Six or seven years ago, an acquaintance of mine embezzled ten thousand dollars. He had uncovered a billing mistake in a major project, and the discovery saved his company hundreds of thousands of dollars. Maybe millions. His boss hogged all the credit and got a big bonus, a huge raise, and was promoted to vice-president. My friend got nothing.
At the time, he rationalized the theft because his boss had cheated him first. But he also left the company quickly, in bitterness, resentment, and fear.
A few months ago, he heard that his old company was undergoing a huge audit. He had already decided to pay the stolen money back. (He was talking with me to figure out a way to do it.) But the audit scared him. He didn’t mind admitting his theft, but he hated having it discovered.
He imagined the humiliation of exposure and thought of nothing else. His mind was consumed with anxious thoughts, and he gasped for air in useless attempts to still his racing heart.
He finally visited a counselor and spilled the beans, detailing every sordid deed of his life, anything he could think of, to wash himself of past shames. He voiced his paralyzing fear of disgrace, and he frantically begged for help.
The therapist asked, “What is your greatest need, right now, at this very moment?” He said, “I desperately need to figure out a way to stop the discovery.” His therapist replied,
No, your greatest need, right now, at this moment, is to take your next breath.
It Was Clever but Was It Right?
At first, I thought the therapist’s advice was brilliant. But then I realized the idea of our greatest necessities are not as clear-cut as the counselor’s simple answer implied. There are all kinds of answers to humanity’s needs, and most of them are misleading and dead wrong.
The counselor’s advice was a textbook answer out of Maslov’s hierarchy of needs.
Maslov said our most basic needs (from bottom to top) are Physical: air, food, water, and shelter. Once they are satisfied, we need Safety, then Belonging, then Esteem, and finally Self-actualization.
But if our greatest need is physical (our next breath), why would Scripture say, “Though He slay me, yet I will praise Him”?
(I think Maslov’s deepest need was to take a deep breath and to pray for spiritual understanding.)
The semi-heretical pastor Robert Schuller once infamously said, “The most important question facing the church is: What are the deepest needs felt by human beings?”
But nobody in their right mind thinks “felt needs” are any indication of importance. A toddler feels he needs more ice cream; a teenager feels she needs a boyfriend; and adults feel we need quartz countertops. On the day we breathe our last breath, none of that stuff will matter.
(I think Schuller’s deepest need was to look past his deepest felt needs.)
What Is Most Necessary?
If you asked anyone during the life of Christ what they needed most, everyone—from the Pharisee to the prostitute—everyone (!) would have said it was to overthrow the Romans. And yet Jesus did nothing about the Romans. He even healed a centurion’s servant, taught everyone to pay Caesar his taxes, and told them to go an extra mile on their forced marches.
When Martha demanded that her sister Mary help with basic chores, Jesus responded, “Only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the better portion.” What “one thing”? What is that perfect portion? What do we really need most of all, right now?
My life these last four months was filled with a deluge of unexpected demands: my (wonderful!) 96-year-old mother moved in with us for 24/7 rehab, my furnace died, my hot water heater broke down, I got Covid (for the third time) and a month later bronchitis, all along with a host of requests for counsel, speaking, and writing, most of which I was too overwhelmed to handle.
I have a “felt need” for God to get me off this cross. Sure, I’ve seen His miracles, feeding of the thousands, raising the dead, terrific teaching, walking on the water, and claims about divinity. But what is that to me today? I have a felt need for a break, improved health, and more energy. (And maybe a better HVAC system.)
And then I sensed God remind me:
This is eternal Life: to know You, the only true God. (John 17:3)
The mark of an addict is that we confuse what we WANT with want we NEED. I don’t really need more energy or a new HVAC system. Or even my next breath. All I need is Him.