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Well, we’re all pragmatists now. That we’ve all unwittingly imbibed the spirit of the age is evidenced when we only engage in activities or invest in people that add value to our lives. We approach nearly everything with a commercial mindset. We expect—no, we demand—that everything or everyone improve our lives. Sadly, this mentality smuggles its way into our walk with God. As Jen Pollock Michel has written recently, we expect God to be “the guarantor of our best life now.”[1]

Before you roll your eyes and click off this page, consider why it’s dangerous to approach God with a business/transaction mindset.

For one thing, following Jesus is inconvenient. As flawed, naturally-curved-in-on-ourselves-people who are “too much inclined to self-love” (Calvin, Institutes, 2. 8. 54), we don’t naturally find Jesus’ call to self-abandonment particularly inviting. Such is the paradox of the gospel, however. We find our lives by laying them down, Jesus tells us (John 12:25-26). What’s more, Jesus didn’t mince words when he told his disciples, “If anyone would after me, let him deny himself and follow me” (Luke 9:23). A few chapters later, Jesus announced to the crowds, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (14:26). Jesus’ point is that our love for, and commitment to, him should be so all-consuming that it’s as if we hate everything and everyone else by comparison. Here’s the point: Jesus demands our all. He refuses to play second fiddle to anyone.

Secondly, God may lead us into the desert—a time of trial and a season of barrenness in order to produce something great in us. If we approach God with a commercial mindset, refusing to see past our present circumstances, we will miss out on what God wants to accomplish in and through us. An example from history helps put flesh on the kind of mindset I’m commending here.

When detractors maligned John Calvin and his Reformation compatriots, some, no doubt, were tempted to respond in kind. Nevertheless, Calvin wrote to William Farel in a letter, “Let us humble ourselves, therefore, unless we wish to strive with God when He would humble us.”[2] Those who recognize that God may lead them through a trial will confess with the Psalmist, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71). They raise their voices in choral union and sing, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (Psalm 119:67).

God has been honest with us. He loves us enough to tell us the truth: “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Rather than steadily sinking into sullenness we set our hearts on Christ and remain stouthearted, knowing that “Every tempest is but an assault in the siege of Love.”[3] We turn to him afresh, faint as his feet, fall into his arms, knowing that “Christ is as full a feast as you can have to hunger for.”[4]


[1] Jen Pollock Michel, “Whose Will Be Done? Human Flourishing in the Secular Age,” in Our Secular Age: Ten Years of Reading and Applying Charles Taylor, ed. Collin Hanson (Deerfield, IL: The Gospel Coalition, 2017), 118.

[2] Letters of John Calvin (1855; Carlise, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1980), 48.

[3] C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald: An Anthology; 365 Readings (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 44.

[4] Letters of Samuel Rutherford (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1996), 86.