By Helen Packard
Amy was frustrated – beyond frustrated – angry. In her mid-twenties and newly married, she thought she was doing everything right in life – everything that God wanted her to do. She had done DTS, she had finished university, she had married a man who followed God and had a calling to missions, just like she did. Since she had learned about having “quiet times” on DTS, she had been faithful to have her quiet time every day. She went to church, witnessed to her co-workers, she didn’t watch R-rated movies, and only listened to worship music. She followed all of the rules. Before Amy and her husband had been married, they had made a plan: live and work for a year in the “regular world,” and then apply for ministry work together. This seemed like wisdom, like a Biblical principle, like an opportunity for them to build their marriage before jumping into the world of serving. And this was exactly what they had done. As they reached their first anniversary, a perfect opportunity popped up – an opportunity for both Amy and her husband to intern at a well-known, missions-focused ministry, that could eventually lead to them being sent overseas, or working full-time at the national office for this ministry. This was perfect for them! They even knew some of the people who worked at the national office, and were assured that they were a shoo-in. They sent off their applications, their glowing references, and prayed. They eagerly waited for their acceptance to the internship, and for their lives in ministry to start together.
But that day, Amy had opened her email on her phone as she rolled out of bed. An email regarding their application! Amy couldn’t wait for her husband to wake up – she clicked on the email, and waited for the good news to fill her screen. But as she read the email, it didn’t seem like an acceptance letter…it seemed like…a rejection? How could this be? As she read in more detail, she realized that the email wasn’t a form, a pre-packaged rejection email, but a heartfelt email from the leader of the internship program. “We don’t know why, but as we prayed over your application, we really felt like God was saying ‘No’ to you and your husband. We don’t fully understand – your application was everything we were looking for, your references were so enthusiastic about you joining our ministry – but we have to be obedient to what the Lord is saying.”
How could this be? Hadn’t Amy lived her whole life for God since she first said “Yes” to Him? She had given God everything, and this is what she got in return? How could God have said “No” to them? To her? How could He expect her to learn or grow from this? She would never forget this.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to teach on Biblical Worldview & Missions for our Mountain Venture DTS. Having never taught these topics before, I leaned heavily on a few excellent resources I found as I prepared my lectures. One of these resources was the book With by Skye Jethani. On my first day of lecture, we went through “big questions” that connect with worldview, and the Biblical answers for those questions, discovering where our own worldviews line up/don’t line up with the Word of God, and why we can trust the Bible. On the second day, we talked about how even if we have all of the right, Biblical answers to the big worldview questions, it is imperative that our relationship with God is core to our life and worldview. In With, Jethani discusses four models of relating to God common in the Christian world. While there are good and beautiful aspects of these models, if abiding with God is not at the centre, these models fall short. The first of the models described is “life under God.”
As I approached this content with the DTS, I wanted to paint a relatable picture for the students of how easy it could be to lean into each of these models that falls short of what God wants in relationship with us. For each view, I wrote a short story of a young adult wrestling through relationship with God. Amy’s story, above, highlights how easy it is to fall into a “life under God” model. Jethani shares that life under God is akin to how ancient peoples attempted to manipulate the gods in order to receive their divine favour. Living “under” God’s divine rules offers the semblance of security, because through this model, we hope to avoid disaster. At first glance, this seems like an appealing way to view God, but at its core, it is an attempt to control God. In Amy’s case, she thought having her quiet time every day, marrying a Christian man, witnessing to her co-workers, and censoring her taste in music and movies, would lead to everything going “right” in her world. When Amy received her rejection email from the ministry she hoped to work with, her world toppled in on itself. How could it be that she had done everything “right,” and yet she had not received favour from God? Instead of leaning into her relationship with God in response to this shattering news, she felt she had been wronged – like she had held up her end of the bargain, but God had failed on His end.
God wants to do life with us. He wants us to trust Him and value relationship with Him above all else. He wants to be our treasure. Are you living your life with God, or under His divine laws and principles in order to “earn” His blessings? What is your story of relationship with God?