I saw this image on Facebook the other day. It’s just a little meme that demonstrates how God desires for us to have good things, but we often cling so tightly to the things we already have that we miss God’s gifts. It’s like the sad reality of why people in violent relationships keep returning to them instead of making a clean break and moving on: they don’t leave – and we don’t readily accept God’s better gifts – because what they/we have right now is familiar, and while it may not be ideal, at least it is certain.
Now I don’t want to be a super-zealous-religious-nut who, on principle, nitpicks and finds fault in everything our culture produces or creates. However, I kind of want to be a super-zealous-religious-nut who, on principle, nitpicks and finds lacking and misleading most of the stuff that our “Christian culture” produces and creates. So back to the meme.
This meme is a sad representation of the way much of our “Christian culture” understands the Gospel message; that is, as a personal, material blessing – I mean come on, “Gospel” means “good news,” what’s better news than getting a life upgrade?
Now I’m not here to say that God doesn’t offer us “life upgrades” or want us to have good things. However, we cannot think of material things as our “blessings” from God without setting up God as materialistic. What do I mean by this? I mean that when Jesus talked about “blessings” he always talked about intangibles – love, joy, peace, (suffering!?) – and never once did he say that these intangibles would be byproducts of tangibles like material things.
Jesus said that true joy transcends our situations. But if joy is found through physical “stuff,” as in a materialistic view of God, and then we lose that “stuff” (say, we lose our home or our car or our beloved iPhone), then have we lost our joy? Is God an “Indian-giver” (please forgive the use of this term)? When we lose our stuff do we lose God’s blessing/favor? Is God testing us to see if we have enough faith to get better stuff (like in the story of Job)? Or, is God simply less concerned with the day-to-day status of our stuff as much as our journey toward “true Life” – which is found by seeking God alone (Matt 6).
These are questions worth pondering because the answers help shape our view of God. (Now note, the answers we land on do not shape God, they only shape our view of God. God is who God is regardless of our viewpoint of God). They’re also important because our view of God determines how we interact with both God and world – now that’s pretty profound.
I said all that to say this: as in the meme, don’t waste your life thinking that if you sacrifice your little teddy bear (metaphorically) for God, God will in turn give you a bigger, better, newer teddy bear, that’s not the point. The point is that when we give up things for God – or rather, when we let God’s Spirit impact us enough that we begin to recognize the things we have accumulated (both tangible and intangible) in our lives that are not beneficial to us and lend nothing to a life led by God’s Spirit – we finally allow God to show us what we really need and we create the opportunity to be able to receive it. It’s very seldom a tit-for-tat thing (like we give up a little teddy bear and get a big one). Usually it is something even more amazing. Maybe we save some of the money we would have spent on new golf clubs (because the old ones are probably still fine) and instead use that money to help someone in need. God may not reward us with an equivalent or over-and-above monetary reward, but we may experience some empathy, compassion, gratitude, humility or any number of amazing rewards. Or how about even “giving up” our fixations on being wronged and allowing love to overcome those slights and release us into true joy?
Let’s stop holding God’s blessings ransom by our expectations (and selfishness) and let God do what God does – which is far better than we can do on our own, and far better than we can think of God doing for us. Often times it does take our “sacrifice” of something that we like and enjoy. However, I’ll wager to say that every time we make the decision to give that thing up, we’ll recognize just how little we actually needed them and we will grow into better people who experience much richer blessings than those “sacrificed” items every could have brought us.