I’m convinced that many people today don’t understand the difference between necessities and entitlements. Through social media, we have a tendency to hyperbolize our indulgences and desires. Just look at what people post about coffee on any given day.

But we need to be clear. A necessity is something without which your life would be greatly impoverished; an entitlement (and we could just as easily substitute the word indulgence here) is something without which your life would be slightly less pleasurable. Water is a necessity; coffee is not. (I’ve been off caffeine since Christmas and let me tell you, I have much more energy than I used to.) Clothing is a necessity; a new outfit for a “special occasion” is not. Shelter is a necessity; a house full of the latest stuff is not.

Character-webOur entitlements (or indulgences) are not necessarily bad things. Coffee isn’t evil. It’s not wrong, per se, to buy a new outfit. Owning an iPhone isn’t a sin. But what many of us have to learn (myself included) is where to draw the line between what is necessary and what is not. If that line gets blurred, we act like spoiled brats when things don’t go our way or when we don’t get everything we want. A blurry line between necessity and entitlement is a sure sign of a soul sickness that will poison (or perhaps already has poisoned) your heart toward God.

It’s impossible to be grateful (or gracious) when your soul has been poisoned by entitlement. When you believe in your heart that it is your birthright to get everything you desire, or when you feel that God, the universe, or others owe you something, then you will perceive everything you receive as due wages for your mere existence rather than as the stunning act of a gracious God seeking to bless you with his goodness. Entitlement is the enemy of gratitude.

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Entitlement is a silent killer. It creeps in through your mind, nestles down in your heart, and slowly eats you alive from the inside. Entitlement is a virus of the soul. It puts you at odds with God. It stridently shouts at heaven, “What you have given me is insufficient. I must have more!” Entitlement prays blasphemously, “Give me today my daily bread all that You owe me.”

Entitlement takes many forms, but it is always destructive. Shopping entitlement will impoverish you. Food entitlement will wreck your health. Emotional entitlement will ruin your relationships. Spiritual entitlement will shipwreck your faith.


We don’t recognize our entitlements for the soul-assassins that they are because we have bought into their lie.
My first year of seminary was a difficult time for me, emotionally. I had just left a thriving young adult ministry and a wide circle of friends in Ohio to enroll at a well-respected evangelical seminary in Boston. Moving from the Midwest to New England gave me a serious dose of culture shock. Everything is so much different on the East Coast. As the darkness of winter dominated my days, I sank deeper and deeper into depression. (I hesitate to use that word because I don’t know if I was clinically depressed, but I don’t know what else to call it.) By way of medicating myself, I began to collect DVDs – as in, I would go to the store and buy five or ten DVDs at a time. Shopping became a form of emotional medication, and my DVD collection quickly turned into a source of pride and a sense of entitlement. “I deserve to buy these DVDs,” I told myself. But I was wasting money and feeding a monster by giving into my entitlement. The more you feed your entitlement, the harder it becomes to kill it.

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In his book The God First Life, Stovall Weems, pastor of Celebration Church in Orlando, wants you to uncomplicate your life by doing it God’s way. Working from the familiar passage of Matthew 6:33, Stovall writes that God will provide all the things we need in life, but he has to remain first in our lives, “regardless of my questions or regardless of whether I understood something or how I felt about it.” (17) When we put God first, we get a new family, a new life, and new freedom. The life we instinctively want and pursue, he argues, is only available through “God-first living.” (20) 


A life of anxiety is never an issue of unmet need but always an issue of disordered priorities. -Stovall Weems, 22

Stovall uses the three “new” promises – a new family, a new life, and new freedom – to organize the book. Our new family is God’s family, into which we are adopted by faith in Jesus Christ, and with whom we are called to do life together. This new family is vital because “community is where God shapes us into the image of Christ.” (63) Our new life is the life in the Spirit, empowered by God himself to do more and become more than we ever thought possible. This new life is also a life of worship, prayer, and service. Finally, the new freedom we have is the grace we enjoy from being set free from sin. We are free from the sins of our past and empowered to live for God in the present. Putting God first, walking out the powerful promise of Matthew 6:33, is the key to all of this. Stovall concludes, “you will find that a world where you are not at the center is a world where happiness and blessing can be experienced – God’s way.” (154)

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As my friend Rachel said on Facebook this morning, Lent is the time when everyone is going to get back on the #yearofno bandwagon. (If you aren’t familiar with the #yearofno, you can find all the relevant posts here.) Whether or not any of that actually happens I don’t know, but Lent is an excellent opportunity to revisit your entitlements and indulgences, and your plan to learn to say “No” to them.

Many of us are giving things up for Lent, saying “No” to idle pleasures and innocent addictions so that we can draw nearer to God in this season. The intention of this is good, but as many others have been writing recently, we need to go deeper.

Lent is a season of repentance, and a season of repentance requires repentance before self-denial can mean anything. We cannot simply subtract an idol from our lives without first confessing, “I am an idol worshipper.” When we try self-denial without repentance, the idol simply goes off into arid places until it finds seven other idols more powerful than itself, and then brings them all back to fill your heart again, leaving you worse off than before. You cannot simply ignore an idol out of existence. You must destroy it with repentance.

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The first month of the Year of No has come and gone. It went pretty well for me. The idea of self-denial has been at the front of my mind all month, and I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process. You see just how dependent you are on something when you start to remove it from your life. On the other hand, you also see that you can survive without it, not to mention that life can actually be richer and fuller without it.


The Year of No is a spiritual war against idolatry.
The Year of No is all about overcoming entitlement and resisting indulgence. It is, in theological terms, a spiritual war against idolatry waged in daily skirmishes of temptation and self-denial. But gods are powerful things, and they take root deep within our hearts. I found this to be true when it comes to the idol of food.

My first entitlement, as described in this post, is Eating whatever I want, including eating out and drinking Coke too much. Food-indulgence is a growth area for me, and I didn’t expect to master it in just one month. The next step for me is doing a better job of planning ahead for work days. Getting the kids up and out of the house for school can be a whirlwind, and I get so focused on the immediate task that I don’t stop to think about packing a lunch. Planning is a discipline that I can add into my life that will bear a lot of fruit.

One of my other entitlements is Binging on entertainment, and I discovered The Walking Dead this month, so that one was pretty much a failure! Actually, that’s not entirely true. I was able to read three books in January and post reviews for all of them, as well as write a little bit of my book.

Overall, I’d say my biggest opportunity for growth is the same as it was on January 1. I allow too much room for indulgence and entitlement in my life. Even as I write this my mind is thinking of ways I can justify getting Chipotle for lunch and watching an episode of The Walking Dead before I have to leave for a meeting. It’s your day off, after all. You’ve already had to go to the dentist, and soon you’ll have to go to a meeting! You deserve a treat. This is where and when I have to find the resolve to say, “No!” Life is more than food, and the mind is more than entertainment.


The way forward is marked out in specifics.
Have you ever seen a vague mile marker on the side of the highway? Mile 102ish, or maybe 108. I don’t know, I haven’t been paying attention. No, you haven’t. Mile markers are always specific because vague markers don’t show you the way forward. The way forward for me is marked out in specifics. Planning ahead for meals while at work. Reading the Bible before engaging with social media in the morning. A specific number of pages read per day instead of an entertainment binge. The vision of becoming the man God wants me to be is realized by taking specific steps of self-discipline and self-denial.

It’s that way for all of us. Nobody just falls into Christlike character by accident. It takes hard work, focus, and self-discipline to get there. You have to be specific. If you haven’t named your entitlements yet, do that. Be specific. Be honest. Be ruthless with yourself. And then outline an equally honest and specific way forward. But remember, this is accomplished in steps, not in one giant leap. The art of discipleship is learning to put one foot in front of the other, following Jesus along the way. The Year of No is a journey within the greater journey of your discipleship with Jesus. It’s meant to help you name and overcome your idols through the long, slow act of self-discipline. But for discipline to take, it must be specific.

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