He Loves Me!
This devotional is a series of excerpts from Wayne Jacobsen's life changing book, He Loves Me! Download a PDF of this book by clicking the link below.
Day 15: Tyranny of the Favor Line
What is the favor line? It's that invisible line that tells us whether or not we've met enough of someone's expectations to merit their approval. It's impossible to live in this world without recognizing its impact on every area of life.
Our parents had one. We knew what made them proud of us, and what brought their displeasure or even anger. If your parents expectations were fair you could play the favor line, acting especially kind when you wanted something from them, or hiding behind their back what you knew would merit punishment. If your parents expectations were unreasonable, then maybe you grew up without any approval at all.
We found the same favor line when we went to school, though it existed there in a graduated scale. The higher expectations we met, the better grade we received and the greater approval from teachers and parents. It didn't take us long to discover that our friends had favor lines as well to derive the benefits of their friendship. Disappoint them however, and our so-called friends could turn on us in a heartbeat; as we would on them. We found the same line in the work world as well. Those who achieved or exceeded expectations found themselves in the bosses' good graces, with all the perks that favor brought.
We've learned to survive in this world by currying favor where we needed it, so it is only natural to assume that God has a favor line as well. As long as our circumstances are pleasant, or even bearable, we may not think much about God's favor. But, let trouble or disappointment encroach on our quiet existence and we begin to wonder how God feels about us. Does he love me? Have I offended him? Am I doing enough for him to like me? Struggling with those questions brings us right back to the favor line as we look for some way to get back on God's good side.
King David expressed so eloquently how the favor line superimposes itself on our pursuit of God:
"LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue." -Psalm 15:1-3A
He continues with a list of traits that qualify people to come before the Holy God. Other lists in Scripture seem to underline his assertion-the Ten Commandments, the Great Commission, the fruits of the Spirit just to name a few. It is easy to see why people who seriously pursue God end up with a favor line drawn across their lives and why they think they can assess at any moment how God feels about them by whether they are living above or below it.
Bible reading, prayer, church involvement, and helping others seem to put us above the line. Selfish motives or sinful actions push us beneath it. That would seem easy enough, except that we're never sure how much of any of these things actually matter.
I've asked audiences all over the world, "How many of you think that you pray enough? Read the Bible enough? Or, witness enough?" I've never gotten so much as one person to raise a hand to my query. I know what they are thinking, because I've thought it too. How much is enough, after all? If I pray an hour a day, couldn't I as easily do two? If I read two chapters a day, should I be reading four? Do I need to witness once a month, once a week, to every stranger I meet?
In the same way we know in our more genuine moments that we are not entirely free of sin. We may be able to hide it well enough, but thoughts, motives and hidden deeds all expose our ongoing struggle with sin and doubt. Can we ever be sure how much of our failures God is willing to overlook as part of our maturing process?
That's why I call it the tyranny of the favor line. Trying to live under the weight of David's list, or anyone else's, would disqualify everyone of us from God's presence and his favor. If you've tried it you know how hard it is to do everything you think he requires. The only way to feel good about it is when you think you're at least doing more than other believers around you. But you know intrinsically that you'll never be good enough.
This problem is compounded whenever we encounter difficult or painful circumstances. Who doesn't wonder at such times if we're being punished for not being good enough? We joke about it in the most trivial things, such as getting stopped at consecutive stop lights. "Wow, you must not be living right," someone invariably observes.
But it's no joking matter when we suddenly lose a job or face a life-threatening disease. The tyranny of the favor line is unrelenting, never allowing us to be certain about how God feels about us. So we're left to pick through our circumstances: He loves me! He loves me not!