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.
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