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We All Want What We Can't Have

Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-21, Luke 13.34-35

Next week my wife and I are going to see a famous play called Dr Faustus by the Elizabethan Playwright Christopher Marlowe. The advert for the play said, ‘We all want what we can’t have. But what price would we pay to get it?’

We all want what we can’t have! What do you want? The latest i-phone or i-pad, designer clothes or shoes, an exciting holiday adventure in some exotic faraway place, a wonderful romance with someone stunningly attractive, a new car, a beautiful house to impress your friends, a breathtaking view from your window, long life and happiness perhaps, or lots of money?

We all want what we can’t have! It’s not a new idea. The Ten Commandments in the Old Testament tell us not to covet other people’s things - their house, their husband or wife, their beautiful slave, their strong ox, their cuddly-looking donkey, or anything else that belongs to them.

The people who wrote the Bible understood that it’s human nature for us all to want what we can’t have - either because we can’t afford it or because what we want already belongs to someone else. They also felt that it was wrong to want those things.

There’s a proverb which says, ‘The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.’ Anything that we don’t have, but someone else does, often looks that little bit more attractive than it otherwise might.

“You’re so lucky,” someone says to their friend, “You went to college, you’ve got a good job, you’re earning great money and you’re so smart. You’ll probably accomplish more by the time you’re 30 than I will in my entire life.”

But the friend says, “Are you serious? I’ve always envied you! People expect so much from me. I’ve never been able to enjoy life because of all the studying and other schoolwork I had to do. If I got less then an A, my parents and teachers freaked out about it. It was like I’d got an F or flunked the course completely! I may do every bit as well as you think I’m going to, but with all the pressure on me I’ll probably go insane by the time I’m 35. In so many ways, I wish I could just be an ordinary person like you, with normal expectations and a normal life.” So both friends end up wanting what they can’t have.

‘We all want what we can’t have,’ said the advert for Dr Faustus. And then it went on, ‘But what price would we pay to get it?’ Would we lie, and cheat, or betray or friends and our values, just to get what we want but shouldn’t have? In the play Dr Faustus makes a pact with the Devil to get what he wants. That’s the price he is willing to pay to get what he wants! And, as you can probably guess, it turns out badly.

‘We all want what we can’t have.’ What price would we pay to get it?

The author John Fowles has his own version of the same saying: “We all want things we can't have. Being a decent human being is accepting that.” In other words - managing without those things.

The writer of Psalm 27 asks God for only one thing: to be able to live close to God all through his or her life and to experience God’s loving kindness.

In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul says that many people really do live as though they can have all the things they shouldn’t have, and are willing to pay any price to get what they want. He warns that they are living like enemies of the way of Jesus and they are headed for hell. Instead, he says that we should willingly and joyfully live like Jesus, who gave up what was rightfully his - including his own life - in order to help other people lead better lives and draw closer to God.

Jesus warned that the people of the great city of Jerusalem always seemed to want what they couldn’t have. When God sent prophets and messengers to ask them to change their ways, they threw stones at them and put them to death. That was the price they were willing to pay to be left alone by God, so that they could go after what they wanted.

Jesus gives them his own message from God. God says, “I have often wanted to gather your people, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you wouldn’t let me.”

Do we want to go through life permanently dissatisfied and always wanting more, or are we prepared to be the kind of people who are happy with what we’ve already got, who want to make other people happy too and want to get closer to God? If we do let God get close to us, and if we come closer to God, he will shelter us under his wing. For, as the Psalmist said, ‘God is the light that keeps us safe and we should ask only one thing, to live in him.


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