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“You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above . . .” (John 19:11)

The practice of bartering has been going on for thousands of years. Each of us most likely did this when we were young, sometimes trading lunch items at school. Even today we occasionally engage in swapping things, such as providing childcare for your family if you prepare dinner for mine. In each situation, the offer is successful only if both parties have something the other needs and considers what they are giving to be a fair exchange for what they receive. More often than not, people prefer dickering where there is disagreement over the value of the exchange. Our family once had an older couple as  neighbors. Years ago, when they went to buy a car – the wife haggled over the purchase price until the salesperson agreed to “18,000 and not a cent more.”  When the couple went to pick up their new car, the franchise presented an invoice for $18,000 plus taxes and transfer costs. The wife argued that this was “not the bargain.” Guess who won, as her husband just smiled and shook his head?

Can you imagine being bold enough to bargain with God? When you’re dickering with a merchant, you possess the money and they hold the merchandise. You each have something the other person wants, so you have some bargaining power. But when it comes to God, He holds everything. The good news is that if we try to bargain with God, He is gracious to deal with us right where we are. The story is told that Martin Luther’s father, who worked as a miner, wanted his son to become a lawyer, so Martin studied law. He was almost done with his preparation, when one day at the age of 21, he was caught outside during a violent thunderstorm. In the midst of his fear, Luther cried out to St. Anna, the patron saint of miners, “Save me, Saint Anna, and I shall become a monk!” God spared Luther, and he kept his vow, to the great disappointment of his father and his mother. In our limited understanding of who He is and because He is sovereign over all, God can even use our feeble attempts at bargaining to accomplish a more glorious purpose, as He did with Luther.

In the Old Testament, we can read about Jacob leaving his home on a journey to find a wife from among his people. “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth’” (Genesis 28:20-22).  Later in 1 Samuel, we discover Hannah who has been unable to conceive and bear a child, while her husband’s other wife had many children. “And she made a vow, saying, ‘O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life…’” (1 Samuel 1:11). We come to understand that it is not possible to make deals with God, except perhaps in special cases where deal-making is part of God’s teaching process. Both Jacob and Hannah had lessons to learn along the way, so it appeared that God bargained.

God is not a master who passes along favors to His servants who strike bargains with Him. If one thinks that they can somehow manipulate God into doing things their way, they are deceived. Making promises to God in order to gain favor shouldn’t serve as a basis for our relationship. Rather, we must live our lives according to His will. Remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when He cried out “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Luke 22:42). And the Father said, “No.” That “no” was a turning point replacing the old covenant of works with the new covenant of grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). It made the way for those who follow Jesus to live for all of eternity in God’s holy presence. The blessings we receive will come through that same grace of God because He loves us and not because we talked Him into it by promising to do things we should have been doing all along. While God will sometimes allow us to be in difficult situations so that He can connect with us, the good news is that He is sovereign and gracious. We are simply called to trust and submit to Him . . . absolutely no bargaining needed.

REFLECTION: Recall a time in which you found yourself in a difficult situation and tried to bargain with God. If that worked out favorably, did you consider that the result may have been what God desired for you all along? How does bargaining with God reveal a low image of Him?


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