When I was a college student, working on a degree in psychology, I spent a lot of time with rats.
One of the first things I learned was this: If you want to teach a rat something, it better be hungry.
In fact, we were taught that part of our experimental protocol was to keep our animals at what was called "90 percent feeding weight." We arrived at this figure by letting the rats eat freely, weighing them, then putting them on "diets" until they were 90 percent of that weight.
Hunger made the reward of food much more motivating. Rats solved mazes faster, clicked bars more often to get food and generally behaved better than when they were satisfied.
In fact, I taught one hungry rat to parachute off the fourth floor of the Psychology Building. (More about that later).
The same general guidelines seem to work with people. Don't we all work harder when things aren't going too well -- when we aren't satisfied? It may be that we are actually hungry. But more often it is a more symbolic hunger that drives us -- hunger for a promotion, for a mate, for a better house.
Even Jesus blesses the hungry, saying in Luke 6:21 -- "Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied."
And woe to those who are satisfied in this life! Just look at Hosea 13:5-7:
"I cared for you in the desert,
in the land of burning heat.
When I fed them, they were satisfied;
when they were satisfied, they became proud;
then they forgot me.
So I will come upon them like a lion,
like a leopard I will lurk by the path."
What we need seems to be a balance. If we are too satisfied, we forget our reliance on God and become complacent. But if we are too hungry, we may become foolish.
That brings me back to the parachuting rat.
I rigged this rodent with the parachute from a model rocket and, with the lure of some rat chow, got him to the point where he would willingly dive off the fire escape and float down to my partner in crime, (another sadistic psychology student) in the parking lot below. He would place the rat in the elevator for the trip back up and we would repeat the process.
After several successful runs, we unharnessed the heroic rodent and began eating lunch -- on the fire escape.
To our astonishment, the rat threw himself off the fire escape -- sans chute -- and met his demise on the asphalt below.
The moral of the story? Stay hungry, but don't expect to be satisfied -- in THIS life.