The storehouse of merit?

by K.W. Leslie, 18 June 2019

Jesus tells us to stash our wealth in heaven. Actually he said it this way:

Matthew 6.19-21 KWL
19 “Don’t hoard wealth for yourselves on earth,
where moths and corrosion ruin it, where thieves dig it up and steal it.
20 Hoard wealth for yourselves in heaven,
where neither moth nor corrosion ruins, where thieves don’t dig, nor steal:
21 Where’s your wealth? Your mind will be there too.”

If our wealth consists of material possessions—like homes, cars, electronics, jewelry, cash—we waste way too much time stressing about its upkeep and safety. We hoard more, “just in case.” We encourage laws and business practices which let us keep our wealth… and, all too frequently, aren’t charitable with others. The love of money becomes the underlying cause of all sorts of evil. 1Ti 6.10

Thing is, people skip this whole idea of de-prioritizing material wealth, and focus on the idea of treasures in heaven. Which, because humanity believes in karma, isn’t necessarily a cache of wealth waiting for us in New Jerusalem; mansions and streets of gold and a diamond-encrusted Bentley. Instead it’s a giant stash of karmic wealth: All our good deeds mean God owes us a few favors. A few thousand favors. And someday we’ll cash in on them.

Which is why I actually know certain Christians who don’t request things of God. Not because they think he can’t or won’t come through for them: They’re saving up their favors. At some point, they figure, they’re really gonna need something from God, and that’s when they’re gonna call in their chips. “Santa… I mean God, I’ve been such a good little boy. Can I have what’s on the top of my wishlist?”

God’s kingdom doesn’t work like that. Never did. It runs on grace and nothing else. But karma is a very old, very well-ingrained idea in humanity, and sometimes it’s just gonna leak into our dealings with God. It shouldn’t; it paints a very messed-up picture of him. It makes him sound like he runs on merit—like a congressman.

The point of treasure in heaven is not so we have something with which to purchase prayer requests. Your heavenly wealth is meant for you to enjoy—in kingdom come, sure, and to some degree now. But the idea we’re racking up favors for God is ridiculous. What can we give God that he doesn’t already have, that he can’t already create from nothing with a minor thought? What can we dangle in front of him that a billion other Christians won’t already freely give him?

But of course the folks who think of their treasure in heaven as a storehouse of merit, don’t realize how foolish they’re being. Sometimes it’s ’cause they haven’t experienced enough grace in their lives, so they just assume God thinks like they do—and like everyone else. Sometimes they grew up with a lot of bad preaching—the kind which tells them God loves them so much, values them so much, doesn’t wanna live without them, which is why he sent his Son to die for them—they get the warped idea they can hold God hostage by threatening to deprive him of them. Which ain’t love, you know.

Yep, there are many ways human pettiness and selfishness tends to distort our relationship with God. Turning our treasures in heaven into a karmic bank is one of them.

“But isn’t God more inclined to listen to the righteous?”

Yeah, there are various verses in the bible which state God prefers to listen to righteous people than wicked people.

Psalm 34.15-16 KWL
15 The LORD’s eyes turn to righteous people. His ears hear their crying.
16 The LORD’s face turns to evildoers, to wipe out their memory from the land.

Simon Peter quoted that verse. 1Pe 3.12 I should mention various people tend to insert he turns “to” the righteous and “away from” the wicked, and thus get the idea evil drives God away. But verse 16 makes it clear God has no trouble facing off against evil—and vanquishing it.

Psalm 66.18-19 KWL
18 If I look at evil in my mind, my Master doesn’t listen to me.
19 Truly God did listen: He paid attention to my prayer’s voice.
Proverbs 15.29 KWL
The LORD is far away from wicked people. He hears righteous people’s prayer.

Naturally since righteousness is contrasted with wickedness, people are gonna get the idea they’re opposites. And actually they’re not. Righteous people sin too, as David ben Jesse noted in Psalm 66.18: If he’s plotting evil, God’s not listening to those prayers. Note he says if he’s thinking of evil. Not some other, evil guy: Him. King David. Who’s guilty of more than a few evil deeds. But the LORD considered David righteous, because David was bananas for God.

Righteousness, you recall, isn’t based on goodness! It’s based on faith. If you trust God, you’re all right with him. If you don’t, you’re just another self-centered human, same as every other human, and just as likely to be evil as the rest. (And justify it to yourself—“Well I didn’t break any laws,” or whatever you tell yourself to justify yourself—but this doesn’t work on God at all.) And lest you get the wrong idea the folks of the Old Testament defined righteousness differently, no they didn’t:

Genesis 15.6 KWL
Avram believed in the LORD, and to the LORD this was considered rightness.

The apostles kept quoting this verse because it proves being right, rightness, and righteousness have always been defined by faith. Trust God and you’re righteous. Pray to God, and if you trust him, you’re right with him; he’ll hear you. Won’t always say yes, but he’ll absolutely hear you.

So if there even was such a thing as a storehouse of merit, a karmic bank we could tap for favors, why would we even need it? God listens to those who put our faith in him. Not those who put faith in our “treasures in heaven”—that we’ve accumulated so many of them, we can buy God. In fact that’s the kind of warped thinking, the “evil in my mind,” which David said God won’t listen to.

Yep. Ditch all those ideas about karma. It’s not gonna get you anywhere with prayer.

When we come to God with requests, no matter how badly we want him to answer yes, the only way we’re getting what we want is if God chooses to be gracious. And he is gracious. Jesus told us he wants to give his kids good gifts. Mt 7.11, Lk 11.13 The only reason he’s gonna tell us no, is because it won’t be as good a gift as we imagine; we’re asking for the wrong things. We gotta trust that God knows best.

But when he does answer our prayers with yes, it has absolutely nothing to do with how much we deserve those requests—for we really don’t. It’s entirely grace on God’s part. We merit nothing. We earned nothing.

Which in fact means we need to stop asking only for what we think we deserve… and feel free to ask bigger. ’Cause grace.