Surefooted Faith

CC BY-NC, Mitch, Flickr

CC BY-NC, Mitch, Flickr

I grew up in the very last days of kids playing outdoors—remember that? My brother and I had terrific fun. We were rambunctious boys. We played throughout the neighborhood, up and down the street, in the front and back yards, and even on top of the house when we could get away with it. Every day we looked forward to getting out of school and playing.

We loved hanging out in a large maple tree in our backyard. We climbed that tree and out on its limbs with the ease of climbing into bed. It amazes me that we were so undaunted and never broke a bone. My grandmother’s home provided just as much fun. Her house sat right beside a shallow creek that ran beneath and perpendicular to her street through a large, dark tunnel.

Since the street was about 20 feet above the creek bed, the steep hillside and grassy adjacent lot added to our fun. Of course, that was never enough for us. We would also play on the incline directly above the tunnel, a fall from which would have landed us on the concrete streambed ten feet below. We were lucky that never happened.

The Trusting Heart of a Child

I’m sure you have similar stories. When I reflect on those times, I think about how risk-taking and trusting of ourselves we were, caution always thrown to the wind, never banking on a mishap, but always certain of the fun.

Our spiritual journey should be similar.

Jesus exhorts us to be like children at heart, although he usually refers to their humility and teachability. But a trusting and adventuresome childlike nature fittingly describes the way we should trust God, too—like a kid bounding through trees and swinging from the vines!

Say, did you unreservedly trust your parents as a child? Even if they sometimes forgot their promise or extenuating circumstances prevented it, you probably considered their word as good as done. Or maybe it was your big brother or sister’s promise that a bully would never harm you. The taunting suddenly became less fearsome.

Take God at His Word

In the army of the Lord, we march now with Christ’s victory spreading it wherever we go. But that present reality is something we will know and experience only by taking God at his word. Otherwise, we’ll live wishing to…play in the trees but too fearful of falling, killing our own joy. Yet his promises abide.

Take God at his word. Trusting him is an adventure.

I’ll end with a funny family story. Years ago we were together at our family home lounging and talking when someone heard the commode running. I asked my little niece to go and shake the toilet. We resumed chatting but then, after some minutes, wondered where she was. I found her down on her knees hugging the toilet bowl. She looked up so innocently and said, “It won’t shake.”

I get a kick out that every time! May we all like children possess trusting hearts and never second-guess God or the journey where he has us, for hesitation causes error. Instead, let us rest in the assurance that despite hard times along the way, this is far more an enjoyable adventure.

Hail Mary, Full of Grace

CC BY-NC, sofi01, Flickr

CC BY-NC, sofi01, Flickr

What endears most of us to Mary is her acceptance of the will of God—“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). Hers really is a hallmark example of faith in God’s promise.

What’s peculiar to me, however, is how the scripture seems to commend Mary and her faith. If you’ll recall, after Gabriel leaves her, she packs up and makes haste to see Elizabeth, whose husband, Zechariah, Gabriel had already visited. Elizabeth herself was now six-months pregnant. After hearing Mary’s news, she exclaims, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (v. 45). Now that’s good.

I Believe!

I love the implications. Elizabeth’s words have some real meaning in them. The odd thing about her life at this moment is that back home Zechariah communicates with her by writing. Did you forget that? Gabriel had struck him mute for disbelieving the promise of God.

Should I ever encounter the angel of God, he’ll have no trouble with me believing!

I wonder how many times Zechariah repented for his disbelief; did Elizabeth ever ridicule him—the priest—for being audacious…with an angel, after all! “Hon, let me get this right: you were scared silly by this messenger, and then you doubted him!” “(Scribble)” Fiction doesn’t get any better than this.

Now can you see why Elizabeth’s words are interesting? And what about Mary? She is newly pregnant and spends the first three months of her pregnancy in Judea with Elizabeth until her ninth. Did Mary leave Nazareth to avoid questions and her community’s disdain? Did God’s holy child become a burden for her to bear once she returned and everyone could infer a possible reason for her absence?

The Light of Promise

One of my favorite preachers, the late Southern Baptist pastor Adrian Rogers, had a good saying he often used: “Don’t doubt in the dark what God has shown you in the light.” Now an angel radiating the glory of God is certainly enough reason to trust and never doubt again, for most of us at least. But circumstance has a way of making us second-guess our faith.

We all know what it’s like to receive the promise of God and, in that moment, feel like we can trust him for anything. Standing in the light of promise gives us a seeming invincibility to doubt, for the promise is as good as possessed. Then, the clouds close and shut out the light. We never knew that daytime could literally turn black as night.

I don’t imagine Mary’s pregnancy and the next few years of her life being the easiest. We cannot know. Sadly, I’m a little more persuaded they were difficult because the devoutest folk can be mean or dispiriting and given to chatter. And how do you convince someone that your child is the long-awaited Messiah? That YHWH is his father, not Joseph, your unwed husband. Maybe strange occurrences swayed a few, but carrying Jesus probably cost Mary some grief.

I firmly believe “Be it unto me” remained her attitude toward God, but it couldn’t have been easy. And before you doubt me on this, going to the cross wasn’t easy for Jesus, although he too was resigned to the will of God.

But Paul calls him the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Cor. 1:3-4); and I’m sure he allowed the clouds to part from time-to-time to let Mary know…to reassure us that his promise abides. We must know that the darkness is not to be feared and trust that the clouds, although stormy and destructive at times, won’t kill us and cannot possibly extinguish the light of promise.

The Diagnosis

Paul writes, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead…yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith…being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (1 Cor. 4:18-21; cf. v. 17).

I look at this verse and see an X-ray of Zechariah and Mary’s conditions. Zechariah doubts God by limiting him to the impotence of his body; but Mary trusts God by telling him, “You have the power to give life where there is none.”

We serve a God whose promises for us are enduring. He wants you and me to simply accept them as true and trust him. You may be in a dark period now hoping for the clouds to part for once; know that the promise still shines. Despite the pain, you will possess everything God has promised you.

“Thanks” Series—Guest Post by Mel Wild

CC BY-NC, alkimista85, Flickr

CC BY-NC, alkimista85, Flickr

This post is the fifth and final one in this week’s “Thanks” series that features quotes on thankfulness given by notable Christians. Mel Wild, writer of In My Father’s House, reflects on the following quote by American pastor A.W. Tozer.

“Perhaps it takes a purer faith to praise God for unrealized blessings than for those we once enjoyed or those we enjoy now.”

A.W. Tozer is hitting on something profound here: What should faith really look like in our lives? What determines our thankfulness to God? The implication is we generally prefer to live by a substandard faith—according to what we can see, hear, touch, taste, or feel in our current experience—and praise God only for realized blessings.

But if our faith is what is already realized tangibly, is it really faith anymore?

True faith simply believes what God says about things, even when it seems untrue or contradicts our current experience. It’s not a blind faith either; instead, it’s aligning our thoughts with the concrete reality of what God believes. This requires trust in the One who is doing the promising.

God seems to think that all of his promises to us are “yes” and “amen” (2 Cor. 1:20), whether we’ve realized these blessings or not.

The Eyes of Faith

Purer faith is seeing things through heaven’s eyes rather than from the ground view of our circumstances. This is why Paul is always reminding us to set our minds on “things above” where our real selves reside—with Christ seated in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1-3). True praise that really pleases God is based in this kind of faith (Heb.11:6); in fact, there really is no other kind.

We tend to default to our earthbound thinking, which is subject to all kinds of not-so-good things. In our spiritual ignorance, we erroneously call that the real world. But if we’re going to let the tail wag the dog on faith, so to speak, putting our experience before believing God’s promises, then we will never live a consistently thankful life, let alone a faith-filled one. It will be a life driven by circumstantial winds and waves, possibly ending up shipwrecked on the rocks of what we have interpreted to be unfortunate happenstance.

Receiving God’s Promises

Here are some points that will help us stay in faith for those unrealized promises.

  • First, consider that believing always precedes receiving. New territory in the Spirit must be accessed by faith. There is no other way to grow into areas we currently have no grid for. The forward motion our life needs is propelled by our faith.
  • Second, remember that whatever we focus on gets bigger. We all focus on something, good or bad. So where is your focus this thanks-giving season? Are you focusing on God’s goodness or your experience?
  • Third, God’s timing is oftentimes not our timing. So always remember that “he who has begun a good work in you is faithful to complete it” (Ph. 1:6).
  • Fourth, ask yourself if your unmet expectations are God’s expectations. Realign your thoughts with his thoughts and lay all your burdens on him. Feel his smile and open your heart to the warm embrace of the Father’s heart.
  • Finally, remember that a thankful heart is a joyful heart at rest in God, content wherever it may find itself (Ph. 4:11). It’s always time to praise God for his goodness. Don’t let the enemy dis-appoint you from your fruit-bearing destiny as a co-heir with Christ. Look up! You are seated with him far above all the things that weigh you down. You’re an eagle, not a turkey!

Let’s determine this Thanksgiving season that we’re going to believe God and cultivate a lifestyle of faith with gratitude for all that God has done and is going to do, even if he decides to do it in a way we don’t expect. Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Read more by Mel on his blog In My Father’s House.

“Thanks” Series—Guest Post by Stephen Chan

CC BY NC-SA, C Jill Reed, Foter

CC BY-SA, C Jill Reed, Foter

This post is the first in this week’s “Thanks” series that features quotes on thankfulness given by notable Christians. Stephen Chan, writer of Faith Comes From Hearing, reflects on the following quote by German theologian Meister Eckhart.

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

There is a lot that can be said about prayer. The Bible encourages us to “never stop praying” (1 Thess. 5:17). Yet if we know the heart of God and trust that his plan for us is good (Jer. 29:11), it can be tempting to ask why we need to pray at all. Jesus himself said, “…for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:8).

Perhaps all we need to say to God is “thank you”—for what he has done and in anticipation of what he will do. Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” Is it really enough?

Sincere Thanks

Saying “thank you” is not an act to be taken lightly; too often we toss these words around when we don’t mean them.

  • Thanksgiving should be sincere. If gratitude has to be compelled, it ceases to be sincere and takes on an opposite meaning. God never insisted we thank him—in the same way he never forces us to love him. He loves us and blesses us with or without our reciprocation, although our love and praise is what he enjoys and desires. Jesus asked of the lepers, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18). Clearly, we can receive blessings without showing appreciation.
  • Thanksgiving should glorify God, not us. Sometimes our expressions of thanks are thinly veiled “self-praises” that brag about our accomplishments—“The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). Jesus recognizes this for what it is—self-glorification—and he warns against it. We offer thanks to God from a position of humility because we know that we can do nothing without him (John 15:5).
  • Thanksgiving should focus on God, not his blessings. If we were to offer thanks only for the good things in life, we are really withholding thanks from God until we receive something that pleases us. That would be disrespectful and impudent! But if we are going to be joyful in trouble as James suggests (1:2), we need to remember the first point above: thanksgiving should be sincere! Do we possess the attitude of Job, or David, who in the midst of persecution by Saul, wrote, “My heart is confident in you, O God; my heart is confident. No wonder I can sing your praises!” (Ps. 57:7).

Unending Prayers

Although the Father knows our needs before we ask him, he is pleased with our petitions. When we bring our prayers before him…

  • It shows we trust him. When Saul died and the way was clear for David to be king, David didn’t rush back to his hometown to claim the throne. Instead, he sought God’s advice: “‘Should I move back to one of the towns of Judah?’ ‘Yes,’ the Lord replied” (2 Sam. 2:1). When we pray and seek God, we show that we trust his advice, his plan, and his timing.
  • It shows we depend on him. When the Philistines tried to capture David, David asked the Lord, “‘Should I go out to fight the Philistines?’…The Lord replied to David, ‘Yes, go ahead. I will certainly hand them over to you’” (1 Chr. 14:10). Wisely, David didn’t want to fight the Philistines if God wasn’t on his side. He knew that victory only came from God. By asking God if he would hand the Philistines over to him, David showed that he depended on God.
  • It allows God to reciprocate in love. When my son was born, my wife and I both worked jobs. We desperately needed someone who could watch the baby when we returned to work. We checked newspaper ads, asked friends, and searched across town for someone who could help. When we acted on our own, we found closed doors; but when we prayed, God opened the door of the Muslim family who lived across the hall from our apartment. They happily agreed to care for our son, which started a 15-year friendship between our families that continues today.

Prayer with Thanksgiving

Each verse in Psalm 136 contains a reason to thank God. Yet if you read between the lines, you will see the real reason why we can thank God repeated again and again—“his faithful love endures forever.”

Although we have good reasons to thank God and be “thankful in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18), it would be a strange relationship if all we said to God was “thank you.” Prayer deepens our relationship with the Father. It shows our dependency on him, our trust in him, and keeps us in a position of humility before him.

So let’s continue to humbly but confidently go to the Father with our prayers because “this is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15).

Read more by Stephen on his blog Faith Comes From Hearing

The Journey to Disappointment

CC BY-NC, le calmar, Flickr

CC BY-NC, le calmar, Flickr

There have been times in my life when I’ve descended to fight the fiercest battles against the past possibilities of my life. It never took much to engage: a family member’s new success; an acquaintance’s marriage or new baby; the news of old friends excelling. It could all send me over the edge because I always seemed to be going nowhere.

So I would turn my weapon and inflict harm on myself—If you had only bought this, not done that, tried harder, moved there, stayed longer, saved more, asserted yourself, learned this, said no, spoke up, imitated him, asked her, agreed to everything, and been a real man, you might be farther up the road, more pleasing to yourself, your people, and your God.

I’d snap from the madness minutes later like a limb in the face. So what if you’re right? I often thought. And what if it is partially true that the way things have turned out for you is not entirely your fault? None of this was the point though. What would that hill of sorrows ever matter? So I’d concede to the apparent: nothing so obvious in a battle.

Perhaps the places we’ve had to pass through in life were not all necessary to get us where we stand. We mess up sometimes. We fail to heed good advice; we become neglectful. It is often the case for many of us that where we are in life is not where we wish we were, but it is certainly better than many conditions in which we could find ourselves. Yet where we are might make it worth taking another look at where we’ve come from.

Look at you—the cuts and bruises, your sweat-soaked head and blood-filled mouth, burning lungs and tired limbs. They all speak wonders of a person who would have welcomed demise not long ago. Somewhere something happened that put armor in your flesh and turned a heart into iron. The double-take reveals that where you stand, in maturity and insight, is light years ahead of where methods would have gotten you by now.

Lightning couldn’t strike a more terrifying revelation in that moment that what-ifs and alternate realities cannot be trusted. Having one’s “ducks in a row” and charting every cent and second of one’s life may require just a pullet feather to topple it all. Moreover, we don’t interview the ones on hospital beds now or in prison now to hear the other half of glamorous, climbing-the-ladder, American Dream stories, the ones that take dramatic detours.

I am not what I do! I am not what I possess! I am not what others think of me! I will not be a pawn of any system!

Sure, some say, this is precisely the argument of someone lamenting his or her failed life, and it’s easy to concede to spiritualities then. But this is no failure or newfound faith. It is merely a second look at what we now understand to be the long way around, a redemptive and awfully appreciable route.

Do not make the mistake of hearing me equate the rat race with normal living and progress, for too often this is what progressiveness gets us, especially in this generation. “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24) is so radically inclusive of all the many cares of life in which we foolishly place our trust. I am guilty of it—why else should I share my grief?

I know what it is to put it all on paper only to watch the paper go up in smoke. I know what to tire feels like and understand rough-hewn Peter, captain and fisherman, contesting Christ: “We have been out here all night while you were sleeping. But just this once, at your strange insistence, we’ll launch again” (Luke 5:4-11).

We must trust God. “For he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). We are not forgotten, wherever we find ourselves on this journey. He is closer to us in the process than we perceive.

“’The Lord has deserted us; the Lord has forgotten us.’ Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:14-16)