One of the highlights of each summer when I was growing up was going to church camp. It started when I was about nine with junior Bible camp and continued until I was 17 with teen camp. One week each summer was set apart for attendance at the camp. There we learned about the Bible, made friends, enjoyed various sports, and we worked on multiple crafts that would come home with us at week’s end. However, by the age of eleven, a new focus arose–dating. Granted, dates were little more than sitting together at worship services and hanging out near the snack stand, but dating was considered very important, even if it didn’t amount to much. One summer, my cousin went to camp with me and there was a girl there he knew from his school. He offered to set me up on a date with her. Being very inexperienced in this kind of thing, but nonetheless interested, I took him up on it. I was pretty hyped up about it, but quickly found out that the young lady in question was a mercenary. No, I don’t mean that she was a gun for hire, but rather that she viewed dating as an opportunity to get someone to buy snacks and pop for her. Apparently, her parents had given her a strict per day spending limit, so she supplemented that by agreeing to “date” clueless preteen boys like me.
Although I did not have a spending limit imposed by my parents, I did have limited funds. It did not take me very long to realize that that young lady was always asking me to buy her something and that my monies were dwindling. Being inexperienced and naïve, I told her that I couldn’t afford to keep buying things for her. That’s when she doled out a big life lesson. She told me that she’d have to date someone else if I couldn’t provide for her in the manner she desired. She was using me. Rather than motivating me to give in to her demands, I elected to part ways and save money. I’ve never forgotten the lesson from my first foray into dating.
Pondering that experience I’ve come to realize that a lot of us treat God in a mercenary fashion. We want the good things God can give us, but our loyalty to God is dependent upon the continued supply of God’s provision. When it lies exposed in such an open way as stated above, we can all see just how bad this way of treating God really is. But all too often we fail to see the mercenary spirituality for what it is when it takes subtler forms. For instance, some people give money to God only because they believe He will give them much more money.
Sometimes God does do such a thing, but our generosity toward God should never be so transactional. Giving to God is about love, trust, worship, and being free from covetousness. Another example is the person who prays that God will do a particular thing for them and, while they are praying for that thing, they are very diligent about doing all the things they believe pleases God. But if God answers their request with a negative answer, that person gets angry with God and ceases to desire to please God. In all instances, whenever we treat God like a dispenser of our desires, we are secretly only trying to please ourselves. We are using God.
I don’t know what became of that young lady, nor do I remember her name. The relationship was just too devoid of any of the things that make a relationship good. I hope she did not retain those traits into her adult life, and I do hope that she has found true relationships in her life. But this much I can say regarding people whose relationship with God is based solely on what God can do for them is that such persons ultimately find that joy always eludes them. Using anyone for what they can do for us always leaves a person hollowed out because material things cannot fill relational emptiness. But when we love God for who He is and accept with gratitude whatever He gives or withholds from us, then we are truly blessed. God is not a warehouse, He is the wellspring of life, hope, joy, purpose, goodness, love, truth, and righteousness. If we merely want what God can give, we are cheating ourselves and God. But when we love God with our whole being regardless of outcomes, we are fulfilled.
Contact Pastor Lamb at leadpastor@ imlaycityamazinggrace. org