Spiritual growth requires that our life with God move from the “should” category to the “want-to” category, and the most basic assessment we have for any experience or event is what psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls our “like-o-meter.” Your like-o-meter was running the day you were born. Taste receptors in babies are pretty well developed, so for them the like-o-meter usually involves what goes into their mouths: “like it — gotta have more” or “hate it — get it out of here.” As you continue to grow up, everything registers on your like-o-meter without you having to think about it. Every sound you hear, every conversation you are a part of, every bite you eat either rates positively or negatively on your scale.
Because of this, people also register somewhere on your like-o-meter. In the briefest of conversations you will find yourself leaning toward some people. Something in your spirit says, “I like this person. I’m enjoying this conversation.” Other people will register negatively on your scale — and at the same time you’re doing this, everyone around is rating you on their own like-o-meters. Rarely will we insinuate, “Right now you’re about a negative seven on my scale, and if you keep talking you’ll sink lower.” But it’s always going on. So here is a thought to consider:
Do you like God?
That may sound like a strange question, and I don’t mean to be glib about God. But if I do not like being with God, I simply will not be with him much. It is good to be honest about this because if you don’t like God, there’s no use trying to fake him out. The point of this is not to make you feel guilty that you should want God more.
“Should” simply does not have the power to get you there.
The Little Auxiliary Engine That “Should”
“Should” is a kind of auxiliary engine. It is necessary to have this, and sometimes I must do things simply because I should. But if I am running in a marathon, it doesn’t matter at mile marker twenty-three whether I think I should finish. I will finish because I want to finish. “Want” will eventually wear down “should.”
Likewise, spiritual growth doesn’t mean a life of doing what I should do instead of what I want to do. It means coming to want to do what I should do. Jesus’ point in these stories about desiring the kingdom of God is that when people come to understand how good God is, they want him. They don’t just love him. They like him.
We might look at it this way: When we tell people they ought to do something, we can take that “ought” in two ways — the ought of obligation and the ought of opportunity. The first kind is our duty. You ought to pay your taxes. You ought to keep your dog on a leash. You ought to take your drivers’ test. The second kind gives us life. You ought to take a break. You ought to see the world. You ought to taste this cake.
The “ought” of Jesus’ message is mainly an ought of opportunity.
When we become aware of this, we feel guilty because our desire for God does not run deep enough — but we cannot make ourselves desire God more by telling ourselves that we should. God is so gracious and patient, wanting us to want him, that he is willing to work with this kind of honesty. That is why we are invited to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Taste is an experimental word. It is an invitation from a confident chef. You don’t have to commit to eating the whole thing; just try a sample — taste. If you don’t like it, you can skip the rest. But the chef is convinced that if he can get you to take one bite, you are going to want the whole enchilada.
John Ortberg, The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).
We have just completed a Bible study based on John Ortberg’s book, The Me I Want to Be. It consists of 7 lessons with ready-to-use questions suitable for groups. It can be purchased on Amazon and is also available as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service.