A couple blogs ago I was thinking about the why and wherefore of the promises of God, wondering: Could it be that our generation has collected promises selectively, choosing the ones that cater to our earth-bound comforts and overlooking the others? Or maybe it’s just that our whole orientation to the ‘why’ of the promises is warped. They’re not about us, but about Kingdom living, about God’s character, about where He wants our focus.
I had an email in response, introducing me to “Dog and Cat Theology”. Huh-what? No, this isn’t something sponsored by the SPCA, and I agree, the terminology sounds almost sacrilegious, but here’s what it’s about:
‘Using an illustration of “cats and dogs” and how each relates to its master, Cat n Dog Theology challenges Christians to see how we tend, like a cat, to use our Master mainly for getting what we want. The illustration points out the difference between “us living for God” and “God living for us”. The average Christian while saying he lives his life for God is actually living his life to get from birth to death in the safest, softest, easiest and most comfortable fashion possible — and often just uses God to keep him safe, soft, easy and comfortable – and to keep the difficulties, trials, tragedies and adversities away’ (Dr. Gerald D Robison)
Oh. Ouch. Sort of a ‘me-ology’ rather than a ‘theo-logy’ which is none so subtle when you picture it. If you’ve ever known a border collie or a ‘Garfield’ you can conjure up the analogy nicely in your mind. The border collie is all-eyes on the master, awaiting his command, eager, ready, living to carry out his every wish. Garfield is, well, more intent on the service due him. Not a very complimentary comparison.
The trouble begins with thinking God’s promises are there to enhance my comfort, guarantee my success or otherwise establish my ‘kingdom’. What are they for? To hang onto like good luck charms? To bring us success? When the idealism of youth fades with the experience of age into guarded skepticism, people who once claimed to believe now accuse God of failing to keep His part of the deal.* They have counted on things that haven’t materialized or been deeply hurt by unexpected losses. What promises were they claiming that are not a part of the package deal? What am I believing that’s not part of the ‘bargain’? What exactly has God promised? And where do my hopes lie?
That hallmark passage on faith—the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Fame”– ends with this sobering reminder: “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised…”. They looked forward to a salvation they did not see. Jesus had not yet come. Did they feel ‘blessed’ (as heirs with Abraham of the blessing) as they were being sawn in two or wandering destitute? Only by faith is there ability to ‘count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds’ (James 1:2) Our full redemption is yet future. The trials are readying us for it.
At the beginning of every homeschool year I used to set time aside to find specific encouragement from the Word for my year and to see what God had in mind for our year’s focus. Inevitably promises would come to my attention, often promises directed originally to Israel—and I would take them for my own and inscribe them in my teacher’s notebook to keep before me throughout the year, to encourage me in my endeavors to teach my kids…I look back now and wonder whether I misunderstood some of those words. Where I expected fulfillment that very year in the form of x, y, or z, could God have had a far bigger picture in mind that spanned whole lifetimes? If all my children are to be ‘taught of the Lord’ did that end with Grade 12? Did it show in their being super scholars with top grades? Did they love school and devote themselves to theology studies? Or is this process an ongoing lifelong learning under His patient tutelage, for mother and children alike? Every year I wanted a new promise for a fantastic year–something to fuel my hopes.
Now I’m old enough to know that every year isn’t spectacular and not all learning is a love affair, nor is every teacher an endless inspiration (I wasn’t anyway!) Some of my former students are loathe to crack another book. One is an avid reader. None is keen on more school. But what of the promises of God? I will always run into trouble (and disillusionment) when I think the promises of God are about the success of my Kingdom (my endeavors) and forget that ultimately His promises are about His Kingdom purposes. They reveal to me His eternal intentions, based on His character. They aren’t primarily for my benefit and my pleasure except as I am a steward of His Kingdom and fulfilling His purposes. And I may not see now how they fit into the plans He is working out through me. Promises call for patience, some of them right up till the coming of the Lord! Am I content to be the patient farmer waiting for rain and the growing of the crop that is under his care, but beyond his ability to produce? (See: James 5:7,8)
I look at Paul’s prayers for the believers he was ‘growing’ and am struck by their focus. Nothing here about material comfort or success but everything about comprehending their inheritance in God so that they can be fruitful for His glory and the sake of His Kingdom….
–that your love may abound…….so you’ll be blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness TO THE GLORY OF GOD (Phil1:9ff)
–that you may know His will……so you’ll walk in a worthy manner, bearing fruit, growing in knowing God…grateful to be part of His Kingdom (Col.1:9ff)
–that you may know Him, and the hope, inheritance, and power that come with that! (Eph.1:16ff)
–that you may comprehend the love of Christ and be filled with it. (Eph.3:16ff)
He admonishes them in terms of their Kingdom calling: ‘Walk in a manner worthy of God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.’ (ITh.2:12), always looking beyond present troubles to a future hope and living in terms of it—“our citizenship is in heaven and from it we await a Saviour… who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body!” (Phil.3:20,21) “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.” (Phil.3:2)
I am asking myself this week:
What if I were to live as if the Kingdom of God were the most important thing? as if the gathering together of everything under the headship of Christ were really the goal of life (Eph.1:10)…how would that change the way I look at today? If I saw all the sad things, bad things, hard things and glad things, yes, and even the ‘same old’ things that I face on any given day—as opportunities to further the Kingdom of God, as chances to further His agenda in my life and those around me… and the means? His power, His promises, His gifts through His body…And me? just a cog in the works, a joint of the whole, a steward with a mina, an heir of this Kingdom I am contributing to by my service!
Can I re-orient my thinking to seek first His Kingdom, think first of His perspective, pursue always His glory and hang onto His promises as tools to these ends? I can make a beginning in prayer:
Thy Kingdom come. Thy Will be done on earth, just like it’s done in Heaven—without question, without grumbling, without obstacle or delay–today, in my life, in my family. Make us Kingdom-seekers, with mindsets transcending the ‘now’. Teach us to “do all things without grumbling or questioning, that [we] may be blameless and innocent children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom [we] shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life…” (Phil.2:14-15)
To God be the glory for the great things He will do in each of us as we trust in His promises and pursue His calling “Today”.
“For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”
II Cor 1:20-22
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful”.Heb 10:23
Has Christianity Failed You? by Ravi Zacharias
For an overview of what it contains see my review at: http://thestackofdawn.blogspot.com/2011_03_01_archive.html