Several years ago, my wife and I were faced with what we felt like was a really huge, life-altering decision. We wanted desperately to hear from God – to have some certainty of which way was right for us to go. It was bigger than just us. It would affect our immediate and extended family too – for life! We took a couple days to get away and really think, pray, read scripture, and talk it over. And though the time away together was enjoyable, at the end of it we felt no closer to having an actual answer than when we began. It was frustrating! Where did we go wrong?
I am a Christian. My faith is sure. And yet, I think we, as Christians, over-spiritualize things way too often! For instance, if life is going really great, then God must be blessing me. If I am really struggling on my journey, then I need to have more faith, to pray more, and to be more spiritual. If I am hurting and alone, I need to seek God’s comfort.
There’s nothing wrong, per se, with these responses to good times or not-so-good. But my question is this: are they the most effective or most appropriate responses?
My observation, and hey, I could be wrong, is that God, prayer, and the church are often viewed as spiritual unicorns by the very people who say they believe in them. In other words, our views and habits pertaining to God, prayer, and the church are based on imagination – not reality!
Let me throw in some scriptural context here…
In Matthew 5, Jesus tells his followers to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And then he says that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (verse 45). Yet Christians tend to think that the good things that happen to them are God’s “blessings” on them, and the hard things that happen are God’s curses or punishment. Tell me I’m wrong here, folks! Evangelicals, especially, seem to buy into the notion of “good works theology”. It often gets wrapped into this sense of nationalism and hard work “ethic” that is not based on the truth of God’s word. God is our genie, meant to keep us comfortable. Prayer is our way of making sure God keeps us comfortable, and church is the fuel station where we go to get a spiritual fill-up once a week so we can resume our comfortable, unburdened lies -er, I mean lives.
To quote this clever and memorable commercial,
“That’s not how it works, that’s not how any of this works!“
In Galatians 6 and James 5, to name just a couple of many pertinent passages, Christians are taught to share our burdens and our difficulties with one another, pray for each other, and support one another so we can be healed. Repeatedly in scripture, the Church (those who are Christians/Christ-followers) are encouraged to meet together and care for each other as one cares for their own body. Yet, when we are facing difficulty, we often tend to isolate or hide our challenges, thinking we can pray ourselves out of the problem or pray into the solution, and if we are just spiritual enough then God will hear and fix it for us. We use words like “battle” and “fight” to talk about major emotional, mental, and spiritual difficulties we are experiencing. And we keep them mostly to ourselves. Then, when we gather with others, we share about our third cousin’s physical ailment we heard about “through the grapevine”, asking those we’re with to “remember them in prayer”. You know, good, safe prayer requests that don’t reveal anything about our own personal journey.
Does God bless those who pray earnestly and seek Him? Absolutely. He also blesses people who do not – at all – seek Him. Can our problems be solved through prayer? Yes, they can. Interestingly, though, from New Testament / New Covenant narrative, it seems God desires to aid those who are first seeking community with others with honesty and transparency, and then together seeking Him. And often, it is in the coming together itself where the healing happens. But this is not a new message. The “wisdom scriptures” have similar themes. In Proverbs, we find “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” The writer of Ecclesiastes had this to say: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
In today’s society, in addition to one another, we also have these wonderful people called doctors and therapists, nurses, counselors, and coaches whom God equips with skill, understanding and insight to walk alongside us and help us heal. Some of them, I think, could be considered modern-day prophets; guiding us to truth through writing books and publishing podcasts, holding seminars and hosting group therapy sessions. But receiving their help requires getting an appointment, picking up a book, listening to a podcast, and/or going to a session (or sessions). It means doing more than “just” seeking our unicorn god, saying unicorn prayers and attending unicorn church. How it works is through seeking help from one another, not just chasing unicorns!
(isn’t that little unicorn in the picture cute, though?)
A lovely post David. God is very loving and does not want to ‘punish’ us – that is the mistake people make, – for many years I spent so much time thinking I was being punished or going to be punished for saying even thinking something out of line – it does not work like that. (This just gives fear to people in their faith).
As I matured I realised we make our own decisions and God guides us and likes us to try our best in our lives – and we all do this in different ways and different journeys.
I do find there are times when things are tougher and I may be prone to pray more and then I feel guilty that I had not prayed for awhile and only when in tough times.
God is there but we also have to make that journey ourselves too; spiritually, mentally, physically building our characters.
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Yes, yes to all of this!! And I love that you pointed out we are also to help *each other.* My church is doing a new program (not sure what else to call it) so that we can meet in each other’s houses during the week, to study the Bible but also to help each other, lean on each other, encourage each other, etc. Anyway, I really loved this post! ✨❤️
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It is nice that you are all there for each other, kindness, understanding and helping each other are great qualities.❤️
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Yes and I can’t wait to be more involved 😊 I can’t do big things (because I’m at home with a baby) but just the everyday helping and meeting with people I can do 😊
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