Most people know of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The familiar diagram of a hierarchical pyramid of needs shows a base that comprises our physical needs—these are portrayed as our most basic needs, which must be met before we give attention to our higher needs, such as the need to belong and the need for self-esteem.
The highest need, at the apex of the triangle, is for self-actualisation. This perspective of human needs comes from Maslow’s atheistic humanism. What Maslow describes is clearly descriptive of how many people function. However, this does not bring true satisfaction and is contrary to the ways of the kingdom.
Two major adjustments need to be made to Maslow’s triangle if it is to be adapted for kingdom living. Firstly, at the apex of the triangle must be our need for God (not self-actualisation, for our greatest need is not to find ourselves but to find God and to be related to Him). Secondly, the triangle must be inverted so that our need for God becomes our most basic need.
This is what Jesus means when He insists that we must learn to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. If this most basic need is met, all the other needs will also be eventually met.
Unfortunately, Maslow’s triangle is still the operating principle of many people, including Christians. They still worry incessantly about their “basic needs” and tend to ignore their real basic need. They trust themselves most, and seek to be in control.
They become restless consumers in the modern marketplace and become obsessed with the goods on offer. It is easily forgotten in the crush of the consuming crowd that food is to keep us alive and clothes are to keep us modest. Instead, food and fashion are worshipped and an excessive amount of time, money and energy are spent on these things. Anyone watching our world from outer space would think it strange that we would give so much attention to the peripheral matters of our lives and ignore what lies in the centre.
Jesus makes it clear that what is necessary in the kingdom is the surpassing righteousness that comes from placing our trust in Him, and in our imitation of Him. Our good deeds must go deep, in that our motives must be pure when we carry out our religious devotions and duties. It is so easy to become hypocritical in church. And in the marketplace, we must continue to exhibit surpassing righteousness and truly good deeds by eschewing or giving up the greed and anxiety which make the economic world go on a merry-go-round today.
Greed will keep us locked up on earth, with all our gathered treasures which will soon decay and disappear. Anxiety will turn us into perpetual food-gatherers with shrunken souls, unaware of the God who provides for us and who wants us to walk with Him instead of running around looking for the things He already has in His hand.
Jesus urges His listeners to “not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” He adds that each day “has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). We must make it clear that Jesus is not asking us to live irresponsibly or with naïve nonchalance and confidence. Instead, He encourages us to let go of the kind of unnecessary worry about tomorrow that comes through the lack of trust in God.
One may have prayed about a matter to God, and yet leave the prayer closet with the thing that worries him still in his hand. He finds it difficult to leave the matter with God. After praying, he still finds his heart worried, restless and troubled. What is the problem here? It is lack of trust and faith. To such, Jesus keeps saying, “O, you of little faith!”
All our tomorrows are in God’s loving and sovereign hand (Psalm 31:15). The antidote to our deep anxiety is a deep knowledge of God. We see God at work in nature. We read about Him in Scripture. We experience His daily provision.
If we reflect deeply on these things and seek to know God more deeply and intimately, we will find it easier, with the Spirit’s help, to trust Him. Then, after we have left a matter that is troubling us in the capable and trustworthy hands of God, we can say with the psalmist: ‘I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone make me dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8).
How practical is it to consider inverting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? What would be the fears that stop you from trying this? What truths about God’s character would help you to go ahead and live in this way?
Excerpted and adapted from The Sermon of Jesus by Robert Solomon. © 2013 by Robert Solomon. Used by permission of Armour Publishing. All rights reserved.
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