The Thing. It’s a strange thing, because it’s there and not there at the same time. What I’m talking about is The Thing that you don’t have that you think you need in order to be happy. And you know when The Thing is there because you begin to feel a low-grade panic that you don’t have it. The Thing makes you afraid that by not having The Thing you’re missing out.
What is The Thing? This is essential to define if we want to fight the fear that The Thing tempts us with.
The first thing we need to get clear is that The Thing is not actually a real thing. It’s a fantasy. It’s attaching our deep longing for happiness to the belief that a person or possession or achievement or status or experience will produce it rather than God or his promises. It’s the belief that something apart from God holds a key to our happiness if only we could have it or more of it.
The Bible calls The Thing covetousness (Exodus 20:17). The sin of coveting is a faithless desire to possess something that doesn’t belong to us, fueled by an idolatrous belief that it will satisfy us. The desire is “faithless” because it isn’t rooted in our trust in God’s promises. And it is “idolatrous” because we invest in the object of our desire the power to satisfy us that belongs only to God.
Jesus warns us about The Thing in this text:
“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
Jesus goes right to the heart of The Thing’s deception: It promises us life in some kind of possession, which has no life to give. The Thing is our belief that we can get life from an idol.
The fear of “missing out” is frequently the indicator that The Thing is present. Coveting can feel like fear, which is one reason it is so powerful. It lands on us with the threat that if we don’t have The Thing we will miss out on some vital part of living, something that will make us happy.
And The Thing is insidious because it is so illusive. It’s a shape-shifter that assumes whatever form matches our current vulnerability to feeling like we’re missing out. Today it might be coveting someone’s income, tomorrow it might be coveting someone’s achievement, the next day it might be coveting someone’s harmonious family, next week it might be coveting someone’s opportunities or church or culinary expertise or advanced degree or capacities or interior design or . . . you name it.
This is why we often experience Facebook and Pinterest as purveyors of “missing out.” They point out all the things that we don’t have. They remind us of what we are not. They show us where we have not been.
Not only that, but a consumer economy is engineered to discover and capitalize on our fears of missing out. We are told hundreds of times daily that life consists in possessing some material, status, or experiential thing that we currently don’t have.
Consumer economies are engineered to discover and capitalize on our fears of missing out.
But the root problem isn’t in social media or in marketing. Our root problem is our active sin natures that tell us that idols satisfy. That fear that we are missing out is coming from inside us (James 4:1–2). That’s why Jesus tells us to be on guard against our own covetousness.
L.I.F.E.: Four Ways to Escape The Thing
Since life does not consist in what we possess, and The Thing we think we need is nothing more than a covetous fantasy, what do we do to escape the grip of the fear that we are missing out? Here are four suggestions for L.I.F.E. . . .
Listen to Jesus.
He alone has the words of life (John 6:68).
- “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)
- “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
- “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
- “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25)
- “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life. . . . Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25)
Instruct your heart.
Preach to yourself; don’t listen to The Thing.
- “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5)
- “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)
- “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:9–10)
- Do not “set [your] hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” and seek to “take hold of that which is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:17, 19)
Fast from feeding The Thing.
Shut down social media, turn off the TV, throw the magazine away. We need to starve our covetous appetite.
- “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” (Matthew 18:9)
Engage in kingdom work.
The Thing focuses on what we don’t have. But God wants us to look to the needs of others. A God-given antidote to covetousness is serving the saints and others around us. Eyes off our navels and on to our neighbors.
- “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (1 Peter 4:10)
You Will Never Miss Out
If your trust is in the “Author of life” (Acts 3:15), “all things are yours” (1 Corinthians 3:21–22). Jesus has purchased for us “every spiritual blessing” (Ephesians 1:3) and imperishable “treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). No fantasy will ever deliver the happiness it promises us. We know this because no fantasy ever has. The fear that reveals The Thing is a false fear.
So leave it behind and “strain forward to what lies ahead [and] press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14).