My own personal stance against religious hypocrisy - both my own, and any others who seek to hurt people in the name of God.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fearing to Live by Faith

One of the basic problems in trying to truly live a life of faith is dealing with fear. Not just the fear of being physically hurt, or humiliated, but the fear that we really don't believe as we think we do. Maybe, just maybe, when all is said and done, we don't really believe after all. Ultimately, that is what we're afraid of. And we don't like admitting it. Certainly not to others, but not ourselves, either. Not even to God.

We want to pretend that we believe so we don't have to actually find out. It's the person who believes in their talent, but won't push themselves to find out just how talented they are. That way, when they fail, they can comfort themselves by saying, "I wasn't really trying." People who are afraid of being rejected often make themselves unattractive, either physically or socially. That way, they need not be rejected for who they are. Not really.

I think part of our fear to live a life of faith is we don't understand what it means. We read verses like the following:

Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:23-24 Revised Standard Version

We read things like that and think that faith is the way to get the things we want. In a way. Probably, to be more precise, faith is the way to change what we want, and then we get it. Read this from the Book of James. Take note that this was written to believers, not as an effort to convert the unbelieving.

What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not received, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. James 4:1-4 Revised Standard Version

The Apostle Paul was certainly a man of faith. It's all he preached: Faith in Jesus. Faith in God. Yet read what Paul says about his life.

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me; you were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:10-13 Revised Standard Version

Not all of Paul's prayers were answered according to his desire.

And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn ws given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 2 Corinthians 12:7-9a Revised Standard Version

Faith is trusting God to be in control even when everything goes wrong. We are sick and do not get well. We need work and cannot find any. We are in the path of war. Storms and famine ravage the land.

Faith does not mean these things will not touch us. We are physically in the world. Therefore, we will be physically touched by the things of the world. What the world cannot touch is our spirit. Only God can do that. And that is what faith is about: God touching our spirit.

At the beginning of Jesus' ministry he was led by God into the desert. He spent forty days there without food. Scripture confesses he was hungry. He was in a place where there were thousands of rounded stones which resembled bread loaves. Seeing them, the devil took the opportunity to cause Jesus to doubt himself.

The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." Luke 4:3 Revised Standard Version

The operative word here is "if". Jesus was hungry, but suddenly that was no longer the reason for creating bread out of stones. Later, Jesus would create fish and bread out of nothing. (Read about the feeding of the four thousand and five thousand in Matthew 14 and Matthew 15.) So why not now? Because it wasn't about eating. It was about proving something. It was about pride. God is not keen on this kind of pride. Self-respect is one thing. Flat out pride is another. So Jesus gives his famous reply in verse 4.

And Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone.'"

The quote is taken from the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter eight, verse three.

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.

You see, this is what we're really afraid of: being put through something in order to teach us, help us, make us stronger, and bring us closer to God. The only way to do that is to deny the desires of the body and carnal will. In other words, suffering of some kind. That is what we're afraid of.

Faith is not about always coming through because you believed. It's about holding fast to God even when you don't come through. Do we love God because he's some kind of perpetual Santa Claus or Father Christmas? Or do we love him because of who he is? Think about Abraham.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises wsa ready to offer up his only son, of whom it was said, "Through Isaaac shall your descendants be named." He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. Hebrews 11:17-19 Revised Standard Version

When people die, it does not mean God has taken them from us. God raises people from the dead. They are not gone. They are just ahead of us on a journey. We will be reunited. There is no cruelty. Loneliness, yes. But faith can help us through that.

One more example.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were given a choice: deny God and live, or hold to their faith and die. This was their answer.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in the matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up." Daniel 3:16-18 Revised Standard Version

I think it important to point out that these three men were NOT counting on God to save their lives. They knew he could, but had no reason to believe he would. It didn't matter. It wasn't about whether they survived or died. Their faith was in God.

We all face challenges in our daily lives. Not all of these challenges deal with life and death, but sometimes they do. Most often, however, they are matters of fear and comfort.

This is true for me right now.

Seven years ago I was told by God (I believe this with all my heart) not to sell my house when I lost my high-paying job. For seven years we have remained in this house, each year being blessed with some last minute financial salvation to see us through another year. This year the miracles appear to have run out. We have just over thirty days to come up with about $300,000, or we're out of this house.

For some reason I am reminded of Nebuchadnezzar in that he was struck with insanity for seven years. Then he was restored. My seven years is just about up. But, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, I will not quit believing even should not miracle come and I be kicked out. It isn't about surviving, or getting what we want, or expect. It's about God being in control. He is well able to send us the money. but even if not I will not cease to worship him. As Peter said to Jesus:

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." John 6:68b Revised Standard Version


Silver said...

Hold on, Bevie .

I still like to believe that when God closes the door, He will open a window for you and your family, Bev.


Bevie said...

Sometimes. But life is not a storybook. Look at the prophets of Scripture. Most of them lived fairly rough lives. Jeremiah is known as "The Weeping Prophet". Elijah was persecuted by the very people he was sent to help. Same with Moses.

Happiness and contentment are not the same thing. But I think I understand what you're saying. There are always opportunities for those of us who are still here.

Sometimes finding them can be really hard.