This past week at F.P. training, we were given the task of preparing a short evangelic message for a specific audience. As I haven’t shared my attempt yet, I thought I would post it here. The ‘specific’ audience I originally had in mind was a family-orientated one, but I now think this is a more appropriate message for the university/ young working professional type. It’s been written in relative haste so could probably be improved, but I guess that’s quite realistic as we only had 20 minutes in session to work on these and everyone seemed to do a great job in that time. Anyway, here goes:
I was brought up in a relatively generic ‘Christian’ home. I say ‘Christian’ because it was Christian in the traditional sense – the sense that says “we’ll go to church every Sunday because that’s what good people aspiring to the middle class band of society do”. It was more for image, and the hope that the kids would grow up to be ‘nice’ people, than anything else.
But I was always a little different. As I grew up, I began to take the concept of God more seriously than simply a deity that only exists on a Sunday to give you a more respectable way of living. I understood that there was a God, and thought it was logical that I could pray to Him any day of the week.
So far, so positive, yet my understanding was still limited. I thought prayers to God were just about asking Him to give you anything you wanted, and because I was taught that He loved me, He would meet all of my material, worldly needs – which, of course, is nowhere near the reality of what God’s love actually means. I would go to bed on any given night and pray that God would leave me some sweets or a bottle of my favourite juice at the end of my bed. Strangely for me, at the time, He never actually followed through on that one.
When we think of God, this is often the trap that we can fall into, isn’t it? To think of Him as someone up there in the clouds, who exists for nothing more than to answer our prayers and make us a bunch of happy individuals? It is usually a shattering of this illusion that leads people away from God.
I’m sure most of you are at least vaguely familiar with the 2003 film Bruce Almighty, starring Jim Carrey. This film perfectly sums up how we in Western society view God, showing selfish living in detail and the consequences when we all get whatever we ask for. Often the attitude is “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, it’s fine” when we think of our own fulfilment in life, but the film shows us that the human understanding of “not hurting anyone” is very limited, as it doesn’t take into account the bigger picture. It is impossible for us to see that. When Bruce, a man, becomes God, he doesn’t see the harm in ‘answering everyone’s prayers’, because he thinks this is the same as showing love, or doing good things. But making one man ‘happy’ does not meet the needs of every man, and Bruce soon finds himself overwhelmed when, actually, winning the lottery does not satisfy the demands of those who asked for it.
I tend to find when people are asked for their opinion of God, if He exists, their answer is frequently one of confusion; they wonder about why He doesn’t make their lives ‘happy’. ‘Why doesn’t He exist solely to meet my every need’? It’s a selfish understanding of God that says, if we were Him, we would just do good things for everyone, as Bruce tries to do. We sometimes think that “if God exists, he would answer my prayer when I ask to win the lottery… or at the very least (for those of us who think we’re ‘not asking for much’), surely a good job and an attractive spouse is not out of the question if He loves me?” The problem with this is that we find ourselves judging God by our human definitions of goodness and love, values which can actually be quite distorted depending on how you were brought up or who your friends are. For you, it may not be these things, but something else that you crave from life, something that you expect God to satisfy if you are to even consider trying to live this Christian lifestyle. Or perhaps you think by living this very lifestyle you are somehow earning these earthly rewards from God. The mistake we make, in this instance, is in believing we know what’s best for ourselves, yet history has shown this is very far from the case.
In the Bible, we see that Jesus would regularly use parables in his teaching, which were a form of culturally relevant analogies (not unlike what Bruce Almighty represents for us today). Luke 12: 13-21 tells the story of the rich fool, who chose to build up his treasures on Earth to satisfy his soul. He said; “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry!” God then came to this man and asked him what would happen to these treasures when he died, saying; “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
It doesn’t matter how rich we may get, how many possessions we build up or what we achieve through our work in this life; we will always be searching for more money, more possessions, more achievements in search of the ultimate fulfilment that only God can provide. It’s not through giving us everything we ask for, because God knows that this is not where our source of true happiness lies. Our source of true happiness and fulfilment actually lies in relationship with Him; it was what we were created for. But in turning away from God, we rejected this relationship, and so try to satisfy the urge for it with other, earthly things that are temporary, confined to this life. God is eternal, and He gives us an eternal gift in the form of His grace, which enables us to have this fulfilling relationship again. We don’t have to earn this gift by working hard, because it is not something we ever could earn. If we could then it wouldn’t really be grace, as the meaning of grace is a gift that you don’t deserve.
God sent his Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for your sin, so that He could be your substitute and give you this gift that none of us deserve because we are all rebellious towards Him from birth. Even though I was brought up with some knowledge of God, I am a perfect example of this. I misunderstood God as someone there to serve my selfish needs, rather than being thankful for the eternal, all-encompassing gift that He already had for me; a gift eclipsing anything and everything that passes as a reward in this life. Two of my favourite verses from the New Testament are Ephesians 2: 8-9, which say; “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” This gift of grace is open to anyone willing to receive it today. The only step it takes on your part is to put your faith in the sacrifice that Christ made for you on the cross.