FAITH (strong, confident belief in God)

What does faith look like? Over the years I have found that faith is built at the crossroads of doubt and fear.

My wife and I spent three and a half years as missionaries in South Africa. During the first six months we were part of a Mission Development Team located on a primitive base. We left sunny southern California at the onset of warm summer and the next day arrived in Pretoria, greeted by the southern hemisphere’s starting of cold winter. The base amenities’ consisted of cold showers, poorly prepared food, cockroaches and no heat in any rooms. Everyday everyone got up when it is dark and we sat collectively in a freezing room wrapped in blankets while one of us led devotions. Then we each went back to our rooms to spend another hour in personal devotions; all before having coffee. Two months after arriving, I was standing early one bitterly cold morning with a hot bowl of oatmeal. Icy blasts of wind were blowing through the room like a sieve. My hands were wrapped around the bowl and I had my head over it to catch the hot steam. There just was not enough heat. I remember distinctly questioning myself “What on earth I was doing here?” This was not my picture of serving the Lord. This is not what I had in mind coming to South Africa. “Lord, did I make a mistake?” That was the first time I really started to examine my faith.

On any day in the year, somewhere in the world there is tragedy. The most common question asked is “Where is God?” People from assorted faiths were asking this question last year when 200,000 lives were extinguished in several minutes from a tidal wave and when an entire village of men, women and children were wiped off the face of the earth in less than a minute by a mudslide. My wife and I struggled with the same question two years ago when within seven months of being diagnosed with cancer, our oldest daughter who was an ardent Christ-follower, was dead. Where was God?

It is easy to say that I am going to step out in faith and trust God. It is not so easy to have my faith stretched. Walking in faith means that maybe I am going to be asked to do things outside of my comfort zone. Living in another culture means that I may have to worship with other Christians in ways that may be uncomfortable, or work with other nationalities who do not share my ways work should be accomplished or eating graciously food that is very different from what I like or expect, or doing ministry that seems meaningless in order to reach a people who show no appreciation.

I learned quickly the “knots” of faith: faith does not just drop out of the sky; faith does not just happen like magic; faith is not a result of my effort to believe.

It took more time to learn the “mean’s” of faith: faith means experiencing God under difficult times; faith means learning to go where you have never been before; faith means trusting God for the things that you cannot see, much less understand; faith means trusting God’s intentions [Is He always for me or is He out to get something from me?] and finally faith means that I believe that God is capable of producing results from things I cannot see.

It is easy to say “I trust You God” when things look good. But when I get into heart-racing situations those words can melt like butter. I think that faith may be one of the greatest human achievements possible. The test of my faith comes when I have lost control of the situation and am powerless to do anything.

The test of your faith will be when you encounter something beyond your ability to control. Will you suddenly have “spiritual forgetfulness”? Will you lose sight of what God has done for you in the past? Faith is really nothing more than a practice of choosing to trust God at the crossroads of doubt and fear.

It is all about our heart.

It is all about the heart. Solomon comments that “A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.” [Proverbs 15:13 ESV] A heart restored is a heart that can experience peace. A glad heart is a choice. God is as in Christ given us what we need to be His icon in the world. We are image bearers of the Creator Sovereign King. There is no magic in living the Christian life. There is no magic in walking with God. There are only two choices for or against God. We either choose to trust Him or to reject Him.

Think about it. If we refuse to trust God [Usually we say that it’s too hard.] we are choosing to reject Him. All our struggles and angst is caused by our moment by moment choices. It’s not rocket science. The same choice that we made at our conversion is the same type of choice we make in choosing to trust or reject God in each circumstance of our life. What makes life hard is trying to go it alone. Buddy Greene in one of his songs has this line: “Faith is not counting on me.” Faith always requires a choice. People say “I can’t have faith because I have too much doubt.” Guess what! Faith is not faith without the possibility of doubt. Without doubt, without something opposing faith, saying we believe God really amounts to nothing more than a nice platitude of words; is nothing but God talk.

When life comes crashing in on us and we are choosing life with God, we will have a cheerful face. It is the result of trusting God that His way is the perfect way. The cheerful face is a outward sign of an inward sense of peace that God promises to those who continually choose to trust him when life is hard. To quote Tom Hanks in the movie A League of Their Own:

Jimmy Dugan: … Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up, you can’t deny that.

Dottie Hinson: It just got too hard.

Jimmy Dugan: It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.

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It is the same with walking with God in faith. If God made life easy we would have no reason to trust Him. If the Christian life was easy, everyone would be following hard after God.

One final thought. Have you considered the implication of saying “I believe God.” What are we really saying?  We are saying that we trust in, rely on and adhere to all that God does in our lives. We are saying that we are trusting God that he knows best even when it seems counterintuitive. We are saying by our actions that we are relying on his wisdom is life unfolds and not trying to countermand his purposes for us. And finally by saying we believe God we are moving closer to God in the midst of trial and not further away. We bring much sorrow into our lives after by not allowing God to work with us. When we try to go it alone we end up with crushed spirits. Life can be more than we can bear. Trust Him today and He will give you a ‘glad heart makes a cheerful face.’

Things are not what they seem … Part Two

“Seek first the kingdom of God  …” [Matthew 6:33 ESV]

Every kingdom, every nation, has it enemies. Because of that, every kingdom and nation has a military component. When Jesus talks about His kingdom, He makes it clear that it is different from earthly kingdom in policy and rule but alike in that it has enemies. If you are a follower of the Lord Jesus, you have an enemy who is opposed to Christ and His followers. Living in unawareness to this is dangerous.

Listen to how John Eldredge describes a Christian’s ignorance to this fact: “To live in ignorance of spiritual warfare is the most naïve and dangerous thing a person can do. It’s like skipping through the worse part of town late at night, waving your wallet above your head. It’s like walking into an al-Qaida training camp, wearing an I love the USA t-shirt. It’s like swimming with great sharks, dressed as a wounded sea lion and smeared with blood.” (Wake the Dead, p. 152). If you are a follower of the Lord Jesus then you are a citizen of His kingdom. If you fail to understand the uniqueness of His kingdom authority and the opposition to the reign of Christ, then you are making one of the most dangerous and critical mistakes a Christian can make.

We are by nature opposed to rule over us. As a follower of the Lord Jesus, He is the ruler of His kingdom. He calls His citizens to make His kingdom a priority. We are called to “seek first” the kingdom of God. The New Living Translation says, “Make the kingdom of God your primary concern.” In our modern world, where everything seems to be a priority and instant results are expected norm, we tend to read “Seek first the kingdom of God …” as a reference to something time-based. I know I did for a long time. But Jesus is emphasizing something different. The word “first” is not a reference to time but quality. “Jesus is not teaching that we should seek the kingdom first and then other things, but that there should be an exclusive orientation to the divine kingdom and righteousness.” (Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, p.966).

If Jesus were pushing for a time-based agenda, then He would speak of pursuing His kingdom as a first of several stops on our journey. Jesus and nothing else is sufficient to equip us for His kingdom. We have to be willing to trust the Ruler of the kingdom to which we belong. We have to be willing to aim at allowing God to reign in our hearts. Only in this way do we discover that we have access to divine provision to meet the needs that often cause us to worry. God is erecting a kingdom in this fallen world. Do you see the implications. Do you hear what Jesus wants today?