Our Father’s mercy and generosity toward us has not been what we deserved, but what we desperately needed. Surely, then, those who have received such grace are called upon to deal with others, not on the basis of what they deserve, but what they need.
–Paul Earnhart, Invitation to a Spiritual Revolution, p. 136
If God gave you what you deserved, what would your judgment day look like? If you had to live every day of this life knowing you were going to get exactly what you deserve when you pass into the next life, how would your perspective on living change?
These are the questions that popped into my mind as I read Earnhart’s section on the Golden Rule in his book about the Sermon on the Mount. I also realized that, too many days, I subconsciously work off a different definition of deserve, the one in which I see the world through the rose-colored glasses where my sin does not keep me from thinking I deserve better things: more free time, the latest technological toy, a new purse.
Thankfully, God, in His omnipotence, knows the real difference between what we need and what we deserve. He loves us enough to give us what we need when we ask for it in faith, including our own salvation, and not to condemn us to what we deserve.
When was the last time you asked yourself if you really needed something, or just thought you “deserved” it? How much more often do you tend to think of others in terms of what they deserve instead of what they might need?
I think this distinction between deserve and need is partly what made Christ accepted even among the “lowest denominations” of His society. When Christ told the truth to prostitutes and tax collectors, He did it in such a way as to speak to the sinner’s needs, not to make the person feel small because they had sinned.
If we could master this love of others in such a way as to see them only in light of their needs, not what we think they need but what we would need if we were in their shoes, certainly we would be as close to following the Golden Rule as we are going to get.
In the way of wondrous things, my Bible reading this week also helped me out with the deserve versus need dilemma. In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes:
. . . we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (10:5b). . . . But he who boasts is to boast in the LORD. For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the LORD commends (10: 17-18).
If we see ourselves rightly through eyes that are obedient to Christ, knowing that any good thing we do is through the grace of God and not by anything remarkable of our own accord, then we will do away with the thoughts that make us contemplate what we “deserve” and blind us to what we and others really need.
I have to admit to some bad days this week, but I am happy to report that pulling out my copy of Psalm 143 and reading through it helped me pass through the valley and back up to the mountain. In this Psalm, David is running from very real enemies (his own king wants to kill him). For me, the enemies mentioned in the Psalm are not people, but the anxieties, fears, and “deserving” temptations that plague me on bad days. David begins the Psalm by praising God’s goodness. Then, he cries out his pain to God, followed by remembering all the good works God has done. In studying the Psalm, it strikes me that David’s equation for deliverance runs something like this:
my servitude + His majesty = my deliverance from my enemies!
So, what I need is to love God with my whole heart, first and foremost. I may deserve the anxiety and emotions that are a combined result of my sin and genetics, but what God gives me instead is what I need, His love, as long as I have the faith to open my arms wide and lean.
Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning;
For I trust in You;
Teach me the way in which I should walk;
For to You I lift up my soul.
Deliver me, O Lord, from my enemies;
I take refuge in You.
Teach me to do Your will,
For You are my God;
Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground.
Psalm 143: 8-10