I am so sorry; we do not have (have not done this) _______ today. May I offer (or do) this as a substitute?
The questions echoes and repeats itself on the plane, in restaurants, at the store, and in the workplace. People want everything to work out, everyone to win at their game, and things to go on smoothly. Food substitutes, construction alternatives, and effort versus results are all examples of where we try to make this work. Eggbeaters are the same as eggs without the cholesterol (i.e. better). Hard work and long hours are the equivalent of getting the job done with the right results. Self-help, meditation and yoga, good old discipline, and spiritual religion are all the same; right?
No, substitutes are not the same and alternatives are not equal. The differences are both structural and experiential. The structural premise differs on the central focus; it is within us or without? The experiential focus is similar; is it something I develop through my own efforts with human guidance or does God bring/give it to me through his means? At times the variations are subtle and hidden, however they are always there.
With God the implication are tremendous. We are living with a thirst to know and experience God. People continue to give us alternatives and substitutes, claiming that there will resolve our thirst and fulfill our need to experience God. With all diplomacy, the substitutes and alternatives they offer are just not the same!
There are two problems. The focus is always on putting our thirst and need together. Paul is blunt. “There’s no comparison between that death-dealing sin and this generous, life-giving gift.” (Romans 5.15) The second problem comes with the result. God substitutes always carry their own price. In the end, they will take you and I farther away from God, not closer.
So what do we do?
First, never settle for substitutes and alternatives. Second, always pursue the best! God is working in your life and mine. As you slow down and stop, you will see, hear, and experience God responding.