Ramblings on Focus, Training, Prosperity Gospel

Last Sunday, I visited a non-denominational evangelical church.  I’ll probably be visiting a lot of those as I explore churches in the area!

The sermon was somewhat meandering, but it was interesting.  If there was a key theme, it was the importance of having focus: a vision, or a goal.

The pastor talked about the story of Joseph.  He said that the sons of Jacob in the Book of Genesis were not exactly good people.  Judah, for example, slept with a prostitute.  But Judah would later offer to sacrifice himself for the sake of his half-brother Benjamin, since Judah knew that Benjamin meant a lot to his father.  Judah was like Christ in this regard, the pastor said: having regard for his father, wanting to save someone (in this case, his father) from dying in a state of sorrow, and being willing to sacrifice himself.

What brought about this change within Judah?  According to the pastor, it was that Judah had a son who would be the ancestor of the Messiah.  Judah now had a vision.  He had something on which he could focus.

I looked at Genesis 38, the chapter in which Tamar has Judah’s son, Pharez, the one who would be the ancestor of David, and Jesus.  There is nothing there about Pharez being the ancestor of David or the Messiah.

Still, the pastor made good points: we can change when God shows us grace and we focus on our identity in Christ.  The pastor talked about such concepts as discipline and delayed gratification and how those lead to success, but he also said that they can easily amount to legalism if a person lacks focus.  Focus also can provide motivation for discipline and delayed gratification.  On what should we focus?  The pastor was not overly specific about that, but his answer was “Christ.”

The sermon made a lot of thought-provoking points.  I am not sure what to do with it in terms of my spiritual life, but I was thinking some about the areas of my life in which I need more discipline.  I need to remind myself that the end-goal will be satisfying, on some level.  The end-goal is worth striving for.  I think that one reason that I struggle to be disciplined in certain issues is that I lack hope.  Think of delayed gratification: if you do not think that there is any gratification down the road, will you feel motivated to delay it?

The pastor made another point that I forgot in my summary above.  He talked about how the Christian life was one of training.  He said that “trying to tithe” is like a football player “trying” to block an offensive tackle.  You don’t just “try” that: you have to prepare and train for it.  He referred to I Corinthians 9:26, in which Paul talks about discipline and says that he was not beating the air.  According to the pastor, people beat the air when they have not been trained to land a punch.  How do we train?  Well, on the issue of tithing, the pastor talked about going to God in prayer and receiving guidance.  That seemed to be a significant part of what the pastor was recommending: prayer.  Even if the prayer is less than a minute, he said, God can use that time to give us vision.

I want to get something out of that training point, since it looks pretty profound.  I suppose that, on some level, I do train.  When I pray for strength for a coming situation, that gives me more peace than if I were to walk into that situation without any preparation at all.  I said “more peace,” not perfect peace.  I also discipline my thoughts so that they do not lead me down a bad road.  Are there other areas in which I need to train?  Well, yes: when it comes to social situations, I am afraid—-both when I think about them and when I am in them.  A road-map for what to do in the midst of them—-a training manual, if you will—-may be helpful.

I was thinking of something else when I was walking to and from church, and the service reinforced what I was thinking about.  It seems to me that the prosperity Gospel does color a lot of evangelicalism.  There is a belief that God wants to bless people materially, and, if we do X, Y, and Z, God will be more disposed to do so.  That came across in the service, and I have encountered it in other evangelical sayings.  I am not saying that this is utterly bad or that there is absolutely nothing to this.  What I recall as I look at my past, though, is that such an idea did make me afraid of leaving evangelicalism over the years: I feared that, were I to leave it, my life would fall apart, or God would not give me the blessings that I wanted.

I’ll stop here.

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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