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~ All or Nothing ~

A popular platitude most of us heard is, "Jesus is the answer!" Should we, in all sincerity, ask, "Answer to what?" the popular response is, "To all your problems." In part, this misguided, distorted theology led to what's known as the "prosperity gospel" or "prosperity teaching."

We certainly have our problems, from which Christians are not immune. The "prosperity teachers" may well respond with, "Well, you lack faith. Nothing is impossible for Jesus." We spoke of this kind of mixing of truth and falsehood in a previous Reflection, "Messengers from Hell ." Mixing truth and lie is a satanic manipulation that puts us in a corner, that of separating the two before we can continue the dialog. While nothing is impossible for Jesus, since through Him all of creation came into existence out of nothing, the lacking of faith is really a different theological arena and needs a separate focus of thought and exploration. If the truth and falsehood are not separated in gullible minds, those minds are apt to throw themselves into self condemnation and guilt. "It's my fault God won't answer my prayers for deliverance from this problem, or for the healing of my dying child. I lack faith in Him." In such self-depravation, it does not occur that if nothing is impossible for Jesus, that must include increasing our faith.

The corollary of this is the person who finds his or her prayers being answered, and thus prides himself or herself on their contribution, namely "their" great faith. In the spiritual realm, pride is deadly and results in the great fall from grace. We can never take pride in our faith, for even that, as all things, is a gift of God. The petitioner of Christ's mercy exclaimed, "Oh Lord, I do believe, but help my unbelief!" In writing about his persecutions to the church at Corinth, Paul mentions his doubts and always asked for the prayers of all the churches on his behalf. Having doubts and worries are not synonymous with a lack of faith. The first comes from our humanity and its imperfections; faith is given from above.

Yes, Jesus frequently chastised His disciples on their lack of faith. It seems He was reminding them of their need for total trust and submission to Him. Even upon witnessing Christ's ascension, many of them still doubted. That faith came to those people, not from any will power or spiritual practice of their own, but from the Holy Spirit on that day of Pentecost. They emerged from hiding into the "first hour" (about 9 AM) and three thousand people were baptized that day. The spiritual revolution truly began with awesome power and forever redirected the course of human history.

Let's approach this from deep within, a place to which we go that seems so challenging and demanding. In that place every thing looks so differently, but the view makes sense and is infused with realized wisdom. Our First World culture teaches us to split ourselves, our lives, into disconnected compartments. We speak of our work lives, family lives, religious lives, recreational lives, personal lives, prayer lives and schooling lives. We created distinct boundary markers between them, with some token overlapping. This is akin to the old psychiatric term, "Multiple Personality Disorder" now referred to as "Dissociated Identity Disorder" or DID.

Naturally we extend that dissociation into our spirituality and theology. We are urged to "lift up your problems to the Lord." So we, in our sorrowfully limited wisdom, separate our lives into "satisfying areas" and "problem areas." For instance, we may be quite satisfied with our financial security, but troubled with our child's behavior or our spouse's inattentiveness to our needs. We then "lift up to the Lord" only that part of our lives we think needs His intervention.

We do this in the face of Christ's clear teachings that He requires our entire selves to be "lifted up" and thus denied in submission to Him. This may rankle us. We may not be anxious to lift up to His will that with which we love and consider blessings, like our great home of our dreams or the great position we have at our work place, full of promise of moving up. No, that we dare not "lift up" but keep down under our own controlling safekeeping, lest Christ has a different view and plan for it. No, we only want to lift up what troubles us, and pray He fixes it. When He does, our lives will then be perfect, and we categorize that as another blessing and sign of His favor in reward for our faith.

The psalms frequently talk about "lifting up our souls" which means our entire selves, the good with the bad, the satisfactions with the problems. Jesus reminded us the grace of the needed rain falls upon the good and evil alike. In one of His parables, a farmer instructed his workers to allow the weeds planted by a rival in his wheat field to grow along with his cash crop until harvest, fearing that pulling up the weeds would also cause the uprooting of the wheat.

Good and evil have an organic symbiotic relationship. In this fallen world, good can be recognized only when compared to evil, and evil cannot exist without the good since it sucks its life from it like a leech.

So like that farmer's field penetrated with weeds, we best not just lift up the weeds to God in prayer, but offer Him the entire field. We best lift up all our relationships, not just the ones that are problems for us. The Scriptures speak of the "sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise." Doesn't it strike you that this is an odd notion of "sacrifice," a word we usually associate with self-denial and self-depravation? Precisely, for we are to sacrifice our blessings as well as our problems, our health as well as our afflictions, our faith as well as our doubts.

God doesn't buy into our Dissociated Identity Disorders. We dissociate and lift up pieces in prayer. We ask, "Fix these pieces and give them back to me." We don't see how self-centered and narcissistic this "spirituality" is. And since we don't see it, we don't "lift" that up to Him either.

Best we offer all to God, spirit, soul and body, not separating for Him the weeds from the wheat. We can trust Him to do that, and harvest our souls according to His perfect wisdom and ways, always done in ineffable love for us and our good. In that, we can safely offer a sacrifice of thanks and praise and let Him do what He wants. 

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.

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