How Western Christians Succumb to Disappointment with God and to Fear


Steve Bremner of the Fire on Your Head Podcast posted this graphic, and it got me thinking:

Spirit of Fear quotation

I was immediately struck by a one-word answer: disappointment. Christians in the West become disillusioned when we anticipate or expect an outcome and it does not meet expectations. The next time we confront a similar situation, heightened fear results.

The following passage bedeviled me for decades:

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?
—Luke 11:9-12 ESV

I once had someone confess to me a lack of faith in God specifically because of me. How so? Because it made no sense to that person that someone who sought so hard to follow after God could have so many rotten things happen to him at the worst possible times as I did. That person had personally witnessed faithful, God-loving Dan asking God for eggs and getting what he thought were scorpions instead. Why serve a God who treated His most ardent followers that way?

What is behind that thinking? A Western view of entitlement and middle class privilege.

Jesus, a little later in Luke:

And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
—Luke 12:22-34 ESV

The Psalmist adds this:

The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand. I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing.
—Psalms 37:23-26 ESV

That said, when I look through the Scriptures, what I do not see is any promise of God that those who love Him should have a material expectation beyond God providing food and clothing. The Father promises not to let His children starve or go naked, but He makes no promises—for this life at least—that they will inhabit mansions.

Oh, and let’s make sure we look at all of the Luke 11 passage to understand what really matters most:

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
—Luke 11:9-13 ESV

Read that concluding sentence again. What is God most concerned about giving us? His Holy Spirit. Him we can have without limit.

It’s not about stuff. It’s about God giving us more of Himself.

The problem for us in the West is that we’re not satisfied with more of God.

Truth is, we’re not even satisfied with our daily bread. Or with enough clothes to keep us from being naked.

Back in Jesus’ day, and throughout most of human history, if one had food and clothing, that was enough. Because too often, those items could not be assumed. Sieges during war rendered even a crust of bread a luxury, and war was a way of life. Enemies burned fields and stole livestock. Armies laid siege to walled cities for months and years until the people inside broke.

God tells us in His Word that His children should not worry about this. He will provide food and clothing.

For those of us in the West, though, that’s not enough.

Basic needs met? Pishaw! At minimum, we must have what the other guy has. Or more. Because having more than the other guy proves our smarts are better than his. Shows how we’re better all around. Wiser. More successful.

In the case of Western Christians, having more than the basics says that whatever we’re doing religiously, we’re doing it right. We are holier. We are more committed. Our doctrine is the right one. That poor slob of a failure over there? He’s reaping what he sowed. His doctrine was bad. He sinned. He let God (or in all too many cases, the pastor or the local church) down. The loser.

So if we have less, we get disappointed. If we think we’re doing this Christianity thing right and God does not marvelously fill our material coffers, then He is being a grinch. Even if we’re not living up to some “Christian” standard, we’re mad at God anyway for not dishing enough grace to help us keep up with the Joneses.


That disappointment with our perception of God’s provision leads to fear. Fear that we’ve sinned somehow. Fear that our doctrine is wrong. Fear that our entire faith has been in vain. Fear that perhaps God is not there. Fear that if God is not there, then life is all on our shoulders, and it looks like we already screwed up that life or will do so in the future.

Fact is, the myriad fears we see in the Church today have basis in whatever past disappointments with God we let fester. Despite what God may think is best for us, we think He didn’t come through. Ultimately, it’s a complete breakdown in faith.

This is rampant in the American Church.

In some sectors, it’s prosperity gospel teaching that breeds this problem. In other sectors that consider themselves above prosperity gospel teaching and who look down their pious noses at any fool who believes such things, it’s the pride of American Dream living that breeds it.

Envy and pride. Unrestrained, that pair will always lead to disappointment, which leads to fear.

In the end, all you and I can do is be the person God has made us now. We turn to Him and can expect Him to give us food, clothing, and—without measure—His Holy Spirit. Comparing our reality against anyone else’s is wrong. If anything, I think the Bible teaches that material things only serve to weigh us down, to become the very worries that choke the seed we read about in the parable of the sower.

It’s not so much that we ask our Heavenly Father for an egg and He instead gives us a scorpion. It’s that we want a factory filled with eggs and want almost nothing of our Father Himself. And we get disappointed with Him when we see evidence that God might have something different for us. Then we become afraid that we will never get our egg factory and the world will think less of us for that “lack.” Suddenly, everything looks like scorpions.

More of you, Lord, and less of everything else. Let us eat our bread and wear our clothes with glad, thankful hearts, and a deep, profound love for you and for others, while we treat everything else we may receive in this pre-eternity like gravy. For where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.

How the Haves and Have Not Evangelize—Or Don’t


Yesterday, I mentioned the E-word: evangelism.

That’s not a fun word in a lot of American Christian circles. In the secular world, the fear of speaking in front of a crowd of people scares the willies out of more people than anything else. Obviously, How will they hear the name unless we tell them?no one is polling Christians on fear of evangelism or else you’d see 90 percent of believers’ knees knocking together at the mere mention of the word.

In America at least, I see the issue of our lousy attitude toward evangelism breaking down into two camps, the Haves and Have Nots.

If you are a Have, then life treats you well. You applied your nose to the grindstone and not only came away with your nose intact, but a two-car garage full of nice things as well. You’re healthy and so are the rest of the people in your family. As they say, it goes well with you. People point to you and say, “There goes a success.” And you are a success, at least as far as the world goes. You have the material gain, the nice semi-upper-level job, and the 2.3 children in an exclusive private Christian school to prove it. Your money gets you out of every jam you might find yourself in. And some Sundays, when you remember, you thank God for all the stuff He has given you.

If you are a Have Not, you look at those who live in the tony Have planned community down the road and pray that, for your sake, they discover Freecycle—and soon.Your car is ten years old and visited the shop one time for each of its years last year, each visit bringing a different mechanical ailment. You suffer from a vague unease that perhaps you have hidden sin in your life that prevents you from being a Have, yet you can never discover what that sin might be. The bills never seem to stop piling up. When your family talks about its situation, the phrase “make do” comes up a lot. In church on Sunday, you worry that people are thinking your nice church clothes are looking a little threadbare.You sometimes wonder if God plays favorites.

For the Have and the Have Not, the mere mention of evangelism brings on an attack of hives.


In the case of the Have, evangelism forces reckoning. It brings to the surface the reality that you claim to follow an invisible god-man who died and rose from the grave. You talk to this god-man through something called prayer. You eat his body and drink his blood. You use lingo found only within that group of people who do the same. That god-man asks things of you that “normal” people aren’t required to do, like take care of the naked and the prisoner. Evangelism is the means by which you want others to live that same way and follow that same god-man.

When you’re a Have, doing just that is a little unnerving. Because it makes you look weird. It casts a pall over your otherwise normal American life. It reminds you that the things that god-man said make other people uncomfortable, people who can make or break your career, people who can send you back where you came from, and you just don’t want to go back there because it wasn’t even a shadow of the life you enjoy now. Losing your Have-ness would be the same as dying—or worse.

So you leave the evangelism to others.

In the case of the Have Not, evangelism reminds you of failure. How many have come to Jesus because of your direct involvement in their lives? Not many. And why would they? You don’t have much. You’re not the shining example of the American Dream. There’s a vague unease that perhaps God is not blessing you as much as He is blessing others. Your pastor tells you that evangelism is nothing more than telling someone else what Jesus has done for you. Yet by the normal American standard of blessing, you’re not doing that well. Your pagan neighbors are, so why would they want to come down in the world? Why would they want to be a Have Not when they may very well be a Have right now?

When you’re a Have Not, you sometimes feel like an embarrasment to the Kingdom of God, the red-headed stepchild, the third wheel. Your Have-Not-ness disqualifies you from evangelizing because who really wants to be like you? Why would someone want to follow a god who has such a mediocre disciple working for him? Who wants to tell prospective followers that they may come down in their station in life if they follow Jesus? Or that devils may try to attack them more fiercely so that they’ll face discouragement in a way they never have before, discouragement that threatens to send them back to where they were before coming to Jesus but with all of the former things of that life now lost.

So you leave the evangelism to others.

The funny thing about the Haves and Have Nots here in the American Church is that it’s the Have Nots that are the most deluded. Truth is, most everyone in America is a Have, while most of the rest of the world is a Have Not. And oddly enough, the greatest revivals and most effective evangelism are coming out of those places in the world that practically define what it means to be a Have Not. Except that those Have Not Christians in those Have Not countries could not have more joy because they are Haves in the one thing that truly matters, having Jesus.

For the Haves, there is one thing they lack. If they were to read their Bibles, they would know what that one thing is. The problem for the Haves is that they love their Having more than they love their own souls—or the One who can save those very souls. Evangelizing others reminds them of this truth. It’s why they avoid it like the plague.

Times are coming and may already be here when the Haves will find themselves having less. Maybe that will change their attitude toward evangelism. Or maybe it will just make them bitter. That’s hard to predict. Sliding into the Have Nots is a foreign feeling. The Haves won’t know the language or customs of what it means to dwell in the Land of Have Not. I suspect some may find God’s grace in that Land, though.

At least, that’s what I’m praying.

No matter which camp you fall into, it’s time to live differently. The harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few. And if you look closely enough, you can see that today is a shade darker than yesterday.



Church Forward is a new blog I’ve added to my reading list. A few days ago, that site published the results of a study that showed the attitudes of the unchurched to evangelism. All the stats are important (please consider them carefully), but one stood out in particular:

78% of the unchurched agree that “if someone wanted to tell me what he or she believed about Christianity, I would be willing to listen.

That’s an astonishing figure. Part of me wonders if the survey question was understood. Honestly. Because that figure is amazingly high.

Last week I wrote about a subset of people who seem to be completely aspiritual. They may be the missing 22 percent. I suspect that they are the group that is actually growing in number.

If so, then our window of opportunity on that 78 percent is as wide open as it will ever be.

Let’s put this in perspective. In the amount of time it takes to watch an episode of Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, 24, or Lost, 6,319 people worldwide will have died {source}.

The general consensus is that about a third of the world’s population is “Christian,” a loose definition that includes not only the genuinely born again, Exit, stage left...but also cult members who ascribe to deviant forms of Christian belief and people who may mentally assent to Christian morality. In other words, that one-third is quite generous.

Yet even if we assume that loosedefinition, applying the basic truths of mankind’s eternal destiny, of those 6,319 people, 4,212 are doomed to an eternity of torment in the flames of hell. 4,212. Every hour. Every day.

This is not a pain that goes away. No narcotic exists to extinguish that agony once it’s administered.

Leonard Ravenhill, the great British revivalist, put it this way in a true story:

Charlie Peace was a criminal. Laws of God or man curbed him not. Finally the law caught up with him, and he was condemned to death. On the fatal morning in Armley Jail, Leeds, England, he was taken on the death-walk. Before him went the prison chaplain, routinely and sleepily reading some Bible verses. The criminal touched the preacher and asked what he was reading. “The Consolations of Religion,” was the replay. Charlie Peace was shocked at the way he professionally read about hell. Could a man be so unmoved under the very shadow of the scaffold as to lead a fellow-human there and yet, dry-eyed, read of a pit that has no bottom into which this fellow must fall? Could this preacher believe the words that there is an eternal fire that never consumes its victims, and yet slide over the phrase with a tremor? Is a man human at all who can say with no tears, “You will be eternally dying and yet never know the relief that death brings”? All this was too much for Charlie Peace. So he preached. Listen to his on-the-eve-of-hell sermon:

“Sir,” addressing the preacher, “if I believed what you and the church of God say that you believe, even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it, if need be, on hands and knees and think it worthwhile living, just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that!

Hang around the Godblogosphere long enough and you’ll see plenty of fawning posts about the TV shows I mentioned above. Or about some lame movie. Or about some album by some derivative band. You’ll read plenty of talk about stuff that that will burn when the fire comes, but you’ll read next to nothing about what happens to the lost when that same fire comes for them.

If the American Church’s concern for the lost people of the world could be summed up in one phrase, I suspect that phrase would be “Let ’em burn!”

If we cared, we’d live differently. But we don’t really care, do we?

For most of us, the limit of our caring extends to the walls of our home and no further. A few of us may say we care about others beyond those walls, but our caring never gets around to asking another person, “Where do you stand with Jesus?”

I don’t like what our American culture has done to me. In fact, I despise it. Because when I look deep into my own soul, I see a nearly total lack of caring about the eternal state of other people. I may say I care, but I don’t care enough to make the changes needed to my life to ensure I’m living for Jesus. And living for Jesus means that I no longer live for myself.

The power of the American lie casts a spell over us, doesn’t it? That lie takes Christ off the throne and enthrones that pretender, self. It’s the lie of “God wants you happy!” instead of the truth that God wants you obedient to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Now we may say that we’re sold out to Christ, but we aren’t. We lie to ourselves and keep playing the happy card, that selfish, devil-filled mantra of self-fulfillment no matter at whose expense that happiness comes.

Because when we get right down to it, we’re so preoccupied with self-fulfillment that we’re willing to gamble the lives of two out of every three people to ensure it, 4,212 people each hour, so that we can keep on living for whatever pleases us, even if that pleasurable pursuit wracks the heart of God.

Can we imagine having to apologize to each person bound for hell who had the opportunity to hear the Gospel from our lips, but we were too busy caring about what Jack Bauer would do next?

Well, can we?

We should count ourselves lucky if we merit the tiniest cot in the broom closet of the mansion Christ is building in glory.