One of my greatest temptations is to begin to rely on pragmatism rather than on the power of God. In a day and age where efficiency and productivity are virtues, it is difficult to resist the cultural pleasure to begin to make pragmatism a god. Yet, the Christian must resist this impulse to rely on ourselves. God has freed us from the chains of self-sufficiency. To be a Christian is to be dependent upon God in everything. Yet the beast of pragmatism begins to sneak in our lives without our knowing. What does true dependence on God look like? Well lets look at three areas together: our sanctification, our work, and our church.
Dependent on God in Our Sanctification
What does pragmatism look like in the Christian life? Well it turns spiritual things into mechanical things. It takes the things of God and turns them into the things of man. If we are pragmatic in our personal spiritual lives we try to force spiritual growth by attending a conferences, reading a book, listening to a sermon, etc. Though there are nothing wrong with either of those things, in fact they can be powerful tools for spiritual growth. The mistake in our thinking comes when we begin to think that those activities are causative, meaning that they within themselves created growth and maturity. When we begin to adopt a pragmatic attitude in our personal spiritual lives we become content to grow in godliness apart from God’s help, as if there could be such growth!
In our personal spiritual life we are totally and wholly dependent upon God. He is the one who brings growth and conforms us to the image of Christ. We see this so clearly in Philippians 2:12–13 as Paul writes, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure”. Paul commands us to work in our sanctification. We must be disciplined in scripture reading. We must prioritize time in prayer. We might even choose to go to a conference or two. We work out our salvation into our daily lives like kneading yeast into dough. We want our new life in Christ to permeate into all of who we are. Yet, Paul says that in actuality as we are working it is God working in us through our works! In other words, our spiritual activity may seem to be causing our growth, it is actually the power of God working through our activity. God is not only the one justifies us but also sanctifies us. It all comes by his grace through faith.
When we adopt a pragmatism in our spiritual lives it breads within us a pharisaical mindset. In pride we become self-sufficient relying on our own strength and power to cause fruit to grow in our life. Yet it is God who gets all the credit! He is the one who is going to finish what he started in our lives (Phil 1:5). Therefore to try to grow in our personal spiritual lives apart from Christ is not only foolish, it is impossible. Do not let a spiritual pragmatism breed within your spirit a prideful self sufficiency. Be dependent on God.
Dependent on God in Our Work
Pragmatism takes place regularly in our day to day activities. We wake up to a buzzing alarm, put our wobbly feet on the floor, and hit the ground running with an impossible daily to-do list. I believe busyness is killing our spiritual vitality. In our busyness we spend all our energy working towards our own goals. Despite the convenience of modern technology, we seem to keep getting busier and keep getting more stressed. As a result a whole genre of literature has arrived to help us manage more and be more efficient in our work and in our lives.
For many Christians, the paralyzing demands of busyness stifle spiritual growth and spiritual fruitfulness. Rather than relying more on God in our times of busyness, we rely more on our selves. We become more self-sufficient in our productivity system and our tightly scheduled calendars. Rather than spending more time in God’s presence, we spend less and devout the extra time to the office. One of the ways we have seen this is with the extreme lack of prayerlessness in our lives.
John Piper writes, “Prayer is the translation into a thousand different words of a single sentence: ‘Apart from me (Christ) you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).” How right he is. Prayer is an expression of dependence. It fights within the mechanical pragmatic impulse we all have. To many prayer seems to be a waste of time. How can I spend an hour of prayer in the morning when I have so much to do? Yet busyness should not lead us to pray less, rather it should lead us to pray more. The great reformer Martin Luther once said, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.” What is he teaching us in that statement? That prayer is not a waste of time, but prayer makes us more effective. We are dependent in all our lives on the very power of God. We must get on our knees and ask for his help. In our work and in our busyness, we need his power if we hope to be fruitful and truly productive.
Don’t let the pragmatic demands of efficiency keep you from relying on God for everything. Apart from him you can do nothing. Get on your knees and beg for his enabling strength and power.
Dependent on God in the Church
I cannot write about pragmatism and not address the pragmatism that is in the Church. If pragmatism has been harmful to our personal lives, it has been death to many churches. Many churches have placed more confidence in 21st century business practices than they have in the Spirit of God. We find ourselves creating program after program, meeting after meeting, activity after activity in order to fabricate a work of God. We live in a day and age with manipulative alter calls all to just increase baptismal numbers. Under the mantra of being a successful church we bring the ugly beast of pragmatism into the spirit-dependent people of God.
For many churches if the Spirit of God stopped working today, things would continue as usual tomorrow. What shame this is! If anyone should understand their dependence on the power of God’s spirit to save and grow, it should be the people of God. After all, each and everyone of us in Christ have experience the enabling power of God in our salvation. We know that it is only by grace we have been saved. Yet, the pragmatic impulse continues to breed great activity, but little prayer.
If church leaders would only get on their knees quicker before picking up the next book on church trends the Kingdom of God would be better for it. It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is no help at all! (John 6:63) Pragmatism is depending on the flesh rather than depending on the Spirit.
Pragmatism vs the Power of God
Christians are to be a dependent people. We don’t pull ourselves up by our boot straps and make things happen in our lives. We need God. We are poor in Spirit. We are broken. May God put to death all self-sufficiency in our lives and make us wholly dependent on Christ! How miserable it is to receive the Gospel, the power of God for salvation for all who believe, and exchange it for a power of our own making. Confess your dependence upon God this day. Fall on your knees in prayer and ask him to work in your life, in your work, and in your church. Ask, seek, knock. Persist and ask to see more of his glory. Pray to see more of his face and for his work to be evident. Wrestle with him till he blesses you. Those sort of desperate, longing, dependent prayers are just the sort of prayers that God loves to answer. May God get us to the point where we trade in a powerless pragmatism in exchange for His powerful Spirit.