Steve Johnson, a wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills, recently blamed God after dropping a potentially game-winning catch.
He’s since clarified that he was just emotional and wasn’t blaming God. He was just frustrated. Fair enough.
And while it’s easy to point at him and condemn his tweet, the truth is that most of us probably think those things on some level – even if we have the forethought to not tweet them.
A few years ago, I visited Japan. It’s a stunningly beautiful country, especially if you get outside the cities. Spread all through the country are ancient shinto shrines. It’s an oversimplification, but shinto is essentially nature worship – and in many of the places (such as Nikko), it’s not hard to see why you’d feel closer to God in the nature around you.
But how this plays out in normal practice among the Japanese I saw, particularly in the cities, was more or less a kind of pagan superstition. You have a big business presentation that needs to go well – so you go to the local shrine, toss in some money, clap your hands to wake up the spirits, and ask them to grant you good fortune.
One of my favorite movies is Gladiator, and if you’ve seen it, you remember the scene when Proximo, the owner of Maximus (the hero), brings his band of gladiators to what amounts to the Big Leagues: the Roman Colliseum. He greets the statue of Zeus with a kiss on its feet and whispers, “bring me fortune!” I’m sure what passes for Christian faith among a lot of professional athletes isn’t much different.
These are pagan prayers, and define religion for most of humanity, as they have for thousands of years. God is a means to to obtain our ultimate desire: fame, fortune, success, a relationship, etc, instead of God being our greatest desire.
So here’s the question: Are your Christian prayers different? There are few signs that the economy is making headway, and businesses across the company are struggling to stay afloat. Many Christians who own small businesses are no doubt praying for their businesses, as I am for the one I work for and the ones I’m trying to get started. But I have to admit, I’m struggling with exactly how to pray for them.
Praying for prosperity is pagan. It’s superstition. It’s acknowledging that I’m not in control of all the factors in play here. So I ask for good luck. There are those – ahem – confused individuals, sure – guys like Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, and a host of others, who mix pagan superstition with christian terminology. But the New Testament makes it clear that our hope is not in this world, it’s in the next – where the rules of economics are not the same (gold is so common as to be used for pavement, for example).
But there are very real struggles going on right now that test our faith. We (or those we love) suffer wrongs. People die of preventable diseases, orhunger – or because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In the midst of where you are – in the middle of whatever tough thing is going on in your life – can you pray as God prayed, and leave it in His hands, knowing that it might not turn out like you want it to in the short term? Can you pray as Job prayed:
“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” (Job 15:13)
Christian faith means trusting Christ with everything – even if His will involves poverty, suffering, or injustice in the present – because our hope is in an indestructible future, free of tears, death, and injustice (Rev 21:4).