Is it possible to be a Christian, someone who is born again, and who understands and believes the gospel–and be held in the clutches of the fear of man? Can we, as Christians be dominated by felt needs: desires, lusts, wants—and are we looking around for other people to fill those needs? Are our desires and perceived needs bigger than our God?
Most people today will divide human needs into three basic categories—biological needs—things we need for physical life (food, water, clothes, shelter), spiritual needs—needed for spiritual life (faith, obedience), and psychological needs, needed for happiness and acceptance (love, significance, security and self esteem). You won’t be surprised to know that the main focus in America today is on the psychological needs of people…you can find it in bookstores, secular and Christian…and hear it in counseling offices and in casual conversations. “If only my husband would encourage me more…” “If only my wife would respect me.” “If only my children would obey me.” “If only I were married.” “If only he [she] would show interest in me.” “If only my parents would give me more independence.” This popular view of people is pictured by a (love) cup—that holds psychic needs (mainly those of love and significance). When these needs are not met, we feel empty and we should look to Jesus to fill them. Of course, if this is the working theory that you have, then you need to suggest that the gospel is, most deeply, intended to meet psychological needs…it is aimed at our self-esteem problem…our tendency to dwell on our failures…because after all, “God doesn’t make junk.”
Now, this sounds good, but is it the gospel? Is the good news of Jesus Christ intended to make us feel good about ourselves? Did Jesus die in order to increase our self-esteem? Let’s take a married couple as an example. This couple was instructed from day one that marriage consisted of “mutual need-meeting.” So, after the honeymoon, their home was a festival of service…he’s washing the dishes, she’s giving foot rubs, he’s mowing the yard, she’s watching football…he’s spending time in deep conversation with her…she’s supporting and encouraging him. Things are going great! But, what happens in 6 months? What happens when their emotional needs are no longer being met? Is it possible, that we are called to love not because other people are empty and need love (to feel better about themselves), but because love is the way in which we imitate Christ and bring glory to God? This couple is thinking that their cup must be full and if it’s not, their marriage is in trouble.
So what image does Jesus give us of our lives? An emotional cup that always needs to be replenished…? Have you ever thought about all the miracles that are recorded of Jesus and the Apostles? Now, you may say that they ARE meeting physiological needs…and physical needs…Who are the ones being healed? The blind, the deaf, the dumb, the lame, the dead! But, what do all these people have in common? Is it most deeply that their social status was below average? Or is it that they are unable to change themselves on their own? What do we learn about the gospel from the miracles of Jesus and the Apostles? What do we learn about ourselves? Are we merely these empty cups that need to be filled…or is there something much deeper at stake in the ministry of Jesus and the early church? We’ll think together about these questions today as we consider the first miracle that takes place in the ministry of the early church, done by Peter as the Leper is healed in Acts 3:1-10.
*I was greatly helped in this introduction by Edward Welch’s book, When People are Big and God is Small, especially pages 135-168 that deal with real vs. felt needs.