I watched a long string of cows moving along the fence line toward a barn. I was driving by a farm as the scene unfolded. It was milking time, I’m sure, and the cows were maintaining their daily routine.
An awkward analogy struck me. The cows illustrate our own lives. In the eyes of corporate executives we amount to cows to be milked. This sets up our own cycle of life.
Think with me. A new product is announced—perhaps another cool electronic device—and lines soon form at the local store that offers the item. Most buyers already have an earlier model of that particular phone or pad yet it’s time to line up and give up our money for the latest version. In the corporate offices there are smiles all around as sales begin to accumulate: another successful cycle!
A certain logic is involved. Every new model of a device offers marginally more memory, pixels, or speed so there’s a benefit in the upgrade. As I write this I’m even using a newer and improved version of a laptop I purchased a couple of years back. So I’m often part of the cycle.
A larger cycle stands behind the marketing. Corporations see us as resources to be herded and milked. Staff meetings set out the annual upgrade events and engineers are told to come up with incremental variations of each device for those occasions. They do. The devices are then designed and shipped. The lines at the stores form and our own appetite for the product sends us to join them. Soon we’re showing off our latest device to friends. It’s a ritual by now.
And that scenario is just a snapshot. The number of trips we make to stores each day, month, and year are multiplied by our real and perceived needs. We regularly resupply our food, furniture, autos, and more, so various corporations are ever busy trying to draw us into their particular store. They hire advertisers to promote their brand—to warm our hearts to what they offer.
The marketing system invites some attention. The sales force folks are tasked with the job of getting us to consume product. And we only need a few of the endless options dangled before us. Yet our appetites are stirred to take on all sorts of things. Things we began to consider because of the marketing efforts behind them.
Who milks us—thinking as individuals here—most often and most successfully? A look at our annual purchases tells a story. And it’s a story the credit card companies have already harvested and, I’m sure, sold to the corporations.
The point is that the system is nicely integrated and well led. Among the discretionary items of life—things that aren’t real needs but are seen as valuable—we regularly ponder and purchase. Someone convinced us to buy. And only the most successful corporations and the best marketing strategies prosper. They know how to make us like what we come to desire.
And most of us are properly compliant as the marketing folks successfully stir our desires. It’s a system that made us buy exercise machines we never touch. How? By stirring our vision of being slim and fit. Or to buy a new kitchen device that slices, dices, and does even more. How? By showing off appetizing outcomes just before a mealtime when we’re hungry.
One of the insights the Bible offers us—and one we often miss—is that we’re designed by God to be responders. We were made to love him in response to his love: “We love because he first loved us.” It’s wonderful because we find our greatest delight in loving and in being loved.
So our heart is the hub of life in each of us—that from which all our motives and actions emerge. In other words we do exactly what we “want” to do as our hearts guide us. And as such the heart must be guarded against those who know how to manipulate desires.
Why this vulnerability? Because God made us in his own image. He is the triune Father-Son-Spirit God who has been eternally active in a communion of initiating-responding-and-reciprocating love. We are made to be like him and to like him just as children instinctively like their parents. Jesus said as much in John 8—“If God were your father you would love me.”
We aren’t, however, forced to respond to God. We’re invited but never forced. Love precludes manipulation. So God offers us the most attractive quality he has to offer: the captivating love of his own communion. His love is captivating to everyone who tastes it and responds to the joy it offers. It’s an open invitation to taste and see how good God is.
Against that is the greatest market manipulator: the Devil. He even manipulates the manipulators. How? By regularly using the self-love he offered Adam in Eden. By that love he blinds us to God’s beauty and goodness by keeping us distracted with false desires.
Paul tells us as much in Ephesians 2:1-3, saying that before salvation we were “following” Satan as we “all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind . . .” Desires the Arch-Marketer knows how to exploit. How? By promising short-term excitement. By casting a vision of our own success and significance. By promising us the glory of having the latest device the market offers.
So let’s pause. Let’s look at the cows walking to the barn. Isn’t it better to be captured by God’s eternal love than by the annual upgrade cycle of various devices? May our hearts at least consider that prospect? If we do Christ can catch our hearts and offer a truly satisfying life.