Pragmatism vs the Power of God

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.


Do You Want to Be Great?

Everyone longs for greatness. We want to be the best. We want to out perform the competition. We want to make a difference and leave an impact. This universal desire that we all have for greatness seems to be hard wired within us. I think this ambition for greatness is a good thing given to us by God. Yet our sin corrupts and twists this God given desire and turns it into a zealous lust for power. As a result many seek power, position, and prestige in order to dominate other people. In some ways we play this twisted game of survival of the fittest in order to devalue one another. The rat race for power is filled with the cut-your-throat-to-get-ahead mentality. We acquire riches and accolades in order to exalt ourselves above all others. We do this all in the name of deciding that age old question, "Who is the greatest?"

Who is the Greatest?

The disciples of Jesus tended to fight over that exact same question. In fact it seems to be a recurring issue Jesus had to address in his ministry. So many of them in their journey of following Jesus were seeking prestige and power in the Kingdom of God. In the Gospel of Luke, this dispute arises again during the last supper. In the disciples last meal with Jesus before his death, they continued to bicker over who is the greatest. We read in Luke 22:24-27:

“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:24–27, ESV)

As this dispute came up in one of Jesus' most intimate and important lessons, the Lord's Supper, he tries to help his disciples understand what greatness looks like in the kingdom of God. Greatness in the kingdom is fundamentally different from the greatness in the world. Greatness in the world is determined by authority, age, power, money, or accomplishments. Jesus flips the worlds understanding of greatness up side down. Greatness is not determined by power but service.

The answer to the question of "Who is the greatest" is he who serves. Service is the mark of true greatness.

Servant Leaders

If you seek to be great in God's Kingdom then begin to serve. If you have ambition to make an impact for King Jesus then you must sacrifice for the sake of others. Greatness is not determined by position but through serving the least of these. Jesus is instructing his leadership team, the disciples, that as they will lead the church they must not lead as dominate, elite rulers. Rather, the disciples are to identify with the low as they serve all people. Jesus is training them to be servant leaders.

Lead Like Jesus

Jesus tells his disciples that they are to follow his example. Jesus is by default the greatest in the Kingdom of God. He is God. Yet although Jesus is the greatest he leads his people through service. Jesus' words to follow his example could not ring more powerfully when we understand them in the context. Jesus speaks these words to his disciples at the last supper. He had just finished describing how his body would break and his blood would pour out. Jesus is going to establish and lead his church by giving up his life on the cross, so that by his death we might receive forgiveness from our sins and be cleansed from all unrighteousness. The greatest man became the greatest servant. If God himself would stoop to such low levels to serve you and me, we too should live lives of service for one another.

Do You Want to Be Great?

Do you want to be great? Do you want to make an impact in our world? Than follow Jesus' example and serve. Your greatness in the kingdom of God is not determined by the prestige of your profession, the size of your church, or a position you may hold, but it is determined by your dedication and service to one another.

Do You Want to be Great? Be a servant.