Debunked!: The Unreachable Carrot
By Jake Sletten
I remember where I was the first time I heard it. I was sitting in a wedding ceremony and the time had come for the bride and groom to recite their vows. They had written their own and both said, "I promise to pursue God and you (bride or groom) for the rest of my life." At the time I thought to myself, "Well, that’s a nice thing to say and try to do. I mean, why wouldn’t you want to promise such a thing?"
A Lesson in Futility
Since that day, I've heard the same sentiment expressed in a variety of different ways, but it all boils down to one idea: that the number one responsibility of a Christian is to pursue God, AND, if a Christian can do that, God will heap on them blessing upon blessing once they are in a place in their lives that they are really catching Him. If you can't do this, well, your life is bound to be pretty miserable.
I have heard (and still do hear) pastors and Christian speakers say things along these lines: "The reason your life is in the toilet right now is because you're not pursuing God enough. You're not praying enough. You're not reading your Bible enough. You're not going to church enough. You're not loving people enough." Usually, the list of "not-enoughs" keep on going. Some of the people preaching these things are pretty reputable—people who have even authored several of their own books.
So, I spent several years of my life trying to chase God in this way so that I would receive the blessings of God that the speakers promised. I tried to pray enough. Tried to read my Bible enough. Tried to go to church enough. Tried to love people enough. But a strange thing happened…I didn't actually feel any closer to God at all. In fact, I was a complete failure at those things and I actually felt WORSE about my relationship with God! What a disaster I was! Instead of receiving the blessings I thought I'd been promised, all I got was shame upon shame upon shame. This pursuit was a carrot that I dangled over my head. I kept trying again and again and again, but I could never catch it.
Scary But True
Unfortunately, the false teaching that I’m talking about still exists: that if we can truly pursue God "hard," then He will heap blessings upon blessings on our lives. If we don't? Well, we can just expect that we will be outside the circle of God's promises looking in at ones who were doing it right—apparently, at least.
A quick Google search for "chasing God" will bring up several different websites that offer directions on how to do this. Heck, one even gives a 5-step program for it! Here are some of the quotes I came across. And kids, don't try these at home…
"God wants us to follow hard after him. When we do, we reap tremendous benefits."
"God provides good things when we make him our #1 priority."
"There is so much to gain when we make God our quest…"
"People's eternal destiny…could depend on our ability to hear his instructions." (Insert the "I can't believe they just said that" emoji face here).
No, I didn't make any of these up. The scary thing is a couple of these quotes came from a very well-known organization which throngs of Christians follow to read and watch their resources.
The Correct Focus
Now, let's see the truth of this matter through the appropriate lens: God does expect you to do all of those things that we just talked about. God's command is that you go to church. God's command is that you pray. God's command is that you read your Bible (and often!). God's command is that you love your neighbor. God commands all these things because they aren't just good for us, they're good for our neighbor, too! Just because we live under the grace of God it doesn't mean that those things have gone away. The Law is still the Law. The Law is to be so close to us that—as God told Joshua—it is to be upon our mouths day and night.
But here is where the road forks between what the Bible actually says and the fiction spoken by the Christian speakers I mentioned before: the promises of God are ours in Christ Jesus…regardless of our resume. To think that we can pursue God well enough (or at all) so as to attain the promises of the kingdom of heaven will always end in heartbreak. It will always end in failure and disaster. It will always end with you wondering, "Did I do it right? Did I do it enough?"
The stunning thread that holds the entire Bible together is this: God is the one who relentlessly chases after us…and He brings His promises with Him.
The entire story of the Bible is the unrelenting pursuit of God for His people. Really. He chases us down again and again and again…even when we are running away from Him! Scripture is filled to the brim with stories that prove this to be true.
See how God is the one who goes looking for Adam after he REALLY messed up in Genesis 3.
See how God seeks out King David to bring him to repentance, and restores him in 2 Samuel 12.
See how the Good Shepherd chases us with His goodness and love all the days of our lives in Psalm 23.
See how Jesus is the one who calls His disciples in Matthew 4.
See how the father pursues his prodigal son in Luke 15.
THE. LIST. GOES. ON.
To be perfectly clear: when it comes to the promises of God, we have zilch to do with God's giving them.
Romans 8:38-39: "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Romans 5:8: "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
Isaiah 54:10: "'For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,' says the Lord, who has compassion on you."
THE. LIST. GOES. ON.
His Promises Are Yours
Today, if you find yourself caught in the hamster wheel of trying to pursue God, know this: It is the earnest desire of the Lord of all to never stop chasing you with His mercy, grace, and love. The Lord showers you over and over and over again with His promises in Jesus Christ. It's why He has so many ways of delivering it to you! This truth is your comfort: The promises of God are yours in Christ Jesus…regardless of your resume. Look to your Baptism and be comforted! You're now a child of God. Jesus' Body and Blood gifted in His Supper delivers the rest—the forgiveness—you need from your personal pursuit of His promises.
Rev. Jake Sletten is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Freistatt, Missouri.
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