The Prison of W A N T by Max Lucado
The passages below are taken from Max Lucado’s book “Traveling Light,” published in 2001 by W. Publishing Group.
Come with me to the most populated prison in the world. The facility has more inmates than bunks. More prisoners than plates. More residents than resources.
Come with me to the world’s most oppressive prison. Just ask the inmates; they will tell you. They are overworked and underfed. Their walls are bare and bunks are hard.
No prison is so populated, no prison so oppressive, and, what’s more, no prison is so permanent. Most inmates never leave. They never escape. They never get released. They serve a life sentence in this overcrowded, under provisioned facility
The name of the prison? You’ll see it over the entrance. Rainbowed over the gate are four cast-iron letters that spell out its name:
The prison of want. You’ve seen her prisoners. They are “in want.” They want something. They want something bigger. Nicer. Faster. Thinner. They want.
They don’t want much, mind you. They want just one thing. One new job. One new car. One new house. One new spouse. They don’t want much. They want just one.
And when they have “one,” they will be happy. And they are right—they will be happy. When they have “one,” they will leave the prison. But then it happens. The new-car smell passes. The new job gets old. The neighbors buy a larger television set. The new spouse has bad habits. The sizzle fizzles, and before you know it, another ex-con breaks parole and returns to jail.
Are you in prison? You are if you feel better when you have more and worse when you have less. You are if joy is one delivery away, one transfer away, one award away, or one makeover away. If your happiness comes from something you deposit, drive, drink, or digest, then face it—you are in prison, the prison of want.
That’s the bad news. The good news is, you have a visitor. And your visitor has a message that can get you paroled. Make your way to the receiving room. Take your seat in the chair, and look across the table at the psalmist David. He motions for you to lean forward. “I have a secret to tell you,” he whispers, “the secret of satisfaction. ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalms 23:1 NKJV).
David has found the pasture where discontent goes to die. It’s as if he is saying, “What I have in God is greater than what I don’t have in life.”
You think you and I could learn to say the same?
Think for just a moment about the things you own. Think about the house you have, the car you drive, the money you’ve saved. Think about the jewelry you’ve inherited and the stocks you’ve traded and the clothes you’ve purchased. Envision all your stuff, and let me remind you of two biblical truths.
Your stuff isn’t yours. Ask any coroner. Ask any embalmer. Ask any funeral-home director. No one takes anything with him. When one of the wealthiest men in history, John D. Rockefeller, died, his accountant was asked, “How much did John D. leave?” The accountant’s reply? “All of it.”1
“Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand” (Eccles. 5:15 NIV).
All that stuff—it’s not yours. And you know what else about all that stuff? It’s not you. Who you are has nothing to do with the clothes you wear or the car you drive. Jesus said, “Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot” (Luke 12:15 MSG). Heaven does not know you as the fellow with the nice suit or the woman with the big house or the kid with the new bike. Heaven knows your heart. “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV). When God thinks of you, he may see your compassion, your devotion, your tenderness or quick mind, but he doesn’t think of your things.
And when you think of you, you shouldn’t either. Define yourself by your stuff, and you’ll feel good when you have a lot and bad when you don’t. Contentment comes when we can honestly say with Paul: “I have learned to be satisfied with the things I have… . I know how to live when I am poor, and I know how to live when I have plenty” (Philippians 4:11-12 NCV).
Doug McKnight could say those words. At the age of thirty-two he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Over the next sixteen years it would cost him his career, his mobility, and eventually his life. Because of MS, he couldn’t feed himself or walk, he battled depression and fear. But through it all, Doug never lost his sense of gratitude. Evidence of this was seen in his prayer list. Friends in his congregation asked him to compile a list of requests so they could intercede for him. His response included eighteen blessings for which to be grateful and six concerns for which to be prayerful. His blessings outweighed his needs by three times. Doug McKnight had learned to be content.2
So had the leper on the island of Tobago. A short-term missionary met her on a mission trip. On the final day, he was leading worship in a leper colony. He asked if anyone had a favorite song. When he did, a woman turned around, and he saw the most disfigured face he’d ever seen. She had no ears and no nose. Her lips were gone. But she raised a fingerless hand and asked, “Could we sing ‘Count Your Many Blessings’?”
The missionary started the song but couldn’t finish. Someone later commented, “I suppose you’ll never be able to sing the song again.” He answered, “No, I’ll sing it again. Just never in the same way.”
Are you hoping that a change in circumstances will bring a change in your attitude? If so, you are in prison, and you need to learn a secret of traveling light. What you have in your Shepherd is greater than what you don’t have in life.
May I meddle for a moment? What is the one thing separating you from joy? How do you fill in this blank: “I will be happy when _________________“? When I am healed. When I am promoted. When I am married. When I am single. When I am rich. How would you finish that statement?
Now, with your answer firmly in mind, answer this. If your ship never comes in, if your dream never comes true, if the situation never changes, could you be happy? If not, then you are sleeping in the cold cell of discontent. You are in prison. And you need to know what you have in your Shepherd.
You have a God who hears you, the power of love behind you, the Holy Spirit within you, and all of heaven ahead of you. If you have the Shepherd, you have grace for every sin, direction for every turn, a candle for every corner, and an anchor for every storm. You have everything you need.
And who can take it from you? Can leukemia infect your salvation? Can bankruptcy impoverish your prayers? A tornado might take your earthly house, but will it touch your heavenly home?
And look at your position. Why clamor for prestige and power? Are you not already privileged to be part of the greatest work in history? According to Russ Blowers, we are. He is a minister in Indianapolis. Knowing he would be asked about his profession at a Rotary Club meeting, he resolved to say more than “I’m a preacher.”
Instead he explained, “Hi, I’m Russ Blowers. I’m with a global enterprise. We have branches in every country in the world. We have representatives in nearly every parliament and boardroom on earth. We’re into motivation and behavior alteration. We run hospitals, feeding stations, crisis-pregnancy centers, universities, publishing houses, and nursing homes. We care for our clients from birth to death. We are into life insurance and fire insurance. We perform spiritual heart transplants. Our original Organizer owns all the real estate on earth plus an assortment of galaxies and constellations. He knows everything and lives everywhere. Our product is free for the asking. (There’s not enough money to buy it.) Our CEO was born in a hick town, worked as a carpenter, didn’t own a home, was misunderstood by his family and hated by his enemies, walked on water, was condemned to death without a trial, and arose from the dead. I talk with him every day.”4
If you can say the same, don’t you have reason to be content?
A man once went to a minister for counseling. He was in the midst of a financial collapse. “I’ve lost everything,” he bemoaned.
“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve lost your faith.”
“No,” the man corrected him, “I haven’t lost my faith.”
“Well, then I’m sad to hear that you’ve lost your character.”
“I didn’t say that,” he corrected. “I still have my character.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve lost your salvation”
“That’s not what I said,” the man objected. “I haven’t lost my salvation.”
“You have your faith, your character, your salvation. Seems to me,” the minister observed, “that you’ve lost none of the things that really matter.”
We haven’t either. You and I could pray like the Puritan. He sat down to a meal of bread and water. He bowed his head and declared, “All this and Jesus too?”
Can’t we be equally content? Paul says that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6 NIV). When we surrender to God the cumbersome sack of discontent, we don’t just give up something; we gain something. God replaces it with a lightweight, tailor-made, sorrow-resistant attaché of gratitude.
What will you gain with contentment? You may gain your marriage. You may gain precious hours with your children. You may gain your self-respect. You may gain joy. You may gain the faith to say, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
Try saying it slowly “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
Again, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
Again, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
Shhhhhhh. Did you hear something? I think I did. I’m not sure. . . but I think I heard the opening of a jail door. (29-34)
1. Randy C. Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale Publishers, 1989), 55.
2. Chris Seidman, Little Buddy (Orange, Calif.: New Leaf Books, 2001), 138. Used with permission.
3. Rick Atchley, “I Have Learned the Secret,” audiotape 7 of the 1997 Pepperdine Lectures (Malibu, Calif, 1997). Used with permission.
4. Used with permission.