Diminishing returns or increasing capacity?

There is a principle that seems to operate in many areas of life called the law of “diminishing returns”. I remember someone drawing a graph of the high that various drugs can give you. The line shot up but then came crashing down leaving you worse off than before and in more need of a pick me up. Worse still the next hit didn’t do as good a job as the first and again left you worse off. Your need is now far greater than before but your ability to be satisfied by the drug is greatly diminished. The time scale for this cycle can be minutes or decades.

There is another law which I have called the law of “increasing capacity”. This is where your encounter with something leaves you not only better off after any initial high, but better able to appreciate that same thing the next time. To some extent relationships can be a bit like that, as can learning mathematics, literature, or music.


When investing time and energy in something therefore, it’s good to consider which category it belongs to. Is it something that will leave us worse off in the long run or better off? Will it expand our capacity for enjoying it or shrink our ability to derive satisfaction from it?

In his letter to the first century church James, possibly the brother of Jesus but I’m not really sure, argued that we tend to chase things that ultimately do not satisfy. Things that follow the law of diminishing returns. Listen to the echoing emptiness described in these verses:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? [2]You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. [3]You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (ESV) James 4:1-3

How does it get to murder? Because they get increasingly desperate. The law of diminishing returns leads to a very dark place.

In Jesus however we are offered something that will increase our capacity for enjoyment. The more we know him, the more our capacity for joy in him increases. Jesus says:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (or fully). (ESV) John 10:10

He is saying, in effect, “beware the law of diminishing returns, come to me and I will increase your capacity for life”.

Listen to Isaiah’s magnificent prophecy pointing to God’s provision in Jesus:

  Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;

  and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!

  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

  [2]Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,

    and your labour for that which does not satisfy?

  Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,

    and delight yourselves in rich food.

  [3]Incline your ear, and come to me;

    hear, that your soul may live; Isaiah 55:1-3

When we spend our money on that which is not bread we experience the law of diminishing returns. We end up working harder and harder for less and less, which is very unsatisfying. God says “instead of that why don’t you delight yourself in me and all I have done for you. As you do your capacity to appreciate me will increase so  stop working and start delighting!”.

James says it’s really simple:

“you do not have because you do not ask verse 2b

That is all we have to do. Come to Jesus and ask. Will you forgive me? Will you accept me? Will you help me. Will you lead me? Will you reveal more of yourself to me? Then expect to be wonderfully overwhelmed.


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