Monday, August 22, 2011

Prosperity or Sacrifice?

God has really blessed me this summer. It’s been an amazing time of growth for me, and in some ways I don’t want it to ever end. Of course, I know God can continue teaching me at college and I have faith that He will. But it’s still a bit hard to say good bye to my home friends/church/town again.

Today was my last Sunday at my church for a while. Church is one of the ways God has revealed Himself to me recently. I hate to admit it, but before this summer I often felt like I wasn’t gaining much from the services. Over the past few weeks, that has changed. Each Sunday morning has been like a feast of delicious insights that individually have a place in the whole of what God is doing in my life.

In the past couple weeks, God has brought hymns to my mind which remind me of the lessons I’m learning this summer. This morning (and thus the concepts in this post) built on my last post a couple weeks ago. While I don’t believe hymns are inspired in the same way Scripture is, God often uses them to speak to me. Today the hymn on my mind was “Is Your All on the Altar?

Reading the words of that hymn, I couldn’t help but think it sounded a little backwards. It almost seems to be saying, “You deserve the best in life. All you have to do is lay everything on the altar, let the Spirit take control, and then you’ll have the rest of your life exactly like you want it.” That doesn’t sound like much of a true sacrifice to me. One of the verses talks about having “peace and contentment alway[s]” and being “free from all ill.” I don’t think so. That’s not what God promises us!

Last Sunday, Mr. Deffinbaugh (the “pastor” at my church) talked about how we tend to expect Jesus to pamper us. Jesus didn’t come to the earth to make my life easy. He didn’t come to die so I could get what I wanted. He came to make me like Him, to give me a relationship with the Father. That hymn may have meant having peace and contentment in God’s plan…and it may have been referring to free from any eternal ills. But on a surface level it almost seems to be offering a prosperity gospel, once you’ve sacrificed. I don’t see that as what we are guaranteed.

I like things to be cut and dried…but they rarely are. Usually, on any issue there are at least two views and the truth/ideal is a balance between the two. The pendulum can swing back and forth to either extreme, but where you really want to be is in the middle. This issue is like that. On one side are the prosperity gospel people, who say that once you’re a Christian you will be showered with every material blessing imaginable. On the other side are those with martyr complexes, who seem to think we have to earn our salvation by suffering and never having anything good in this life.

Naturally, neither extreme gives the whole picture. The first is wrong because while we live in this world we will face hard times, fight sin, and suffer from the effects of the fall. In John 16:33, Jesus told His disciples “In the world you will have tribulation.” The early Christians did not have an easy life, and we should not fool ourselves into thinking we deserve one either. The second view is also wrong. While it’s true that life in this world isn’t easy, that doesn’t mean God cannot bless us. He is sufficient and adequate for all we need. And we certainly don’t earn anything when we deny ourselves.

In conclusion, I think we typically tend to error on the side of expecting God to bless us physically and materially. This morning Mr. Deffinbaugh mentioned that we should look to God for the fulfillment of our spiritual needs, not just our physical ones. He also warned us against imposing our wants and how we think things should be onto God’s Word. So while American Christians could use a few tutorials in living sacrificially, we need to watch our motives. We shouldn’t give things up expecting to be blessed in this world as a result. And we should remember that we can never ever do anything to merit the gift of God’s grace.

It’s an interesting dilemma – and I certainly don’t think I totally understand the balance. I would love to hear your thoughts about the matter J

Monday, August 8, 2011

My Summer Trio: Love, Trust, and Faith

God’s work in my life these past few months has been so amazing. It’s a huge blessing to me. This summer, He’s kept bringing me back to the concepts of love, trust, and faith as He continues teaching me to seek after Him and Him alone.

I’d say my biggest lesson from this summer has been: If I really have faith in God’s awesome, unconditional love for me, I will choose to trust His plan for my life.

Trusting God is sometimes difficult for me. I’m the kind of person who likes to have everything planned out and to know exactly what’s going on. The bad part is that life is rarely that simple.

I want to have faith and to be able to relax in knowing that God will bring to pass what He has willed for my life. Verses like Jeremiah 29:11 are a big encouragement. But as I go about my day-to-day life, it’s so easy for me to start building my day dreams and air castles (I have a good imagination that sometimes gets the best of me).

I often start dwelling and focusing on my picture of what I want my life to look like—how perfect my husband and kids will be, what an amazing impact I’ll have on the world, etc. It’s so easy for me to get carried away, planning out detailed scenes of my future life. All of which takes my focus off of where it should be: on Christ and what will glorify Him and bring about His kingdom. In other words, I tend to be proud and selfish when I try to plan my life.

Even when I recognize that and am not painting my day dreams, I tend to worry about the future. My college graduation is two years away, but I am already a bit nervous about what I’ll do after that. I fret about how God could possibly get me from my current circumstances to where I want to be.

This morning in church the men during the open worship service were talking about rejoicing in the Lord, from Philippians 4. I was sitting there, fighting the distraction to think about a future relationship with my “ideal guy” – and all of a sudden the thought hit me that God does not promise me what I see as a perfect life. There’s no guarantee that my life will be a fairy tale.

What I am called to do is to follow in the footsteps of my Savior. His path did not lead to the American Dream. It led to the cross. In becoming like Him, I am to die to myself and my selfish aspirations. It is only in following whole-heartedly after Christ that I can find true satisfaction and can fulfill the purpose God has placed within my life.

Giving up the control I like to imagine I have over my life isn’t easy for me. Trusting in what I cannot see doesn’t come naturally to me. But God keeps showing me His love and gently speaking to my soul: “This is how much I love you. Doesn’t that give you every reason to trust Me?” He continues to show me glimpses of His character. Everything He is doing in my life is like a giant puzzle, and I keep finding more pieces and fitting them in with what I have been learning.

The head knowledge is all there. It’s my unruly heart and my fleshly habits that are so willing to yield. I don’t know what the future holds—there’s no way I can. But I know Who holds it, and I can find rest in Him.

Sitting there in church, a line of a hymn came into my head – “King of my life I crown Thee now, Thine shalt the glory be.” I looked it up in the hymnal…the title? Lead Me to Calvary

Dying to myself isn’t fun. But I have tasted of delighting in the Lord, I have felt His love for me, I know He has a plan for my life—All I am called to do is to trust and to take each step in faith. To Him be the glory.