get overtaken with materialism? Sometimes I’ve said to myself: “Here’s what I want but do I really needit?” Then guilt tries to encroach on me. That’s probably exactly what happens to you too, right?

Well, guilt is not from God. (Note: I’m not talking about legitimate guilt that convicts us of sin.) Guilt simply robs us of joy and is mostly the devil’s way of picking at us so we don’t experience the fullness of life that Jesus promised us. When we feel guilt it’s usually a clue that the enemy of our soul is at work.

Father God has hopes and dreams and goals for us. He wants those things to come to fruition and he wants to bless our efforts. We should certainly never feel guilty when we develop and use our gifts or pursue his blessings. In fact, thinking about the father child relationship in the natural realm may be the best way of understanding the balance you are trying to achieve.

I don’t know if you have children but if you do, think about how you feel about them growing up and what you want for their future. You are excited when they do well, you are happy when they are interested in life and when they achieve success. God feels the same way about us–to the nth degree.

On the other hand, you can easily tell when your child is being selfish and greedy. You can tell the difference between when they ask to, say, take piano lessons because they like music and when they demand to take piano lessons as if it is their right and you should accommodate their every whim. It is the attitude of heart that makes the difference, one that is completely apparent to a conscientious parent.

As you evaluate all the choices that come your way and all the things you want, think about your heart’s motivation. It’s not that hard for you to tell the difference between the two attitudes that get you to two very different places. Where you honestly encounter greed, pull back. Don’t go there. But never pull back from God’s blessings.

Watch what you hear (Part 2)

I think it’s possible to preach the two types of sermons you have heard without contradiction. There is really no discrepancy and no need for you to feel in conflict and I hope I’ve shown that here.

Still, I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that there will be times when you will hear things from the pulpit which contradict other things you’ve heard or that you believe. What do you do when this happens? I’ll tell you a story from my past that helped me a great deal.

This was many years ago. My pastor at the time invited a speaker whom I had heard before and whom I greatly respected. I was all set to listen to another wisdom filled sermon and believe every word of it. Everything was going well until he portrayed Abigail in the Old Testament in a very negative light. (Abigail became David’s wife after her worthless husband Nabal was struck down by the Lord. See 1 Samuel 25). Anyhow, what he said was disturbing. More, it was quite confusing to me.

After a few weeks went by I couldn’t shake it and I happened to bring it up to another pastor. I guess I somehow felt up to that time obligated to accept everything that came down from the pulpit, just because it represented spiritual authority. I found out Pastor Cheri felt the same way I did about the comments but she had wisely dismissed them immediately with no further thought. She told me something that changed the way I listened from then on.

She said she had learned long ago to “eat the hay and spit out the stubble.” Take what is good and right out of what is presented but be ready to discard what has no spiritual nutrition. Unfortunately, there’s plenty of stubble trying to pass for hay. Don’t expect those who preach to be perfect. They bring their own biases and life perspectives with them—just like we all do.

The next time you hear two approaches to God’s Word that appear contradictory, seek the answer for yourself through prayer and your own scripture study. Ask the Holy Spirit for the wisdom you need to apply God’s truth to your life. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)