What’s the Difference Between Want and Need?

“When he came to his senses, he said,

‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare,

and here I am starving to death!’” (Luke 15:17 NIV)

I want.

I need.

Insert anything behind those two statements.

I want a new computer.

I need a new computer.

Hundred bucks.


Need a car?




Something to eat (but I just don’t know what).

Something to drink (preferably cool or coffee).

A Starbucks cinnamon dolce latte (oh, yeah, that’d be good about now).

So what is the difference between want and need?

I think how we answer that may give us some insight into the earlier question from the week. Why does the ONE wait for us on the front porch?

Ages ago, while I studied hard in seminary (Ellen, please stop snickering), I worried about money. Simple truth was I didn’t have enough to pay for all of the first semester. In fact, I needed exactly $500 by a certain Friday to stay in school. No money, end of the educational road for me.

Wednesday night, I called home collect (which is a word probably no one uses anymore but I did start this with “ages ago”). “Hey, Mom. Hey, Dad. Thanks for accepting the call. Just wanted you to know that I need $500 by Friday or I won’t be in school anymore.”

Dad said, “Tom, we don’t have $500.”

I said, “I’m not asking for $500. I’m warning you that I may be coming home.”

And that was the truth. I figured the ONE footed the bill or I finished school early. I didn’t need a seminary education. I didn’t even want one (oh, there’s those two words again).

Friday morning rolled around with no prospects for a quick 500 bucks. I opened my student mailbox, picked up a letter from a couple I barely knew, and opened it. Out floated a check and a note.

Dear Tom,

            We sold some property and are sending you a portion of the tithe.

            Hope this helps.

            God bless,

            Really Amazing Couple

Turns out, Jason, a friend who knew the couple better received the same news and amount in his mailbox that morning.

I beamed and bounced.

Jason simply shrugged.

The difference?

I needed, needed, needed $500.

Jason didn’t.

So does the ONE wait until we know we need Him? Is He waiting for that tiny little ol’ spark of understanding to flare up?

Let’s go deeper together. Share with us what you think.

Oh, by the way, please pass the pasta dish. Yeah, that one right by your left elbow. Thanks.

Do you know who brought it? I’d like to get the recipe.

Question: What lessons have you learned about waiting, wanting, and needing?

About tnealtarver

I've traveled and spoken around the world but always love to come home. There I eat exceptional meals, drink coffee to my heart's content, and get loved like nowhere else on earth. I believe a community centered in Christ should be all that and so much more.
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2 Responses to What’s the Difference Between Want and Need?

  1. Burl says:

    Knowing the difference between a need and a want is one of the great mistakes of western civilization. (Not to say that other civilizations don’t also have issues with this.) We live in an age when people “need” phones, cars, closets full of clothes and shoes… I have learned that we actually need very little in life. Enough food and water to sustain us, shelter from rough weather and clothing to protect us from the elements. Beyond that, we are catering to wants.

  2. tnealtarver says:

    Your comments are spot on addressing commercialism and consumerism in America. Those comments also spur some additional thoughts in me. We focus on the physical elements of life–food, water, shelter, clothing–but what would you add to the list of “essentials” for life?

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