Making deals with God
Recently I listened to someone talk about their frustration with God. They had prayed and prayed and prayed. And yet God hadn’t changed the situation around them. Perhaps you’ve been there. There’s a name for this syndrome.
I call it the TRGS, or Transactional Relationship with God Syndrome. It goes like this. We approach God with a specific need (or needs), believing he’s going to help us out. If he does, we’re excited, and we give him something in return (like attending a church, praying, giving, etc.). We’ve conducted a transaction in which goods, services, or money are exchanged in return for something else. It’s a reciprocal, interacting relationship. It’s a transactional relationship.
We continue to bring our needs to him, initiating more transactions. As long as God keeps providing what we ask in a reasonable time frame, all is good in the relationship. Until it isn’t.
Once we don’t receive what we requested/needed in the time frame we need it, we feel like God isn’t holding up his end of the deal. There’s a breach of trust. The transactional relationship is in trouble.
There’s trouble in the fact that none of us would want this kind of relationship for someone close to us. If your friend/child/neighbor/buddy only valued you because they received what they needed from you on their timetable, would you enjoy that relationship? Not for long, right? God is not a vending machine, he’s our Heavenly Father, who desires a genuine relationship with us.
But the real trouble is the nature of the relationship in the first place. The idea of entering into a transactional relationship with God is deeply flawed, for we have nothing to bring that God doesn’t already have. And despite certain passages in the Bible that seem to indicate otherwise, God doesn’t ever commit himself to doing everything we ask in the time frame we request it. A quick glance at the many characters in the Bible reveal that God interacts with them in ways that cannot fit a transactional relationship.
- How long did Abraham and Sarah pray for God to give them a child? It would have been easy to think that God couldn’t be relied upon.
- How long did Joseph languish in an Egyptian dungeon because of false accusations piled on top of treacherous sibling rivalry. Surely during that time Joseph could have wondered if God was holding up his end of the bargain.
- Moses spent the prime 40 years of his life literally out to pasture. How many long, hot days in the wilderness might he have wondered why God wasn’t doing what he asked him to do?
- Job, described as a righteous man, surely felt he had done his part, and yet God didn’t seem to be reciprocating. He lost his possessions, his children, his wife, his reputation and his health.
The stories go on and on, even to include Jesus’ disciples. These people understood something that we often miss. The relationship is not primarily transactional. It’s primarily transformational. What I mean is that God is transforming his followers into more beautiful image-bearers. And sometimes that process takes a lot of time. And sometimes refining. Or “pruning,” as Jesus describes it in John 15. There’s always an agenda, but it may not always be MY agenda, or YOUR agenda. It’s God’s agenda, and his agenda is to transform you and me. However long it takes. However difficult that process is. And if we can come to grips with that, then the Transactional Relationship with God Syndrome will begin to fade away. And what will emerge in its place is something that is exceeding, abundantly more than all we can ask or imagine.
If you’re wondering which relationship you’ve established, consider which of these prayers you’re more likely to pray:
“God, please help me”
“God, please change me”
What kind of deal are you making with God this year?