When We Try to Bargain with God


I once heard the story of a young boy named Billy and the lengths he was willing to go to in order to get a new bicycle. As his seventh birthday drew close, Billy continually pestered his mom with the words, “I want a bike. You need to get me a bike!” But because he had been disobedient in recent days, his mom decided to use his selfish attitude as a teaching moment.

“Billy,” she said, “I can’t believe you are demanding a new bike. You have been acting very poorly recently. I think you should take some time to consider if you really deserve a new bike. In fact, I want you to go to your bedroom and write a letter to God telling Him why you should get a bike, and then let’s talk about this.”

Begrudgingly, Billy went upstairs, sat down at his desk, and began to write: “Dear God, this is Billy. I’ve been really good. Give me a bike.” Upon reflection, Billy saw the untruthfulness of his words so he ripped up the letter and started again: “Dear God, this is Billy. I’ve been pretty good. Give me a bike.”

But he knew deep down that he had not been even pretty good. So, he tore up his letter and tried a different approach: “Dear God, this is Billy. I’ve been really bad, but You should still give me a bike.” Immediately, he knew this letter wouldn’t work either, so he destroyed it just as he had done with the previous two.

Suddenly, Billy got an idea. He jumped up from his chair and ran downstairs through the kitchen. As he passed his mother, he shouted that he was going to the church on the corner for “inspiration.”

Billy ran down the street to the Catholic Church. He entered the front door, hurried down the aisle of the sanctuary, and went up on the altar and grabbed a small statue of Mary. Then, he rushed back home to his house before anyone could discover what happened.

Placing the statue of Mary on his desk in front of him, he wrote, “Dear God, this is Billy. I’ve got Your mother, and You can have her back when You give me a bike!”

It’s a funny story but it makes me wonder about the way we send our prayers, our requests, our petitions heavenward. At one time or another, we have each tried to strike a bargain with God. In times of trial or desperation, we are apt to pray something life, “God, if you give me ______, I promise to do ______.”

You might be thinking right now, I don’t do that. I would never treat God that way! I would argue that we do exactly that more often than we realize. Consider this: how often have you prayed, “God, what is Your will for my life?” That’s probably a fairly common theme to many of your prayers, and while it may appear that there is nothing wrong with the question, a moment of reflection might uncover an uncomfortable truth.

Let me ask you one more question about the types of prayers we put before God. How many times have you asked of your Heavenly Father, “God, what is Your will?” instead of “what is Your will for my life/for this situation/for this tough decision?” In other words, how often have you sought God in order to determine in what ways He desires you to live your life for Him?

In case you’re struggling to see my point, then maybe this famous quote from President Kennedy will help illustrate it better: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” His point was quite simple – don’t spend your life focusing on what you can get, but on what you can give. That advice should certainly be applied to our walk with God.

We shouldn’t focus on what we can get from God, but on how we can live for Him. When we ONLY approach God with the prayer, “What is Your will for my life?” are we not in effect focusing on self over service? If we are not careful, we might come to see that this request is nothing more than another feeble attempt to strike a bargain with God. “I’m here. I’m willing to pray to You, show up to church, have faith in Your plan. Now, here’s what I’m needing from You.”

I too have asked God many times to reveal His will for my life, and there are appropriate times to ask that of Him. However, I’ve come to realize that if I will approach each day with a willingness to live for Him – instead of myself – God will surprise me by the manner and method that He reveals His will for my life.

Today, don’t try to barter with God or approach Him with an attitude of “what can I get out of this.” Instead, offer yourself up to Him, fully and freely. Ask Him, “How can I serve You today with my life?” You’ll soon realize that living in such a way will bring better and more abundant blessings than if you had tried to gain them yourself. I call that a pretty good bargain.


He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8, NIV)

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