We are all born pagan. Idol worship and superstition come naturally to us. We quickly develop rituals to help our favorite sports teams have "good luck". Gamblers blow on dice, lottery players have lucky numbers, and Friday the 13th still brings out caution in many (and maybe a rabbit's foot or two). But even those of us enlightened "mono-theists" have our own methods of bargaining with "forces out of our control" to try to get what we want.
For even the most well-intentioned converts, these pagan habits follow us into our beginnings of discipleship. The sad truth is so many people approach Christianity as a method of appeasing God as opposed to actually following the teachings of Jesus Christ. It's a bargain, "God, I will do what you want if you help me *insert favor*". It's also the first thing you must purge to grow in sincere faith.
Many things in life are beyond our control. It would seem that humanity as a whole has developed a habit of personifying everything we can't directly manage. All pagan cultures throughout time have created gods for fertility, harvest, weather, hunting (ample game), love, and health... all the things we can't directly control (or couldn't until recently). Throughout the years of human history, man has taken everything out of his control, assigned it a god, and tried to gain that god's favor. (Notice there are no ancient gods for "get your ass out of bed", hard work, perseverance, charity, forgiveness, or rehab.)
Now that we live in a Judeo-Christian culture, we just take all those things out of our province and blame one God for them..which leads me to ask the question: Aren't we just being pagan if all we have done is consolidated our gods together but still think and behave the same? How have we changed if our prayers, rituals, and sacrifices are done in the hopes of getting good fortune from an appeased God?
IS GOOD LUCK DIVINE?
"Rain falls on the just and unjust alike" - Matthew 5:45
So the question becomes, just how should we approach good luck/fortune or bad? Is good fortune a sign of God's approval and bad fortune a sign of God's punishment? NO! Any kind of assumption regarding fortune and God creates a kind of insanity.
Are we to question our purity when lightning strikes our home and destroys our Playstation? Are we to assume our sins have gone overlooked when we find a twenty dollar bill in our coat pocket left from last winter? Is our sports team more in favor with God the year they won and offending Him the year they lose (in which we can only conclude that one sports team can appease God at a time)? To look for "omens of fortune" to interpret God's Will drives us to paranoia.
Life is hard for everyone, period, and God does not show favoritism. Expecting life's challenges to go away or diminish just because we are on "God's side" is foolish and arrogant. If one looks at Scripture, we find just the opposite; Jesus warns us to expect life to actually get HARDER when we choose to follow Him. True Christian discipleship is not the way of safety and comfort; it is the Way of the Cross.
LIFE DOESN'T CHANGE. WE DO.
So as the blog title says (Look out! Shameless self-promotion coming up), let's bring this back to some practical Christian Mysticism (Told ya!). We don't follow Jesus Christ for some shallow hope in worldly blessings. We carry our Cross because we are convicted of our own need to change. Discipleship isn't about DOING, it is about BECOMING. We strive to become like Christ, but more accurately, we strive to become what Christ intended us to be.
The world around us changes, not because we have favor with God, but because when we seek the face of God we change and begin to affect the world. Life doesn't get easier, we get stronger. Our fortunes don't improve, they just become less relevant. If we truly believe God loves us, and we cannot earn or lose this love, then it is not God who changes His attitude toward us, we change our attitude toward God.
"Even the demons believe" - James 2:19
Everyone starts their spiritual and religious journeys with pagan/superstitious habits of some kind. It is just our nature, and it takes time to mature. I write this article in large part from self-reflection of my own habits. I often find myself losing perspective and trying my own bargains. However, I see many people struggle because they bargain with God and use that as the basis for their faith. I see people live "moral" or religious lives in hopes of convincing God to give them something, just to become jaded and discouraged.
Bargaining with God cheapens faith and robs us of the true blessings God has for us. There is so much to learn, to discover, and to experience in life. When we use our religion as a bargaining tool, we keep ourselves stuck in a worldly perspective. We may believe in God, but we are keeping our hearts in material and shallow concerns. Besides, we don't get any credit for "believing."
"God's grace is sufficient for me." - 2 Corinthians 12:9
To temper this article a bit, I want to end with God's grace. Grace is something we all have access to, but it is not to be confused with luck, fortune, or even blessings. Just like God's love, we don't earn God's grace, it is given. God gives His grace so we can have room to grow and mature in Christ. If God did not give His grace, we would be crushed under the weight of our own sins and foolishness.
God gives grace to us generously, and all who trust in God enough to just go out into the world and live experience it. The grace we receive is sufficient for us to learn from our mistakes and have a chance to recover from them. God's grace is sufficient for us to grow each day, not being dragged down by what we were before.
GOD IS A FATHER, NOT A MOB BOSS
God is our Father, not a tradesman or mob boss. Does a good father demand actions from a child before offering his love (I said "good" father)? Does a good father wait for his child to grow up and prove himself before he takes the child into his home? So why do we think of God this way? Everything God has for us, He has already given, which means it is up to us to seek it, accept it, and live it.