Are You a Christian Who Practices Magic But Doesn't Realize It?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I knew the title would be catchy...and I got your attention, didn't I? But hang on because this isn't a bait-and-switch post.

Christians who practice magic are those who view their Christian life through the lenses of decision and instant gratification. Think about it for a minute. Is not our American, 21st century, westernized version of Christianity largely, if not almost completely, based upon decisionalism and instant gratification? We raise a hand, say a prayer, walk an aisle, throw a pinecone in the fire, sign a card, shake a preacher's hand, rededicate our life, etc... and inside we think that everything is supposed to be different or will somehow change...simply because we made a decision. Then when the going gets tough, the tough get the other direction. They leave frustrated, confused, bewildered, irritated....all because they expected their Christian life to somehow - magically - be different.

Then there's the other lens of instant gratification, which goes right along, hand-in-hand, with decisionalism. When we make a decision, things are supposed to be instantly different....magically different. So with these two lenses sitting in the frame of American Christianity, the average Christian here lives out a view of sanctification that is more magical, more superstitious, than biblical and successful.

Compare that to the naked eyes of Jesus Christ who knows that process is where the progress is. And that's where the power is also, to live the Christian life. Reconsider a few statements by Jesus as a correction to this magical Christian life many of us have grown up with here in America.

  • Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24, ESV). Following...that's about process. The word "would" in the English is the Greek thelei, which is in the present active...ongoing...never ending...process. And "follow" is in the present active...again about process. So here's this denying and taking up of the cross going on...both sandwiched between two present active Greek words which communicate that the whole deal here is about process. Yes, there's a decision deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Jesus. But it's ongoing. There's no magical, instant gratification going on here. In fact, it's quite the opposite...because you're dragging a cross in order to be nailed to it.

  • "And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened" (Luke 11:9-10, ESV). The verbs - ask, seek, and knock - are all...once again...present active verbs. This is a process occuring here. There's no magical decisionalism and instant gratification in continuing to beg, search, and knock.

  • Prayer is all about process. "And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1, ESV). Praying and not losing heart are present tense, process words. There's no magic in continuing to persistently ask for the same thing, not giving up no matter how difficult it gets. Jesus set that example for us in Matthew 6 by telling us, "Pray then like this..." (6:9). There's a present tense word again...prayer is about process. Asking for food everyday is a process. Asking for forgiveness and forgiving others is about process. Asking to not be led into temptation is a process. Asking to be delivered from the the devil everyday is a process. Asking for God's kingdom and will in heaven to be done on earth is a process. There's no magic in this, friend. No instant gratification here.
Christians who pray for a special anointing in their life do right to ask for it. But they do wrong when they fail to see or embrace the plain fact that process is built into every anointing. The husband who asks the pastor to pray for a special anointing on his marriage and parenting will get it from the Spirit (just as Jesus promised in Luke 11), but it always comes with process. It's not some magical act of me taking my hands off my marriage and parenting, somehow expecting that Jesus will just "take the wheel." It's not the Keswick version of sanctification that just lets go and lets God.

This only produces and reproduces Christian magic. Christians ask and expect God to act magically, to magically perform sanctification, and godly parenting, and loving marriages, and healthy churches, etc. An excellent example of the logical end of this lifestyle is the prosperity gospel, the "name-it-and-claim-it" religion that is utterly magical in almost every aspect. I ask for something (I probably shouldn't ask for in the first place), and then sit back and expect God to just - "presto! whammo!" - give it to me...instantly. It's off the deep end because it fails to recognize again that our God is a God who builds into His answers to our prayers a process that must not be superceded, though He Himself, as sovereign God of the universe, is free at anytime to supercede it for reasons He hardly, if ever, reveals to us.

In short, the gospel is a call to process for Christians. We pray for instant healing, but live with the process of being sanctified in our sickness. We pray for a job to fall out of the sky and hit us in the head, but we work full-time at finding a full-time job. We pray for God to drop a financial blessing on us so we can get out of debt, but we pay steadily and consistently on the bills until they are all paid off. We pray for God to invade our kids' lives and suddenly - even instantly - change them (and I pray often!), but we shepherd and love and manage them toward the Savior.

The gospel is all about process. The gospel promises progress in process. And it also promises power in the process. Let us embrace the splintered cross on the long road to certain death and resurrection with Jesus. And let us cast off any notion of the the styrofoam, fluffy, frilly cross that promises instant yet empty gratification. And let us especially rid ourselves of idea of some once-and-for-all decision I can make that will suddenly and magically change everything about us and for us.

Take up the cross...every day...and deny yourself...every day...and follow Jesus...every day.

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