“There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, ‘Enough!’: the grave, the barren womb, land, which is never satisfied with water, and fire, which never says ‘Enough!’” (Proverbs 30:15b-16 ESV).
“The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water’” (John 4:15 ESV).
My son Jeremy, at the time about ten years old, looked a little green around the gills. He had come with me on a “mystery shopping” excursion to Jacksonville, Florida, and as we drove away from the drive-through window of the fourth of ten restaurants we were to visit that day, I noticed him staring dubiously at the full size combo meal and other items he had just ordered. It was about 11:30 a.m., and the prospect of eating six more meals had him flummoxed. I decided to share with him the concept of single bite tasting rather than entire sandwich consumption. We might not have discussed it then, but his full belly provided an object lesson in the law of diminishing returns—in this case cheeseburgers and fries had lost their appeal fairly quickly.
In economics, the law of diminishing returns posits that continually adding one factor of a productive process while holding all others constant will eventually lead to a reduced level of output, expressed either in absolute terms or in efficiency. For example, in my restaurants, adding additional employees to each shift will eventually result in employees bumping into one another, thereby becoming less efficient in preparing food and serving guests than doing the same work with fewer employees.
Empirically, the law of diminishing returns is proved correct; yet we personally are prone to disdain its wisdom whenever our desires overpower our wisdom. “Too much of a good thing” is how excess is often characterized but not condemned. Addictions and addictive behaviors ignore the law of diminishing returns, as do most sensual pleasures.
God created us to have longings and desires for many things (cf. Psalm 37:4), thus “desires” are not intrinsically bad. Desires are incredibly strong motivators of behavior, driving us to pursue the objects of our desire. Say you desire to play a musical instrument. To realize that desire, you must find an instrument, an instructor or texts, and practice. If you invest time in the effort, you will learn to play. The same process applies to, well, everything I can think of that springs into being from a “desire” (including desires that are unhealthy and ungodly—say pornography, for example or extra-marital affairs, or cheating at a game or business enterprise).
Yet, within the pursuit of our desires, we can experience times of diminishing returns. If you practice for hours and hours your concentration at some point will diminish, or your muscles will fatigue. At some point, you need to rest from your labors. This is common sense. But a true desire that is not merely an infatuation, will resume after a time of rest with the same rigor and enthusiasm it once had—the desire is not diminished.
The same can be said about desires that are attached to emotions. We love our spouses (we desire to be with them), but we also enjoy time alone. We love our children, but we also enjoy time away from them. We love our pets, but can’t “pet” them every hour of the day. We enjoy a sunset, or sunrise, or sitting by a mountain brook on a cool spring day, but we can’t and won’t enjoy sitting there forever. Yet, we do not have a one and done attitude about such things either; spouses, children, pets, and nature, all of these things become important and breath-taking to us over and over and over. Such life-time desires seldom experience any permanent period of diminishing returns.
At some point, if you are a Christian, you felt a strong desire to know God, to be embraced by His love and to know His salvation by claiming Jesus as your God and Savior. But let me ask you, where are you now in your desire to know more and more about God; to have Him become more and more a part of your life; and to increasingly work to please Him and conform to His will? Are you doing the work, or do you feel like your relationship with God is in a time of diminishing returns and you have backed off of reading the Bible, going to church, praying, and contemplating God’s plans for you?
If you have backed off some, perhaps even been a “backslider,” let me encourage you to renew your desire to know God. The book of Ephesians (1:3-19) enumerates the many blessings that have already been granted to Christians: blessed with every spiritual blessing (none are withheld); made holy; adopted as sons and daughters; redeemed and forgiven of sins; made aware of God’s purposes; received an inheritance; and given the Holy Spirit as a seal and promise of our future in eternity.
God is Sovereign. He knows your intimate desires. He knows your particular gifts because He gave them to you. He is working to fulfill your desires. The Psalmist says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4 NIV).
God’s power is without limits. The Apostle Paul summarized God’s overarching plan of good will when he said, “(God) is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20 NIV).
Immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. With God there is no diminishing return; rather, there is abundance.