What makes us tick?

One of Australia’s leading social commentators is Hugh Mackay. Recently he released his latest offering: ‘What Makes us Tick?’ Unlike many social analyses, this one is based on Australian research. Over the years I have found many of Mackay’s insights invaluable as I strive to teach and apply God’s Word to those living within our society.

This latest offering categorises its conclusions into 10 desires that make Australian’s tick:

1. The desire to be taken seriously.
2. The desire for ‘my [physical] place’.
3. The desire for something to believe in.
4. The desire to connect.
5. The desire to be useful.
6. The desire to belong.
7. The desire for more.
8. The desire for control.
9. The desire for something to happen.
10. The desire for love.

No sex? Yes, that’s right. Sex per se is not listed as one of the 10 desires that make us tick. The introduction explains that sex is predominantly used to satisfy other desires.

We know the theory that one needs to engage with the underlying issues as we teach the Word of God, and here is a book that provides all kinds of insights into what they may be. It does not seek to be theologically driven, nor does it necessarily critique what our world has become. However, the points of intersection are intriguing.

While Mackay is not a Christian, even he acknowledges that people desire for something to believe in (we might call this a normal response to General Revelation). It is just one thing that we can tap into as seek to make Jesus known. The book is littered with useful anecdotes, and in a framework that helps us with the contextualisation work that many of us struggle with.

From a strategic point of view, people do not necessarily need convincing as to the need of the Gospel. If Mackay is correct, the desires are already there and we have a powerful opportunity to show people how to Gospel speaks to many of these desires.

Taking the list above, what opportunities do you see where the Word of God speaks into the desires that make us tick? Or, what do you think is missing from Mackay’s list?

Photo credit: followtheseinstructions

The Rev Raj Gupta is the senior minister of Toongabbie Anglican Church, member of Standing Committee, and Mission Area Leader of the Parramatta Mission Area. He is also a partner with the 'Exploring Effective Ministry under God' team, and currently undertaking a Doctor of Ministry at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDs).

Comments (27)

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  • Pete Sholl
    May 31, 11 - 8:57pm
    Thanks Raj - I always appreciate Hugh Mackay's analysis - thanks from raising it.

    Point 5 - the desire to be useful is an interesting one. I guess we see it in moments of disaster relief or events like that.
    But I wonder if as Christians we understand it more like as 'the desire to serve others' - something that we need to be doing all the time, not just when we 'feel the desire' so to speak.
    Of course often this will be in direct conflict with Point 7 as serving others will mean having less - especially in the $$ sense.
  • Michael Kellahan
    May 31, 11 - 10:16pm
    I read this book with interest last summer. Some of the chapters are stronger than others. You could easily do a short preaching series picking up a few of the desires. Augustines insights into disordered loves would be helpful, showing how our desires can turn God's good gifts to idols.
  • Dianne Howard
    June 1, 11 - 12:31am
    This comes to mind from 1 John 2:

    Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

  • Allan Dowthwaite
    June 1, 11 - 1:37am
    @ Di. I'm not sure what you're trying to get at. Are you equating the 'desires' Mackay lays out with 'desires of the flesh' in John? If so, how do you reach that conclusion?
  • Andrew Mackinnon
    June 1, 11 - 4:35am
    9. The desire for something to happen:

  • Philip Griffin
    June 1, 11 - 5:21am
    There is no desire to be forgiven, which one would expect in the 21s C. The results would have been different in an earlier generation. People still need to understand their need for mercy found only in the gospel, because they don't generally believe they are sinful.
  • Dianne Howard
    June 1, 11 - 6:23am
    As Christians, my hunch is we can easily become more excited and influenced by what humanity says about itself than what God says about it. I’m not saying humanity cannot make observations about itself.

    But, the problem with humanity’s assessment of humanity is that it tends to deceive itself and think of itself better than it actually is. And it’s assessment is not from God’s perspective. We know that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5). So I offered the 1 John passage as a reminder to myself and others that God has already told us about our hearts and minds.

    I’m not saying Hugh Mackay’s assessment is wrong or right as far as it goes. But I do wish that we would have full confidence in our heavenly Father’s assessment of humanity, revealed in the scriptures. He sees the purposes of our hearts and the evil in each of us that we cannot bear to see. And which no preacher can see. And, unlike humanity, God is in a position to deal with it and change it.

    However, we have the truth about God and the truth about the nature of man because God has spoken it, and so we should be highly driven to let the word of God search the listener’s heart and mind. It is the Spirit of God, by His word, that does the connecting.
  • Dianne Howard
    June 1, 11 - 6:24am
    Let me try and illustrate what I’m saying. Some preachers spend what seems like ages, a good 50% of the time, trying to ‘connect’ with the listeners. So there is statistic after statistic, story after story, newspaper item after newspaper item, movie after movie illustration, example after example all dedicated to ‘connecting’ with the listener. It can be so deadening an experience. And I suspect it can reflect a lack of confidence in the scriptures.

    The word of God itself carves people up. It is thoroughly able to interpret what a person needs and to engage them. It is as we see our pathetic hearts compared to His that we are moved. In His light we see our dark. His word pierces to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrew 4:12)

    It’s very easy for ministry efforts to reflect the desires of man rather than the desires of God for man.

  • Robert James Elliott
    June 1, 11 - 7:10am
    I think answering these "desires" only take us so far.

    Australians also have some inbuilt resistances to faith/religion - and a very hostile media as well.

    There is also the unspoken Australian commandment that I can do anything I want so long as I think it does not affect you.
  • Andrew Mackinnon
    June 1, 11 - 7:22am
    Robert, the basic reason why people aren't flocking to join the Anglican church is that they don't believe that it's going to improve their lives.

    People don't need a church to tell them that they're evil and sinful every ten minutes. The people who turn up to church are already acutely aware of their sin, otherwise they wouldn't be there, I can guarantee you that.

    People need a church to provide them with a communal environment of relationships in which they can grow, become more consistently obedient to God and experience the life that is more abundant that Jesus spoke of in John 10:10.

    When the Anglican church provides such an environment that actually actively improves people's lives, it will grow dramatically.

    This article actually represents a turning point in the Anglican church which has been a long time coming and there are pages and pages that could be written on it. Personally, I'm not up to the task. What I do know is that every single one of those ten desires that are listed in this article is Biblically defensible.
  • Allan Dowthwaite
    June 1, 11 - 10:44am
    Thanks for clarifying, Di.

    I don't think Raj is suggesting anything more than that the 10 desires listed by Mackay give us an idea about where people are 'itching', which helps us know where the appliedword of God might have a better chance of being heard.

    I think listening to what society says about itself, regardless of how distorted the self-assessment might be, is a good place to start in the communication process.
  • Andrew Mackinnon
    June 1, 11 - 11:40am
    Robert at #9, I am sincerely sorry for directing my post at #10 towards you. In all honesty, I only meant for the first sentence to be directed towards you. The rest of it was directed towards the ideas that Dianne raised.
  • Dianne Howard
    June 2, 11 - 5:38am
    I think the aussie desires will need a good gospel makeover!
    Jesus turned the values of the world upside down.

    1. The desire to be taken seriously. (deny yourself; count others more significant than yourself; ‘I am nothing’ says Paul)

    2. The desire for ‘my [physical] place’. (And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.)

    3. The desire for something to believe in. (only one - the Lord Jesus Christ)

    4. The desire to connect. (guaranteed persecution; may lose your family and friends)

    5. The desire to be useful. (slaves to Christ and His people)

    6. The desire to belong. (Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you)

  • Dianne Howard
    June 2, 11 - 5:41am
    7. The desire for more. (turn from greed and start giving away)

    8. The desire for control. (Christ is in control, not you)

    9. The desire for something to happen. ( Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.)

    10. The desire for love. (loved by Christ but need to love your enemies)

    And let’s not forget the coming judgement.
  • Andrew Mackinnon
    June 2, 11 - 6:14am
    So what you're basically saying, Dianne, is that the fewer people there are in the Anglican church, the more it means that they're living in obedience to God.

    I see things differently to you. Whereas you look for the most disadvantageous circumstances for the Christian life, I look for life the way God originally intended it to be:

    1. The desire to be taken seriously by God and others. Fellowship involves sincere communication. The Bible is abundantly clear that God takes our prayers seriously.

    2. The desire for ‘my [physical] place’ on this amazinng planet that God created so that I can grow food to feed myself and those I care about, just as God intended.

    3. The desire for something to believe in, being the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    4. The desire to connect with those I come across.

    5. The desire to be useful to those around me.

    6. The desire to belong to the family of God.

    7. The desire for more than things being just the same as they always have been.

    8. The desire for control over the affairs of my life (which control God has delegated to me by giving me free will as His representative on earth), instead of being tossed around by the lies and frauds perpetrated against all of us by the ruling elite who control the money supply in every western country and issue money as debt.

    9. The desire for something good to happen.

    10. The desire for love, without which life is truely meaningless.
  • David Binggeli
    June 3, 11 - 12:06am
    Wouldn't it be true to say that Andrew's post expresses many innate human desires that will one day be fulfilled in the renewed creation under Jesus and Dianne expresses the present experience of the Christian as we seek to bring about the Lordship of Jesus in this rebellious, yet-renewed world?
  • Dianne Howard
    June 3, 11 - 1:19am
    Raj said: ‘people do not necessarily need convincing as to the need of the Gospel...the desires are already there.’
    This statement disturbs me.

    All of our desires and reasoning are distorted by sin.

    For example, Eve desired to be wise. This sounds pretty good to our ears. However, her desires led her (and Adam) to reject the rule of God and brought death as a consequence.

    Another example, humanity desired to belong and to make a name for themselves, to be significant – to be together and not to be dispersed (Genesis 11). Yet in fact their desire was opposed to God and brought on the judgement of God in the form of Him scattering and dividing people.

    Desires aren’t always what they seem to be. It is the gospel that exposes the true nature of our desires and tells us of our true need – the need for mercy and reconciliation with God.

    Ephesians 2: And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

  • Andrew Mackinnon
    June 3, 11 - 2:22am
    Dianne, you quoted Ephesians 2:

    "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked..."

    This is past tense. Christians who have been saved are no longer "dead in the trespasses and sins in which they once walked". They are alive in Christ.

    Your theology is fundamentally flawed. What does a person spend his or her decades on earth doing after placing his or her trust in Jesus - talking about how evil and sinful they are ad nauseum? NO. This is not what God has called us to as our life’s purpose. This is one aspect of the Christian walk which is associated with repentance and turning away from sin but it is not the purpose of the Christian life.

    This is what God has called Christians to:

    Ephesians 2:10 - "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."

    This is a far cry from constantly berating ourselves for being evil and sinful. The reality is that God does not want us to be evil and sinful. He wants us to follow Jesus in obedience, become sanctified and do good works - even GREAT EXPLOITS.

    The purpose of the Christian life is to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit and talking about how we are evil and sinful is not a valid excuse for not exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit.

  • Andrew Mackinnon
    June 3, 11 - 2:23am
    Dianne, you have worn deep grooves in your mind over a long period of time with a theology that is incomplete and moribund. And I guarantee you that people will NOT join a moribund church which is exactly why the Anglican Diocese of Sydney has shrunk over the past twenty years. It has taught a theology to you that is incomplete and moribund and that has left the church in a holding pattern.
  • Dianne Howard
    June 3, 11 - 2:54am

    I think you have not read and understood what I was saying. Or I have been unclear for which I would be sorry.

    I was talking about the desires of the unsaved person and their true and unrecognised need for the gospel.

    I want all people to have the spiritual blessings that those in Christ have.

    Andrew, you do not know those who have taught me the gospel so don't dare slam them in ignorance for they were/are faithful teachers of the scriptures and so have loved me by teaching me what is true.

    I also have the Word which I read for myself and God, in his great kindness, gives his Spirit so I can understand. By all means show me from Scripture when I'm wrong.

    Why do you think the apostles who wrote the scriptures thought we needed to be reminded (as Christians) of sin and to keep turning from it, in the context of the great and glorious gospel?

  • Andrew Mackinnon
    June 3, 11 - 3:11am

    I attended Christ Church St Ives for seven years in the 1990s and I am intimately acquainted with the theology promulgated by the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. It basically goes like this:

    "God told the Israelites to obey Him. They failed. God told the Israelites to obey Him again. They failed again. Jesus Christ is the only human who has ever lived a perfect life in obedience to God."

    What the Anglican Diocese of Sydney has not adequately taught by any stretch of the imagination is that God wants His children to overcome sin by the power of the Holy Spirit living in them just as Jesus overcame sin by never sinning. That is not to say that we are capable of living perfect lives but it is to say that God wants us to walk along a path towards greater and greater obedience and less and less sin. This is the process of sanctification. The idea held by many Anglicans that the struggle with sin in Romans 7 is describing the Christian life post conversion is simply wrong and leads Christians away from the path of sanctification by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Dianne Howard
    June 3, 11 - 3:19am

    my question still stands:
    Why do you think the apostles who wrote the scriptures thought we needed to be reminded (as Christians) of sin and to keep turning from it, in the context of the great and glorious gospel?

  • Andrew Mackinnon
    June 3, 11 - 3:39am
    So that we will be encouraged to continue walking along the pathway of sanctification.

    When we get to heaven, we won't be standing around talking about how evil, sinful and wretched we are. We'll be perfected and the ambitious Christian and the ambitious church seeks to obtain as much of that perfection in this life as possible in humility, knowing full well that the peace of righteousness that dwells in our hearts is all because of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross.

    It is practically IMPOSSIBLE for a Christian to successfully walk this path of sanctification alone and it was never God’s intention that Christians be so scattered as they are today. That is why it is so important that there are strong churches full of Christians who encourage each other along this path of sanctification. Historically, churches and Christians have SABOTAGED people who try to walk this path by telling them that they are trying to obtain righteousness in their own strength through legalism by doing good works instead of recognising that the righteousness that such people exhibit in humility is the righteousness of Christ bestowed upon them by the Holy Spirit living in them.
  • Dianne Howard
    June 3, 11 - 4:53am
    So I take it then Andrew from what you’ve said that you would agree it is appropriate for any church in its teaching to:

    * proclaim the glorious gospel
    * urge people to continue to keep on repenting and trusting, which will result in obedience, sanctification
    * exhort one another to love as Christ has loved them
    * warn of the seriousness of drifting away from God and into sin
    * warn of the foolishness of drifting back into relying on our own righteousness

  • Andrew Mackinnon
    June 3, 11 - 5:15am
    Absolutely, all of the above, but not proclaim the glorious gospel like it is some disingenuous communist manifesto proclaimed while the people languish in various shades of grey.
  • Dianne Howard
    June 3, 11 - 5:40am
    Andrew, glad to hear ‘absolutely’!

    It must be very hard to stay on track for anyone who is a Bible teacher in a world under the power of the evil one. Important to pray and encourage them. And as we receive the word to grow in grace ourselves.

    Take care

    But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3)
  • Andrew Mackinnon
    June 3, 11 - 8:29am
    Dianne, thanks for your exclamation mark.