You can't always get what you want;
But if you try sometimes you might find;
You get what you need.
One of the key assumptions we’ve been working with as we make our way through the wisdom literature is that God has hardwired wisdom into the way creation (and the creatures within it…us) operates. It was there at the beginning. It’s the inner logic of everything, and the secret code for how it works. (see Proverbs 8:22-31)
And it appears here the Rolling Stones have stumbled onto a bit of the code. They sing of desire (“what you want”), of effort (“if you try”), of seeking and receiving (“you might find, you get what you need”).
But thousands of years before, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, Solomon had already stumbled onto that bit of code:
Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
(Proverbs 13:12, English Standard Version)
The word hope here is very close to the word that follows, desire. In other words, “what you want.”
And hope is the general feeling that some desire will be fulfilled. It is the anticipation and expectation of it, and the grounds and foundation for feeling optimistic about its realization. And Solomon states the obvious, what we are all painfully aware of—when we don’t get what we hope for, we feel heartsick.
A common, unfortunate Christian response is to pooh-pooh wants and desires. We sometimes act as if its wrong to want things. But the Bible says here quite the opposite. To defer a desire not only brings heartsickness, but if you could fulfill the desire, it would actually lead in the opposite direction: fulfillment. And this fulfillment—the finding the Stones sang of—would be like a tree of life to you, or sweetness to your soul (Proverbs 13:19). You don’t need much help from me to understand that those are good, happy things.
So, it’s ok to want, or desire.
It’s ok to find, or have fulfillment.
But we’re left with the questions: how do we “try sometimes” to “get what we need”? And how do we know what we need?
I think the answer is found in the context of this bit of the code hardwired into creation that Solomon has discovered Proverbs 13:12 and 19. For if we read all the verses in-between, from verse 13 through verse 18, we find him speaking of “the word,” “the commandment,” “the teaching of the wise,” “good sense,” “the prudent acting with knowledge,” and the one who listens to “instruction” and “reproof.”
In other words, Solomon here provides what is the seedbed for healthy desires that will yield the fruit of life and sweetness. Namely, wisdom. And this wisdom begets wisdom. And wise living. So that by “learning from the wise, one can enjoy a life of fulfilled aspirations” (D. Garrett)
What a happy proverb this is! I am so thankful today that you give voice to my experience, that when my hopes are dashed my heart gets broken, and when my aspirations are fulfilled I feel a life of fruit-fullness and sweetness. And that these feelings aren’t wrong, but actually designed by you! But you don’t give me carte blanche. So help me Father. Through the Holy Spirit, shape my longings and yearnings and aspirations to be in accord with your wisdom, so that I might live a good life, a fulfilled life, a fruitful life, and a happy life.
Yes, and very amen, in Jesus’ name.
Pursuing the wise and good life with you,
Proverbs Thirty-One Day Reading Plan
August 14: Proverbs ch. 1
Aug. 15: ch. 2
Aug. 16: ch. 3
Aug. 17: ch. 4
Aug. 18: ch. 5
Aug. 19: Grace Day
Aug. 20: ch. 6
Aug. 21: ch. 7
Aug. 22: ch. 8
Aug. 23: ch. 9
Aug. 24: ch. 10
Aug. 25: ch. 11
Aug. 26: Grace Day
Aug. 27: ch. 12
Aug. 28: ch. 13
Aug. 29: ch. 14
Aug. 30: ch. 15
Aug. 31: ch. 16
Sept. 1: ch. 17
Sept. 2: Grace Day
Sept. 3: ch. 18
Sept. 4: ch. 19
Sept. 5: ch. 20
Sept. 6: ch. 21
Sept. 7: ch. 22
Sept. 8: ch. 23
Sept. 9: Grace Day
Sept. 10: ch. 24
Sept. 11: ch. 25
Sept. 12: ch. 26
Sept. 13: ch. 27
Sept. 14: ch. 28
Sept. 15: ch. 29
Sept. 16: Grace Day
Sept. 17: ch. 30
Sept. 18: ch. 31
Day Twenty-Six: A Morning Conversation With King Solomon
A conversation that happened this morning as I came upon a visitor in our fireplace room….
Day Nineteen: God Chose Her, Not You
The doctrine of God’s rule and reign in and over all things comes crashing into the human conception of the self-made man. We are tempted to think we have so much to do with our happinesses. But the wisdom found from James speaks a wakefulness into the pondering of our circumstances—the good gifts we have come not from our own hands, but by the grace and providence of our heavenly Father. And the wisdom of Solomon makes clear—one of man’s greatest gifts is something only God can give, an understanding wife.
Day Seventeen: The Great Gain Of Godly Contentment
We live in a world where the temptation is constant to believe the amount of our wealth and possessions directly translates to our joy and happiness. The Bible, once again, confronts our culture and holds out another possibility. Namely, “better” does not imply “more,” “bigger,” or “expensive.” It suggests that the reason you still haven’t found what you are looking for is because you’ve been searching in all the wrong places. Wisdom opens our eyes and hearts to deeper wells of contentment.
Day Fifteen: I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me
I always feel like somebody's watching me. And I have no privacy. Woh, I always feel like somebody's watching me. Tell me is it just a dream? So sang Rockwell in the dawning of my high school years back in 1984. All the cool kids were singing it at the time, and its the tune that sprang to mind when I read this similar sentiment this morning: Yahweh is watching everywhere, keeping his eye on both the evil and the good. (Proverbs 15:3, New Living Translation)
Day Fourteen: Death By Living
For those of us desirous to live a good life, we’ve known since the very beginning of this book that it begins with a healthy awe, reverence, and trembling before the God of the universe whose name is Yahweh (Proverbs 1:7). And here we are again reminded that this humble posture before the Holy One is a fountain overflowing with life.
Day Eleven: A Pig Is Still A Pig
Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion. (Proverbs 11:22, English Standard Version) “Well…I never!” she replied to the King. Reading this proverb, it seems highly probable to me, given the stories of King Solomon and all the women in his life (1 Kings 11:3), that this was probably a proverb born from experience. He comes along a beautiful woman, of high social standing, of influence and power; but in his interactions with her, he begins to see her true self shining through all her external adornments. She has no discretion—she is a woman of loose and dissolute conversation, her mind and conscience are defiled. There’s a beauty for the eye, but the corruption of her character slowly transforms how Solomon sees her, and no amount of jewelry will cover that up.
Day Twenty-Nine: Please—Quietly Hold Your Tongue
Anger. noun. “a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.” (New Oxford American Dictionary) As I entered day twenty-nine of Proverbs this morning, and came to 29:11, it struck me that this book has quite a bit to say about anger, strife, wrath, quarreling, fights, and rage. It is a theme that Solomon keeps coming back to, probably because he knows that it is a theme woven through humanity and history. Sometimes the best way to see a theme is to pull on that string so all the wisdom he has offered comes together for our observation. The accumulation helps us feel the weight of it.