The Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther (1483-1546) was born the second son of Hans and Magarete Luther. Martin's father was a miner who wanted his son to enter a profession that had more security. It was decided that Martin would study law. He was almost done with his studies, when one day in 1505, at the age of 21, he was caught outside in the midst of a violent thunderstorm. In the midst of his fear, Luther cried out to St. Anna, the patron saint of miners, "Save me, Saint Anna, and I shall become a monk!"
Luther kept his vow and not too many days later, to the great disappointment of his father and his mother, he entered the Augustinian monastery in the town of Erfurt. Many historians have argued that Luther was already leaning in that direction as a result of his studies, and that the thunderstorm experience only gave certainty to his desires. Nevertheless, in the midst of an intense moment, Luther made a bargain with St. Anna and by extension, God himself.
Many people have tried to bargain with God, most of the time in quite difficult situations. I knew a philosophy professor who was a fighter pilot in World War II, who promised God in the midst of an intense dogfight that if God saw him through the war, he would devote his life to the study of religion and philosophy. He kept his promise.
Is it OK to bargain with God? I do not mean asking God for something; we do that all the time in prayer. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus asked his Heavenly Father to take the cup he was about to drink from him, but he did not offer to exchange something in return. We do, however ask God to bless us. Is it too much of a sacrilegious stretch to ask for something in return for our commitment? God if you do this for me, I will do that for you?
Of course, it is true that some people commit their lives to Jesus Christ after God has done something dramatic in their lives, but that was not something they bargained for ahead of time. It was a response to something they had not asked for in return for something else before God acted on their behalf.
Let me suggest that it is never OK to bargain with God, because in bargaining with God we get to set the parameters of the deal, not the Almighty. When one looks in the Bible at the covenants God makes with his people, it is God who sets the terms of the covenants and they are non-negotiable. God says, "This is what I will do for you; here is what you will do." There is no bargaining here. What God has promised is not in doubt and what we are to do is not in doubt; whether or not we do it is another matter, but there is no bargaining-- only God's promises and stipulations, and our obedience.
On many Sunday mornings in worship, I will utter the following in prayer, "Lord we have come here to worship you, for you alone are worthy of our praise. We ask that as we worship, you will offer to each one of us gathered here the word of help we need for this day." This is not bargaining language. I am not saying to God, "God if you give us your word of assistance, we will worship you." No! It is, "God we will worship you in this place whether we hear a word from you or not, but we are asking for that word all the same."
Martin Luther kept the word of the bargain he made, and God did great things through him. God wants to do great things through each and every one of us, but none of that is up for negotiation. God calls, we respond, and we ask God to establish the work of our hands (Psalm 90:17).