Problems with the church

How God Screws Up Algebra

I recently read a status from a pastor at the church I grew up in. It was reminding people to come to church believing for miracles as they brought their “miracle offerings.” Having grown up in this church I know that the “miracle offering” is a yearly event where the pastors encourage people to bring in offerings “in faith” and see what God does in their lives as a result of their obedience. Then throughout the campaign (my term, not theirs) they share “success stories” of people who gave and were blessed unexpectedly (often financially.) I will allow that I have not been in this church for 5 plus years and things may have changed in how this is approached, but the point is not to attack this particular church, it’s to expose this particular branch of bad theology and how it has affected me.

This makes me sad. While I certainly believe that God is all-powerful and delights in doing miraculous things in our lives, a “miracle offering” for a “miracle we’re believing for” just feeds an unhealthy and unbiblical view of God and how he operates. It is the “if…then” mentality. It reduces an amazing, dynamic relationship with a living God to an equation… “If I do x (give money, serve here, pray harder, etc) God will do y (bless me financially, bless my family, answer my prayers, etc.)” One of my best friends is a mathematician. She’ll tell you that empirically, this type of equation should work every time. But use God as one of the variables and it screws up everything. God is not a puppet to be manipulated by our actions. Our sole motivation in giving, serving, praying, worshiping should be about how we can lay down our lives for the king of glory and allow ourselves to be used however He sees fit. When did it become about what we can get out of it?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t believe that God wants to bless us. He does. Scripture is full of passages that say exactly that. And I also believe that our obedience to God is crucial. BUT…the blessings we receive are still unmerited and undeserved. They are not the reward we receive for our good behavior. They are gifts lavished upon us by a God who delights in us, even though we could never earn them. I can think of no greater example than this, that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Our obedience to God should be out of our love, devotion, gratitude, etc. not out of the hope that we can force God’s hand of blessing because we’re keeping our end of the bargain. This is kind of a parenting basic. If your kid only obeys you if you bribe them with candy, you have a problem.

I honestly find it really freeing to have moved away from these kinds of beliefs. (And my family is no longer in that church, by the way.) This kind of thinking put so much pressure on me to always do the right thing so that I could be sure of God’s blessing. Talk about a skewed picture of the grace of God! It’s not that I thought my salvation was dependent on my actions, but I certainly thought God’s blessings were. And it also led to a tremendous amount of guilt. It caused me to take responsibility for things that were often not my responsibility. If you follow this line of thinking through, it not only implies that our actions control God’s blessings, but also that if I was struggling or not sensing God’s abundant blessings it must be because I had not done the right things. If I changed my input, I could get the output I wanted. Not that I ever would have verbalized it that way (nor would this church.) But still…

Old thought patterns are difficult to break and I sometimes find myself slipping subconsciously back into this mindset. I’ve found myself doing it about our potential move to a new part of the country this summer. Without being tied to a particular grad school, we are essentially free to move anywhere we want. It’s very exciting to get to choose, but I’ve found myself growing anxious. I’ve thought What if we move to the wrong place? What if we pick a spot and it ends up being the wrong decision and we are miserable? Then we only have ourselves to blame. Somehow, in my subconscious I had taken over that mindset that it was all up to us. That we had to select the perfect place and if we failed, God wouldn’t be there for us and we’d only have ourselves to blame. As though we were in control.

A few days ago I was having a conversation with my mom about my younger sister. She is graduating from high school in May and deciding on a college. It has been a particularly stressful decision for my family. She was a scholarship to a school that, on paper, is everything she ever wanted in a college, but she just never felt right about going there. My mom especially has been struggling to figure out what will be the best thing for her, but has just felt unsure. In a God-inspired moment in my conversation with her I said, “Mom, remember that there is no place Maggi can go that God is not already there. It’s not as if you are looking for the place where God is so you can make sure Maggi follows him there. The Holy Spirit is living inside of her. He will be with her wherever she goes.”

As soon as the words came out of my mouth I knew I had said them because I needed to hear them. Just change the names around. There is no place Jonathan and I can go that God is not already there. The Holy Spirit lives inside of us.

For my friends wrestling with uncertainty (and who have made it all the way through this post), I hope this is as comforting to you as it was to me. There is no place you can go that God is not already there. You don’t have to look for the place where God is and follow him there. The Holy Spirit lives inside of you and he will be with you wherever you go.