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