I moved to beautiful Sydney not so long ago, and let me tell you—there is a lot to like about this city! Beautiful warm days, gorgeous beaches, great food, and the people are pretty friendly too. And yet I get the distinct feeling the city is out to get me.
Last year I heard of a man who was fined for leaving his car unlocked, and it turns out there are a whole lot of weird laws and fines for fairly ordinary behaviour. Even something as simple as tooting your horn to greet your neighbour or waving your hand out of your car window is illegal! Whether the government is out to get me—or not—is debateable (and of course they do good things too, right?). But this feeling influences my attitude towards 'them.'
Do you ever think about God this way?
We can be tempted to think about God in the same way we might be suspicious of out-to-get-you laws.
Have you ever heard a Christian warn, ‘Don't say “I would never be a missionary to China” or “I could never remain single” or “I could never teach Sunday school,” God just might make it happen!’
I know this kind of thinking has sometimes lurked in my thoughts about God.
This idea may originate in a story of someone who became a missionary, or our limited understanding of what it means for God to use all things for our good—even the uncomfortable things.
While it may have a little truth in it, this way of thinking has a lot of wrong assumptions about God and how he relates to those who trust in Jesus. This sort of thinking causes us to believe five lies about God's character.
Lie #1 God is impersonal like 'Karma'
‘If I say _____ then it will happen’ is like superstition; being careful not to stand on a crack because it will make something bad happen.
While the Bible teaches that our actions have real consequences (Galatians chapter 6, verse 7), it does not teach that God is an impersonal force requiring ‘balance.’ God is personal; he has the character of a person, not the data and programming of a robot. God has personally shown us love in Jesus Christ who died for us.
God's personal character means he deals with our actions and consequences relationally; always displaying perfect justice, mercy and—most strikingly—love.
Lie #2 God won't see you if you keep your head down
‘If you don't express your desire or dislike out loud you might escape God's attention.’
To speak about God as though we can outsmart him or hide from him is as preposterous as the idea of Jonah trying to get away from God. God isn't limited to keep an eye on only a few people, allowing the rest of us to slip through the cracks away from his attention.
The Bible tells us ‘Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.’ (Hebrews chapter 4, verse 13)
Lie #3 God doesn't want you to enjoy anything
‘If you love something God will take it away and replace it with something you hate.’ This lie functions on the premise that a good Christian is a miserable Christian.
Satan's lie to Eve was that God was withholding something good from her, when in reality God had given so much for Adam and Eve to enjoy in the garden.
God doesn't like us taking pleasure in sin, but this doesn't mean God is anti-enjoyment. God is able to satisfy our desires with good things. He doesn't give a stone when you ask for bread. Jesus said God is a father who gives good gifts (Matthew chapter 7, verses 9–11).
Lie #4 God only wants people out of their comfort zone—like a fish out of water
‘God is out to get you and his best interests for you will only ever be uncomfortable.’
God has given each of us different gifts to serve the Church. Like different parts of one body we are each better suited to do different things.
I am horrible at administration. It is not my gift. While I can't rule out that God might teach me humility and patience through administration tasks, I know God wants me to serve using the ways in which he has gifted me, it is good to find enjoyment in serving God and others.
Lie #5 God will twist your arm to get you to begrudgingly do what he wants
While God doesn't exempt us from suffering, the Bible speaks of joy amid suffering rather than pained duty and holding a grudge against God.
Our obedience to God is not a chore to be ticked off in order to get eternal life. No, when we realise and accept Jesus' death and resurrection as life-giving truth we are changed from within and renewed by the Holy Spirit. Obedience—even to the point of suffering—becomes joyful service and worship.
Unpack the motivation
Beneath the saying ‘don't say that or else God will _______’ lurks some really unhelpful ideas.
However, rather than shutting down these expressions how about considering why?
Why don't you want to be a missionary to ______ country? Why do you think you could never stay single? Why would you never help with Sunday school?
Expressing how we feel could lead to evaluating our motivations, and give insight into our hopes; clarifying how we might serve God in the future.
Andrew Sinclair is a Kiwi living in Sydney, Australia with his wife Sophia and their sons Guy and Frank. He is studying theology at Sydney Missionary and Bible College.
Andrew Sinclair's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/andrew-sinclair.html