I went to a small group meeting yesterday, where the leader asked each person to describe what they wanted God to show them through this year. It was an interesting question, because it makes you think about what, specifically, you expect from God.
I didn’t have a good answer, not really; I don’t think mine was impressive or surprising. (It was: “aid in transitions,” because I have three young men who are getting older – two of which are actual adults at this point, and I want God to guide their steps and grant them wisdom, whether they want it or recognize it or not. And I also want peace in my own heart as I watch them go through these transitions.)
But one other person there just wanted God to restore faith, and felt like she’d let Him down by … you know, living. Living a busy life, where sometimes we don’t have time to spend lots of time doing the things that we consider visible manifestations of faith, like explicit prayer or Bible study. (She said, rather tearfully, that she liked watching Downtown Abbey, and felt terrible that she spent time watching the TV show rather than in some kind of holy living.)
It got me thinking. One of my priorities this year is to do more explicit, self-directed Bible study, and another is to try to establish a habit of prayer every day; I’m sort of an informal guy when it comes to these things myself. (I pray, but it’s very much not something that you would describe as regular. It’s sort of a daily “Hey, where am I? I probably should remember to honor the Name…” thing. I’ve been trying to make prayer something I do when I wake up, and when I lie down.) So I know exactly where my friend was coming from; I’m there myself, really.
I’m there even though I know that that’s not quite how God works. Feeling like that paints God as a vending machine: if I show this kind of faith, God will reward me – perhaps by doing that, perhaps by doing this other thing. I don’t really care how the reward is manifested; maybe the reward is ephemeral, as simple as “I know I’ve done what God wanted me to do,” and that’s fine…
… but I can’t help hoping that He will reward me by lightening the burden I bear.
Maybe He could see fit to showing me His Hand on my son, for example, or maybe even dropping me a check to pay for the various expenses that come with a newly-minted eighteen-year-old.
Or maybe He could be a little sneakier, and somehow give me a bonus check from work (can you tell I’m enjoying various financial pressures right now?) or maybe He could even just take the stress I have in my heart and disperse it. (“Peace,” I call it, even though I don’t know if I would recognize it if He gave it to me like that.)
But… it’s still not how God works. I know that, intellectually and spiritually, but it’s still very tempting to want to define God that way. And how pleasant would it be to use a reward as a measure, like a prosperity gospel? (“You are making lots of money, you must have great faith and God loves you…” except if you don’t make lots of money, the prosperity gospel implies that God’s actually in the process of smiting you, you unfaithful slacker. The prosperity gospel is a lie, folks.)
It’s just curious how tempting it is to see God through invalid lenses to make ourselves feel better.