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,

Pastor Matthew

P.S. If you’d like to study some of the wisdom literature further, I highly recommend the Wisdom Series from The Bible Project, and their resources on the book of Proverbs.

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