The Manipulation of God?

The prosperity message is freely preached today in our churches and many times it comes disguised.  Yesterday, I listened to a sermon that mentioned a ‘formula’ that would ‘make prayer work’ such that God would ‘rain blessings down’.  It’s disappointing to hear this message preached, because in my opinion, it truly diminishes the real love that God has for us.

You see, I believe that when God gives us something  – He gives it to us simply because He loves us. That’s it! Pure. Unconditional. Love.

However, this preaching of ‘prosperity prayers’ suggests that when we pray to God using a formula – it’s because we’re expecting to get something back – Blessings. Needs. Wants!

I have been repeatedly told that if I pay my tithe – God will bless me!  If I pay more offering, God will take care of my bills! If I pray like this – my prayer will be answered! If I meditate more, if I serve more, if I do…more… more…MORE… God will do more… MORE…MORE!

But the bottom line is…God’s blessings have absolutely nothing to do with anything I do, how faithful I think I am or how I have prayed my prayers.  He has already told us that our righteousness is as filthy rags. So, to even suggest that God’s blessings have anything to do with my behavior reduces God to a mere puppet, who responds and is manipulated according to my actions.

While I believe that God wanted to teach us how to pray, I think He was teaching us how Me holding the Bible to the back of Christ and demanding He love me.to honor Him. I do not believe He was teaching us how to pray so that we could use it as a formula to receive blessings. The idea of this sounds extremely manipulative – and in reality – it is.  We end up using the Bible and God’s promises to try to get things from God, that He really does not intend for us to have because they may not be in our best interest.  We can end up using the Bible to tell God what to do… to demand his love, a house, a car, more money and potentially things that really may not be good for us.

How many of you would feel honored if your child only ever helped you around the house based upon what they could get out of you?  Or if your spouse only ever put something into your relationship because it meant he or she could get something in return? While admittedly it seems to be the way things are done these days, with incentives, motivations and bribes being they way to get what you want but wouldn’t you rather  receive help or gifts simply out of love? Pure. Unconditional. Love?

It doesn’t mean that we cannot ask God for things, we should.  He tells us to ask, but our love and worship is not tied up in giving to get.  I think God laid His ground rules stating how He wanted to be treated, loved and respected and therefore when you pray … ‘do it like this’. This is God’s Love Language not his ‘formula’ for manipulation.  I wonder how much God wishes that we could just give Him love, worship and prayers simply to honor Him, without the strings. Pure. Unconditional. Love.

Yes – there are certain things I would expect to have ‘right’ before I approach God in prayer.  Love for Him, a ‘right heart’,  contrite spirit, forgiveness for others, a desire to get to know Him and learn His will for me.  But I’m not doing this to get anything  and furthermore, getting my way, needs or desires met really should be last. Nevertheless, if our prayers are based upon a formula to get our needs met – isn’t God going to see through this anyway? Are we not insulting God? We cannot fool God!

I don’t know about you, but if I listen to the concept of any kind of prosperity message, it is burdensome.  It adds another layer of works to my faith, and I know I cannot be saved by my works. Just as we like to feel loved and blessed, I think God wants to be loved and blessed too. So I just want to learn to sit in God’s presence and be in awe of Him. If God’s going to bless me – He going to do it  anyway- simply because He loves me.  Pure. Unconditional. Love.

 

A Disease to Please – A Testimony of Freedom in Christ

There is an incredible freedom to behold when we place ourselves and our decisions in the rightful hands of our Creator. Today, I can truly say that I have experienced that freedom in Christ and it is a joy and peace that I have been seeking for years and which I have finally found.

Over the course of my life, I have allowed my childhood wounds to subconsciously follow me. While our parents are supposed to represent to us the love and acceptance that God has for us, not all child-parent relationships follow this model. We cannot excuse the fact that, unlike God, our parents are flawed and even in their best efforts (which I appreciate), they will ultimately fail in some aspect of their relationship with us.

Throughout the course of my childhood, like most children, I wanted to be loved and accepted by my parents. ‘Doing things’ for them, seemed to make them happy at first, and soon I learned that if I was to be loved by them, I needed to ‘do things’ to please them, even if it made me unhappy. As I became older, my efforts to make them happy continued, but their satisfaction appeared to diminish and I never seemed to be good enough but it did not stop me from pursuing their love. Throughout this experience, I learned that my needs were unimportant and that I should put myself last and everyone else’s needs first, if I was to be loved. I never truly understood what it meant to be loved unconditionally, and was never able to fully understand the love that God has for me.

As I became an adult and left home, I still found myself making immature efforts to seek approval, by replaying the same efforts to ‘people please’ with my spouse, my co-workers and my friends. I would talk to a variety of people about the choices I needed to make, some people would agree, others would disagree, and I would often sit confused, in an ocean of analysis paralysis not knowing which way to turn. In my efforts to be loved and accepted, I outsourced many of my critical life decisions. I allowed people to make choices for me about my life, even when I wasn’t entirely sure or happy about the decisions, I believed that they knew more about (my) life than I did.

Like Jonah, God had to get my attention and He took me on an epic journey of discovery to finally get me to look at what I was doing to myself. Ultimately, the reason I was unhappy, was that I was being disobedient to God’s will for my life as well as being idolatrous. I was not living the life that God had created me to live, I was living a life to please the will of people who I had subconsciously placed on a (parental) pedestal.

Through a variety of painful lessons, God had to teach me who I am. I had to learn that God is my Father and that I do not have to do anything for Him to love me, He loves me unconditionally. I am learning to embrace the fact that I am a Child of the King and that my needs and desires are just as important as anyone else’s. God has given me an amazing personal gift of life with the same ability and right to breath the same fresh air and occupy a physical space on this earth just as everyone else does . I learned that no one else’s opinion or approval matters, except God’s because He is the One who created me. To seek approval or validation from anyone else but God, is to make that person my god, my idol.

So today, I walk with a renewed sense of who I am, knowing that for me I have had a huge victory over an enemy that has been subconsciously destroying my life – ‘people pleasing’ or idolatry. I can confess that this will be an ongoing journey of recovery, a ‘disease to please’ does not disappear overnight. Nevertheless, I am blessed and thankful that God took my hand and walked with me through the pain and hurt of a road less travelled, so that I could learn to accept that He loves me simply for who I am.

‘I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made’  Ps 139:14

‘We have known and believed the love that God has for us.  God is love and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.  We love Him because He first loved us’ 1 John 4: 16 – 19

Love as Jesus Loved…

SCRIPTURE

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13 : 34, 35

OBSERVATION

When Jesus talks to us about something, it’s because He want us to grow and to learn new ways.  When Jesus referred to this commandment to love, was this really a new commandment?  I don’t think it was.  I think the newness Jesus was referring to was the new type of love He desired for us to learn and practice.  He said ‘love one another as I have loved you’.  The way that Jesus loved was extra-ordinary.

We are not talking about Hollywood, ‘fall in love’, but Agape love.

Jesus wants us to have a relationship with God first before we can truly relate to others.  When we have experienced the way in which God loves us, it is only then that we can truly understand how to love and respect ourselves and our bodies.  It is only when we have this relationship with God that we truly understand how to love another person.  We can treat them with dignity and respect, regardless of the way they treat us.  That does not mean that we become door mats, accepting any abusive behavior, for enabling someone is not love. But we should lovingly correct and encourage them to seek Godly insight just as Christ did.

Now… here is the remarkable part!!!  It is through the expression of this love that other people will know that we are His disciples, but only if we have love for one another.

APPLICATION

God’s love is unconditional meaning that His love for us is not performance-based.  God does not expect me to jump over ten hurdles perfectly to earn His love and if I fail, He withholds it. Neither should we expect others to complete tasks in order to earn our love.

God does require respect and so should we.  That same respect that we require, we should offer to others.   This means that our conduct, the way we talk, the tone we use, the things we say and do are tempered by the Holy Spirit.  This includes being able to give and receive loving and gentle correction.  Because of His love for us, God does admonish us from time to time when we need it and it’s only right that, without wrongful judgment, we help keep each other on the right path too.

This love that Jesus shared is not the worldly love that we know all too well.  It is different and because of this love, people were drawn to Christ. Wouldn’t it be awesome if people were drawn to God because of the love we expressed to each other?

PRAYER

Dear Father

Thank You for Your expression of True Love.  Thank You that we have been commanded to love each other as You have loved us.

Cast Your Holy Spirit amongst our families, friends, relationships, churches, spreading Your love and peace.  Help us to talk respectfully to each other, treating others with dignity and love, regardless of the way they treat us.  Help us to be committed to setting the example that Christ gave to us.   Admittedly, we do not always get this right but in our humble efforts, help us to glorify You and to draw others closer to You.

Thank You for hearing and answering our prayers.

In Jesus’ Name

Amen

It’s Okay to be Human…

Today I’ve been thinking about how unforgiving the world can be when we make mistakes. Some days it is hard to be ‘human’, to be imperfect in a world that expects you to be perfect and get things right… All. The. Time.

I remember my child coming home, feeling they had been unjustly dealt with at school. It was the first time they had forgotten their homework, and they had been ‘disciplined’ as if they were a repeat offender. I felt their pain. Everyone forgets something from time to time – it’s human. I had to remind them that it was okay to forget, it was okay to be imperfect, it is okay to be human.

This world does not always offer you a second chance. One seemingly small mistake or error in judgment can be disastrous to your life or the lives of others, and in some cases you can be judged by that mistake for rest of your life – the label sticks. Sometimes we judge others harshly, until we find ourselves in a similar situation. It is my prayer that I can grow with God in offering forgiveness to my brothers and sisters who make mistakes, as I know I need that same forgiveness.

I am thankful that God knew me well enough to know I would make mistakes despite my efforts. He lovingly set up a plan to forgive and redeem me. With Jesus – there are no worldly labels regardless of what we have done. Jesus gives us new chances every day. We may sin one day, and be washed clean by the blood of the Lamb, through the confession and repentance of our sins, the following day.

With Jesus, I have a Friend, a Brother, and an Advocate. With the Holy Spirit, I have the comfort and strength to walk with God in this unforgiving world with my head held high. With God, I have the unconditional love of my Creator, my Father. Amen.

Miracles: Lessons from the Blessings of the Supernatural ‘Servior’

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”-Mark 10:45

The “Servior” might look like a typo, Jesus makes it clear in this verse what His entire mission on earth would be, and that is to be our Loving Server and our Lord and Savior. One of the many ways that Jesus served the people was through the miracles he performed.

Jesus performed miracles – around three dozen, depending on how you count them-but the Gospels actually downplay them. Though He never denied someone who asked for physical healing, He always turned down requests for a demonstration to amaze the crowds and impress important people such as King Herod & Pontius Pilate even when His life depended on it. Jesus recognized early on that the excitement generated by miracles did not readily convert into life-changing faith. Rarely did people find it easy to believe in miracles; they seemed as peculiar in the first century as they would seem if performed today. Just imagine your own reaction of seeing a televangelist on one of the Christian networks that “heals” members of his audience. Then, as now, miracles aroused suspicion, contempt, and only occasionally faith.

Now even though we cannot perform miracles as He did and still does, we can still learn lessons from Him in how we serve others in our community.

Lesson #1. When you do community service, or any volunteer activity to benefit others, you must expect suspicion and skepticism.

We live in such a cynical world, that even random acts of kindness to strangers will have them thinking there is a catch. Also when we go out to serve the community, like Jesus, we cannot do it just so we can get attention, give ourselves a pat on the back, or just make our church look good. Read Matthew 6:2. Imagine if you will, the mentality of the arrogant modern day apostle, “Look at me; I just gave away a free water bottle and two bags of Cheetos and Skittles! I’m such an awesome volunteer”. Service should be who we are and not just what we do. Christian writer E.G. White says in the book “Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing” that “Those who desire words of praise and flattery and feed on them as sweet morsel, are Christians in name only.”

Jesus’ first miracle in John chapter 2 (turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana) was perhaps the strangest of all. He never repeated anything quite like it, and the miracle seemed to take Jesus by surprise as much as anyone else.

As emergencies go, this one falls well down the list. It caused embarrassment, to be sure, but should a Messiah who had come to heal the sick and liberate the captives concern Himself with a social mishap? “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied when His mother mentioned the problem. “My time has not yet come.”

Can you imagine what crossed Jesus’ mind? If He acted now that would mean His time HAD come and from that moment on, life would change. If word of His powers leaked, He would soon hear pleas from needy people from Galilee to Jerusalem. Crowds would flock: the blind, the lame, the deaf-mutes, and the demon-possessed, not to mention any street beggar who wanted a free glass of wine. So finally He reached a decision, for the first but surely not the last time in His public life, He changed HIS plans to accommodate someone else.

Lesson #2-When we serve others in any capacity, like Jesus, it would require us to change plans to accommodate someone else.

Serving others is not about us. It requires sacrifice of our time, money, our energy, and some of our material possessions. Also serving others requires us to step outside of our comfort zone. Like Jesus, we have to meet people where they are. We actually have to step out of the ivory towers of the church building and go into some of the most undesirable neighborhoods to serve those in need. We can’t expect those in the community to come in here, if they feel we are too good to go meet them out there.
The people back then blamed the victims of blindness, deafness, and paralysis on their sinful conditions. So the sicker you were, the more sinful you were. But Jesus overturned common notions about how God views sick and disabled people. He denied that the men’s blindness came from sin, just as he dismissed the common opinion that tragedies happen to those that deserve them. Job refuted that theory right? Job was the most upright man in the land and still got hit with more tragedy than anyone else. Praise be to God that Jesus, the only perfect Man who ever lived, served the most imperfect of people.

Lesson #3-When we serve others, like Jesus, we must not look down on them or stand in judgment of their circumstances as if we’re superior and they’re inferior to us. We must dismiss the ideology that bad circumstances mean they’re bad people. But if you read the Holier Than Thou version of Romans 3:23, it says “Most have sinned..some have fallen short”, no ALL have sinned and not only have ALL sinned but no matter how high and mighty you think you are, or how big a deal you think you are, you STILL come short of the glory of God. We are all just nobodies telling somebody that anybody can be saved by the Man who died for everybody. So let’s serve with humble hearts of compassion like Christ.

Let us talk about the only miracle in all four Gospels, the feeding of the 5,000. The daunted disciples were vexed and perplexed on how to feed the multitude, but the Savior was the solution. When we focus on the problems, we lose sight of the promises. When we focus on great obstacles, we miss out on golden opportunities. So I can imagine Jesus telling the disciples “I healed the sick, made the blind see, made the lame walk, raised the dead, and calmed a storm with My voice alone … so do you honestly think hunger is something I can’t handle?”

Lesson #4-When we serve others, we need to remember that little becomes much when we place it in the Masters hands. Just like the 2 fish and 5 loaves fed everyone AND created an overflow and spillover, God will take whatever gifts and talents you have to serve others and will multiply it so that it would exceed even YOUR expectations so that it will spillover and overflow to have a huge impact on so many that would greatly benefit from it.

The author Philip Yancey once said, “Jesus never met a disease He could not cure, a birth defect He could not reverse, a demon He could not exorcise. But He did meet skeptics He could not convince and sinners He could not convert. Forgiveness of sins requires an act of will on the receiver’s part, and some who heard Jesus’ strongest words about grace and forgiveness turned away unrepentant.” In the context of service, we can help so many people when we give of our time and energy, and they can still end up being ungrateful and unappreciative, but serve anyhow. And why should we serve others? What’s the point of it all anyway? Let’s look no further than Matthew 25:37-40. It wasn’t the wicked, the unbelievers, or even the Gentiles that asked those questions, it was the righteous that asked these questions. It was His followers, the believers, the Christians. He wants us to serve others we SEE just like we serve Him that we DON’T see. Matthew 20:28- the Son of Man did not come to be served, but TO SERVE, and give His life a ransom for so many.” Besides dying on the cross for our sins, out of His own mouth, serving was His only other purpose on earth. We are saved to serve. God saved us so we can serve others…God saved us, so we can serve others. So let us serve with compassionate hearts and sincerity. Francis of Assisi once said, “It is not fitting, when one is in God’s service, to have a gloomy face or a chilling look”. I believe that God not only loves a cheerful giver, but a cheerful servant.

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” -Muhammad Ali
We all need to ask ourselves, are we current with our “rent” payments with our LandLord? Or are we delinquent?

Suggested listening music to reflect on.
Keith Pringle-Saved to Serve

From Breakdown to Breakthrough

Baking a cake requires a combination of specific ingredients in a particular way to ensure success. If the cake fails, I usually assume I did something wrong and I will need to make a change next time. When seeking an answer to my prayers, there is also a formula or recipe for success, such as prayer, fasting, Bible study, and faith. If the prayers go unanswered, once again I assume that I did something wrong and will need to do something different next time.

I confess that I have manipulated areas of my life to create a desired outcome, such as baking a simple cake – who hasn’t? Change your actions means you change the outcome – right? But is it possible that I unknowingly did the same with God? Was I trying to manipulate God to provide me with what I wanted, based on what I was doing?

As a Christian it is a message I have heard many times. If you want a breakthrough with the challenges in your life, whether it is good health, a restored marriage, job security, financial blessings, then you should seek to pray, recite scriptures, serve in church,  submit, forgive, sacrifice, wear the right clothes, send our children to Christian school, the list goes on.  The reverse of this message is, if your prayers go unanswered, it is because of something you failed to do, and if you are like me, you will try harder and do more to break through these walls.

Despite trying to complete my endless ‘to do’ list there was no breakthrough, until one day, I broke down. I was burned out. My heart ached, and in tears, I looked to God and said “What now?”God said:-

sunset picnic
Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28.

So I sat in God’s presence and rested.  Things fell apart around me. I rested.  My world and everything in it came crashing down. Still, I rested. During this time, I learned more about myself and the people around me. Relationships cracked, some people stayed, others left, some I chose to break, others were restored. Most importantly, God revealed to me that the area of my life I had been working so earnestly to fix, was not mine to fix – it was His. I had been trying to do God’s job.

I had to stop trying to influence Him, albeit subconsciously, and let Him do whatever He had to do in my life, even if it meant failing and losing the very things I valued. As He puts my broken life back together, I now see the breakthrough that I had been praying for. I literally had to ‘break’ – for these walls in my life to come tumbling down. I’m still walking ‘through’ to the other side – but to a different life that God has in store for me.  God had to ‘break me to make me’.

Though I am perplexed by His way, and the unexpected dynamics, I am trusting Him and feeling truly blessed.  I begin this journey with a renewed heart and desire to really know God and accept His Grace and Mercy. I finally believe that He does not bless me or answer my prayers because of what I do, but quite simply because He loves me – unconditionally. This is my testimony of Jesus Christ.

How did God bring you through a difficult time in your life?  Share your experiences or comments below…