I came in the door expecting a miracle. Maybe not the feeding of five thousand or raising someone from the dead, but a miracle in my finances would’ve been nice. I was looking for affirmation of my desire to be successful in this lifetime.
As I listened to the speaker, I realized it was what I always wanted to hear. The magical formula was simple: Believe and receive. I was sitting on the edge of my seat. The feeling in the air was intense and magnetic. And the audience was jazzed. We were giving each other high fives–except we weren’t in a business conference or a ball game, but in a church.
I realized that, except for mentioning God a few times and quoting a verse or two, there wasn’t any difference between a secular motivational speaker and this preacher. The messages were basically the same: I can do it and I can have it.
At first this “sounds good” teaching appealed to me. There is a part of me that wants to go further than my African forbearers to take full advantage of the American dream. I took in what the preacher said like the first bite of a succulent chocolate cake. It’s rich and satisfying, incredibly decadent. I want to savor the moment as long as possible. But as with any dessert, the richer it is, the less I can take in. I feel sluggish and lethargic if I eat too much of it.
This type of teaching seemed to have the same destructive work on my spiritual body. I felt lazy–I don’t want to look up that verse to be sure that he was right. I don’t want to actually pray and seek the direction of the Holy Spirit. Too much time. Too much work. Easier to take him at his word.
Besides … what if I find out that God really doesn’t want me to be rich? What if He’s calling me to give up the pursuit of wealth? What if He wants me to be solely dependent on Him for my daily bread? Or worse, what if He has a plan of suffering for my life?
Ugh! I don’t like to suffer. That’s why I carry a pillbox with Tylenol, Excedrin, and Advil. I try to avoid pain at all cost.
When I asked others in the church about the questionable doctrine, they in turn asked, “Don’t you want everything that God has for you?” I nod my head, but in my heart I wonder about Jesus’ call for me to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and not all the earthly bling-bling.
As much as I wanted to swallow the message, there was a subtle tug deep within the recesses of my soul. It refused to let up and give me peace. It challenged me to return to the whole teaching of the Bible. It spoke to my desire to please God and live a life that will bring Him glory, rather than chasing my own pleasures. It rejected popular teaching and directed me towards sound doctrine instead.
Sound doctrine is a balanced teaching that takes in all of the Bible and not just the parts I like to hear. Just as I am more discerning about food choices I put in my physical body, I’ve learned to be the same about spiritual food as well.
Since I can’t know a person’s heart and motivation for their message, I must go deeper than the surface. I need to write down the scriptures mentioned and look them up in the light of observing, interpreting, and applying the text to my everyday life. The preacher’s interpretation can’t just work in the Western part of the world where capitalism normally thrives. It also must be applicable to my Christian brothers and sisters suffering in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea.
I must also pay close attention to the direction of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that the Comforter would lead us into all truth. I can’t ignore the red flags that my spirit feels when something is said out of context or doesn’t fit with the whole Bible. I pray and ask God to show me the whole truth (Acts 20:27).
I don’t have to be open-minded to everything that is said and done, but I can listen with prudent ears. Not that I need to judge the preacher or teacher; but rather I judge their teachings. Wasn’t it the Bereans who were justified for earnestly searching the Scriptures when they heard Paul’s message? They weren’t condemned–the Christian faith was new and they didn’t let the “newness” of the message keep them from closely following the sacred writings (Acts 17:10-11).
Just because a message sounds good and everyone sings the praises of the messenger doesn’t make it right. Does this mean that I walk around anticipating suffering and despair? No, but it causes me to realize that my Lord is with me and He will never leave nor forsake me. Jesus is enough. I may never be a millionaire or always enjoy good health, but I know He is with me. He will take care of my needs and meet my desires according to His will and not mine.