There is quite a bit of talk going around in Christian circles these days regarding experiencing “God’s favor.” As a Christian Optimist, I certainly hold the principle that God does want us to experience his blessings in all areas of our lives and, if you take a close look at scripture, he has provided everything we need in order to manifest that favor in our daily living. Yet in spite of these facts, I find myself reacting somewhat negatively to all of this talk about God blessing people’s lives with his favor.
My primary concern centers on the tendency on the part of more than a few Bible teachers to encourage people to expect God’s favor in all things great and small. This is especially seen in advocates of the Word of Faith movement. While I do see certain value in this movement, I have strong reservations about much of the teaching that comes out of this segment of the church.
One of the issues that I have a problem with relates to how a number of these teachers give much emphasis on how God blessed them by miraculously providing a parking place near the entrance of a very crowded mall. Just about all of these teachers have a story about this and there is just something about this teaching that seems to ride side-saddle in my theological throat. I have reservations when it comes to thinking that the infinite Creator of this incredible universe, although he numbers the hairs on my head, would be overly concerned about where I had to park at the mall.
Even if God did trouble himself about whether or not I had to park farther from the mall door than I wanted, I still think this whole emphasis on my needs and comfort level tends to miss the point when it comes to discussing God’s favor. I am of the opinion that experiencing God’s favor is not something I am necessarily entitled to. Instead, I think the true favor of God flows like a natural law in response to our decision and subsequent efforts to take a vital step at some point of our walk of faith.
What is that decisive action? I’m glad you asked and we will look at the answer to this important question toward the end of this article. In the meantime, let’s take a look at a few related themes and how these principles apply to experiencing God’s favor.
A fundamental principle of cognitive psychology states that whatever you keep before your mind’s eye will affect you, either for good or for bad. If you consistently focus on negativity and dwell on your problems, your mindset will become darker and your problems will worsen. If you focus on limitation, lack, failure, and defeat, that is the kind of life you are going to create. Instead, try focusing your mental energy on success, victory, health, abundance, peace, joy, and happiness. Our innermost spirit, which is one with the Divine Source, has as its purpose the unfolding of your greatest good. Don’t lose sight of that truth. In order to create the kind of life you want, you have to get your thoughts and your inner vision in alignment with the power and purpose of your innermost spirit, what is often called your “Inner Light” and what we here at LifeBrook call your “Sacred Mind.”
So how do I go about tapping into the favor of God? First, you must deepen your awareness of those areas of your thinking where you are controlled by ideas of limitation. God is unlimited in what He can accomplish and, although the human part of you has obvious limitations, the divine part of you created in the image of God is unlimited. If you can firmly believe this, then you are well on your way to hooking up with divine favor.
Let go of limited thinking and come to expect God’s best because that is what He wants for you. He wants you to become the absolute best version of yourself, growing increasingly in the image of Christ. Begin to see the future with faith, hope, and vision. With diligence, let the Holy Spirit help you to create new wineskins of thought. Keep in mind that God can’t pour new, creative thoughts into your old limited wineskins. Pastor and teacher Joel Osteen speaks with clarity to these issues:
To experience this immeasurable favor, you must rid yourself of that small-minded thinking and start expecting God’s blessings, start anticipating promotion and supernatural increase. You must conceive it in your heart and mind before you can receive it. In other words, you must make room for increase in your own thinking, then God will bring those things to pass. Until you learn how to enlarge your vision, seeing the future through your eyes of faith, your own wrong thinking will prevent good things from happening in your life. God will not pour fresh, creative ideas and blessings into old attitudes.
Paul tells us in Romans 12:2 that the key to personal transformation is renewal of the mind. For many of us, this important scripture is so familiar we have a tendency to sail over it without really giving it the necessary reflection. One vital point we often overlook is the fact that part of the word renewal is the word new. The renewal of the mind, in addition to several other factors, involves bringing new ideas, perspectives, and attitudes into our minds. The very concept of transformation talked about in this scripture means personal change and personal change implies newness. It also implies letting go of old attitudes and behaviors that stand in the way of cognitive renewal and personal transformation.
Whenever I am writing or teaching about this aspect of personal change, I am always reminded of an experience I had just after I arrived in China for the first time. It was an experience I will never forget and further, it taught me a valuable lesson that applies to many aspects of life, especially personal transformation and renewal of the mind.
I first arrived in China in the summer of 1998 with a large group of American and Canadian teachers who had teaching assignments all over China. We landed in Beijing at 11:30 PM after an interminable seventeen- hour flight from Los Angeles. We were met at the airport by a large group of Waibans (Foreign Affairs Officers) from our assigned universities, along with a group of dignitaries from the State Bureau of Foreign Experts who had kindly arranged for our night’s lodgings at the Beijing Friendship Hotel. We all loaded on to busses and were ferried off to the hotel where most of us collapsed from fatigue after the long flight.
I recall that I went to bed around one o’clock in the morning. We were scheduled to be at the train station at six the next morning where we would catch an express train to Beidahe. The State Bureau of Foreign Experts had graciously arranged for us to spend three days resting and relaxing in this lovely, famous resort city prior to traveling to our respective universities to commence our teaching duties.
I stumbled out of bed at 5 AM and, along with the other bleary-eyed teachers, boarded the bus for the train station. We caught the train and arrived in Beidaihe four hours later. We were taken to the Friendship Hotel, a truly wonderful facility nestled among tall pine trees only a few blocks from the waterfront. We checked in, had lunch, rested for a few hours, attended a reception meeting and then were whisked off to the dining room for our first formal Chinese banquet.
The banquet was wonderful as I recall, complete with excellent food, exquisite tea, and fine music provided by local musicians. It is here that I must mention, however, that by this time I was beginning to suffer from that well-known affliction of global travelers – jet lag. My body was till operating on U.S. West Coast time but my body was now in a time zone fifteen hours ahead of where my body thought I was. Those who have experienced this malady are quite familiar with the symptoms: a sudden onset of extreme fatigue accompanied by blurred vision, inability to concentrate, and an overwhelming desire to sleep.
My first severe attack of jet lag hit me about halfway through the banquet. Someone was giving a speech as I recall and I struggled mightily to remain attentive but was losing the battle fast. My peripheral vision began to grow dark and I could barely hold my head up. My biggest fear at that point was that I might actually fall asleep and start snoring during the dignitary’s speech or, worse still, lose consciousness and splash my face into a dish of Kung Pao Chicken! I looked about the room, hoping to find something to fix my attention on. Eventually I discovered a large world map on the wall opposite to where I was sitting. I fixed my eyes on the map and began to study it intently. My eyesight was initially glazed over but eventually the map came into focus.
Scrutinizing the map closely, however, I became more confused. I peered at the colored shapes of the various countries and continents, punctuated by the pastel blue of the ocean and seas. Yet the more I looked at the map the more I became aware that something was amiss. Something was definitely wrong with this map. It just didn’t look right. At first I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. I attributed the seeming distortion of the map to my jet-lagged perception and sought to refocus my mind on the speaker’s words. My eyes, however, kept wandering back to the strange looking map. After examining it more closely it finally dawned on me what was wrong. China was in the middle of the map! China was in the middle and North America was far to right. Europe was stretched out far to the left. “How strange”, I thought. All of my life I had been accustomed to seeing maps with North and South America in the center with Asia to the extreme left and Europe to the far right. This map was made from a totally different perspective.
It was at that moment that I realized that living in China was going to require an adjustment in my perspective on life, culture, and even myself. If I was going to have a meaningful experience living in China, I was going to have to learn to look at things differently than I had done in the past. In essence, I was going to have to develop a new perspective.
In the incident cited above, I learned that in order to understand the world map, and Chinese culture, I needed to make a radical change in how I saw things. I had to put something else in the center of my perspective in order for everything else to make sense. Without making this fundamental change of perspective, life in China would be difficult, indeed. Further, the mission I carried in my heart would never be fruitful.
The same principle holds true for our walk with Christ. When we finally get serious, deeply serious, about living out our faith in all our affairs we have to put Christ in the center of our perspective. Unless we do so, much of our Christian journey will not make sense and will also be generally ineffectual. In order to comprehend that Chinese map, I had to take North and South America out of the center and put China there in its place. From my perspective, this was a wholly unnatural act. For my entire life I was accustomed to seeing maps with the Americas in the center and looking at a map with a different perspective felt very odd, indeed.
If we are to become effective Christians, capable of assisting with the manifestation of God’s kingdom on earth, we have to remove ourselves from the center of our lives and place Christ there, which is where he truly belongs. Doing this seems quite odd at first, just as putting China at the center of the map. For most of us, our entire lives have been characterized by having our “self” at the center. We have been, to use a common phrase, self-centered.
The Christian path of spiritual formation, however, requires the uprooting of the self and the crucifixion of the self. It is only through this death to self that rising with Christ is possible. Yet this very resurrection with Christ has a primary and very natural outflow and that is – you guessed it – the favor of God.
Placing Christ in his rightful place as our center and our anchor facilitates the renewal of our minds. Having Christ as our permanent point of reference for all things not only creates new perspectives and new wineskins, but also gives birth to new possibilities for compassionate involvement in our hurting world.
In relation to expecting and experiencing the favor of God in your life, don’t concern yourself so much about specifics, especially at the beginning. Don’t worry so much about finding a seat at your favorite eatery or a prime parking spot at a crowded mall. Instead, begin at the center and work your way out to the circumference of your life. It is imperative to put Christ at the center of your life. If you do that, everything else will surely begin to fall into place. Things that previously made little sense or aspects of the faith that seemed confusing will begin to take on greater clarity and logic. With Christ at the center, issues that were unresolved and that sat on your theological back burner will move forward and be settled, once and for all.
I am convinced that for us to realistically expect God’s favor, we need to do our part. We need to put Christ at the center of our lives, grow more familiar with his still, small voice, and become obedient to his will, both universal and personal. Only then can we truly expect to experience God’s favor in our lives – and only then will our minds be renewed in his image and his good will known.
Compared with this spiritual favor and blessing, finding a convenient place to park is small potatoes, indeed.
© L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved