'Manifesting' might be the latest Gen Z craze but the Church has its own version too

(Photo: Unsplash/Zac Durant)

Do you know what 'manifesting' means? It's a new craze in Generation Z – a kind of New Age spirituality that has gone very mainstream.

Similar to the 'law of attraction' and other ideas, it's the belief that by thinking something, you can bring it into being. For example, if you believe yourself to be rich, or in a relationship with a particular person, then it will happen in reality.

On TikTok, a video-based social media platform popular with younger people, the hashtag 'manifestation' has been viewed 10 billion times, a trend that only really started in 2018. Last year between March and July, Google searches for the term rose by 669 per cent, according to The Times newspaper. Many videos give examples of how they think manifesting has worked in their lives, and instruct newcomers on how to do the same.

While manifesting has become very popular, it is not new, dating back to the 19th century, and was popular amongst New Age followers in the 20th. Then, it usually involved a vague belief in a higher power, and certain values and life purposes such as spiritual growth and positive energy. For example, in the 30s, 'Think and Grow Rich' by Napoleon Hill became a bestseller. More recently writers such as Louise Hay have sold many millions of books - her 'You can heal your life' is one of the best-selling non-fiction books of all time. The more recent book 'The Secret' is not far behind, which promotes "obtaining anything you desire" using the "universal Law of Attraction."

Though the New Age movement had a vague belief in God, today this has morphed into just asking 'The Universe', and there is often not any other value system or spirituality suggested, other than getting what you want.

If this all sounds a bit spooky to you, then you might be right. The trend is linked to a boom in overt occult practice, for example '#witchtok' has more than 11 billion views, according to the Financial Times.

Whether influenced by the secular and new age trends or not, there is a similar movement in the church. The idea you can 'name it and claim it' uses scriptures such as Mark 11:24 - "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours" (ESV) - to argue that if we have faith, anything can be ours.

Closely associated with the 'prosperity gospel', many preachers have been criticised for implying that God will make us rich, or give us other material comforts, if we have faith. To be fair, this verse could even be used to justify or give evidence for 'manifesting', if read in isolation.

It could be argued that "Christian" prosperity beliefs are very different to "manifesting". After all, the secular idea of manifestation puts the power in our own minds rather than in God's hands. A believer puts their trust in God to provide, not the 'universe' or their own brain.

However there is a lot more that the Bible says about these ideas, and prayer. That Mark passage is a faith-booster. But other scriptures put clear boundaries around the idea that we can just 'believe and receive' from God. If we are asking for something for our own selfish gain, then Scripture does not sanction this at all.

For example, there are severe warnings about greed and being rich (Matt 6:19-21, Matt 19:16-30, Js 5:1-6). Very clearly, a passage in James 4 tells us that if we don't receive what we pray for, it is due to our motivations being selfish: "You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" (Js 4;2-3, NIV).

There is a deep and rich value system outlined in the Bible that eschews material comfort and selfishness, and seeks mercy, love, joy, goodness and other things of God. Without these morals informing our prayers, 'believing and receiving' can just be a more psychic form of selfishness.

Perhaps it is possible to 'manifest' what we desire. Maybe our minds are more powerful than the scientists currently give them credit for. But it will do us no good if we simply seek to satisfy selfish needs. Even if we try to 'manifest' something that appears to be good, let's say, money for a new car that is needed by a family, who's to say whether it really will be for our ultimate good? How can we know what is really right for us?

To take God out of the equation also takes His ultimate wisdom, love and power out of the equation, and leaves us at the mercy of our poor human judgements. We cannot know what we really need to 'manifest' in our lives. When we seek God for an outcome, we know that He will allow it only if it is for the ultimate good of all concerned, so we can trust and surrender our will to Him. The only 'manifestation' we really need, is the presence of God in our lives.