Summary: "How can I get God to do what I want?" is the poor question that has led to erroneous concepts of baptism. Baptism is, to the contrary, our signing on to how we can go what God wants.
The problem is that if you don’t ask the right question, you’ll never get the right answer. If you ask the wrong question, you’ll never get the answer you want.
A long time ago I learned that it is the wrong question, definitely the wrong question, to ask, "Are we having dessert tonight?" If I ask, "Are we having dessert tonight?" I hope to hear, ’’Why, yes, of course, would you like yours with chocolate syrup and whipped cream?" But if I ask, "Are we having dessert tonight?” I am more likely to hear, "Have you looked in the mirror lately’? Don’t you think you can stay off the sweets for one night?"
You see, it was the wrong question. I should have asked, "Which are we having tonight, pie or ice cream?" That doesn’t leave any room for an answer I don’t want to hear. The worst that can happen is a brief lecture on not overdoing it, and let’s do one or the other, but not both. If I ask the right question, I have a prayer of getting the right answer. But if I don’t get the question right, the answer is sure to be wrong.
Many of us try to govern our spiritual lives by asking the wrong question. And therefore we get the wrong answer, an answer which has plagued the Christian church for centuries. And yet, I am convinced that if we don’t get this question right, we’ll get a very, very wrong answer.
The question we keep asking, the question which is at the heart of many of the fallacies that still plague us, is the question, "How can I get God to do what I want Him to do for me?" "How can I get God to do what I want Him to do for me?"
That’s where a whole host of us are beginning our spiritual lives, asking, "What can I do to get God on my side? How can I get God to notice me? How can I be sure that what happens to me will be what I want to happen? How can I get God to do what I want Him to do for me?"
Now if you don’t think that’s where we are spiritually, just come with me up to the bookstore and we’ll go over to the shelf labeled "Inspiration" and we’ll read a few titles. You will discover that what sells in the bookstores are books which offer their readers ways to get what they want and to feel spiritual about it, all for one low price. You can read books on how to have a more successful romance through prayer; you can find books that will promise you untold financial rewards if you’ll just follow certain spiritual principles. You can even find books promising weight loss and a more attractive figure if you’ll use some spiritual program.
And if you don’t feel like reading, then just go home and flip on the TV set, watch any one of a half dozen evangelists, and it will be all about achieving personal power, it will be about finding professional success, it will be about getting your sicknesses healed. The whole pitch will be, "Do a little something for God and He will do a whole lot for you."
The trouble with that is that it’s asking the wrong question. The trouble with that is that it has a long and disreputable history. It’s called "magic". "Magic." It’s trying to use "magic". Magic is anything that you do to try to manipulate God. Magic is any practice, any ritual, any habit that you use in order to corner God and make sure you’ve got Him on your side.
Magic is the ugly, unsavory practice of putting yourself at the center of your life and trying to use God so that you get what you want. Magic is what you’re doing when you ask the question, the wrong, wrong question, "How can I get God to do what I want Him to do for me?"
In the ancient world, people sacrificed animals or brought gifts to the altars of their gods, hoping to make the crops grow, thinking they could force their gods to produce wealth, right on schedule. But that’s magic, and it’s the wrong question, because it’s a way of asking, "How can I get God to do what I want?"
In the ancient world, people spoke strange incantations and voiced peculiar formulas, believing that if they said the words just right and performed the ritual just so, they would realize their fondest dreams. Once again, it’s magic! It’s an attempt to push God. It’s an attempt to get God on your side. It’s asking that wrong, wrong question, "How can I get God to do for me what I want to do?"