The Paradox of More or Less
Why We’re Never Satisfied
By Mark Buchanan
I want more.
It’s what drives most of us. We want more time, more money, more stuff, more recognition. We want newer things and better things and different things. More is the creed of our age, the cry of our hearts, and even if most of us are too well-mannered to come straight out and say it, we think it, and feel it, and ache with it. I want more than this.
Many of us are only scaled-down versions of old king Solomon on the wild blind binges he describes in Ecclesiastes: chasing more, and then more, and even more—and finding less and less and less. Finally, after indulging every whim and coming up empty, we discover, as he did, an amazing truth: I can be content with what I have.
If only we’d started there.
Having said this, now I mean to shock you: you should want more. You should not be satisfied with nothing more than what’s in front of you. That, too, is a recipe for emptiness— another way to wither the soul.
The problem is not with wanting more. It’s that generally we crave, insatiably so, things that don’t satisfy—while being disdainfully picky about the things that do.
Maybe the Sermon on the Mount says it best. There, Jesus warns about how ruinous the desire for more can be in a short discussion about coveting and serving Mammon (material wealth). “If the light you think you have is actually darkness,” He says, “how deep that darkness is!” (Matt. 6:23 NLT) And yet He opens the sermon this way: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst . . . ” (Matt. 5:6 NIV). Blessed are you if you want more.
Wanting more isn’t the problem. The trick is to want more and less at the same time. It’s to want more of God, His kingdom, His righteousness, and less of Mammon’s hoard. The trick is to know which is which. But even when we grasp that distinction, there’s a further and deeper one to make.
You already have all you need.
In the first few verses of Peter’s second letter to the early church (2 Pe. 1:3-9), he begins unearthing a gold mine by shining light on a powerful secret about our lives, about God: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Pe. 1:3 NIV). First of all: you have enough—everything you need!
But then Peter continues, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith…” and then lists seven virtues: goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love . . . in increasing measure (2 Pe. 1:5-8 NIV). It’s the flip side: you need more.
So why should you want more of something of which God has already given you all you need?
You need more.
This puzzles on the surface, but resolves easily a few feet below. Simply, we often have all we need but don’t fully benefit from it because we fail—due to laziness or ignorance or out-and-out refusal—to do anything with it. I know a man who has everything he needs for a house: the tools, the materials, the plans, the permits, the time, the skill. But the house molders, half-done, and his family literally lives in a barn. His energies go elsewhere.
Peter warns us that, unless we possess these virtues in increasing measure (more and more and more), we’ll have less and less and less of the God-life. In other words, you’ll thrive if you take hold of them, and languish if you don’t. Possess them in increasing measure, and the life of Christ can flow unimpeded through you. But fail to acquire them, and you’ll end up like that old cartoon character, Mr. Magoo, “nearsighted and blind,” absent-minded, swerving every which way, wreaking havoc while being generally oblivious (2 Pe. 1:9 NIV). All that, and worse: you’ll forget you’ve been forgiven, “cleansed from [your] past sins”—and so live as if you’re not. A life like that is tragic by any measure.
Until I took this seriously, it hadn’t occurred to me that my seasons of feeling stuck were owing to undernourished virtue. I thought the main cause lay elsewhere—the Devil’s devices, life’s pressures. It was something or someone else’s fault. I had a rotating gallery of what or who I could blame for sabotaging me. If only was a favorite refrain: If only people would listen. If only someone would help. If only I had more time or money. Then I might make some headway.
Being stuck has nothing to do with any of that. Almost always, it has to do with me. Peter helped me see that. Everything I need for life and godliness has been made available to me in full. Only, there’s some assembly required, some action. Now I must make every effort to attain what I already possess—or, more to the point, to possess what’s already been attained for me. A car never driven goes nowhere. A dollar never spent buys nothing. An I love you never spoken woos no one. I can gain the whole world and heaven besides, but lose it simply by not using it. I can let supernatural provision, like manna, decay from stockpiling.
Peter has reminded us that something utterly good, beyond what we ask or imagine, has come into our lives through Christ. He’s withheld nothing. But to taste the fullness of this gift, you must embrace it with passion and imagination and discipline. You’ve got to show up. Go after it. Dig and stretch and reach and struggle. Throw yourself headlong and two-fisted into the fray. Don’t rest till you have it. Make all of it count.
Peter’s Funny Math
There’s a strange calculus in Peter’s seven virtues. He begins simply enough, employing the rudiments of arithmetic: add this to that, he says. Take this one thing, and join it to this next thing, and then another. Repeat the process from the beginning. It all has a grade-school simplicity to it. But the results are stunning. This basic arithmetic results in geometric, exponential growth: simple addition tips at some point and becomes runaway multiplication. Splice together ordinary virtues, a little goodness to some self-control; add a pinch of godliness, repeat and repeat, and one day the combination shoots through the roof. You find yourself Christ-like in attitude and strength—just from adding things up.
But here’s the beautiful thing: every one of these virtues is supremely evident in Jesus. And the real effort you need to make (without it, all our efforts are doomed) is to seek Him, here, now, in-season and out. Worship Him. Learn of Him. Love Him. Abide in Him.
God has already lavished on you all you’ll ever need for the life you’ve dreamed of—a life where you have, in abundance, kindness that allows you to overcome an insult; knowledge that makes you highly productive and deeply effective; self-control that empowers you to take off anger, lust, envy, and put on peace, love, generosity. All these things already flourish right at hand, close enough for you to gather in fistfuls and armloads. It’s been “pressed down, shaken together . . . running over,” and “poured into your lap” (Luke 6:38 NIV).
What more could you ask?
Mark Buchanan is the author of Hidden in Plain Sight: The Secret of More.