Why is it that we have more of everything than we’ve ever had, yet are relatively less content than former generations? Why is it that we are more bored with life and all of its accessories than children in third world countries who only have rocks and sticks to play with? We know that the grass is not really greener on the other side of the fence, yet our behaviors betray that confession. I believe we all want to be content, but why is it so elusive?
Advertising is an easy target for blame. After all, its the job of marketing and advertising directors to create desire that will lead to a sale. Advertising has become seductive, leading us to believe that the things we may want are actually needs that we have, and if we don’t have our needs met through the item that is offered, our lives will be incomplete. We won’t be able to keep up with the Jones family and our grass will lack that deep emerald hue.
Our inability to find contentment lies in our inability to understand and govern our desires. And that’s an age old problem that was addressed all the way back to the tenth commandment in Exodus. “You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17, NLT).
The essence of this commandment is not to prohibit desire. We have been created to desire and its a God given part of our nature. In fact, the word translated covet in this verse is neutral and is translated as the word desire in other parts of the Old Testament. For example, Psalm 37:4 states, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.”
In the Hebrew language, covet and desire are the exact same word. So the issue isn’t desire, per se. The tenth commandment has to do with desire that becomes obsession. It has to do with too much desire. When you’re hungry you desire to eat food. But if that desire is not managed, the desire for food can lead you to obesity.
But its not just desire for objects. The tenth commandment has a relational component. If you think about it, the people of Israel who heard these words didn’t have malls or car lots to see things that would foster desire. All they had to look at was their stuff and their neighbor’s stuff. So we may not be as prone to want our neighbor’s car or boat, because we can go get one exactly like it if we have the means. What seems to be the issue today is wanting our neighbor’s lifestyle. We compare ourselves to those around us as a point of reference and that becomes the standard of measurement to determine if we’re “winning” or “losing.”
Ultimately, the concern with desire is this: unchecked desire will be acted upon. If we do not govern our desires, we will, sooner or later, align our behaviors with our desires, whatever they are. Our appetites only know two things, more and now. That’s why we need to learn how to manage them. If we don’t, we’ll never find contentment.
Tomorrow I’ll post how desire works in our lives and will offer some helpful advice on what to do about it.