Does God Make a Difference Part 1: Our Expectations

Does God Make a Difference: A look at how Christians often appear insecure that God will actually workDoes God make a difference in our lives?

Every Friday I like to write a more personal reflection piece on the things I’ve been mulling over. I’ve written about a bunch of different things lately–why teenagers rebel, women getting burnt out from church, why we yell at our kids–and as all of this has been spinning around in my head, sort of like laundry in a washing machine, turning upside down and back and forth, I’ve started to see some common threads.

And one thing that occurred to me is this:

Deep down, we’re supremely scared that God doesn’t make a difference. Deep down, we’re supremely scared that we’re in this alone, and we have to make decisions alone, and all of this rests on our shoulders.

Let’s look at the church example and the teenage rebellion example for a moment to see what I mean.

Our Churches Give off the Message that They are Extremely Insecure

Saying No to Church ActivitiesIn my article on women starting to say “no” to church activities, we had a great discussion in the comments about what sorts of activities really are vital to a church, and what sorts of activities are more like “make work” projects, that we do because churches have always done these things and there really is no way around it. But then I had a few emails that helped me see things in a different light. Jan Cox, an author friend of mine, asked this:

Why is it that we need food at every Bible study? If I go to a Bible study at 7:30 at night or at 11:00 in the morning there’s always the expectation that there will be food. But when I’m at home I eat three meals a day. I don’t eat at 11:00 or 7:30. So why is it that we always have to make and bring food? Shouldn’t the Word of God be enough?

I think that’s an excellent question, and it gets maybe to the heart of the matter. Food is a wonderful thing, and community is often built around sharing a meal. But why do we bring food when food isn’t necessary?

Maybe it’s because we’re trying to make the activity more attractive, because we’re secretly afraid that if there’s not food, and there’s not a “fellowship” time, and there’s not something “fun”, that people won’t come.

It’s almost like an incentive.

Nowhere is this more apparent in the church than in youth groups, which are little microcosms of the wider church. Youth group is set up to attract kids and make them stay by making it FUN. We don’t want to overburden them with Bible studies. We want to give them lots of messages on how God loves them, and not quite so many on holiness. We want to do lots of flashy games! We want high energy, high power, high numbers!

But isn’t this really saying, “we’re afraid that kids won’t show up unless we make every week like a party”? (My 16-year-old just made a tongue-in-cheek video on the 5 Things She Hates about Youth Group, and I think you’d enjoy it, because it gets to this issue. We give a watered down message and a ton of games, and ultimately, is that effective? I know she’d appreciate it if you watched it and SHARED it!)

There’s a very fine balance between creating a great, nurturing community at a church and being so scared that people will leave that you have to make sure that there’s a ton of energy and activity.

We certainly need fun things at church, and we certainly need some food. But I think the wider point is still there: are we throwing these activities and doing these things to try to keep the ones we’ve roped through the doors in the doors, or are we really wanting to grow in Christ? Because sometimes we give the impression that it’s the former. Like the people get through the door, but then it’s our responsibility to make sure we don’t lose any (even though it was God the Father who went out and found the lost sheep). And we seem awfully scared that we’ll lose people if we don’t have the best worship music, the best pews, the right colour carpet, and the right food at coffee time. (Though I love the coffee bars at many churches!)

We Assume Teenagers Will Rebel

Why Do Teenagers Rebel? A 19-year-old explains how it doesn't HAVE to happen!Now let’s turn to the teenage rebellion issue. My 19-year-old’s post from last month on why she didn’t rebel has gone completely viral. It took all of us by surprise, and she’s done radio interviews and been offered internships and all kinds of things since that post came out. It’s kind of ironic, too, because she wrote it in about 15 minutes when she was bored at a university statistics class. So it’s not like we planned it or anything.

But what she set out to argue was this:

Teenagers do not have to rebel. Too many parents treat rebellion as if it’s to be expected, and it’s absolutely not. Many teens won’t rebel, and we shouldn’t expect that they will.

I think that’s a perfectly valid thing to argue. But in the comments many people turned the argument on its head, as if she were arguing this:

If you do these things your kids are guaranteed NOT to rebel.

She wasn’t saying that at all, and I did think that she made it clear. But I’ve noticed a really funny phenomenon on this blog. Whenever I post about how to parent toddlers or how to discipline school-aged children, the comments all revolve around the techniques. But when I post about how to parent teenagers, the comments shift. Suddenly they’re all about, “ah, but you can do all of these things and kids can still turn out badly!” It’s like you’re not allowed to share “best practices” for how to parent teens in case we make people feel guilty.

I just sense that Becca’s first argument is still very much the underlying tone of how we approach parenting teens.

“There are no guarantees. Kids can, and often do, mess up. This has nothing to do with you, though.” Doesn’t this sound like we’re trying to give God an “out”? I believe in you, God, but if it’s not in your plan that my kids stay Christian, that’s okay. It’s not really a prayer of faith, is it?

I do agree that there are no guarantees, but it’s also a matter of emphasis. There are no guarantees that I won’t be hit by a car or get cancer tomorrow, either, but I’m operating on faith that God has me in His perfect plan. And so I don’t worry about those things. If they were to happen, I’d deal with it because God would carry me and He would be with me. But I’m not going to assume the worst right now because that isn’t biblical and it does nothing to help my life.

Yet are many of us walking on default, assuming the worst?

So let me ask you today: are you living out your Christian life as if you have faith that God is in control, knowing that you can hand things over to Him. If something bad happens, He’ll carry you, but you don’t focus on the bad. Do you assume that God will actually make a difference in your life?

Or do you assume that God will only make a difference if we work our hardest and do our best and spin those little legs as much as we can, because ultimately it all rests on us? And so it’s likely we’ll fail. It’s expected we’ll fail. And faith isn’t something we live out. We give lip service to it, but we don’t live it.

God should make a difference. If He doesn’t, what’s the point of all this? But God won’t make a difference until we start living by faith, knowing that He can do His own PR work (we don’t have to). He has the power to draw others to Himself (we don’t have to). He has the power to hold others in the palm of His hand (we don’t have to). He has a perfect plan for us and our loved ones (and we don’t have to worry about it, knowing that if we hit some major bumps in the road, He will then be there for us).

Does God makes a difference? Do you live like He does? If not, what will it take to get you there? Let’s talk in the comments!

Next week I’m going to talk about whether or not God makes a difference in our marriages. I want to explore the fact that in too many cases He doesn’t–and that’s because we’re not letting Him. I think secretly we’re scared that God WON’T make a difference, and so we crowd Him out and ignore what He says. And if you want to watch that video that my daughter did, here it is! (Or you can watch it full size on YouTube).


  1. Yes. Yes! God does make a difference in my marriage! Finishing a week-long discussion on “How to Speak LOVE into your Marriage.” Each idea is connected to a character quality and embossed with a Biblical truth! I wanna be intentional in my marriage. God makes all the difference.

  2. Wow–honestly, just wow on this post. So many thoughts on this! With the passing of my mom three weeks ago today, this is precisely where I am, and it’s a question I think the vast majority of the church in North America is asking. We’ve been more caught up in Christianese and being tip-toeing around sin than being gut-level honest with each other and really trying to minister to and alongside people where they are and what they’re facing (sexual sin being one of those that’s highly neglected).

    But I point the blame at myself. I know from those who have (and are) going through tremendous pain and persecution for Christ that if my faith doesn’t work, it’s because my faith hasn’t been walking. In the end, it’s a question of “What do I really believe about God, especially in the midst of difficult circumstances?”

    • Greg, I’m sorry about your mother. I’m so close to mine; that must have been so tough. I pray that it was in some way a comforting time, too. And I have found that in the worst grief in my life God definitely showed up.

  3. Beautiful. But, oh so hard to do. I know that my biggest anxiety problem is not living by faith, and living in fear that it will all crumble around me. The more I am able to live by faith, the less anxious I feel. And so that is what I am focusing on. I don’t need to get it all right – He can do it! He did, after all, create the world in seven days.

    Also, I like what you say about God can do it all – we don’t need to. Hubby and I went to the movies last week – not something we get to do often, but anyhow, we saw the preview to Noah’s Ark with Russell Crowe, and although I haven’t seen the movie, I just thought to myself, God will get His word out there – even if He has to use Hollywood to do that. All we need to do is live lives of faith. I pray for the grace and the strength to do just that!
    The Baby Mama recently posted…Crossing the Great DivideMy Profile

    • Amen! I’m a bit of an anxious worrier, too. But I have to remember that the more I worry, the more I’m saying that God isn’t working. But oh, it is hard…

  4. We have four grown children who all walk with Jesus. We were told in a Sunday School class that we couldn’t teach about raising teenagers since none of ours rebelled so we won’t be able to relate to most people! Crazy! I want to get marriage advice from someone who has a strong marriage, just as I want to get child raising advice from someone who raised godly children. Ken and I knew our children would grow up to love Jesus. We did everything we could to make this happen and depended upon God’s grace to give us wisdom. I have a difficult time with parents thinking they have nothing to do with how their children turn out. We have a lot to do with it. Will all children with godly parents grow up to love Jesus, no, but I choose to believe God and His promises, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
    Lori Alexander recently posted…Father Daughter Purity DanceMy Profile

    • Hi Lori,

      I totally agree–“We have a lot to do with it.” Obviously we don’t have EVERYTHING to do with it (our children’s free will still plays a part), and God is ultimately in control, not us, but I see so many parents feeling as if they are incidental to how their children turn out, and that makes us be a lot less intentional. It’s just scary!

    • Oh gosh – that’s so NUTS! I mean, I get it that there are no guarantees, no magic formula that promises that if we do A, B, and C our children will always follow the Lord and make good choices. But HELLO I want to have as role models people whose lives and families are bearing good fruit 😀
      Julie recently posted…ChoppedMy Profile

  5. I really enjoyed this post. And I say that YES, God does make a difference in my life. I trust him to make my best good enough and to guide me to put my efforts in the right places. I love your comment about food at church events. My mom and I run a quilting group to teach women in our church to quilt. We started it 2 years ago and it has been very successful. At first we talked about doing lunch at it and decided to let people eat before or after so we could focus on quilting the full 3 hours. When we started we decided that our main goal was to help the women connect with each other, with a secondary goal of teaching how to sew and quilt. Those goals have happened, along with many gospel related discussions during quilting and a couple sisters returned to church after attending our group regularly.

  6. Alchemist says:

    Mostly an aside; but I DO eat at 11:00 and 7:30. I don’t eat at the absurdly early hour of 5-6 pm. I work until seven and eat at 7:30 or 8:00pm. So having a bible study at 7:30 actually is right in the middle of my dinner hour.

    That being said; my church does offer several bible study/ home fellowship group options. Some are potlucks, some are before dinner, some, like mine, has snacks or desert at 7:15. And I really don’t find bringing snacks twice a semester to be too burdensome on me.

    Yes God does make a difference in my life. He has been, and still is, literally the only thing that makes me feel that living maybe could be worth while.

  7. I’m a mom of two elementary kids. I just wanted to leave a comment complimenting your daughter who did the video on 4 things she doesn’t like about youth group. I am so proud of you! Your video was clever yet deep. I can tell you love Jesus. I think you have talent explaining your views in a way teens (and 40 year olds like me!) will listen to. I listened to the whole thing. And I love the French you throw in– I was raised an MK to France so I have this interest with how much French Canadians use. :) God bless you! Keep in the Word!

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  1. […] week, Sheila Wray Gregoire on her blog, To Love, Honour and Vacuum, posted “Does God Make a Difference“.  And looking back over the course of my journey, I can say emphatically that yes, He […]

  2. […] Last week I made some observations that often Christians act like God doesn’t really make a difference in our lives, and everything is ultimately up to us. We just don’t really have faith that God will actually move. […]

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