So, how comfortable is life these days? Sometimes my heart feels so heavy with the plight of Christians in the United States. I believe many Christians are living with a false reality. Prosperity theology began in the U.S. in the 1950s, and picked up speed throughout the years of heavy televangelism. And many people can recite a list of names of currently popular Prosperity Theology pastors. In case you don’t know, Prosperity Theology teaches that Christians are blessed directly in proportion to the financial donations they are willing to give - to the Church, of course. Many people buy into that idea.
Many others say they don’t, but in a myriad of subtle ways the theology of prosperity has infiltrated the American Christian mindset. And it fits so perfectly with our societal view of success. The biggest and best are the winners. The more good possessions, good times, good jobs, good outcomes you have, the more successful you are. We believe the people who have the most are doing the best. We apply that to churches, too. And I think it is causing a desperate plight for the American Christian. When our focus is on the external, we are driven to pursue the things that affect the external.
But when I read my Bible and dig deeper into trying to know the character of God, I realize He is a God of the internal. He is far more invested in what is happening inside of me, than in what I achieve on the outside. When we, American Christians, compare ourselves to people in other nations, we look pretty good and we thank God for His favor. But I have a feeling our gratitude is misguided. I really think we are missing the boat. I don’t see a single instance in the Bible where serving God was comfortable and profitable. The people who had the closest relationships with God suffered tremendously on the outside. After Paul met God he seems to have walked away from comfort and prestige. He was hunted and imprisoned, yet his teachings about peace, and happiness and joy are profound. His outward circumstances, which could easily be deemed a fail in our society - and I have a feeling even among many Christians today - did not dim the power and hope that was so deeply imbedded in his heart and life. His internal life was so invested in God, that what happened on the exterior became inconsequential. Our focus on the exterior, on numbers and profits, and comfort, and counting our “successes” has caused us to settle for lives which are inferior to the kind of lives God promises in the Bible.
When was the last time you took a chance? When was the last time, if ever, you got out of your comfort zone and tried to do something big for God? Have you ever done something that was so big, there was no way you could do it yourself? Or something that was so radical, and out of character that you were afraid? Most of our lives are lived according to our abilities, and our desire to provide comfortably for ourselves. The things we do and try and the circumstances we put ourselves into are pretty safe. With or without God, we’ve got it and we can do it. I think often, if we do try something new, we are constantly aware of the pressure to succeed and so we step into a venture we are already good at, or we only venture forward when things are lined up perfectly for a seamless change. We live very safe and comfortable lives - and as long as we, and our churches, keep God in the “outward success = God’s blessings” box, we are applauded and looked up to. As long as we faithfully put our offerings in the plate, show up for services, and volunteer when we are needed - we can rest in God’s favor. As long as we look successful on the outside, we can be confident we are living for God.
That is such misguided thinking. If you read the Bible, you discover a different God than that. You discover a God who wants to know you and Who wants you to know Him. A God Who loves you - truly loves you no matter what your circumstances, life choices, or mistakes have caused you to do. He loves you no matter what church you do or do not attend. He loves you no matter how many volunteer hours you have logged. He is a God Who is very interested in the world, but not for financial reasons. He isn’t counting up successes and measuring people, or churches, against each other. He is not looking for the biggest church or the wealthiest donor. He isn’t counting how many missionaries you support. He is not a God Whose sole focus is giving people comfortable lives on the outside while neglecting what is happening on the inside. He is a powerful God. He created the universe. Yet He is an intimate God, with infinite resources of hope and love. We cannot begin to understand such a God.
Let me say it again - He created the universe. It has to sink in. He took nothing and made something.
In light of that, wouldn't it make sense to understand He doesn’t need your money, your presence in the pew, or your volunteer hours? He doesn't need us to show how we stack up against other human beings. He created the universe, yet He has a very personal interest in YOU, for no other reason than you are a living soul. When you begin to connect with God personally, you start to realize how shallow and empty life is without Him. Your physical comfort and outward successes become secondary to your desire to know God more, and to let His love flow through you to others. You are overcome with a desire to be like Him, and that supersedes the influences of worldly comforts. When you really begin to know God - you put forth some effort and work into seeking out His nature, and when you actually have moments where you sense His Presence and have experienced His power you realize that, while the world is a beautiful creation - it is a pittance compared to the Creator.
It was during the times of greatest difficulty and despair in my life, when I was forced to lean only on God, that my faith grew in leaps and bounds. When I stepped out and started The Torch, I had a dream and faith. I believed God wanted to impact this world in a new way. I wasn’t financially comfortable. I’m still not. But that doesn’t matter. People tell me all the time they don’t know how I can do all the things I do. And I have to say the credit is not in and of me and who I am - it all goes to God and what He has done with my pitiful circumstances and faith. I’m getting ready to take another big step. When I look at the bigger picture of the dream I am pursuing, I feel inadequate for and unworthy of the task before me. I see how God has prepared me in many ways, but I also see the vast areas of unknown, and my weaknesses. That’s what fuels my excitement and spurs my faith. God will be with me every step of the way, and things won’t always go the way I think they should, but that’s because I don’t have God’s eyes. I may not look like a success all the time according to American Christian standards, but I know Who loves me, and Who has never left my side. I know what’s happening on the interior, and that is far more important than the exterior. And that is not just a platitude - that is my faith.
So, about this plight American Christians face. We have settled for watered-down Christianity. We don’t do or try great things because great things are not necessarily comfortable, and they don’t always follow what we are taught at church, or look like what we deem as successful. We see our own inadequacies, and fail to realize our weaknesses are often the very characteristics God uses to show the world Who He is. He is not a God of perfect marriages, perfect homes, perfect jobs, perfect incomes, perfect churches, perfect children, and perfect people. We only impress (and sometimes depress) each other with images of our perfect lives, even if we are giving God the credit. He is a daring God, a bold God, a God who wants to know His people, and wants His people to know Him. A God Who understands our weaknesses and covers them with His strengths. And when we know Him, when we take our spiritual lives into our own hands, and discover Who God is - we realize we truly can do all things. But in order to get there, we likely will have to reject the familiar and comfortable, and take some steps of faith into the unknown and new.
Comfort zones restrict us and blind us to the true freedom and blessings a relationship with God is designed to bring. Put your time into getting to know Him, to really know Him. You will be amazed at what follows, and maybe, together, we can begin to turn this plight around.