Renouncing the “Manipulative Mother” God

reachHave you ever been convinced that God is deliberately withholding something from you so that you’ll become more satisfied in him?

We want something. Said something delays and proves elusive. We consider the idea that God is behind the delays and start exploring the reasons why he might say no (a long research, as many of us know).

We discover a number of possibilities, each with a basis in Scripture. We learn that we might simply need to persist in prayer. Elijah did – and on something that he not only already knew was God’s will (making it rain) but held the sole responsibility in Israel for making happen, by God’s own decree.

We consider the possibility that our requests might not be as beneficial for us as we think (or that their timing might not be).

We learn that Satan has a role in our lives, and that God provides tools for resisting his ravages.

We examine our own hearts and lives to make sure our own sin is not setting us back.

But stick to your search for long enough and one theory will start cropping up and standing out more than any other: the idea that God is saying no purely to make you more satisfied in him.

If you’re reading the right pastors and authors, this one will find its way into your vocabulary. “Satisfied in him” is probably John Piper’s favorite three words. It was John Eldredge who introduced me to the idea: that God will allow difficulty or delay into our lives and prayers every once in a while, in order to purge us of our distractions and fruitless pursuits.

At first, it’s interesting from an academic point of view. You nod and acknowledge the fact that God alone is worthy of our praise, worthy of our highest value, worthy (and capable) of being the one vessel of satisfaction from which our hearts can draw.

But as time goes on, the idea gets…irritating.

You might already be irritated just having read it in my post.

At some point down the road, in a moment of deep frustration or heartbreak, you get honest: “God, why do you have to be this way?” It strikes us that God appears to be acting like that manipulative mother you see in bad teen movies, the type who sabotages her daughter’s relationships so that she’ll stay at home. “Why are you jealous of my happiness?” we bitterly pray. Perhaps the thought only flashes through our mind instead, and we guiltily stuff it down, but it still happened. It’s a vulnerable moment, as God seems distant and indifferent to our groaning prayers.

But God is not acting out of fear, loneliness, or pettiness, as the manipulative mother might. Such motives are impossible for him.

Instead, he is acting out of his delight for us.

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
   and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
   and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. – Hebrews 12:6-8

If unanswered prayers are a form of suffering (and they certainly can be, depending on the prayer), then they are also a form of discipline – and a sign of God’s ownership and acceptance of us. I’d rather that than getting everything I want but wondering whether I was really his.

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing. – C.S. Lewis

That statement is quite alien to our daily thinking. We think we can get it. We really do. Just answer this prayer, give us this thing, and we’ll be good. Many of us don’t know that we can experience peace from God, much less that it’s more real than anything else.

God is not playing spoilsport, holding good things spitefully out of reach until we give him some attention. He is sweeping ugly spikes and pits out of the way until we can receive his greatest gift: himself. The idea that he is the greatest gift requires a total rearrangement of our worldly thinking. But it is a journey worth taking.

3 Scriptures That Have Nothing to Do with Getting What You Want from God

You all know the telephone game. A bunch of people sit in a circle, whispering a sentence from one person to another, until the last person announces what he or she heard. The results are usually hilarious. This one needs to be shared.

This can happen to the Bible, with tragedy instead of hilarity. We run the risk of distorting Scripture if we are not cautious stewards.

Unlike players of the telephone game, we get to check with the original source. If we read with open eyes and honest hearts, there’s little risk of deception. But when we operate on memory, things get messy. Occasionally, those messes go viral and become embedded in our churches – churches that are quite happy to win your attendance by telling you that God will grant your requests. Our hearts are tricky. They want to listen to the “taglines” they’re hearing – common distortions of Scripture that seem to guarantee he’ll say yes.

God is good. Bring your requests to him.

But don’t quote these taglines at him if you don’t want spiritual egg on your face. This isn’t the way to go about things.

 

#1. God won’t give you more than you can handle.

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A Rebuke Worse than God’s?

wrathWhen I mess up at work, and my boss calls me on the carpet about it, I’ll feel awful for a week and redouble my efforts to improve my work processes.

When my mistakes affect a coworker or increase their burden, I’ll feel even worse and seek to do them favors.

When my pastor point out an error in ministry, or even just provide advice upon my own prompting on how I could refine a certain area, (by the way, people, do not start walking on eggshells around me because of this post – I need and value correction), I’ll be quite humbled for a while.

And when a friend or family member expresses disappoint in me for whatever reason, an entire fortnight goes in the tank.

But when I sin and only God sees?

Well, something’s different. And not in a way that should be.

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“Happiness is Up to You”

celebrate2I entreat you for a respite from our usual Christian talk about how joy and happiness are different things.

Joy is possible in any circumstance, generated by intimacy with God and hope of heaven, not our earthly trappings. I fully embrace that as a central and crucial tenet of our faith. I even embrace the idea, without flinching, that God will withhold happiness if it makes us holier. That is well and truly believed on this blog.

But since I also believe that God does not exactly hate our happiness, let me share a verse from a poem that I ran across yesterday…

I asked God to give me happiness,
And God said, “No”,
He said, “I give blessings,
Happiness is up to you.”

– author unknown

Wow.

Yes, I know…I took this from a larger poem containing a few other ideas that some might differ on. That’s why I only reproduced this paragraph, because…wow.

How many blessings have we received and not made the most of?

Now, I hate that the previous sentence (and others like it) tend to come across so watery, wispy, and commonplace. Sometimes a little jolt is needed to really make a thought come alive. So let me offer a question I once read, one that truly exploded my contentment and easily counts as one of the top five most mind-blowing things I’ve ever absorbed:

What if God were to announce tomorrow that he would remove from your life everything for which you failed to thank him today?

ACK.

duck

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What God Doesn’t Heed

snowMore snow?

It makes me want to interrupt Job 38:22, if I dared. “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or…” “YES.”

I admit we were overdue for a solid winter since 1996’s snowpocalypse. You’d be surprised how relatively dry and warm winter can be in the valleys of the Rockies, so hey, if you’re going to interrupt my high country hiking and lake boating for nine months, at least go for broke. And it’s not like our plucky firefighters won’t be happy for the coming snowmelt.

But…come on.

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Goodies and Godliness

goodiesThere is a rhythm to our repentance and God’s grace.

Part 1: Be Careful What You Ask For

Part 2: Sex Isn’t Making Anyone Happy

Part 3: All The Wrong Reasons?

Part 4: He Runs to Us 

Isaiah sees God and laments his unworthiness, only to be cleansed with a coal on the lips (Isaiah 6:5-7).

Daniel is put on the ground by just an angel; he is invited to stand and called “highly esteemed” (Daniel 10:5-12).

In grief over Israel’s defeat at Ai, Joshua falls to his face, which you’d think appropriate, but God says, “Stand up! What are you doing up on the floor?”

The Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:27) and the centurion (Matthew 8:8-9) plead Jesus’ mercy, not their own merit; he grants their requests.

Peter sees a miraculous catch of fish and tries to push Jesus away out of unworthiness; Jesus merely ups his role in the kingdom (Luke 5:8-10).

Later, he says he can’t accept a foot-washing from his Savior; Jesus responds that he’d better find a way to accept (John 13:8)!

Finally, after Peter is faceplanted by the transfigured Christ’s glory (Peter gets a lot of time in the “faceplanted” category, does he not?), Jesus touches him and tells him not to be afraid (Matt. 17:6-7).

Do you see the beauty of it? The more God’s glory is revealed, the more our sin is illuminated. We are driven to our knees by a sense of our unworthiness. Yet God reaches for us. He places us on our feet.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:21-24)

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All the Wrong Reasons?

homeI have a confession to make: there have been times I’ve doubted the Prodigal’s motives when reading this piece.

Part 1: Be Careful What You Wish For

Part 2: Sex Isn’t Making Anyone Happy

Part 4: He Runs to Us

Part 5: Goodies and Godliness

“When he came to his senses…” (Luke 15:17a)

Biblical commentators make much of the phrase “came to his senses”. Jesus seems to be describing a soul gone mad from sin, detached from reason, and only just now waking up.

Most skeptics think that Christians are the ones detached from reality. Hearing voices, imaginary friends, etc. They say reason leads away from faith.

They’re using the wrong wisdom. When 1 Corinthians 2:14 says “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised”, commentators identify the natural man as unregenerated, governed by carnal motives – labeling even earthly wisdom as carnal and prideful. It can’t reveal God.

Sure, that’s a convenient thing to say to a skeptic. It sounds to them like circular reasoning.

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