Our culture operates often under the assumption that “knowledge is power”. Learn the right stuff and you’ll get the right job. The right job is “right” because it pays well. Money buys lifestyle; lifestyle equals success. Right moves are rewarded, wrong moves penalized; people get what they earn/deserve. This philosophy of success and lifestyle leads us to believe that we humans can control anything and everything. If we all buy the right products and dispose properly of the wrong ones, we can even control the planet. I don’t have space here to launch a full-scale attack on this aspect of our American worldview. As a Christian minister it is to be expected that I should decry the cash-rewards system on the basis of human depravity and divine sovereignty. No surprise.
What concerns me, though, is how much the religious culture has bought the same lies: success is determined by lifestyle; the outcome of said success is firmly in our own hands. 15 steps to a happy life. 7 keys to positive living. How to live your best life. These sorts of titles are springing up everywhere claiming methodologies for human attainment of divine success. While the language is decidedly evangelical, with scripture snippets peppered generously, the worldview is often thoroughly humanistic. Bible meets scientific method. Charitable contribution meets get-rich-quick scheme. We seem to be trying to help people towards their God-intended success in life. We’re certainly helping our book sales.
But I don’t want to be successful…at least not at the expense of a much more important attribute – blessedness. To be blessed is to have favor bestowed upon us based not upon our own worthiness (or even cooperation) but rather upon the worthiness and will of the one who blesses. Successful are the rich; blessed are the poor. Successful are the winners; blessed are the meek. Successful are the conquerors; blessed are the peacemakers. You’ve heard it said that knowledge is power, but I say to you that God brings our strength to an end in weakness so that he might be shown strong.
Lent is nearly upon us (more about that in a few days). Our temptation may be to give this up and take on that so that we can convince God to grant us religious success. We often seek “blessing” as a result of our own good deeds. Blessedness, though does not begin with our action, but with God’s good pleasure toward us. If we fast, let it be because we are blessed, not to get that way. May the Lord in his true favor toward us expose the extent to which we have become manipulators within a manipulative culture. May our successes crash and burn that we may find ourselves blessed.