By Helen Packard
As Tyler walked in the sanctuary, he took a deep breath and took in his surroundings. Loud music, rows of chairs veiled in darkness, and a well-lit stage filled with musicians, playing sparkling instruments while wearing trendy clothes that looked like they were being worn for the first time. This was just what he needed – Friday night young adult worship – an opportunity to take a break from the pressures and difficulties of everyday life, and be immersed in the environment carefully curated by this downtown church. As the worship time wrapped up, the young adults pastor took the stage, looking as though he had just stepped out of an Instagram ad. He kept the message short, and Tyler was encouraged by the pastor’s emphasis on the good and perfect gifts God wanted each of His followers to have. He found himself nodding in agreement, thinking of his small, cramped apartment, and thanking God that the lease was up in a month, and he could start looking for something in a nicer neighbourhood. God wanted him to live somewhere nice, didn’t He?
As the pastor finished his message, he had the young adults turn to one another in the aisles of the church, and pray for one another. “Proclaim a blessing on one another!” he shouted. “Whatever you’re struggling with, whatever’s difficult in your life, stand against that and declare victory and blessing over one another! God has better things for you! He wants you to live to good life! Proclaim the good life over one another!” Tyler prayed with a few other young adults in his aisle, and as church wrapped up, they headed over to the church’s book store. They were promoting the young adults pastor’s new book – every copy purchased came with a free drink at the church’s coffee shop. With new book and coupon for a free drink in his satchel, Tyler checked the church’s schedule on the way out, posted prominently on a bulletin board by the entrance. It looked like there was a young adults’ event tomorrow night. Scanning his schedule in his mind, Tyler made a mental note to attend. His mom’s chemo appointment would be over by then, and that seemed like just the right way to take his mind off things.
As I shared Tyler’s story with the MVDTS class as a case study of someone approaching relating to God with a “life from God” perspective, the students looked at me confused. They knew I was presenting this story as an example of a view that falls short of what God wants in relationship with us, but they couldn’t quite put their finger on what was wrong. Tyler was turning to God in his time of difficulty, and he expected God to bless him with good things – what was out of place with that? As we unpacked Tyler’s story, however, the students (hopefully) came to realize that while Tyler was turning to God, he was using God as a means of distraction. The bright and shining worship service, the new young adult pastor’s book, the prayer for God’s blessings – none of it was bad – but Tyler was using all of these things as a way to run from his pain, rather than inviting God into that pain.
While going to church and pursuing worship services are certainly not bad things – God wants us to have community! God wants us to worship! – when we use God as a means to mask our pain (similar to how we might use Netflix, alcohol, or any number of other forms of entertainment), we miss the opportunity to invite God to walk with us in the midst of the broken and fallen world in which we live. When we focus on God’s blessings rather than on relationship with God Himself, we are like the prodigal son, content to ask his father for his inheritance while running away from relationship with the father.
In Skye Jethani’s book With, which I used in preparing my second day of my Biblical Worldview lecture for the MVDTS, one of the “life from God” reflection questions gives us good insight as to whether we may be living from this perspective: “If you could have all the blessings and benefits that you desire from your faith without the need to pray or commune with God, would that appeal to you? What does your answer reveal about God’s place in your life?” Let us run to relationship with God, rather than prioritizing the gifts and blessings of God as distractions from our pain.