Do You Believe In Magic?
I was in a discussion a while back about the qualities that make one suitable for particular roles and ministries. The list that was presented to me was quite short: prayer and Bible study. I disagreed and listed a number of other qualities that I saw as rather important. The other’s response essentially came down to the idea that if one truly prays hard and is diligent in their reading and memorization of the Bible, then all the necessary other qualities will come about.
If you step back a moment and look at that idea, doesn’t it sound kind of like magic?
Various others agreed with this idea, which seems to suggest that the idea of magic of this sort is not uncommon in the church. But that means that if my role requires me to be very empathic or good at administrating an organizational system, then in order to attain those things, what I should do is pray and read my Bible faithfully. Then I’ll become attuned to the feelings and needs of others and capable of making sense of budgets and organizational charts. Does that actually work?
The first problem with this is that it doesn’t pan out well. Many have prayed and studied Scripture faithfully, but still struggle with sin or fear or something else. Timothy (c.f., 1 Tim 4:12, 2 Tim 1:5-7) may be an example of this, as he seemed to wrestle with being timid despite his leadership role. I’ve encountered a number of devout, Bible scholars who, unfortunately, just aren’t very good teachers. Prayer and Bible study were not alone sufficient to imbue these people with those qualities that would make them good at their given tasks.
Another problem is that it turns God into a machine more than a person (or three persons): put in the proper activity, get out the desired or necessary result. Sometimes God does work this way, but He doesn’t always, and He doesn’t have to. Our interactions with God are not based upon mechanics, but upon relationship. This means that He is free to choose when, how, and if He will interact with us, giving us what we desire or not. Thankfully, He is loving and does give us what we need, but what we need isn’t always what we want or think we need.
Moreover, it circumvents the design of nature that God first put down. If prayer and Bible study are all that are sufficient to gain the qualities necessary to engage in whatever role we find ourselves, then any other kind of effort is unnecessary. Proverbs is a book given to the uncovering of the way the world tends in general to work, but we can circumvent that through prayer and knowing the Scriptures, then Proverbs is no longer necessary. Neither is education, fellowship, mentoring, and the like.
Our growth and development is dependent upon the design and condition of our souls. We want our souls to be simple so that we can understand them and know what to do all the time, but if this were the case, then psychology would have stopped producing any new ideas long ago, and Christians would have determined how to stop sinning long before that.
God takes us through processes for our growth, processes that are dependent upon knowledge of His Word and on prayer, but these are only part of what He draws us into and through. Our sanctification is dependent upon our willingness to work with Him, as much as we are able, in these things that He is doing in and around us, and those things are not magic. They most of the time align with the world and creatures (us) He designed. To stop sinning, to become more mature, to grow as Christians doesn’t mean a quick or magical occurrence. It’s a sometimes long and difficult process. But it is a good one.