Bargaining with God (Who, Me?)

i-deserve1I never thought I was the kind of person who would get mad at God when things got tough, who would think she deserved better. 

But, here I am.

Two guys who’ve influenced me greatly say the following about this subject:

If, like the elder brother [in the parable of the ‘prodigal son’], you seek to control God through your obedience, then all your morality is just a way to use God to prodigal-god-bookmake him give you the things in life you really want. …I knew a woman who had worked for many years in Christian ministry. When chronic illness overtook her middle age, it threw her into despair. Eventually she realized that deep in her heart she had felt that God owed her a better life, after all she had done for him. That assumption made it extremely difficult for her to climb out of her pit, though climb she did. The key to her improvement, however, was to recognize the elder-brother mind-set within.”  Tim Keller, pp. 38, 42 in The Prodigal God.

Let me propose a radical thought: Maybe we have it all wrong! Maybe the Christian pressures-offlife is not about ‘doing right’ to ‘get blessed.’ Maybe the Christian life is not about the blessings of life we so badly want and doggedly pursue. Maybe our obedience and faithfulness are to be energized by a very different motive than receiving the good and legitimate blessines we long to experience in this life.”  Larry Crabb, pp. 25-26 in The Pressure’s Off.

Sure, I obey God the best I can, but I don’t think that’s what makes me think He owes me.

  • It’s that I try to be “real” and “transparent.”
  • It’s  my commitment to His Word and to not diminish His Glory throughrepentant bad theology.
  • It’s that I want to repent whenever necessary in order to know Jesus better, no matter the cost.

scales-of-justiceYep, He owes me.

Sometimes I think the opposite. After seeing so many others’ lives going well compared to mine, I think “Gee, God, am I such a loser that this is all I deserve?” That idea really scares me: I’ve spent my life striving not to be a loser.

After more than a decade of crappy stuff (some of which I’ve discussed elsewhere in this blog), I start to think that the pain will never leave: that this is my life and I’d better get used to it. I get cynical. I stop caring that God has my best interest in mind. Hey, if this is His “good” for me, no

I get to the point where, at times,  I want pain relief more than I want Jesus (so much for that desire to repent!).

Forget the Holiday at Sea, just give me some mud to play with… NOW!

The good news is that I think I recognize my elder-brother mentality, my bargaining with God. Maybe I have hope.

The Cross brought me back from my doubts and it may help me here.cross

  • The Cross tells me I am so evil that I deserve far worse than crappy circumstances – it took Jesus’s death and separation from the Father to deal with my sin. 
  • The Cross tells me that me that I am not a loser: Jesus loved me enough to die for me.
  • The Cross tells me that my crappy circumstances really are good gifts, borne by the same love that sent God’s Son to the Cross. (see Romans 8: 32)

I believe this stuff in my head, but not always in the part of my heart where I still bargain with God.

Oh, Lord: Help me to more deeply believe the truths of the Cross. Help me to truly thank you for ALL of my life’s circumstances (and to be more aware of the really wonderful things than of the icky ones). Help me to worship You as the Apostle Paul did:

Oh the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and His ways beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Who has ever given to God that God should repay him? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. ” Romans 11: 33ff



15 thoughts on “Bargaining with God (Who, Me?)

  1. Oh yeah, the other thing I meant to say was that, hanging naked nailed up on the cross on display for the head-waggers and passersby of Jerusalem, our Lord had to have emptied his bladder and voided his bowels before the eyes of the world. The cross was very likely smeared with excrement. A crude aspersion of the Roman world was to call someone “cross-shit.” For a modest, devout Jew, the shame of hanging thus would have been near unbearable.

  2. Holiday Longing said, ”
    * It’s that I try to be “real” and “transparent.”
    * It’s my commitment to His Word and to not diminish His Glory throughrepentant bad theology.
    * It’s that I want to repent whenever necessary in order to know Jesus better, no matter the cost.”

    Reading that it was clear to me that you are being granted the boon you sought – Like Christ, you are inhabiting circumstances before the eyes of every passerby that make it look like you have, in fact, utterly lost the contest. Paul somewhere talks about how the believers “make up” in some ways the suffering of Christ, the upshot being that they, while one with Christ, suffer in circumstances non-existent for a First Century Palestinian Jew. In another place Paul speaks of the fact that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. An every day mistake of what passes for the church in the western world is to think persecution only equals the apprehension or likelihood of physical violence against the believer. We suffer persecution in so many other ways, too.

    And your other thought, “The Cross tells me that my crappy circumstances really are good gifts, borne by the same love that sent God’s Son to the Cross,” reminded me that blessings are sometimes painful and therefore not recognized as blessings, because the pain is so real. Also, I’m not saying that God has anything wagered on your response to or activity within these circumstances, but I am saying that, like Job, God sometimes vouchsafes disaster to those who love and serve him. God knows perfectly well what we are made of and what is in our hearts, but we very frequently do not.


  3. I once heard Glenn Kaiser speak (of the Jesus People USA) and he mentioned that about 75% of the book of Psalms is the Blues. The difference is that at the end of each whining session David gives God the glory for not only the circumstance but also the eventual outcome, before even knowing the outcome.

    One of my favorite lines in a move is from “Adventures in Babysitting” and the babysitter and the kids enter a Chicago Blues club. They want to leave, but are stopped by one of the patrons who says, “nobody gets outta here without singing the blues.”

    Sorta like life.

  4. I think it’s easy to fall for that kind of thinking. And my guess is we all do at one point or another in our lives. I turned my back on God for a very long time because I couldn’t understand why my life was falling apart when I had been a “good boy.”

    But I think it’s very difficult to get rid of that kind of thinking. We humans are a stubborn breed, especially when it comes to being self-centered.

  5. Great, honest and transparent post. Thanks for coming by and visiting/subscribing to my blog at Dummies Of The Year. I will keep checking in to read your inspiring devo’s. Is that your main theme?

    You might be interested in visiting my other blog, which can be found at

    This is my Christian devos site. I may be moving that site to in the near future. I would be interested in adding you to my blog roll at Mission John 22 and Dummies Of The Year if you would like to add me to yours.

    Let me know if you would like to and I will get you added.

  6. I find everyday a struggle to escape from the “worker harder, do more, earn your way” theology. Mostly I think because i ove me so much I just don’t want to believe that there is nothing I can do to make Jesus love me more. Cause if there isn’t then I have to depend on him fully and he is fully God and if he is fully God it means that I am not…yada, yada. But in brief moments of clarity I will break free from the moralism and see the Cross and Jesus, who saved me not because I measured up but because I never could… Those are the moments worth living for.

  7. Thanks, Marcy and pttyann:


    I know what you mean. Sometimes I feel schizo. But I believe the truth will liberate us from the extremes. By the way, I am still thinking about what it means in a practical way to die to oneself, and how that can be a positive thing. One of these days I’ll blog on it.

  8. Hi
    I enjoyed your post,I’m having one of those “But God you promised more than this day’s”,so we will pray for each other for we know better than to stay here,but now we can’t shake it! But God will again Lift our Spirit’s and our Head. Yes we will Praise Him in spite of what we feel.Love Ya

  9. This is a good post. As you may know, I often struggle to maintain the both / and of “it’s really bad — I’m a sinner who deserves death and hell” and “it’s really good — God loves me, the real me, and I don’t even have to earn it, nor can I.”

    Instead, I am tempted to suspect that it’s not that bad — I don’t go around doing wickedness, and I don’t always see myself in Paul’s sin lists. I do see myself as a sinner when I look at the greatest commandments, and the sermon on the mount. Then I despair. Then I think about how God doesn’t love the real me, but some vision of me he has through Jesus glasses — the real me is the sinner (which makes me bristle — I don’t want to carry that shame, and I don’t think I deserve it), and the good me is just a Jesus plaster that God covers the real me with.

  10. Thanks, Michelle, for stopping by (and for your encouraging comment).

    And, Samrosemin, I’m glad that everything is good for you. You must have suffered greatly in life to have been broken so much that you can be so joyful.

  11. The fruit of the Spirit is: Love, Peace, Joy… (Gal. 5:22,23)
    If you have peace within you, if you have love within you, if you have joy; everything around you is good.
    for more, go to

  12. Had you not left a comment on one of the sites where I am a contributing author (although I have my own site, too)…I’d not have found your wonderful blog.

    I’ve got it “bookmarked” and plan on being a regular here. Thank you for creating this site.

    Kindest Regards,


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