In spite of all of these possibilities of coincidental or limited success, and in spite of the effective marketing techniques, spiritual formulas simply don’t work. They don’t work because the Lord resists them. The Scripture is quite clear that the Lord wants His people to draw their hope from their relationship with Him, rather than from their formulas.
When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden, their intent was simply to become wise like God. They were not rebelling and they were not setting themselves against God. Instead, they were seeking a way to better themselves apart from God. They would eat of the fruit and become wise. It was the first formula, if you will.
“Truly, this only I have found: That God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.” Ecclesiastes 7:29 (NKJV)
The schemes which God resists are usually set in the context of the wicked, but it is also clear that God resists the attempts of His own people to manipulate or control Him and, as in the case of Adam and Eve, considers those attempts sinful.
“Woe to the rebellious children,” says the LORD, “Who take counsel, but not of Me, and who devise plans, but not of My Spirit, that they may add sin to sin” Isaiah 30:1 (NKJV)
Why Formulas Don’t Work
Why Formulas Don’t Work
God considers it sin when we “devise plans” to manipulate Him. It is not sin for us to seek good things or to do those things which He counsels, of course, but it is sin when we think that a formula will guarantee certain spiritual results. It is an affront to the Person of God. He is not a machine that can be programmed, nor a slave that can be ordered. He is a Person wise and wonderful beyond our comprehension.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8 - 9 (NKJV)
In order to stop Adam and Eve from reaching out to the Tree of Life and, presumably, attributing that life to their newfound wisdom, God cast them out of the Garden. They would have to learn, through struggle and pain, that their ways were insufficient even to provide for their needs.
“He frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot carry out their plans. He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the counsel of the cunning comes quickly upon them.” Job 5:12 - 13 (NKJV)
It is the plan of God that we live dependent on Him. Our spirituality is a gift from His hand, the result of His love for those who live in relationship with Him. The “good and faithful servant” will not be the one who has applied the most successful formulas for his life. He will be the one who has walked with the Lord in love. We were not designed to live by formulas, but by relationship with Him. So He sets Himself against our formulas. We learn that there must be something more.
I returned and saw under the sun that — the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all. Ecclesiastes 9:11 (NKJV)
The unpredictability of the mind of God may appear as “time and chance” to those who desire formulas, but love is His motivation and wisdom is His tool. If we limit the progress of our lives to that which we can understand and further limit it to that which we can manage by our formulas, our lives will be far less than what God has in mind for us. His ways and His love may be unpredictable, but they will always provide greater results than our own.
It is commonly taught, among those who desire formulas, that we must become righteous or blameless in order to please Him. The Law of the Old Testament appears to motivate us toward righteousness so that we can avoid the wrath of God. But it is obviously not our righteousness that pleases Him.
“But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” Isaiah 64:6 (NKJV)
All our formulas can do is make us look better than we were, or perhaps better than others. It does not please the Lord for us to seek to manipulate Him. Nor does it please Him for us to try to make ourselves righteous.
“Can a man be profitable to God, though he who is wise may be profitable to himself? Is it any pleasure to the Almighty that you are righteous? Or is it gain to Him that you make your ways blameless?” Job 22:2 - 3 (NKJV)
The only righteousness we have comes to us through our relationship with Jesus Christ. It is His and He freely gives it to us. This is what it means to be a Christian. All that we are derives from Who He is. He is good and, in Him, we are good. He is holy and, in Him, we are holy. The progress of our lives, our spiritual growth, comes to us as we walk with Him.
So What Do We Do?
So what do we do when we realize that the formulas don’t work? What is left when we understand that we can’t manipulate our future or the future of our children? What do we have when everything we have tried fails? We have a real and active Person who loves us!
It is the plan of God that His people would live in active relationship with Him. He wants us to know Him and trust Him and love Him. He will take care of the rest. He knows that we love our children and we want the best for them. He knows the fear we face in our lives. He knows, He understands, and He loves us.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV)
Our purpose is to know Him and enjoy Him, to delight in Him. From that will come all the good things of life. He will still be unpredictable, but we will be in wonder of His workings and His love.
Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Psalms 37:4 (NKJV)
It is possible, of course, to take even these relationship concepts and make them into formulas. If I just trust Him enough or delight in Him enough, then God will bless me, someone may reason. But the point of these passages is not to focus on the action but on the Object. It is the Lord in Whom we should trust and delight. Our focus must be on Him and not on our performance.
The formulas cannot save, nor can they create spiritual progress. Spiritual formulas will never make anyone more righteous or more acceptable to God. So set them aside and turn to Jesus. Turn to the One who loves you and has promised to care for you. Learn to walk with Him who has given us all good things.
Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me.” Jeremiah 9:23 - 24 (NKJV)
You have come to the end of yourself. You sit by the wall with no more hope. You have tried it all; the formulas, the seminars, the books, the prescribed solutions. Nothing has worked. There is nothing more to do.
Suddenly a bright light is there in the tunnel. Jesus has come to you in your need. He reaches out His hand and you take it. He says simply, “Walk with Me.”
In His presence you are overwhelmed by His love and kindness. You feel no fear, no shame, and no frustration. All that you ever wanted in life is right there in Him. As you walk you begin to see a light ahead of you. Puzzled, you turn and see the wall behind you. All the evidence of your effort is gone and you realize that you are on the other side of the wall. The goal of your life has been accomplished.
When you turn to Him and ask Him how this is possible, He says, “Don’t you know that I can walk through walls?”___________
David Orrison has been a pastor for over 30 years with a sincere desire to help people know the love and grace of the Lord Jesus. He holds a PhD in Theology from Trinity Seminary. He has worked with pastors and other church leaders who have been discouraged by the expectations and failures of ministry. He has also helped parents, spouses, and young people who have been hurt by the legalistic teaching of what he calls, “performance spirituality.” His website, www.gracefortheheart.org, and blog, http://graceformyheart.wordpress.com, have been sources of encouragement and teaching for many. He is available for speaking engagements as well. He and his wife, Alice, have eight sons and live in Colorado.