The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. ~King David
I am a willing victim of my times. This culture shapes and forms me into exactly what it wants me to be. I have become an automaton railing against the system that whets my appetites for newer and shinier stuff and then I buy it as soon as no one is looking. Sometimes I fool myself by going to the thrift store to buy it after someone else has had their fill, but I am a consumer either way.
It doesn’t matter what “it” is. Could be anything. Could be the latest book, backpack, music CD, Planet of the Apes movie, or new Droid phone. I am a sucker for the marketing machine. They have me on the end of their line like a trout and are reeling me in. I say I am free to choose, but over and over again I confuse delay with refusal. I convince myself that if I delay a purchase or buy it on sale that I am sticking it to the man. But it is a ruse.
When We Were Young
We haven’t always been this way as a culture. After WWI we figured out how to create mass quantities of “stuff” at relatively efficient rates of exchange. Then we hired people to create a sense of desire where there was once contentment. They didn’t want to use the word “propaganda,” so the term “public relations” was coined and it slipped right by us.
We must shift America from a needs- to a desires-culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. […] Man’s desires must overshadow his needs. ~Paul Mazur, Lehman Brothers, circa 1927
My mother might remember a time when wearing a dress made of used flour sacks was acceptable and desired. I doubt she was ever content with homemade items, but I know for certain I was never content with homemade stuff. My earliest memories are of watching Saturday morning cartoons where commercials for Johnny Quest action figures, pearl-handled six-shooters in genuine simulated leather holsters, Easy Bake Ovens, Hot Wheels, and Mrs. Beasley dolls were splashed with no shame every few cliff-hanging minutes on the television.
Today toys have changed but the desire-arousal commercials bring is still the same. My grandchildren were playing in the living room recently while Lynette and I watched a show; they were oblivious to it. But when a commercial came on, they stopped playing and watched the sixty second ad. I am convinced that advertising departments in corporate America have figured out a way to subliminally tap into our appetites. They’ve done something to capture the attention and imagination of three-year-olds long enough to stop them in full-throttle fun. Next time you are around small children, watch what happens when commercials come on the TV.
The Culture is Shaping the Church
Even in church circles we have adopted the consumer approach to life. In the ‘90s it became popular to preach to the “felt needs” of the people. Sermon series were marketed to arouse interest, attract a crowd, and grow a church. I know because I was a card-carrying member of the church-growth crowd; I have file folder after file folder of notes on felt need sermons to prove it. It is all pabulum at best and downright emotional pornography at worst. This is still around today.
We pastor types used to say about converting unbelievers that “you have to get them lost before you can get them saved.” Think about that statement. I have to convince you that you are going to hell before I can rescue you from your destination. I have to sell you on the idea that you are unhappy in order to tell you about Jesus, who won’t make you happy but will take you to heaven when you die. What’s more, if you’re a person of some means, you may have to go through some great tragedy to be desperate enough to become a Christian. Really? On more than one occasion I have heard a pastor say the reason it is so hard for rich people to become a follower of Jesus is because they can buy just enough happiness that they don’t have to listen to the aches and pang of their souls.
I am a man of many wants. Most of my clothes come from thrift stores, but I shop a couple times a week for more used items. I have more books than I can possible read and cassette tapes of sermons that are thirty years old. I have backpacking gear I will never use again and socks that long ago lost their sole mates. (sorry) Am I becoming a hoarder?
What do I need to flourish as a person? I love what the late preacher Ron Dunn said, “You will never really know that Jesus is all that you need until Jesus is all you’ve got. Then and only then will you know that Jesus is all that you need.” Let that sink into your busy mind. What do you really need to flourish for all of eternity?
Jesus, just Jesus. Or as Tullian Tchividjian said, “Jesus + Nothing = Everything.”
Shape Your Soul…Shape Your Church
What do we need to wean ourselves off this torpor-inducing existence in the very ethos of our culture? Even in our church culture? May I suggest some ideas?
- Question my wants.
If I don’t have that new smart phone, will I get farther and farther behind in what is considered cool by cool people? If I don’t get that promotion, will my existence not be validated? If I can’t turn heads with my beauty, will I not be loved? If I can’t drive that car and live in that house and be able to go on those vacations, then ____________?
When I trained for marathons and saw someone running while I was driving I would think, “Dang it! They are getting ahead of me.” But they weren’t. I wasn’t racing them. I was just training to race against myself. I don’t have to have the stuff others have. I don’t have to keep up. It’s not a race. It’s all soul training.
Don’t trust your heart when it comes to desires. Remember what the prophet said in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
I’ve started to ask myself: What lie am I telling myself that makes this want feel like a need?
2. Turn down the volume.
The white noise of our culture is engineered to shape our souls to the point that we confuse wants with needs. Therefore, I have to ruthlessly omit this kind of soul clutter from my life. If I can’t be shut of it, I at least have to take steps to diminish its impact on my very malleable soul.
A couple of simple steps is to watch only recorded shows and fast forward through the advertisements. I’ve begun to mute the sound during commercials. Budget what you listen to or watch much as you might cut sweets or soda from your diet. It’s summertime—go for a walk and pay attention to creation. Do what you told your kids to do when they were little, “Get outside!”
3. Walk with the Shepherd.
When I spend time alone in quiet with Jesus, my world starts to shrink and my God starts to enlarge. I can’t explain it very well, but the simple truth is when I sit still, open my head, heart and hands towards Jesus, I feel His presence and all troubles still present, begin to diminish in His shadow.
My father used to sing a song when I was a boy that has found its way on my lips more than a few times in recent days:
Fill my cup, Lord; I lift it up Lord; Come and quench this thirsting of my soul. Bread of Heaven, feed me till I want no more. Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole.
I’ve decided that I will repent of cooperating with the culture as it tries to influence and shape my soul according to its predetermined schemes. I think the Shepherd has a better way. It is slower and the adrenalin rush is not as sensuous, but the benefits to my soul are incalculable.
Ultimately I have to ask myself the question: Do I want to cooperate with a flawed culture as it shapes my soul and tells me what to want OR will I follow my Shepherd into green pastures and still waters?
I don’t know how much of God you have, but you have as much of God as you want.
Lord, remind me that what I want the most shapes my soul the most.