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Hard to Get

February 21, 2011

A pattern exists in every romantic relationship.  One person pursues the other, and the other often desires a little more distance or “space.”  I have seen countless times in which a breakup will happen, and the “breakee” becomes desperate in the form of needy pursuit.  Desperation is never attractive.  The stink of desperation acts as a repellant to the object of pursuit.  This is where the phrase, “playing hard to get” comes from.  Desperate pursuit is counterproductive.

The question I have been considering is whether Christians have the idea that God is desperate for people’s approval, and that this supposed desperation has repelled people from God.  People often question whether or not they believe in God.   We put God under our microscope, dissect Him, and then determine our conclusion.  Let’s make this clear:  God does not need us to believe in Him, but rather it is us who need to believe in Him.

Perhaps the issue that is churning in me is that we seem to have gotten desperation mixed up with urgency.  Let me qualify all that I am about to say with several thoughts.  First, I think we should announce Christ’s reign and His provisions of salvation as often as possible.  Second, I think we should be strikingly vivid and passionate with our announcements.  Third, I think that Jesus should be the content and crux of our announcement.  It isn’t the announcement and testimony of Jesus that concerns me as much as how the announcement is often given.

Sharing Christ or exhorting believers out of a sense of urgency is very different from desperation.  I think it is easy for us to get in the pattern of thinking that God desperately needs us to believe in him, follow Him, and work for Him.  This is backwards as far as I can see.  It is we who are desperate, and therefore lucky, to even be invited to the banquet of Christ, and it is God who is urging us.  No wonder motivation of believers is low when we try to live out a life of obedience motivated by God’s needs rather than being swept away and captured by His splendid offering of Jesus.

Maybe this is splitting hairs, but it seems that a case can be made that urgency is God’s passion for His mission and glory that comes out of the abundance and completeness of His love, kindness, and grace.  Desperation, in contrast,  is a toxic form of urgency that is fueled not by abundance, but by neediness and what is lacking.  Who in their right mind desires a god that is needing us because he is in search of what is missing?

From a practical perspective I think our message might need to be modified.  We need to move away from a sales pitch approach that essentially says, “Believe in Jesus because you can do great things for Him, and this will make your life better.”  This combines God’s neediness for our work, money, and life with a selfish “what’s in it for me” approach.  My friend and colleague, Dax Hughes, speaks of attending a business seminar when he worked at a bank in which the speaker noted that attempting to oversell a product devalues the product.  This is the stink of desperation that simultaneously repels people and devalues God as a self conscious “Woody Allen” figure desperate for acceptance.  Jesus has shown us that God is nothing of the sort.

Instead, we need a message of urgency that says, “Believe in Jesus because you are blessed to have the unbelievable opportunity to be saved and know God, even though you have nothing that He really needs.”  This message is still urgent, but it is not desperate.  Instead of begging people out of a sense of desperation, we should urgently and passionately celebrate the glow and beauty of God’s salvation through Christ and we should offer strong warnings concerning unbelief.  This presentation of the gospel will turn the tables from God needing people, to people needing God.

Two specific biblical patterns will guide us in this.  First, we need urgent warnings motivated by love. I know, I know.  Warnings are out of fashion.  But they are biblical.  The problem is that warnings have been used not as a plea of love, but as emotional gimmicks of blackmail .  The book of Hebrews offers us a pattern of loving, urgent warnings that we can follow.  After one of the strongest appeals in the book, the writer qualifies the warning:  “But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation though we speak in this manner” (Heb. 6:9).  Notice that love and confidence accompanies the warning in previous verses.  Warnings remind us that following Jesus is a blessing that we desperately need, and the motivation of love keeps us from abusing that power by letting the hearer know that we are not against them.

Second, we have to preach the hard aspects of the gospel.  This is what Bonhoeffer called “costly grace,” in contrast to “cheap grace.”  The gospel comes with great reward.  I don’t think we can be passionate enough about our descriptions of those rewards, including the forgiveness of sins, communion with God, and eternal life.  To proclaim the beauty of the glory and joy of the gospel is not a sales pitch – it is the TRUTH.  However, when we forget to also preach the hard aspects of the gospel, then it turns into a sales pitch, especially if we give the idea that following Jesus will make earthly life easier, bring more worldly blessings, and protect us from life’s toil.  To forget this is the equivalent of using dim lighting to sell a damaged product.  In truth, the gospel of Jesus calls us to die with Him and to the things of this Earth.  The gospel is the wisdom of sacrifice, leading to the greatest of joys (cross then resurrection).  We must remind folks that unless we deny ourselves our closest relationships and earthly possessions, as well as carry our cross daily and eat His flesh and drink His blood, we cannot be his disciples.  Jesus never seemed desperate; in fact, He did play hard to get through these hard saying.

I read some time ago a story about the marketing strategy of the U.S. Army.  During the 1990’s, the marketing became a “here’s what’s in it for you” approach.  Commercials centered on the benefits of joining the army, especially money for college and skills for future employment.  Guess what happened?  Recruitment numbers dropped.  You may have noticed that things have changed.  Now, the commercials show soldiers jumping out of helicopters into the ocean, working in cutting edge technology, and risky adventure.  Guess what has happened with this strategy?  Recruitment has risen.  Why?  They played hard to get.  They didn’t lose their urgency, they just lost their desperation.  They reminded people that they would be lucky (blessed) to have the opportunity to be in the military.  Think of the marine’s slogan:  The few, the proud, the Marines.  They are clearly telling us all that the Marines are not desperate for people, but people should be desperate to be a Marine.  Maybe there is a lesson here for us and especially for a complacent American society.  .

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