Jesus Is Not Your Genie

Seven ways your faith isn’t really faith at all.

It’s easy to confuse faith in God with wishful thinking, especially when we really desire a certain outcome. But true faith does not flinch when we don’t get what we want. It also isn’t really about us at all.

Rather, exercising true faith shows God we believe in him and what he’s capable of doing, even when we’re unaware of it yet. It trusts in the future God-Kingdom and calls that future into the present. It is grounded in the character and nature of God.

Yet too many Christians think we have faith when what we really have is wishful thinking. Here are seven ways your mindset might be more wishful than faithful:

Wishful Thinking: I name it; I claim it!

Faith: God names it; I claim it.

Wishful thinking gets half of this equation right in the “I claim it part,” but 50 percent accuracy is still a solid “F” on the grading scale. We need to focus on what God wants us to claim, not on the temporal rewards that the “prosperity gospel” tells us to claim.

The Bible emphasizes that we should claim joy in suffering (James 1:2), peace in tribulation (John 16:33), and faith in a better world to come (Hebrews 11:16). He also wants us to claim God’s character in our lives through the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22) and not to store up treasures where “moths and rust destroy” (Matthew 6:19). 

Wishful Thinking: I trust my “faith” for my desired outcome.

Faith: I trust a Person (God) regardless of the outcome.

When someone we know is physically ailing, Christians have a tendency to pray like this: “Lord, I know you want to heal this person right here, right now.” But, most of us don’t possess the spiritual gift of healing. Since faith is about knowing God and trusting Him, it’s more correct to pray “Lord, I pray for this person’s healing” and leave the outcome to God.

We should definitely pray bold prayers in faith. But a sure sign that such prayers have turned into wishful thinking is when someone’s relationship with God is crushed because he doesn’t produce a desired outcome. Not getting what you want doesn’t make God “bad” or “unworthy” — rather, his plans just might be beyond our limited comprehension.

But, if you have the certainty of the Apostle Paul and can jump on a person and raise him back to life without even asking God, by all means . . . (Acts 20:10).

Wishful Thinking: Life is a playground.

Faith: Life is a battleground.

Wishful thinking focuses on being happy and being comfortable in this life. If our goal is happiness, we should heed the words of Dallas Willard, who said that such people are already on the road to addiction.

I agree with Mr. Willard. The Bible never promises happiness, but it does promise joy in trials — and ensures us that God will be with us through them all. The Christian life is not for the timid. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray for God’s kingdom to come. The more we accept life as a battleground, the more it shows our need for Christ to change it and give us the faith we need to endure it.

In the show Futurama there is a character named Hedonism-Bot who is always eating grapes off his belly and whose only goal is pleasure and decadence. Don’t be a Hedonism-Bot.

Wishful Thinking: God is a negotiator.

Faith: God is a giver.

Wishful thinking encourages people to barter with God on the basis of merit and entitlement, while faith sees every blessing as a gift. Wishful thinkers see themselves as deserving of marriage, finances, opportunities, good health, etc., because of their “upstanding” spiritual life.

On the other hand, faith thinkers abound in thanksgiving because their sonship (or “daughtership”) is already secure in Christ, and God gives to them on his accord. People of faith always remember the horrible depravity from which Christ has already saved them, and they trust him even when they don’t receive all of their desires this side of heaven.

Wishful Thinking: God is a genie, ready to do my will.

Faith: God is a father, and I’m ready to do his will.

I often play a game with God where I ask for an amazing parking spot. I pray this wholeheartedly, not because I believe God’s divine will in the universe is to give me a spot right in front of the store, but because I think God has a huge sense of humor, likes to play with his children, and answers ridiculous prayers.

But if you take this attitude too far, it turns into wishful thinking wherein we view God as some sort of cosmic genie. If we have this view, we see God as always being ready and willing to do our will, instead of our being ready and willing to do his will at any moment. 

Wishful Thinking: I want the best of both worlds.

Faith: I will unflinchingly worship God alone.

Ananias and Sapphira hoped they could worship God and lie to the Holy Spirit at the same time. They were wrong, and they dropped dead instead. They became the epitome of wishful thinkers. They worried about “keeping some for themselves” and didn’t have the faith to be honest. Wishful thinkers often want to compromise — to have the best of both worlds — and frequently use words like “balance,” “moderation,” and “middle ground.”

In reality, faith says, “Regardless of the cost, I will not worship any idols.” Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we should say, “But even if he [God] does not [save us] . . . we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:18). 

Wishful Thinking: Salvation is a noun.

Faith: Salvation is a noun, then a verb.

We are not just saved from something; we are saved to something. There is no doubt we are saved by God’s grace through no work of our own, but wishful thinking says that our religion stops at receiving a “get-out-of-jail-free” card.

However, James 1:27 includes “looking after orphans and widows” as true religion, and like Timothy, we are commanded to “train . . . to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:8). Both of these activities require effort.

The opinions expressed in this piece belong to the author.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Eric Demeter
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  • bakabomb

    I love the notion of faith being “what can I give back to God”, not “what can I get from God”. That really is it in a nutshell. But to me, life is neither a playground nor a battlefield. It can be either one at times, but I look at it as a school. (At recess, of course, the schoolyard can be either a playground or a battlefield — I bet that brings back memories!)

    And it seems to me I’ve been saved much more from “purposeless banality” than from “horrible depravity”. Most of us don’t start as devils and end up saints, we’re all pilgrims trying to make good time on the road to Zion, and we’re all somewhere along the way — looking to arrive there someday by God’s good grace.

    • Eric Demeter

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I agree: life often vacillates between the playground and the battleground. However, too often, Christians forgot that we have an Enemy who extremely hates us and will do everything in his power to keep us from following Christ. This creates the harsh world we live in (along with our own sin).

      And concerning the second point. I believe that we can only fully know God when we fully know how much we need Him. God saves us from an infinitely bottomless pit. Certainly, most of us are not “devils” when we’re born (because we’re created in His image) but original sin is our signed death certificate unless we encounter the Savior. Otherwise, Jesus’ life, crucifixion, and resurrection becomes “purposeless banality.”

      Anyway, great comment.

    • bakabomb

      I personally don’t subscribe to the notion of a personified “Devil” or “Adversary” who is the antithesis of the good Creator. This theology smacks too much of Zoroastrianism, Manichaeanism and other dualistic creeds. The former preceded Christianity and probably stemmed from the human instinct for balance and complementarity. If there’s a god of light, there must be a god of darkness too. The latter competed pretty strongly against early Christianity in the near/middle east and likely influenced it somewhat.

      I see no theological need for a Dark Lord at all. “Bad things happening to good people” I attribute to life in a quantum physical universe in which chance plays as big a role as determinism. “Human evil” can be explained by our own residual animal instincts and desires, without needing any reference to an external force. (And face it, blaming it “on the Devil” is one Hell of a convenient excuse for our own behavior.)

      The tale of God agreeing with the Devil on a wager, and both of them using Job as a cat’s-paw to see which of them will win the bet, is both amusing and loathsome from a theological standpoint. The story’s fascinating, but the theology’s troublesome — to put it mildly.