It’s 5:15 a.m. and I’m blinking awake. Time to roll out of bed and onto my knees. I say a quick, slightly incoherent prayer, try to read my Bible in a semi-brain fog, and go on about my day. Spending a few minutes with God wasn’t hard, and I expect the rest of my day to work out pretty well.
It’s the kind of pattern I’ve fallen into before, expecting that if I do the “right” things God will most likely give me what I want. I thought I had cracked God’s code to living a life that was free of aggravation, confusion, and pain. I was acting as though going through religious motions would get me what I wanted. I treated God like one of those claw machines where if you get the metal claw in just the right place, if you master the technique, you’ll get the exact toy you want.
My “quiet times” often became this for me. I was doing my duty, showing up every morning and reading my Bible, checking it off my to-do list for the day. Surely God saw all the effort I was putting in. After all, I was waking up early, I was putting Him first before I did anything else—so, obviously, He’ll bless the rest of my day. It only takes one bad day to make you realize that formula doesn’t quite add up. And it only takes trying a few more things with similar results to make you realize that God isn’t a formula at all.
There’s a line from the book Prince Caspian that I always come back to whenever I think I know what God is doing: “Nothing ever happens the same way twice.” The quote came from the character of Aslan, who represents Christ in the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. I’ve found few things to be more true in my day-to-day existence than the accuracy of this quote. As much as I love trying to predict outcomes, I’ve learned that God is full of surprises. Just when you think you’ve got Him figured out, He flips the script. It seems He’s not interested in our attempts to treat Him like that vending machine. He’s not one-dimensional, and if He allowed our formulas to work, we’d never see more than one side of Him. That would be the real loss.
I think our expectations of God are often a reflection of our entitlement. We decide that reading our bibles plus five minutes of prayer equals the granting of our every request. In our physical world, that’s how things tend to work. Following a recipe to the letter is likely going to give you the intended result. But things in God’s kingdom don’t work that way.
How boring would it be to serve a God whose every move you could predict? Honestly, I don’t think I’d bother with that guy. He sounds boring. A lot of us crave formulas because it means some level of stability, but stability is just another word for control. We certainly don’t want to feel out of control, so if we can devise a formula and follow it step-by-step, we want it to always yield the same results.
At the end of the day, the problem doesn’t lie in faulty formulas, or in the ability to even create one. The real trouble is that we don’t trust the God who isn’t giving us the results we want. What kind of God doesn’t give you what you want when you’re doing all the things He asked you to do?
Jesus didn’t die for the sins of the whole world so that we could treat Him like a blessing machine.
Even back in the Old Testament God wasn’t impressed by all the sacrifices He required if they weren’t accompanied by the proper heart posture. And neither is He impressed by our rituals and routines done for the sake of trying to elicit some particular response from Him. He didn’t die for the sins of the whole world so that we could treat Him like a blessing machine. He died for us so that our relationship with God could be restored and we could know His heart. And the only way we really begin to know His heart is when our best-laid plans fall flat. When our formulas don’t add up. It’s then that we begin to question what we’re doing, and it’s here that God invites us to come to Him. He wants to show us that none of those things matter nearly as much as we think they do. He wants to show us that we don’t have to rely on our own strength and intelligence. He wants us to use what He’s given us, to be sure, but He doesn’t want us to use these things to craft some way of circumventing our need of Him. He wants us to trust His heart more than our formulas.