What a Bargain

This is the next in a series of articles from Psalm 119

Haggling for a better price if you pay cash, or even if you don’t, is one of the more enjoyable aspects of purchasing. In Australia a token gesture to haggling is given by a couple of well known retailers. “Everything is negotiable” or “pay cash and we’ll slash the price” are enticing catch phrases that have helped reap considerable profit for the retailers. Though you might get a lower price, you can be certain that neither retailer is jeopardizing their margins by giving you a hard deal. The same applies in poorer economies. Fox News Travel Advice tells us that it is a “sin” if you “haggle until a chosen trader turns to tears”. However, you can sleep well knowing that this is merely a technique to stop you further eroding their margin. Living in Kenya, we learnt that there are usually multiple price brackets for different customer types:

  • The tourist price: if you pay the ticket, you are probably giving the vendor anywhere from 500-1000% profit.
  • The tourist discount: around half the ticket, although if persistent you might get it a little lower, watch for the tears 🙂 that’s an indication that you’ve hit the mark.
  • The local price: much lower than what a tourist will pay, still provides the vendor with a profitable gain on their merchandise.

    NB: I don’t begrudge them their ingenuity! It’s not like I couldn’t afford the “full” tourist version – it’s fun to haggle anyway 🙂

After being Africa for more than 6 months, speaking the language and being known to the retailers, I know I never paid less than a low tourist discount for anything I bought. The only way I could get a lower price was to stay completely out sight and send in a friend to make the purchase for me, but even then, it was customary to pay a commission to my purchaser 🙂

We had a similar experience in the Chinese community where we live at the moment. When getting prices for removalists, we were hit pretty hard with what the typical commercial carriers were going to charge. Two of the Deacon’s at our new Church, suggested that they contact some movers listed in the local Chinese newspapers. They were charging less than a quarter of the cheaper commercial movers – BUT not for Aussies, only for fellow Chinese residents! (Their words, not mine!) So, we stayed out of sight while a deal with a mover was negotiated via SMS. The movers were quite shocked to see me at the house when they arrived, however soon softened and relaxed when they found out I was the new pastor at a Chinese Church, and agreed to give me the Chinese rates.

When you are not a resident of God’s community of grace, and sometimes even though you are, you probably have found yourself trying to bargain and haggle with God in prayer.

“If you do this for me God, I will _____ (go to Church, give more money, say something nice to the Pastor after his really long sermon etc)”.

Alternately, we try to sacrifice ourselves up front and then expect God to act in obligation to our exorbitant generosity. We pray something like,

Now God I fast twice a week and give 10% of everything I earn … therefore you need to do this for me”.

As though God is in any way indebted to us by our proud, arrogant, infantile, wicked, miniscule attempts to affront his holiness and majesty. Then, when God doesn’t come through with the “goods”, we react as though to punish Him – we abandon our faith, we stop attending Church, stop praying, stop reading our Bible, start attacking and criticising Christians or we plummet into a deep and sometimes unrecoverable spiritual depression. As Christopher Ash points out in ‘Bible Delight’ (p176-8) we don’t focus on the promises God has declared in scripture, instead, we claim to rest in things that God has never said or promised – but rely on sanitised or pious reflections of our own desires. We persuade ourselves that God has promised a job (or a better paid one) or a marriage or a child (or a better behaved one). When it doesn’t happen, we think God has let us down and failed to keep his side of our bargain. Our prayer must be shaped by scripture. We pray, (because we get to, not because we have to, or because it will in-debit God to us), with a longing to experience his grace and, as a result of that grace, be transformed into his likeness with a new desire to please and honour him for his own sake.

I call out to you; save me and I will keep your statutes. Psalm 119:146 (NIV)


One thought on “What a Bargain

  1. “When you are not a resident of God’s community of grace, and sometimes even though you are, you probably have found yourself trying to bargain and haggle with God in prayer.”

    The article is an eye-opener. The tourist example made it come alive!

    Johnson C. Philip

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