This one comes to us from SM White.

RollingStones-Satisfaction

I can’t get no satisfaction…I try and I try and I try and I try…When I’m watchin’ my TV and a man comes on and tells me how white my shirts can be. But he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke the same cigarettes as me – The Rolling Stones, 1965

I can’t get no satisfaction. That song was written over 40 years ago, and yet Mick Jagger’s anger at the demands of consumerism still rings true today. “Your life can be improved; it needs to be improved–in fact, you aren’t complete, you haven’t made it until you own this thing.” Whether it’s our desire to have (according to Mick) whiter shirts or the right cigarettes, we sense that there’s something missing, and we have to have it in order to be complete. This is the law of consumerism: Your current life status is lacking, incomplete, or at the very least under-optimized, and the remedy–the salvation–is as simple as owning stuff.

It seems at one level like we are wired to be unhappy with the status quo, and it doesn’t help that we are bombarded every day with consumerist sales pitches. Modern society runs on our buying something to replace the something that we consider is inferior. “I can’t wait to get that car I want, because then I’ll have arrived”–whatever that means.

If we think that the problem is all about consumerism, however, we miss the real issue. Climbing up the corporate ladder, being respected by our peers, getting the perfect body–these too are things towards which we strive for the promise of fulfillment, or happiness, or perhaps just meaning.  The pursuit of happiness through improving our state of being is what Americans are all about. This is part of our exceptionalism, right?

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It’s a difficult thing for us to find value only in Christ, especially when our possessions, our education, our looks, our good decisions and our levels of success define us so much. This is one reason there are so many unhappy people. So many people who can’t stop working. We must progress, we must improve; we’ll get it right finally, it’s just around the next corner.

Now if you think that I’m arguing that the real enemy is the desire to improve our own estate, through striving to improve yourself, I’m not. There are plenty of people who have sought the same happiness by checking out of any sort of competitive culture, minimizing their possessions, and getting by with less. We could perhaps call this the law of underachievement. It promises a better and more fulfilled life through trying to get by with less. Ironically this isn’t always the end of competition. How small a house you can live in, how little trash you create, how green your car is–it seems like a furious competition to win at less, and there is a whole cottage industry that has popped up for those who choose to define themselves, or make a difference with this lifestyle.

It seems that consuming the right things is an easy way to define or justify ourselves. As long as we have the credit to buy it, we can have that level of success, impress our friends, get that girl. We don’t have to become better people or work really hard to finally be worth something. It’s obvious that we’re worth something–just look at that car!

This form of self-justification reminds me of Steve Martin’s character, Navin R. Johnson, in the comedy movie The Jerk, who finally became somebody just by getting his name in the phonebook. When the phonebook delivery driver showed up, Navin ran over and excitedly grabbed one, furiously flipped through it, and upon finding his name declared: “I’m somebody now! Millions of people look at this book every day! This is the kind of spontaneous publicity–your name in print–that makes people! I’m in print! Things are going to start happening to me now!” But even that tiny attempt at making his mark didn’t turn out like he expected, as he was targeted by a random sniper who picked his name out of the phonebook. Don’t worry Navan survived it, but the oil cans didn’t.

The problem we all have is that all these things that we think give us our meaning and value soon lose their luster. They are all temporary, and sometimes we very quickly get buyer’s remorse. Often the things we desire are never as good as we imagined, and we are left feeling empty, feeling let down, and eventually we move on to the next thing that promises to meet our felt needs.

Our real problem is that what we ask something of possessions, achievements, and of other people that only Christ can fulfill. We ask them to give what only He can give. Because we are broken people in a broken world, we too often have these broken and even unhealthy desires for things that never ultimately satisfy us.

It’s not that we have simply broken God’s law’s but that we have broken ourselves on his law. There is no one of us who is not broken, and so broken relationships, broken homes, broken hearts, and broken lives are everywhere, both inside and outside of the Church–but Christ our great physician has not only saved us from the curse of the Law, but He also saves us from its tyranny.  He gives us a new heart, He gives us His Word, by the Holy Spirit He daily renews our minds and even strengthens us in the inner man (Eph 3:16)

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Even so, we are never perfected here in this world, and so even ‘In Christ,’ we’ll never be fully satisfied until we are with him in person, in glory. So even being born-again, and knowing all about all that we have in Him, even though we can do all things through Him who strengthens us, there is still a war being waged within us where we often find ourselves right back to seeking fulfillment and satisfaction through all of these things that are so much smaller than Christ, and that ultimately never satisfy us in a way that lasts.

This is why Gospel-centered preaching that rightly distinguishes between law and gospel is what we Christians need, simply because among other reasons, it actually addresses the issue the war between the flesh and the Spirit (Gal 5:17) raging within all believers. There is no way around that central and continual issue, and so there is no other emphasis in preaching that will help us. We must hear Law and Gospel. We need to hear the truth about ourselves, that we are still desperately wicked (Rm 3:10; 4:5-8), and we need to hear the freeing good news that we are Justified (declared righteous in God’s eyes) by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (Rm 3:21-25). We need to hear it regularly, because we forget it.

So, the fact that we can’t get no ultimate satisfaction through consumption is actually good news. We can’t get no satisfaction, because we were never meant to find our ultimate satisfaction in anything smaller than Jesus Christ, who finds us. We can’t get no satisfaction because He loves us too much to let us find our satisfaction in anyone or anything besides Him. He loves us so much He’ll even make us unhappy, even miserable until we fall back into His arms where it’s safe, where there’s joy, and where we’ll say, “How long O Lord?” till that day when we are fully satisfied, feeling those arms around us in person, in glory.