Many of our relationships operate on a give and take basis. We give something; we expect something in return. I scratch your back; you scratch mine. We go into relationships expecting to get something for what we put in, a return on our investment. This kind of expectation permeates our professional, recreational, and religious lives. Such expectations even find their way into our marriages. This is not new to our culture. This attitude of expectation has been present for centuries. We often come into relationships with a natural give-and-take mentality. What can this person do for me? Perhaps there are a few exceptions. Sometimes we will see a marriage or a friendship in which there is virtually no thought for the self. But I suspect if we could examine hearts, such a find would be rare. All too often, we accept or reject people, whether explicitly or more subtly, based on how well they live up to our expectations. It comes to us naturally.
All this leads me to think that many of us believe we can approach God in a similar way. I know at least that I have. We think we can do something for him that will make him want to do something for us. We think: if we only go to church more often, God will be more pleased. If we put a little something in the plate, maybe God will answer our prayers. If we live the right kind of life, God will favor us and save us. That's how we relate to others. Why would we think our relationship with God should be any different?
But it is different. What do we have that God needs? What could I possibly bring to God that he just can't do without? Nothing! There's nothing that I have that God needs. He is fully sufficient in himself. I can do nothing to put him in my debt or to make him favor me. God doesn't bargain, barter, or negotiate. There's no give-a-little and get-a-little. God doesn't want his back scratched.
God doesn't relate to us like that, and I'm sure glad that he doesn't. If my relationship with God depended on what I could do for him from day to day, then I would be a wreck. If God's attitude towards me depended on how well I performed, then life would be a constant worry of whether or not I had performed well enough, whether I had lived up to his expectations. I am deeply thankful that God relates to me differently from the way other relationships often go.
But if God relates to us differently, what is the difference? The God revealed in Jesus Christ offers himself to us as pure gift. He desires to relate to us not for what we can do for him but simply because he is kind. He longs to bestow his extravagant mercy on us. He is eager to extend the generosity of his grace. He doesn't want to bargain; indeed, he will not bargain. He doesn't want us for what we can do; he wants us simply because we are.
I don't know where you stand with God, but I'm guessing there's at least one person out there who has been trying to wheel-and-deal with God, and it's killing you. My hope and prayer for you this week is that you will be able to feel the warmth of God's free grace, given without a bargain and just because he loves you. It might even change the way you related to other people.