Updated: Sep 8, 2021
Guest Contributor | Jessi Phinney
October 12, 2020
In the adult years of my spiritual journey, I’ve wrestled out many elements of faith that I thought I had “nailed down”, shortly after my total surrender to Christ at 16. Oh, the fiery faith of youth! Naïve?
Yes. But sometimes I miss those days! Though the fundamentals of God’s character were unwavering in my soul, my perceptions of God were not. I grew up in ministry & church was a normal part of my life. I had adopted phrases and sayings that were, quite frankly, often taken out of context in scripture -- or not properly explained. This left me wondering what was wrong with me. My life didn’t fit the external blessing “flow” that faithful believers supposedly experienced. I had often heard that if a believer surrendered, served, and remained faithful, God, in turn, would grant the biblical desires of your heart.
Many of us who verbally reject the prosperity doctrines (in the church) would say we don’t practice them in our lives. I beg to differ. If any of you are like me, you realize that these teachings may have snuck into your mind and imbedded themselves a little more than we would like to openly admit. It is not just buying into financial prosperity. There’s also circumstantial prosperity to consider. We can get wrapped up in the belief that faithful obedience = abundant blessings. Does God bless His children and reward faithfulness? Absolutely! (Matt. 25:21, Luke 6:38, Rom. 2:6, Gal. 6:9 & Heb. 11:6) However, do the rewards come in the package that we want? How about the timing? Is it always external? We certainly would prefer a YES, to those questions-- in the package we want, in the timing that meets our perceived need, and without a doubt, we want it in our external life. But what if that isn’t the package in which our abundant blessings come? What then? Where does that leave us?
Allow me to get vulnerable and transparent in my next example to you. Before I do, I want to get your wheels turning. Take a moment and ask the Lord to recall an area of life in which you may have placed conditional expectations on God, in your circumstances. We will dive into the meat of this faulty thinking shortly.
When I was completing my Senior year of high school, I was involved in my first serious relationship with a man. I done everything right- sought the Lord, prayed, cried, journaled, gone to my parents, followed authority, and I had the support of loved ones. My boxes were checked! Fast forward 8 months when my boxes went from ink to pencil…they were being erased. How could this be happening?! I had waited. I hadn’t “tried on” guys like multiple pairs of shoes to see if they fit. For Pete’s sake! I had even gone against the flow of the world with traditional and biblical conviction. I was devastated! I was baffled! My heart was in turmoil because I HAD sought to honor the Lord. Yet, I ended up without the desires of my heart. Fast forward 2 years, when I entered the same relationship again. This time, with even more caution, I checked my boxes! I was not about to have this thing fall flat. This was going to be it and I was going to marry my first love. Period. I had followed the method for a God-honoring relationship. But low and behold, God did not get my first love memo. He began to reveal more and more red flags to me. Though I had sought Him, and authority figures, and had the support of many loved ones, I was quickly discovering there was no formula for “getting it right”. As a matter of fact, I had become so theologically book smart (reading what other people said), that I reinterpreted what God said about divorce and remarriage. (My first love had been married before.) What was the Lord doing?! Was I really going to have to choose between the man I loved and what God revealed to me in His Word? This was NOT how I pictured things working out! I was not on a quest to disobey Him. Why didn’t He tell me this BEFORE I entered the relationship…not once, but twice? Boy, did I wrestle! Praise be to God! My emotions did not win over His Word. He used a few amazing people to confirm what He was doing in my life. But ultimately, He used His Word to change my heart. The issue at hand wasn’t the interpretation of scripture. It was about His Word/Truth revealed in scripture.
Throughout the next 8 years, many people said sweet things to try and encourage me. “You made such a hard decision. God must have an amazing man just waiting for you… God would not waste such beauty on singleness… You’re so good with kids, you’re going to be an amazing mother…This is your year, I just have a feeling He is bringing you someone special.” Time kept passing, and with it rose a bitter disappointment that God was not rewarding my years of waiting. The older I got, the less people said anything encouraging at all. Apparently, marriage material had a shelf life, and I had reached it at the big 3-0! (chuckle). Suddenly, the previously stated encouragements no longer applied because no one wanted to give me false hope.
If I mentioned marriage or children, some folks appeared uncomfortable and didn’t know how to respond. When referencing God’s possible plans for a family of my own, I was questioned. “Would you be fine if God had you stay single the rest of your life?” Apparently, I was so “mature” that I could see into the future and know if I was going to be 100% okay (wink). Sadly, there were even insulting insinuations that my parents wanted to keep me at home and wouldn’t welcome me getting married. ☹ I continued to wrestle through the whys when I asked for things “in His name” (John 14:13) I had not been rewarded in the same way as those around me. Had God forgotten me? I knew He had not entirely done so, because I had my family…people I willingly threw my heart into during this never- ending wait. If I couldn’t have my own husband and children, I would invest myself as a daughter, a sister, and the best possible aunt ever!
God loves the family unit, generational legacy, and I was so grateful for mine. I was still living one of my dreams by having all my family near me and getting to love and invest in my amazing nieces and nephews. I always wanted to be an Aunt. And I am, in abundance! Then, in what felt like a split second, that too was taken out of my physical world by out-of- state moves. What was God thinking? The desires I had were Biblical. So why did He keep taking from my circumstances and relationships? When I got stuck in this mindset, I would too easily forget all the countless ways that He used my trials, sufferings, and unexpected changes for ministering to others. His lessons had rewards. They just weren’t the earthly ones I had expected.
You see, I was basing God’s blessings and love for me on the externals He was, or was not, giving me. How many times do we rattle off well-meaning comments to others that don’t focus on God’s perspective and spiritual blessings? “You did something for God, now watch Him do something for you.” I’m not talking about misunderstanding people’s hearts and giving them pat answers. We can bear one another’s burdens and desires without pointing people to mere external rewards. The attitude of giving-to-get can transfer to any relational principle. “I am communicating with you, why don’t you communicate with me? I’m here for you, why aren’t you there for me? And the list grows. Do you get the picture? It’s not pretty!
If we are deep-down-honest, we often believe that our obedience to Christ DESERVES a reward. We believe God owes us something. We keep score, especially when it feels like He is saying “No” to key desires & dreams. I found myself getting angry at things that were inconvenient… like our old lawn mower dying every time I used it. I knew He had the power to fix these things. Was it hard for Him to say yes to me? That made the anger bubble over into other trivial areas, be it a project not going smoothly or spraining my ankle for the 3rd time in 2 months. I just added it to my list. And the more I added, the further away God’s love felt. After all, I had heard my whole life that God rewarded obedience. I measured rewards by Him bestowing circumstances that matched my sacrifice-- conditional ones.
I’m sure most of you are familiar with Matthew 5:46. “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” The Holy Spirit kept bringing this scripture to my mind again and again. Not in relationship to just loving the unlovely, but rather, me loving Him. Here I was, basing God’s love for me on conditional circumstances, and when He didn’t give those things in my desired time frame, I became disillusioned with His love for me as His child. The real question became painfully obvious. “Are you loving Me based on what you can see me giving you?” Even more painful was the answer. Yes, I viewed the Lord through my own conditional lens.
I think, as indwelt Christians, we have a hard time admitting that we have not been trusting the Lord, that we are having doubts, or that we feel unloved by God in our fleshly emotions. If we are not transparent with our Creator, the Triune God, then who can we be vulnerable and real with? How can we give testimony of His work, through us, if we will not share how He is working out His salvation in us (Phil. 2:12)? Fear binds us when we refuse to move forward and be transparent with the Body of Christ. This doesn’t just mean sharing our salvation stories. It includes our testimonies of His ongoing, living, breathing, sanctifying acts of love.
I can get so focused on the deeper elements of the faith, that I forget the elementary principles of His love for me. It is in the discipline, in the wait, in the quiet hours when I feel most alone, that He is faithful, unchanging, and true to His Word. The milk of God’s Word doesn’t need to be forgotten once learned. Rather, like the alphabet makes reading possible, the milk adds richness to the meat of the Gospel. It should be there to enhance a deeper