A podcast listener recently asked:

“Dan, You mentioned Wattles’ book, The Science of Getting Rich.  I have heard strong negative reaction to such books (Think and Grow Rich, specifically) among believers.  (And my wife is among them, unfortunately.)  What is your response to Christians who are antagonistic towards those books?  How can I persuade my wife to consider their message?”

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The question is how much initiative do we take in our own lives as opposed to just letting God direct our every move.  Now personally, I’ve never seen God show up at the bank to make my mortgage payment or to pay the lawn guys for mowing my grass.  Just this morning I was driving Joanne’s car and noticed it was low on gas.  It was raining like crazy – I pulled into the gas station – man, I would have loved it if God just showed up and pumped gas in for me.  But no, like always, I had to get out in the rain, pump the gas myself and pull money out of my pocket to pay for it.

Do I think then that we’re just all on our own – certainly not?  How then does God help or equip us.  Last Christmas we had a private concert here with Ted Yoder – the 2010 National Hammered Dulcimer Champion.  Ted told me that in the early years people always told him he was so gifted, and he often wondered why God hadn’t made him successful.  But then he discovered being “gifted” means there was the seed of a talent – and that seed needed to be nurtured by hours and hours of practice, asking for opportunities to play, scraping enough money together to produce that first album and developing that seed into a national championship.  Seeds of any kind typically require fertilizer, water and hard work before they grow into a profitable and appealing plant.

Have you ever noticed that even if God allows you to have a dream – you’re expected to work to make it happen?  If you’re chosen for the football team at your school – then you have to practice, to work out hard, day after day – to keep your place.  If you’re accepted into a prestigious college – then you have to study to keep your grades up or that college will ask you to leave.  It seems that even when dreams are coming true – God requires our part in the process.

There is a spiritual life lesson for all of us to gain from seeing what happened in Ted Yoder’s success.   Yes, we can have dreams – yes, those dreams may come into view – but it requires a clear plan of action on our part.  It requires imagination.  It requires desire, hard work, self-discipline and faith.

The life I have today was not merely God’s gift to Joanne and me.  What we have and are is the result of God’s creation having been shaped and molded by human intelligence and hard work.  The ancient Jewish church had a prayer that they would recite at Passover that describes how this works:

“Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation.
Through your goodness we have this bread to offer,
which earth has given and human hands have made.
It will become for us the bread of life.”

That prayer reveals a profound spiritual principle:  God’s gifts are raw materials, not finished products.  Think about the most revered sacrament in the church – Holy Communion.  Does God give us bread and wine?  Where can you find those in nature?  You can’t.   God makes wheat, He doesn’t make bread.  He makes grapes – not wine.  But when we take the raw materials God gives us, we can add our work and give them back to him as an offering.

And I remember reading in the most popular “self-help” book available:  “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” ( 2 Thes. 3:10)

This is a picture of the spiritual life for each of us.  Every one of you has special gifts – singing, writing, gardening, art, computer skills, selling abilities, teaching others, encouraging others – but whatever our gift is – it’s a raw product.  It has limited value until we apply the discipline necessary to make it useful to ourselves and others.

We get nothing but rough materials – life doesn’t hand us the finished product.  Life may even bring us obstacles or heartache along the way.  But ultimately, our lives are the bread that we prepare.  Our lives are what those around us see as the result of what we’ve done with those raw materials.

So the issue is balance – is it all us, NO.  Is it all God, NO.  We develop the raw products of what God has given us.  The debate about books like The Science of Getting Rich, orThink and Grow Rich comes from extreme edges of the faith community - where personal responsibility is pushed aside. 

I recently read a couple books by Franciscan priest Richard Rohr.  He comments on how to joyfully surrender ourselves to God, and how to pray:  “Asking for something from God does not mean talking God into it; it means an awakening of the gift within ourselves.”