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Calm, confident, childlike

A couple of things clicked for me the last couple of days. It was the intersection of the Old and New Testament, the crossing of connected insight, I hope.

I have the great privilege these days of doing ministry with and alongside Dr. Jim Denison. He is the cofounder and CEO of Denison Ministries and author of The Daily Article. Together, we created A Pastor’s View and hope to do good things with it for pastors and ministers. 

More recently, we launched a podcast called The Denison Forum Podcast, where we seek to equip Christ’s followers to become stronger culture-changing Christians. Check it out if you’re interested. 

Enough for self-promotion!

Transactional religion

Dr. Jim sometimes talks about getting beyond transactional religion. Transactional religion is the idea that we negotiate, navigate, and bargain with God for his favor and blessings. As Jim says, “It’s going to church on Sunday so God will bless you on Monday. It’s praying on Tuesday just so God will bless your business deal on Wednesday.” It’s living faith as a contract between agreeing parties rather than a covenant of commitment anchored in God’s unconditional love. 

Jesus was tempted with transactional faith in the wilderness at the start of his ministry­. See Matthew 4.

Transactional religion is not the true faith of the Bible. It can be hard to discern when our faith has become shallow and transactional. There is a lot of relational transaction in biblical faith. Jesus taught us to “pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1 NIV). In that same passage, he urged us to come to God with bold requests, to bring all our needs to our Father. In other places, Jesus told us to “ask, seek and knock” (Matthew 7:7). Having faith in Christ is about continually humbling ourselves to ask for his help, seeking him with intentional diligence as Jeremiah implored us, ( Jeremiah 29:10–13), and trusting that he is near and eager to open the doors when we knock.

Transformational faith

Transformational faith transcends transactional religion when we stop demanding that God answer and work in our specified way. True faith is when we trust him for whatever answer he chooses to give.

This became clearer for me this way. Like many, I’ve pondered and preached what it means to have a childlike faith that is not childish (Matthew 18:1–5). The late Eugene Peterson helped me through his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. Peterson analyzes Psalm 131. There he comments on our temptation toward selfish ambition, which he calls “the first sin.” Selfish ambition disguises itself as the cousin of biblical, humble, hope-filled aspiration. Then when we don’t get what our selfishness drives us toward, Peterson says we act like helpless, whining babies. 

How true.

The famed Presbyterian points us in the psalm to the childlike, transformational faith Jesus invites us to experience. Psalm 131:2 says, “I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.”

Biblical childlike faith grows past demanding and whining to calm, confident, and consistent hope that God is always watching, always engaged, and always working for our good and his glory. This kind of faith thinks and acts like Job, who said, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). You can read a testimony of this kind of faith in Philip Yancey’s new memoir, Where the Light Fell. It’s a messy thing, but it’s the real thing, I think.

I want that kind of faith that stays close and connected to our heavenly Father without whimpering or murmuring. The kind that is growing, deep, mature. The kind that is joyful, hopeful, and peaceful (content) because I’ve learned to let God be God, to let him lead. 

I want that faith that regularly remembers how reliable he is so I don’t have to be afraid, even when I don’t get what I want or understand what’s going on around me. 

I want that for you too.