Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The problem with “name it and claim it”

There are many ways to broach this topic. The bottom line is that a “name it and claim it” approach to faith will leave one intellectually and spiritually unequipped to fully invest in the continual quest for godly wisdom.

To begin, I need to define some terms that will take greater elaborating on in later essays. What I call God’s perfect intent are the general goals and intentions of God that are clear from Scripture: basically put, that we operate in sinless and perfect trust and enjoyment of God in relationship and that we love and bless each other. From there God’s perfect intent is that all people are healed, all good desires are met. God’s ultimate intent is the realization of God’s perfect intent which is promised at the end of history.

What I call God’s existential intent is much trickier and works upward from the failings of gritty human reality on earth. The question of God’s existential intent in general form is: “What does God intend from one point in history to the next as He works within the confines of free will, sin and fallen humanity”. As a personal prayer, God’s existential intent can be stated as follows: “What does God want for me right now, what should I dwell on and what pitfalls should I avoid in regard to my own sin, the sin of others and the danger of life.”

With that quick introduction to a theology of God’s intent, here is what a person with a “name it and claim it” theology of faith believes: “If I have a specific desire that is generally consistent with God’s will, God will back it up and see it through to realization if I A) commit that intent into words and B) hold on firmly to the belief that what I have committed to words in God’s name will come to pass. My faith is to be certain that this specific thing will happen even as it does not appear that it will happen by natural or human means. Anything that stands in the way of that specific goal is the adversity of the devil and of human faithlessness. In the face of adversity I must cast out the devil and confess my sins so that there will not be a sin in my heart that gives the devil permission to thwart my desire.”

Depending on one’s maturity and experience in listening to and following God, this is more often than not an immature, juvenile approach to faith. The central problem is that while God’s perfect intent is clear, God’s existential intent is much more complex and mysterious. We know generally what to pray for but not specifically. We must be ever more knitted into the heart and mind of the Spirit to know exactly what to pray for and how from one moment to the next.

A correct understanding of faith in God’s promises is as follows: God has given us the following promise that is largely unequivocal and a guaranteed endowment of grace: that we will grow in deeper knowledge, enjoyment and love of God. The following promises to us from God flow directly from this central promise: A) the wisdom to follow God in a dangerous world, B) deeper and richer human relationships, C) using us to advance his Kingdom in the lives of others and D) provision of our needs as God sees our needs and not necessarily as we see our needs. I will refer to these as first tier promises.

Nothing else – not, wealth, fecundity, health, career success, long life, and not even good specific ministry intentions – are promised to us with any of the same certainty as the first tier promises. Beyond what God promises to us as first tier promises, we are generally unwise and do not even know what to specific thing to pray for / think about from one moment to the next and need the guidance of the Spirit. Generally speaking, God does intend to reward us with the specific desires of our hearts, but they need to be treated as a “second tier desires”, not having the same gaurantee as first tier promises.

This does not mean that a good and godly desire in our heart won’t come to pass or that God has not invited us into a special vision of his will, but the desire must be treated with different spiritual gloves. Our first and foremost act of faith is listening to God continually to orient our heart and mind to gain wisdom from God. In doing so we put our specific intents – however godly we think they are – on the altar and let God either crucify them or give them back to us. We are to hold onto them with the right grip that is neither too loose nor too tight. Learning to be supple in our grip on our desires is a life long process. The greater maturity we have in our faith the more accurately we are able to interpret the meaning of the desires God has placed in our hearts.

God often uses us to advance his kingdom in ways far more mysterious and creative than any our specific intentions, no matter how godly they may be. God’s work in our lives and the use of lives to advance his kingdom is often more visible more on the look back than the look forward. God’s breath of a new vision of His Kingdom into our minds often arrives as an unexpected turn of a corner.

The immature Christian arrives at his understanding of faith by proof-texting certain Scriptures, knitting them together into a name it and claim it approach to faith at the expense of other Scriptures (dealing with all of the Scriptural specifics would require more detail later). The immature Christian believes that a good or even godly desire is every bit as certain to come to pass as God’s first tier promises. The immature Christian will often lack the wisdom to see his needs in exactly the same way as how God sees his needs, and may mistake his “want” for a “need”. Inevitably, the immature Christian is more invested in the realization of a concrete second tier desire than a more difficult and abstract first tier promise, and treats his faith as persevering in an expectation of a particular outcome in his life rather than the premise that he is unwise and requires Gods wisdom which God promises to give.

By properly seeking wisdom, we are able to better execute those “second tier” desires when it becomes God’s appointed time. When we are properly illumined by the Spirit in the internal quest of our personal discipleship— we are able to be properly illumined in performing our God ordained external goals and objectives. As we are properly on track gaining wisdom continually from God, the same wisdom enables us to be shrewd and interpret people, dangerous situations correctly. As we operate with the right leaning on God’s continual direction we are able to navigate around life’s pitfalls in prayer, thought and godly action, all of which all different expressions of the same fundamental act of following the leading of the Spirit.

The execution of our godly desires requires the full investment of our minds pressing into God to gain God’s problem solving insight into matters. Lacking a discipleship of continually seeking and gaining wisdom and lacking a theology of faith that pre-disposes him to this quest, the immature Christian will often have a tendency to “punt to the Holy Spirit” – expecting God to solve problems for him that actually require the investment of his own mind in problem solving. This Christian gets the “be innocent as a doves” but neglects the “and as shrewd as snakes” teaching of Jesus and ends up using his understanding of Christian faith to arrive at what I call “Pollyanity”, which is the abdication of the responsibility to be shrewd in the name of faith.

The immature Christian will put an almost magical faith in the power of his words, which is another part of his failure to fully invest himself to be ever more knitted to the mind and heart of God. It is not the fact that we have committed something into human words per se that matters, though putting something into words is an important way in which make shape our intentions for our own minds and for others. What actually matters is the intensity and clarity of our intent before God which may or may not always be expressed by words. The first orientation our intensity must be to seek God’s will so that it can be shaped into godly wisdom. If not our words will not necessarily have any meaning or backing from God.

The immature Christian is not equipped to properly interpret the true meaning the adversity lying in the way of the realization of his second tier desires. Any crisis on earth is not first and foremost the adversity of the devil, though there may be very well be spiritual forces involved in our obstacles. What is of greatest importance to our walk with God is that adversity is first and foremost a crisis of our own wisdom.

God is plenty big enough to deal with any obstacle when it is the appointed time and place for an obstacle to be removed from our path. Until then, our primary pre-occupation should not be with the size and power of the spiritual forces against us but with seeking the vision and will of God. There may be wisdom encoded into the adversity we are experiencing – that God is allowing the adversity so that we must loosen our grip on a second tier desire so that God can advance to use a first tier promise of His grace in a new way.

No comments: