When the Rolling Stones sang about not being able to get any satisfaction back in 1965, that may in fact have been a good thing. And when they sang about how ‘you can’t always get what you want’ in 1969, that too may have been for the best.
But I have some spiritual truths in mind here which were probably not on the minds of the Stones when they penned those pieces. Spiritually speaking, we often are least likely to seek after God when we are most satisfied – with the things of this world.
We of course should be satisfied – satisfied with God and spiritual things. And there is certainly a place for believers to enjoy material things and possessions. But the uniform witness of both Scripture and human experience is that things, treasures, possessions and goodies can so very easily turn us away from God.
Consider just a few clear biblical texts warning us of this very thing. The prophet Hosea made this quite clear as we read in Hosea 13:5-6:
I cared for you in the wilderness,
in the land of burning heat.
When I fed them, they were satisfied;
when they were satisfied, they became proud;
then they forgot me.
Material wellbeing and security can often result in spiritual sickness and loss. We find the same thing mentioned by Moses in Deuteronomy 6:10-12:
When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
There you have it again: satisfaction in the things of this life can readily cause God’s people to forget God, the very one who gave them these good things to begin with. In Deut. 8:10-18 we find a longer warning along the same lines:
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.
All these warnings are perfectly plain, yet God’s people stumble at this over and over again. They seek the gifts but not the giver. They enjoy the blessings but not the source of the blessings. They enjoy the good life while forgetting that the only real good life is in God, not in the stuff of this world.
Commenting on the Deut. 8 passage, D. A. Carson discusses the discipline meted out to the Israelites during their 40 years of wilderness wandering:
Why all the discipline? The sad reality is that fallen people like you and me readily fixate on God’s gifts and ignore their Giver. At some point, this degenerates into worshipping the created thing rather than the Creator (cf. Rom. 1:25). God knows that is Israel’s danger. He is bringing them into a land with agricultural promise, adequate water, and mineral wealth (Deut. 8:6-9). What likelihood would there be at that point of learning that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD”? Even after these forty years of discipline, the dangers will prove enormous. So Moses spells the lessons out to them.
As Chris Wright reminds us, “Nothing, said the Apostle Paul, can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:35-39). Unfortunately there is plenty that can separate God from the love of God’s people.” Commenting on the Deut. 6 passage he says this:
There is no embarrassment in Deuteronomy in anticipating the abundance and richness of life in the land that lay ahead. God’s desire for the people of God was (and still ultimately remains) a full life, enjoying the gifts of creation. But equally there is no illusion regarding the likely behaviour of the people; in the enjoyment of the gift they might forget the giver. So these verses build up to that danger with rhetorical skill.
The potential dangers of wealth, prosperity and abundance are spoken about throughout Scripture. Not that wealth is wrong in itself, but it certainly can become wrong when we worship it instead of the one who provides it. As Ajith Fernando remarks,
It is significant that in Moses’ basic description of faithfulness (6:1–25) there is a long section about the pitfalls of prosperity. Though there is much preaching today about the prospects and promise of prosperity, the Biblical focus on material possessions was more on warning people about its dangers. Jesus said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:24, 25). As Erwin Lutzer, pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, has said, “Few people have the spiritual resources needed to be both wealthy and godly.”
Not only does all this stuff tend us to forget about God, but just as bad, we start to think our own cleverness and power and ability has made us well-off. We do not even acknowledge that it was God’s goodness and blessing that allowed us to have stuff.
As Deut. 8:17-18 says, “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.”
Daniel Block helps us to put things in perspective:
With the wealth and excess we in the Western world enjoy, it is easy to forget that everything we have is a gracious gift of God. Sadly, too many of us fail the test of fidelity and faith that prosperity represents. We become like the rich farmer of Jesus’ parable (Luke 12:14-21) – smug and self-sufficient in our excess but paupers toward God. But the principle extends beyond personal, material, or physical well-being to the health of the church as well. Difficult days for a congregation test the faith of God’s people, but so do times of growth and apparent effectiveness. When our buildings are large and our congregations huge, then more than ever we must guard ourselves so that our commitment extends beyond glib confessions of love for God, or regurgitation of creedal affirmations, or emotional passion in cultic worship, to the daily obedience of faith. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands” (John 14:15).
So the next time you might be tempted to sing along with the Stones, ‘I can’t get no satisfaction,’ you should probably thank God for that. Let him be your sole satisfaction, not the things – even good things – you can get out of him.