Devotion Thursday April 30
Cranmer’s Collect for the Second Sunday after Easter encourages us to be motivated to follow in Jesus’ footsteps out of grateful love for his unconditional love at work in our lives. Sadly, though, all too often, we fall back into old destructive patterns. Following the practices of the world around us, we serve Jesus by striving ever harder to prove we really are good enough for his love.
How do Christians typically seek to be good enough for God? For some, it's arguing over fine points of doctrine, because God will only bless those who teach the pure truth. For others, it’s having clear standards of outer holiness. In the Nineteenth Century, an evangelical Christian would not smoke, drink, dance or play cards. Women would not wear make-up. Men would not play professional sports. In the last fifty years, however, the most popular way for Christians to prove their worth is having the right amount of faith. If they believe hard enough, Christians can become rich!
Listen to the faith message of one immensely influential prosperity preacher:
To live your best life now, you must start looking at life through eyes of faith, seeing yourself rising to new levels. See your business taking off. See your marriage restored. See your family prospering. See your dreams coming to pass. You must conceive it and believe it is possible if you ever hope to experience it... To experience [God’s] immeasurable favor, you must rid yourself of that small-minded thinking and start expecting God’s blessings, start anticipating promotion and supernatural increase. You must conceive it in your heart and mind before you can receive it. In other words, you must make room for increase in your own thinking, then God will bring those things to pass. Until you learn how to enlarge your vision, seeing the future through your eyes of faith, your own wrong thinking will prevent good things from happening in your life. God will not pour fresh, creative ideas and blessings into old attitudes.
For the prosperity preachers, faith is our work to win God’s approval. For the Reformers faith is God’s gift to us. Why? Because Cranmer and his fellow reformers realized that faith was a matter of trust. The more God reveals himself to his people, the more they will see that he is trustworthy, and the more their faith will grow. According to the Reformers, faith is what God is pleased to work in believers, not something believers work at to please God.
Turning faith into the means of earning God’s approval always ends up being a pastoral disaster. According to this error, when you are experiencing difficulties, it’s your fault, and God is waiting for you to get yourself out of it. If you can’t do better, then there’s nothing God can or will do to change the situation. Let’s listen again to our prosperity preacher:
Until you learn how to enlarge your vision, seeing the future through your eyes of faith, your own wrong thinking will prevent good things from happening in your life. God will not pour fresh, creative ideas and blessings into old attitudes.
The hamster wheel of approval-seeking is so brutal. It twists our sincere desire to serve God into a noose that misdirects our best efforts to please God so it can slowly choke out our joy. In the end, it leaves us hurting, helpless and hopeless.
There are many theological problems with today’s very popular prosperity Gospel: it’s a misuse of faith; it’s a misunderstanding of God’s peace (see the devotions for the First Sunday after Easter). But perhaps its chief error is that it misconstrues the true purpose of the Holy Spirit in our lives. God’s resurrection power is at work in us to crucify the flesh so we can become more like Jesus. The Holy Spirit does not seek to baptise our worldly desires and then satisfy them. Following the example of the Reformers, let us put our whole trust in God’s transforming grace at work in our lives, by praying Cranmer’s collect.
1552 Collect for the Second Sunday after Easter: ALMIGHTY God, which hast given thy holy son to be unto us, both a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us the grace that we may always most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit, and also daily endeavor ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life. Amen.