How do you understand God, and what impact does that have in your approach to faith?
Our life of faith is not about what we can get out of it, but, rather, how God can transform us from within.
Unfortunately, however, too many people, too many Christian leaders, have lost sight of this. Somewhere along the line, it became about imposing “our” way of life on the world. We have become too cozy with the political structure of our society. Let’s face it, Evangelicalism has come to be about political power, and in making that deal, it has lost a lot of moral authority.
Our prayer time is spent focusing more on what we want, or what we think we need than simply resting in God’s presence. The rising popularity of “name it and claim it” theology has had devastating effects on spiritual depth and understanding. People are leaving the Church because they don’t “get” anything out of it.
It is, perhaps, the last one that bothers me the most. I’ve had people leave a church I was serving because (they say) they weren’t getting anything out of it.
We live in a highly consumer-driven and on-demand culture — two things that do not go well with how Church is traditionally set up. Now, perhaps one could argue that the Church should adapt to the times, and to some extent I will agree; however, not necessarily on these particular points.
The Customer is Always Right
We would like to think that the old mantra “the customer is always right” is the standard for customer service, but, let’s face it, there are times when the customer is absolutely wrong.
This is the mentality that pastors all over have to deal with on a regular basis. People believe they are entitled to have things a certain way, and if things don’t go their way, they are out. And it doesn’t matter what it is — musical style, particular hymns/songs, the colour of the carpet or the walls, the type of biscuits that are served in fellowship time — these are all petty, but real, reasons why people have gotten upset in the local church.
At the core: a consumer mentality.
I cannot recall the last time I actually watched television as it was happening live (excluding rugby games). About a year ago, our tv watching became a steady diet of Netflix, Neon, and Lightbox. If there’s something I want to watch, I normally can find it on one of those streaming services. What started with Tivo (do you remember Tivo? is that still a thing?) has turned into a cultural phenomenon. You can watch television according to your schedule, not the networks. And while this is fantastic for television, we have allowed the same mentality to carry over into other facets of life.
What happens when we take an on-demand mentality into the Church?
We start expecting to get things when we want them. We lose sight of the fact that we aren’t the ones who get to decide on God’s timing. We expect our shopping-list prayers to be answered in a timely fashion in the way that we want. We start living out the “name it and claim it” mentality without really thinking about the implications. I want it, I believe I should have it, and all I need is a little more faith to make it happen. And that’s where it really gets dangerous.
In some faith traditions, if something doesn’t happen, even when you have been praying for it, the reason is because you don’t have enough faith. That is, theologically speaking, a load of crap, and it is damaging for people who are in a very vulnerable place in life. When they should be surrounded and supported, they are told that they lack faith, when they have shown more faith in praying through these difficult times than those who are filling their heads with bad theology.
There are times in life when kids get horrible diseases, when the father/mother of a young child passes away unexpectedly, when tragic accidents devastate entire families. These things don’t happen because those people (or the people surrounding them) don’t have enough faith. These things happen because life just sucks sometimes. One person’s lack of faith is not the reason.
These two ideological idols have come to the forefront in today’s Church because there are too many people who look at faith as transactional, not transformational.
If I pray hard enough, God will heal my mother from pancreatic cancer. If I go to Bible study, then my son will stop using drugs. If I get involved in the church, then nothing bad will ever happen because God will put a protective bubble around my life and the life of those I love.
The problem with this kind of faith: it sets a person up for disappointment. God will not be controlled or bound by our expectations. We are not in a co-equal relationship with God. God does not owe us anything if we do something for God.
Instead of being transactional, our faith should be transformational.
Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind… Romans 12:2
A transformational faith is one whereby we are transformed by God’s presence in our lives. One thing I have learned in just over a decade of ministry is that if God always agrees with you (or me, or him, or her, or whomever), then maybe you aren’t really listening to God. I see very few cases of Scripture where God is 100% behind a person’s decisions.
Even the heroes of Scripture that we want to lift up as examples of giants in the faith fall short from time to time. Moses killed a guy and had some anger issues. David slept with another man’s wife, got her pregnant, recalled her husband from war so that he would sleep with her and cover up the adulterous pregnancy, and then when he didn’t sleep with his wife, David specifically drew up a plan to have him killed in battle. Elijah suffered from depression and wanted God to take his life at one point. Jeremiah was a bit of a whiner, and there were times when he didn’t want to do his prophetic work. But each one of these people are lifted up. Why? Because God worked in and through them. God transformed them. They had a transformational faith.
So, what kind of faith do you have? Do you have the kind of faith that says, “If I do this, then God owes me that”? Or do you have a faith in which you put your trust in God, and allow God to shape you? Do you have a transformational faith that says, “I don’t have it all figured out, but I’m going to allow God to work in me at this time in my life”?