Jan Johnson
Jan Johnson

Articles: Spiritual Growth

Isn’t God Supposed to Fix It?
by Jan Johnson

During a Bible study several years ago, I handed out graph paper to a group of college kids and asked them to chart their spiritual growth over the last year. 

I looked over their shoulders as they worked.  When Debbie marked the day she moved out on her own as a spiritual low point, I asked her why. 

"Because it was so depressing to be alone," she said.

"But was God working in your life?" I asked.

"Yes, it was scary to be in the apartment by myself in that neighborhood."  Then Debbie paused and said, "But I also felt close to God, like He was protecting me. I guess spiritual highs and emotional highs are different." 

Too many times I, like Debbie, expect my relationship with God to give me good feelings.  Many of us "use" God to try to find happiness, which is the unspoken, and often unacknowledged, goal of our lives.  When this doesn't work, we find that we don't know God nor do we know daily contentment.  Until we redirect our goals on knowing God, He eludes us -- and so does any sense of happiness.

Some people might say they're not interested in happiness anyway.  "That's only temporary.  I want inner joy."   But on a practical level, many of us want a well-ordered life full of warm get-togethers and well planned days.  We want each committee member to agree with the plans we've mapped out; we want clerks to offer insightful help when we shop.  A smooth running life gives us a surge of energy, as if to indicate that we are "in God's will."  In truth, one of our goals is a happy, stress-free existence.

The Happiness Delusion

Faith is often presented incorrectly as a fast track to happiness or a pop psychology therapy to cope with life.  We consider God to be something of a giant aspirin tablet who would makes us numb to the misunderstandings and impossibilities of life.  Through Christ, we find the smooth, easy life.

Even as I've tried to awaken myself out of this delusion, I find it everywhere.  When I sat down in church recently, an acquaintance asked, "How are you?" 

I was muddling through a confusing life situation so I responded truthfully, "I'm hanging in there."

"That's all?" she asked, surprised.      

"Yep, that's all," I replied.  The trouble I was experiencing was draining me at times, but I knew God was standing by me and sustaining me.  Yet the look on this woman's face told me that my hanging-in-there spirit was not cheerful enough to pass her litmus test for true faith.

Part of the reason for this skewed view is the rose-colored glasses through which we read Scripture.  I've often heard Christians quote Matthew 6:33, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness;  and all these things shall be added unto you" (KJV), and say that "all these things" means whatever we need to be fulfilled. 

As we take off the rose-colored glasses and re-examine Scripture in an unbiased way, we see that pursuing God doesn't guarantee a smooth life.  The context of "all these things" in Matthew 6:33 doesn't indicate the things we need to be happy, but basic needs such as food and clothing (see vv. 30-32).  This would indicate that God promises to sustain us, not entertain us.

For American Christians chasing "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" in a plethora of Christian self-improvement books, this is quite a change.  God's goal is not to help us pursue happiness, but to help us turn our longings around and chase the goals of knowing Christ and sharing in His holiness (Phil. 3:10, Heb. 12:10).

Just when I think I've learned to quit seeking the trouble-free life, I see that I haven't.  When we planned to move last year, friends prayed that our transactions would flow smoothly and I believed they would. 

But from the day our house sold, the chaos billowed.  I liked most of the houses we saw but my husband changed his mind seven times in seven days.  We finally made two offers which were turned down.  For two weeks, I had a headache and couldn't sleep. 

We finally compromised on a house that both of us felt lukewarm about.  Every week for two months, the buyer of our house or the seller of the prospective house threatened to back out of the deal. 

I found myself asking God, What about my friends' prayers?  Why are you letting this be so difficult?  Couldn't you intervene and provide the "perfect" house if you wanted to?  I likened myself to the prophet Habakkuk as I figuratively stood on the city wall, folded my arms across my chest, and asked, "Why, God?"  (Hab. 1:2-4; 2:1).

Then I looked a little closer at Habakkuk and realized I was quite different from him.  He argued for the cause of justice because God's people weren't glorifying His name while I argued only for a softer, easier life.  Habakkuk cared so much for God's causes, for God's name (Hab. 1:13).  I cared mostly for a stress- free existence. 

So I adjusted my goals, and imitated Habakkuk (at least in my reaction) as I paraphrased his resolution in 3:17-18, "Though the house I shall live in is not yet certain and I know not my moving date [and didn't until the night before], I will rejoice in the Lord." 

Shortly after my imitation-Habakkuk prayer, the secretary at the school where I worked asked me where to send my next paycheck. 

"I don't know," I told her, "and I don't know when I'll know."

"You seem too calm about this move," she teased. "Is this for real?"

That day I was able to say, "I'm sure God has it worked out better than I could have planned it." 

Slowly I'm learning that my goal isn't a smooth life and that God may not provide it.  My goal is to know God, love Him and honor Him.

Praise, Presence & Purpose

 How do we get these lofty goals to filter down to our day-to-day attitudes?  The most powerful tool I've found has been to change the question I used to ask myself several times a day:  "Am I having a good day?" 

Life is so full of delays and disappointments that the answer to this question is usually, "No."  In those moments, I found myself rolling my eyes at the broken faucet, the burnt casserole and the forgetful child because they were ruining my day. 

So I stopped asking myself if I was having a good day and I replaced it with other questions that focused my mind on eternal values, on what I'm here on earth for: 

Am I praising God for His power and dignity? (Ps. 104:1-35) 

Am I inviting Him to guide me through each event of my day? (Ps. 145:18)

Am I fulfilling His purpose in my life -- helping the people I know and the peoples of the world reach spiritual maturity? (Col. 1:28)

This has changed everything, even the most menial chores such as running errands with my children.  At that time, they were old enough to have better things to do, but not old enough to be left at home alone.  They had to ride along with me and they complained about it.

They would usually have a squabble and I would ask myself in desperation, "How can I make them behave so I can have a good day?"  So I made up new rules and legislated consequences, hoping that they would stop ruining my day.

Armed with my new questions, my thoughts and feelings were so different during those errands.  As I punched in the praise tape in my tape player, my head cleared and I refocused on God.  I thanked Him for being present with me.  Before my kids could start squabbling, I tried to think of ways to minister to them -- asking about their day, asking them Bible questions, reminding them of our family's commitment to pray for an unreached people overseas.  Without intending to, I kept them from squabbling. 

I was so relieved by asking my new questions that it took me a few days to recognize the pattern.  I had sought God first and His kingdom, and peace, joy and love had reigned in my car. 

I hadn't even thought about it, which is quite a change.


This article orignally appeared in Discipleship Journal, and then in many more publications.       For more about the dangers of viewing God as a 911 operator who is supposed to fix things, see chapter 5 of When the Soul Listens {link to book}.  To download studies on the book of Habakkuk, go to:  {Link to habakkuk book}


© Jan Johnson - For permission to reprint, Click Here


Get Jan's Free Monthly Wisbits.   Click here to sign up!

Home  |  Biography  |  Books & DVDs  |  Speaking  |  Articles  |  WisBits  |  Contact

Good Reads

© copyright 2006-2015 Jan Johnson, all rights reserved
Privacy Policy