Excerpts from Chapter 3

Wise Wants—A Point of Contact


Wise Wants Are Underneath Most Teen Felt Wants

As I pointed out above, there are no accidental choices. However, given the common self-centeredness of the teen years and the way modern culture urges youth to do what they “feel,” many of their decisions are simply rooted in their desires for the moment—their felt wants. At the same time, there is an underlying set of wants within every young person that is part of their human nature as a creature made in the image of God. These are their “wise wants.” These wise wants and the “What do you want?” question which Jesus asked are implied in hundreds of points of counsel to young adults in Proverbs. We covered this briefly in Chapter Two. But because this book will be of no use to you unless you understand the biblical principle of wise wants, I think it is important to discuss the concept a bit further.

Solomon teaches about our underlying motives in Proverbs 18:3. He asserts that “a man’s ways seem right to him but motives are judged by the Lord” (18:3). He is saying that:

1) we all act (“a man’s ways”);

2) we all have thoughts about our actions (“seem right to him”), and;

3) we all have underlying motives for our actions and thoughts (“but motives are judged…”)

In the following verses, think about the underlying motives that Solomon presumes to already exist:

“Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth (10:4).” The assumption is that teens want to avoid poverty and acquire wealth. A verse like this may help them to think twice about their laziness.

“A man is praised according to his wisdom, but men with warped minds are despised” (12:8). The assumption is that young people want praise, approval, and respect. In light of such a passage, teens may evaluate how their ideas will be seen by others.

These assumed desires are wise wants. Many of the proverbs assume that youth:

  • want a reputation for trustworthiness and honor
  • want their parents to be proud and joyful because of their choices
  • want to have healthy friendships, including delightful romance
  • want to live with a sense of security and confidence
  • want to be useful in the lives of others
  • want to be competent and successful in work
  • want to earn a good living and be prosperous
  • want to have a positive influence in the lives of others
  • want to be discerning and thoughtful
  • want to use good judgment
  • want to be able to respond effectively to others’ questions and demands
  • want to combat laziness, selfishness, anger, lying, and lust
  • want to not be seduced, exploited, deceived, or misled

In each of us, however, these embedded wise wants are contaminated by our sin nature. The wise king Solomon who makes these wise-want assumptions regarding young adults is not naive. He knows the human heart has mixed motives. He writes, “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin?’” (Proverbs 20:9). Solomon’s rhetorical question shows that he is not living in an idealistic or sentimental dream world about youth or anyone else. Without denying that youth are affected by sin, he still urges parents and others who work with youth to appeal to them with this: God offers hundreds of desirable outcomes for wise living.

Indeed, in Proverbs alone God offers nearly 700 examples of positive and negative physical, mental, emotional, and psychological consequences for wise or foolish decisions. Clearly there are spiritual benefits too, but by and large the outcomes for wise living in Proverbs are posed in terms of the here and now. This is why the pithy proverbs make sense to teens—because they resonate with the wise wants of their human nature. God has wired them, as creatures made in his image, to make these specific connections. Common grace is at work in the very core of who we are, teens included, causing us to want the advantages of wise living and not the disadvantages of foolish living.


Jesus and Solomon Can Help You Avoid a Common Error

Godly moms and dads often think that to be faithful to the Lord in their parenting role, they are duty-bound to immediately confront their teen with his or her rebellion, self-centeredness, or disrespect. In the interview with John, for example, it is true that all of these sinful reactions may have been powerfully at work in his heart, fueling his academic stubbornness. But there is more to John than just these sinful responses. There are elements of wise wants in him as well. John wanted to be independent and make his own decisions, and he was committed to his goals. Yes, the way he was going about it was sinful, and his motives were undoubtedly mixed, but there were nevertheless some wise wants underlying his actions.

For parents, the best question to ask is not, “Do we deal with the sin or do we not?” The question is, “When and how is the sin to be dealt with in the way that will be most effective?” In Proverbs, the “fear of the Lord” is certainly the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (1:7; 9:10). But while “the fear of the Lord” is the heart orientation that ought to control all choices, the wise counselors in that book know that we are all flawed creatures in a fallen world. They do not demand a teen’s commitment to the fear of the Lord before they give helpful counsel—counsel that often speaks far more directly to wise wants than it does to matters of spiritual conviction.

Read excerpts from Chapter 4

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