What we need versus what we want

NeedThe paralyzed man had no trouble understanding that he needed healing. Without the ability to walk, he could not earn a living or live a normal life. As a paralytic, his only means of supporting himself was as a beggar.

The text of Luke 5:18-25 does not indicate if the paralyzed man initiated the movement toward Jesus or if one of his friends came up with the idea. But, having heard of a healer named Jesus, four of his friends carried the man to Jesus so that he could be cured of his affliction.

The curious thing about this familiar Sunday School story is that when the man comes before Jesus for healing, Jesus does not directly address his paralysis. Jesus speaks to the man about his sin. What the man thought he needed was not his ultimate need. He wanted physical healing but Jesus addressed a deeper need, that for reconciliation with God.

Perhaps this gives us a clue as to why some of our prayers are not answered in the way would like. What I think I need may not be what God knows I really need. Jesus speaks to the desire of God to give us what we need when he says:

β€œOr which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9–11, ESV)

As Jesus reveals to us the character of God, we can know that when we ask for a snake but need a fish, the fish is what we get. Like the paralytic man, God will deal with us at our ultimate point of need.

One of the disturbing trends in the American church is the practice of speaking to the “felt needs” of those who come to the church. This is done to draw in those who otherwise would not think of attending church. The disturbing part is that in some, the preaching does not go beyond addressing those felt needs.

The story of the paralytic reminds us of the danger of ministering only to the perceived needs of people. The greater concern than a healthy marriage is a right relationship with God. There is nothing inherently wrong with a sermon series on raising healthy children but we do not need well adjusted children who do not understand that they are sinners in need of regeneration.

Paul told the Corinthians that his only goal was to present Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). Without the Cross, there is no forgiveness of sin. Without the preaching of the Cross, we will not meet the ultimate need of the people who come to our church.

The best news is that God is concerned about all our needs. Jesus did heal the man of his paralysis. God uses our “felt needs” to bring us to the point where he can address our deepest need.

I am reminded of something that I’ve heard Ravi Zacharias say on multiple occasions:

Jesus did not come to make bad people good,
He came to make dead people live.