Exercising faith is pleasing to God. It shows that we believe in Him and what He’s capable of doing, even when we do not see it yet. Faith trusts in the future God-Kingdom and even calls that future into the present. But it’s easy to confuse faith with wishful thinking, especially when we really desire a certain outcome. Faith is grounded in the character and nature of God while wishful thinking is caught up in outcomes and what we want. Along these lines, I will discuss seven reasons why your faith-thinking could be wrong:
Wishful Thinking: I name it; I claim it!
Faith: God names it; I claim it.
Wishful thinking gets half of this equation right in the “I claim it part,” but 50% accuracy is still a solid “F” on the grading scale. We need to focus on what God wants us to claim, not on the temporal rewards that the “prosperity gospel” tells us to claim. The Bible emphasizes that we should claim joy in suffering (James 1:2), peace in tribulation (John 16:33), and faith in a better world to come (Hebrews 11:16). He also wants us to claim God’s character in our lives through the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22) and not to store up treasures where “moths and rust destroy” (Matthew 6:19).
Wishful Thinking: I trust in my “faith” and my desired outcome.
Faith: I trust in a Person (our great God), regardless of the outcome.
Most of us don’t have the special gift of healing, or we’re still developing it. Since faith is about knowing God and trusting Him, I think it’s more correct to pray “Lord, I pray for this person’s healing” and leave the outcome to God. This mindset is preferable to “Lord, I know you want to heal this person right here, right now.” We should definitely pray bold prayers in faith. However, a sure sign that such prayers have turned into wishful thinking is when someone’s relationship with God gets crushed because God doesn’t produce a desired outcome. Meanwhile, if you have the certainty of an Apostle Paul and can jump on people and raise them back to life without even asking God, then go for it (Acts 20:10).
Wishful Thinking: Sees life as a playground
Faith: Sees life as a battleground
Wishful thinking focuses on being happy and being comfortable in this life. If our goal is happiness, we should heed the words of Dallas Willard, who said that such people are already on the road to addiction. I agree with Mr. Willard. The Bible never promises happiness, but it does promise joy in trials and ensures us that God will be with us through them all. The Christian life is not for the timid. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray for God’s kingdom to come. The more we accept life as a battleground, the more it shows our need for Christ to change it and give us the faith we need to endure it. In the cartoon show, Futurama, there is a robot named Hedonsim-Bot who is always eating grapes off of his belly and whose only goal is pleasure and decadence. Don’t be like Hedonsim-Bot.
Wishful Thinking: God as a negotiator
Faith: God as a giver
Wishful thinking encourages people to barter with God on the basis of merit and entitlement while faith sees every blessing as a gift. Wishful thinkers see themselves as deserving of marriage, finances, opportunities, good health, etc., because of their own “upstanding and stellar” spiritual life. On the other hand, faith-thinkers abound in thanksgiving because their sonship (or “daughtership”) is already secure in Christ, and God gives to them on His accord. People of faith always remember the horrible depravity from which Christ has already saved them and still trust Him even if they don’t receive all of their desired wishes this side of heaven.
Wishful Thinking: God as a genie, ready to do my will
Faith: God as a father; I’m ready to do His will.
I often play a game with God where I ask for an amazing parking spot. I pray this wholeheartedly, not because I believe God’s divine will in the universe is to give me a spot right in front of the store, but because I think God has a huge sense of humor, likes to play with his children, and answers ridiculous prayers. But if this attitude it taken too far, it turns into wishful thinking, and we then view God as some sort of cosmic genie. If we have this view, we see God as being ready and willing to do our will at any moment, instead of our being ready and willing to do His will at any moment.
Wishful Thinking: Ananias and Sapphira
Faith: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
Ananias and Sapphira hoped they could worship God and lie to the Holy Spirit at the same time. They were wrong, and they dropped dead instead. They became the epitome of wishful thinkers. They worried about “keeping some for themselves” and didn’t have the faith to be honest. Wishful thinkers often want to compromise—to have the best of both worlds—and frequently use words like “balance,” “moderation,” and “middle ground.” In reality, faith says, “Regardless of the cost, I will not worship any idols.” Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we should say, “But even if he [God] does not [save us]…we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:18).
Wishful Thinking: Salvation is a noun.
Faith: Salvation is a noun, then a verb.
We are not just saved from something; we are saved to something. There is no doubt we are saved by God’s grace through no work of our own, but wishful thinking says that our religion stops at receiving a “get-out-of-jail-free-card.” However, James includes “looking after orphans and widows” as true religion (1:27), and like Timothy, we are commanded to “train…to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:8). Both of these activities require effort. This is not surprising since the Greek word used for “training” is “gymnaze,” from which we get the word “gym.” Do you want a “six-pack” of salvation? If you do, then sign-up for a God-sized gym membership and train to be like Christ and love others as He would.