Christian Mantras in an Instant World

kinnon —  February 24, 2006 — 6 Comments

It was a huge hit. Selling in the millions of copies. You could find it in the aisles of WalMart, Costco, Borders, Chapters and your local Christian bookstore. The Prayer of Jabez.

“Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm that it may not pain me!” And God granted him what he requested. [link]

Millions of faith-filled people read the book – a key to unlocking the blessing of God on their lives. “Come on Lord. You did it for Jabez. Now do it for me!

I read the book. I even prayed the prayer a few times. Did it work for me? Well, I’ve experienced some contraction in my life so perhaps I’d say “no” if the criteria is pain-free border expansion. Of course, I may not have prayed it enough. Perhaps I should have prayed it without ceasing. Then maybe God would have heard me and unlocked the “floodgates of heaven”… sorry, that’s actually from elsewhere in the Bible. I wouldn’t want to confuse the mantras. That would definitely not work. right? [end sarcasm here]

I wrote a post a few weeks ago called, What Lens? where I suggested that the best lens through which to read the Bible was the Cross. Unfortunately, we have so bent and twisted this lens that it now more accurately looks like a giant yellow M. We western (or westernized) Christians approach the Bible with the same sense of awe and wonder that we do the McDonalds drive through. Like children, we order our Happy Meal™ and expect instant gratification, with a free prize inside. “Let me have a 1 Chronicles 4:10 combo, with Isaiah 54:17 and an Ephesians 3:20 – no ice.”

We approach God as we might Santa Claus. Climbing up on His knee, pulling his beard and telling Him all the things we want from His Big Book of Promises™. Perhaps Lewis’ Aslan would be a better image for us – and Lucy’s question and Mr. Beaver’s response a more accurate understanding of our relationship.

Lucy: Is he… safe?
Mr. Beaver: Safe? Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Of course he isn’t safe… but… he’s GOOD… He’s the King.

Sadly, it would seem we would prefer to bring our own Western mindset to our understanding of the One who flung the stars into space. We prefer an anthropomorphized Father Christmas God who longs to give his kids good gifts – just as soon as we ask for them. (Of course, we have to know the right verses in the right order to unlock his gift-giving greatness.) But is this the God of the Bible?

Eugene Peterson wrote a book a number of years ago called ““A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.” The book is based on the Songs of Ascents in the Psalms – 120 to 134. These were the songs the Jewish Pilgrims sang as they made their way up to Jerusalem. Songs of the greatness of God, the mighty Deliverer, the One who never stops loving us. A God who shows up in the midst of our pain and the troubles this world brings. Peterson identifies the struggle we have comprehending this God, as we attempt to understand Him with our Western world-view.

One aspect of (the) world that I have been able to identify as harmful to Christians is the assumption that anything worthwhile can be acquired at once. We assume that if something can be done at all, it can be done quickly and efficiently. Our attention spans have been conditioned by thirty-second commercials. Our sense of reality has been flattened by thirty-page abridgments.

It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in the message of the gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest. Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate. Many claim to have been born again, but the evidence for mature Christian discipleship is slim. In our kind of culture anything, even news about God, can be sold if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty, it goes on the garbage heap. There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.

The sub-title of Peterson’s book is Discipleship in an Instant Society. We have repackaged the truths of Christianity to make them palatable to an ADD culture hooked on the New New – removing the truth in the process. We dumb down scripture into Promise Books that give us instant answers to difficult questions. And when we discover that the answers don’t work “instantly”, we discard the Source of those promises.

As I stumble along this pilgrim’s road of faith, the more I come to realize that we are not promised a life of health, wealth and prosperity as some would have you believe. We are promised something much better – an actual relationship with the creator of it all – who is willing to walk with us through the good, the bad and the ugly – in a world where it rains on the just and the unjust.

Though we may experience them, we are not promised miracles. We are, however, promised a grand reception at the end of this Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

END NOTE: This post was triggered by an editorial in Christianity Today about the failed mission work of Bruce Wilkinson, the author of the best selling Prayer of Jabez book.

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

6 responses to Christian Mantras in an Instant World

  1. My definition of failure is quitting. Just because it is tough doesn’t mean that it is either not worthwhile or do-able. It doesn’t mean that you should quit. I remember reading in seminary the biography of Adoniram Judson, the first missionary sent by an USA mission sending agency. He went to Burma, and in thirty years had three converts. He didn’t quit. So why should Bruce quit? It reflects badly on him, no matter the logic of his decision. Beware what you pray for…

  2. What most impressed me about the editorial was this part:

    Still, as we critique Wilkinson’s efforts, we should remember the admonition of Teddy Roosevelt:

    The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, great devotions; … who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

    I came across this story last week told in a far less gracious manner and, I’m ashamed to admit, I chuckled at the thought of a big man brought low. Now I wonder how I, a woman who has known the shame of failure in my own life, could have been so callous.

    The thing that The Prayer of Jabez did for me was get me interested in the time tested spiritual discipline of meditating on scripture. I’m grateful to Wilkinson for that.

    Whether we choose to call it a lens or a splinter, we shouldn’t spend too much time worrying about that thing in our neighbor’s eye.

  3. Excuse me, I had to rush back because I just had this guy admonish me using the “benevolent we” at another blog and it was nonsensical and irritating as hell. I hearby vow, in front of you and whoever else reads this, that I WILL NOT BE A PATRONIZING TURD AND USE “WE” WHEN I MEAN “YOU.” If I have to say “we” to make it sound less rude then I probably shouldn’t be saying it at all. Please forgive me!

  4. We forgive you.

  5. Interesting thoughts Bill. I hadn’t thought of our microwave generation spilling over into our spiritual lives, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that sadly, you are right. We want God to be in our lives RIGHT NOW. We don’t want to wait, we want it RIGHT NOW, and we want all of the richness, with none of the pain. Convict me too. God doesn’t listen to me “right now” so I take things into my own hands.

    No splinters in my eye: It’s a full on 2×4. Thanks for the reminder!

    Now I haven’t read this book before, and now, I don’t know that I will. Lots to think about, to be sure.

  6. I too followed the developments of Bruce Wilkinson abandoning his grand vision to transform Africa. Whether there is a connection to the book “The Prayer of Jabez” aside from the obvious wealth from the sales of the book provided, this episode in the history of Christian mission in Africa further indicates the amazing faithfulness of hundreds of faithful missionaries who serve the people of the African continent despite obstacle, neverending challenge, and the “long-obedience” that is required.


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