JoLynn and I enjoy the monthly hot date at Costco. Usually, we pull in on a weekend and the place is packed. Still, I’ll find a nice spot close to the handicapped parking. She says, with jealous disdain, “You’re so lucky.”
I reply, “Yeah, well, I had my devotions.”
Is God like that? Does he reward us for following him and make us park a mile away when we don’t? The believers who are having to leave their homes behind in Ukraine as they run for their lives, is God punishing them for something?
Circumstances are not a sign of godliness, or of sin.
Still, I think we all have a bit of Voodoo in us. We believe God will make us lucky. That’s why the baseball player will cross himself before coming to the plate. Or the crude comedian will kiss the cross around her neck before going on stage. Neither may follow God, but they both want luck. They want a 4-leaf clover God.
Who doesn’t want a bit of luck on their side?
One time I took a small group of sharp High School kids to Monterrey, Mexico to do some outreach and construction projects. We loaded up our old 15 passenger youth van in Lake Charles LA with about a dozen youth and sponsors and headed south. We broke down just this side of the border (this side was good), and after wasting a day trying to fix it ourselves, we left the van in the incapable hands of the mechanics at the local Dodge dealership (incapable was bad). We were able to obtain another van for our final 150 miles of travel in Mexico.
Once in Monterrey one of our students decided to run away. In Monterrey. In Mexico. It was supper time, and I asked, “Where is Phil? Has anyone seen Phil?” PANIC. After hours of searching, he showed back up. I didn’t know whether to hug him or kill him.
Parents can get weird when you don’t return their kids.
And then, after spending a couple of weeks in Mexico, we drove north, picked up our “repaired” van from the dealer, and made it a total of 50 miles before it broke down again. After another two days of “repairs,” a couple of folks from our church in Lake Charles drove the 8 hours to Brownsville, TX, and towed us back.
Did we have all those problems because we didn’t have our devotions? Was God getting us back for some hidden sins?
It’s possible I suppose that God wanted to get our attention. He gave us a few extra days together. We learned how to experience inconvenience as a team and not kill each other. Phil learned that Monterrey is a terrible place to choose to run away from home.
So, did God work these tough times for our good? Certainly. Did we go through them because of some hidden sin? Certainly not. God allows challenging times to happen, and it is up to us to choose to follow Him through those times.
I don’t know of any Bible passage that promises that living right will bring good luck or bad living bad luck. There are some verses that show that living righteously can bring temporal blessings, but these are usually proverbs, saying how things normally work. They aren’t promises saying that if you do X, God must cause Y to happen. In fact, you can find plenty of illustrations that following God is just as likely–if not more so—to bring difficult circumstances rather than good ones in the short run as we follow Him.
Take our passage for church at AnchorPoint this Sunday, the parable of The Rich Man and the Beggar, from Luke 16:13-31. In it, a poor beggar named Lazarus is living in front of a rich guy’s house. It’s a gated community, so Lazarus lays in front of the gate, with dogs licking his running sores. But the rich guy was the pagan, and the beggar was the one who followed God. What’s up with that? Why was the rich guy “blessed” and Lazarus unlucky?
Then both Lazarus and the rich guy die, and the rest of the story you can read on your own, or on our Facebook site.
Jesus told us to “pick up our cross and follow,” not “hop in your Ferrari and stay on my bumper.” Jesus promised to forgive us, guide us, and love us into eternity. Unfortunately, there is nothing in there about lucky lottery numbers.
Or Dodge vans.
I like the way the writer of Psalm 73 wrestled with this issue. It’s like he was stuck in Brownsville with a dozen High School kids and a broken-down van when he wrote it.
Ps 73:13 (NIV2011) “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. 14 All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments. 15 If I had spoken out like that, I would have betrayed your children. 16 When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply…”
Then he comes to his senses and says “21 When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, 22 I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. 23 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.”
The Psalmist gets it. There is no promise of a lucky life if we follow God. Instead, we follow God because He is always with us, forgiving us, holding our hand, guiding us, and finally taking us into glory. Righteous living does, generally, bring good results, if only temporarily—but the real reward is knowing and enjoying God, starting now, and lasting for eternity.