“…faith isn’t the absence of doubt. It’s believing and acting alongside your doubts…
…faith wouldn’t even exist if doubt were not also present, because the essence of faith was the leap taken in the face of uncertainty. Faith wasn’t a set of beliefs, or an ability to hold onto those beliefs without wavering. Faith was action – action taken right in the middle of your doubts.
If there were no uncertainty at all, a leap of faith wouldn’t even be necessary. You could just keep on walking.
from O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling
by Jason Boyett
I used to think that doubt was evidence of a lack of faith.
Not so much anymore.
These days, I’d probably say I’m a bit of a “doubt snob.” By that, I mean that when I hear a Christian say they’ve never doubted God, I would wonder if:
1) they are lying. (let’s just get that one right out of the way)
2) they have forgotten. (kinda like childbirth. The memory of that kinda pain fades with time)
3) they haven’t actually thought things through. (see what I mean? “doubt snob”)
I’ve spent my life trying to figure things out. If God ever gave me a new name, it probably would have been “Madua” (in Hebrew, it means “why”…what is the reason…what is the cause). I’ll pull and follow a “why” thread as far as I possibly can go.
In all the question asking and thread following and reading and learning and studying I’ve done so far in my life, the one fact I know for sure:
Not everything can be known for sure.
What do I do with that?
Do I only take action if I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the action will result in success?
Do I only believe in God if I know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that He exists?
No one can prove, beyond a shadow of doubt, that God exists. I can’t prove that God answered a prayer. Or led me to a decision. Or provided an opportunity. Or equipped me for one of those opportunities.
So, again. What do I do with that?
In the absence of certainty, I choose to act or not act.
Personally, I choose faith in God. I can have some faith in myself or in “the system” or in other people, but at some point, they’ve all let me down. I can have some faith in reason and science, but when you drill down to their root, neither can be employed to prove their own foundational claims without some core assumptions as their bedrock.
Assumption is a synonym for faith.
We all have faith in something. And we all act on our faith, in spite of our doubt.
“I don’t know that Lucifer’s sin was rebellion in the full sense of the word. He did not seek to replace God or overthrow God. He simply sought to act independent of God…
the root sin of all sins is this desire to act independent of God.” (emphasis added)
by Steve Fry
I don’t use the word “sin” much.
Not that I don’t believe it exists and that I’m prone to it.
I believe it does and I know that I am.
It’s just one of those words that has too many interpretations to be used effectively in casual conversation.
(I don’t use the word “Christian” so much either. Way, WAY too many interpretations of THAT word.)
In certain company, if I were to utter the word sin, I would find myself standing all alone holding my own personal (Jesus) Freak Flag, listening to crickets.
Because not many people want to talk about the word sin. But when you don’t talk about something, meaning begins to take on more and more personal connotations. Definitions aren’t globally understood and accepted when they’re formed and sequestered inside a vacuum of individual history and experience.
“Sin” can mean different things to different people. But my thought is that before the word sin means something to me, it means something.
When I think about the multitude of sins in my life, at the core of each and every one of those sins, I recognize a desire to choose for myself what is right and wrong rather than look to God and submit to His authority. That’s why Steve Fry’s statement: “the root sin of all sins is this desire to act independent of God.” hit home with me.
Regardless of the actual behavior, the choosing to decide for myself – to act independently of God – is rebellion.
Rebellion against God. It’s the heart of the nature of sin.
It’s not my actions alone which constitute sin and separate me from God. My actions are an expression of the state of my heart and my mind. And the state of my heart and mind are a reflection of the state of my relationship with Christ.
I can admit my dependence on God, live under His authority and experience abundant life in Christ.
Or I can act independent of God, choosing to rebel against His authority and separating myself from Him.
“That when he had failed in his duty,
he only confessed his fault,
saying to GOD,
I shall never do otherwise,
if You leave me to myself;
it is You who must hinder my falling,
and mend what is amiss. That after this,
he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.
from The Practice of the Presence of God
by Brother Lawrence
This is one of my all-time FAVORITE quotes. Let me paraphrase and give you an idea of how I process these words.
paraphrase: “I forget, I remember, I repent and I COME BACK.”
(don’t be freaking out about that word “repent.” I’ll get to it in a second.)
“…when he had failed in his duty” means when I forget God.
And I will forget. I do forget. I fail to remember Him. Over and over and over again. When I first read this little book and began practicing the presence of God, my thought was, “I am SO gonna start doing this!” Less than 24 hours into this new way of living in relationship to God and I realized how difficult it was and how often I found myself just flat out forgetting – not only to practice God’s presence – but forgetting God altogether.
I quickly realized that practicing God’s presence wasn’t something I could just decide to do and then do it. I had to PRAY and ask God to “remind me to remember Him.” And I had to pray it multiple times per day. Some days, I had to pray, “Lord, please make me WANT to remember – bless me with a desire for You! I realized:
if my goal was to be aware of God’s presence in the minutiae of my life and
if my plan of action to achieve that goal was to “just do it” that
ON MY OWN, I would never achieve it with any kind of consistency.
My goal had to be prayer –
first, a prayer for a desire to practice God’s presence and
second, the prayer “Lord, please, remind me to remember You. Relentlessly. Any and every way possible.”
The truth of the next part of this quote had hit home:
“I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself”
God had quickly shown me that HE would be the one to “hinder my falling.” I would never be able to remember Him on my own.
And finally, the best part:
“after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.”
I’m going to forget God. But when I remember and go back to practicing His presence, I’m not going to waste a minute of the time that could be spent with Him by beating myself up because I forgot Him AGAIN. When I do that, I’m punishing myself for something JESUS ALREADY DIED FOR.
I’ve repented. There’s no room or need for guilt. Guilt is different from repent. Guilt is a noun. Repent is a verb.
guilt: (noun) “a bad feeling caused by knowing or thinking that you have done something bad or wrong”
repent: (verb) “express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin.”
I need to remember and relentlessly claim the promise of Romans 8:1:
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,”
So, to paraphrase this quote from Brother Lawrence? “I forget, I remember, I repent and I COME BACK.”
“One bold message in the Book of Job is that
you can say anything to God.
Throw at him your grief, your anger, your doubt,
your bitterness, your betrayal, your disappointment
He can absorb them all.
As often as not,
spiritual giants of the Bible
are shown contending with God.
They prefer to go away limping,
rather than to shut God out.”
from Disappointment With God
by Philip Yancey
When these words first sunk in, they were liberating for me.
I was taught that we should always be reverent toward God because, well…He’s GOD.
We make requests – respectfully.
And we thank Him.
No yelling or complaining or whining or blaming – that would be DISrespectful.
But I’ve realized my holding back in prayer was the equivalent of holding my hands over my face like a little kid playing hide and seek who thinks nobody can see him because his face is covered up.
There’s no authentic relationship when there’s holding back.
Telling God everything – expressing bitterness, revealing and exploring doubt and even angrily listing for Him all the reasons something isn’t fair – was strange at first.
I tell God everything I’m thinking and feeling. He can take it. Because He’s GOD. Besides, He already knows what I’m really thinking anyway. Sometimes even when I don’t. Sometimes I discover what I’m really thinking and feeling when I’m right in the middle of telling Him.
“[…this is the Word of the Lord…] ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty”
What exactly does that mean? Determination? Confidence? A recognition of personal identity and worth? Where does inner strength come from? Do “broken” people have it and just can’t find it because it’s buried under layers of pain or fear or hopelessness?
My problem with “inner strength” is that it waxes and wanes, usually parallel to my circumstances. And there’s no rhyme or reason to it. Crisis is just as likely to discourage me as it is to fuel me to action. Criticism is just as likely to fill me with doubt as it is to spark a fire of determination. Rejection is just as likely to send me running as it is to compel me to plant my feet. Inner strength seems to be dependent on how I feel and think about myself at any give time.
Inner strength is shifting sand. I can’t plant my feet in shifting sand.
Thankfully, my daughter already knows all this. We were both gracious, both engaged and fully listening to the well-meaning giver of unsolicited advice, but as the young woman spoke, I prayed. “Lord, should I tell her? Have you prepared her mind and heart to hear?” She paused, raising her eyebrows, looking for a response, seemingly expecting affirmation and agreement.
My daughter and I looked at each other. We both knew what could be shared in that moment.
I said, “As Christians, we believe there’s even more to it than that. The Bible tells us that because we have a relationship with Jesus, we have a helper, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, so we are never alone. God is always with us. Everywhere we go.”
There was a brief pause. She hadn’t expected that response.
She broke the awkward silence by turning back to my daughter again. “That’s good…but sometimes, you’ll feel like God isn’t there…”
She continued a few more minutes, paused again, and looked at me. I had been praying about what to say, if anything.
I said, “It’s true, there are times when it doesn’t seem like God is there. It’s like when you learned to ride a bike. Whoever was teaching you was running behind the bike, holding the seat, and then he let go. You didn’t feel his hand on the bike anymore, but you knew he was still there. When you fell, he was there to pick you up and comfort you and encourage you to try again. He didn’t keep you from falling, but he never left.”
I could tell she had heard me. I didn’t push. I hadn’t stopped her as she explained to my daughter that she needed inner strength for those times when she didn’t “feel” God.
My daughter knows her faith isn’t grounded in her emotions. My daughter and I both know how to practice the presence of God and that sometimes, He is silent. We both understand that the source of our inner strength is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and that whether we “feel” God or not, we can have confidence that He is with us. I knew I had planted a seed and that the young woman would think about the conversation later.
God would not be revealed to her as the ultimate source of inner strength through our effort or will. We just planted a seed. Now, it’s up to the Holy Spirit to soften her heart, open her mind and “draw her to Himself.” (John 6:44)
If you’ve entered into a relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells within you. When you lack confidence in yourself, I pray you are blessed with confidence in Christ. I pray you find your identity in Christ and understand your value through a deep understanding of His unconditional love for you. I pray that regardless of how you may feel on a given day, you will remember, “God is with you, wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
“[…this is the Word of the Lord…] ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty”
Have you ever been in a situation where the harder you try, the farther away from your goal you seem to get? No matter how focused and determined you are, no matter what you do or say, the distance between what you’re striving for and what’s actually happening just continues to grow.
What begins as a desire to set things “right” can birth a desperation that leaves a knot in the pit of your stomach and a frantic anxiety that drives us to push and try to manipulate circumstances.
One of the most difficult lessons I’ve experienced in this area has been a situation where I was trying to explain something God was teaching and revealing to me and the more I talked (or wrote), the more people misunderstood and rejected what I was trying to say. The more angry they became, the more they dismissed me and distanced themselves and in many cases, the more people cut off our relationship completely, choosing instead to talk about me behind my back and on the internet.
You just want to fix that kind of thing, ya know?
But no matter how hard I tried to explain what I was discovering and feeling, the more I realized I was talking (and typing) to air. I knew I was supposed to share what God was teaching me and I did. Reluctantly and after months of arguing with God, with love and heartache for people I cared about, despite growing awareness of the bridges that were being burned.
But over the last two years, I’ve come to realize that my obedience in sharing my lesson wasn’t to change hearts or minds or even just circumstances. It was to be a witness to Christ’s influence in my life. And it was to plant seeds. God would bring the rain for growth.
and the drought to create thirst.
and the fire to test.
The growing season has not been short or free from pain, for me or for others. But in hindsight, I can see how God has been moving. Slow and steady, softening hearts and opening minds. Teaching lessons that, while different from mine, have and continue to produce the best harvest – hearts drawn closer to Christ. And while it’s heartbreaking to see the pain that’s had to be borne through this season, The Holy Spirit has reminded me that when hearts are closer to Christ, it’s impossible that they remain unchanged. Through the change – the transformation – of the heart, other changes automatically come to fruition. Those circumstances that I desperately tried to change on my own, God has changed and continues to change.
My job was to seek and listen to the Voice of Truth. My job was to be a witness to what God was doing in my heart and mind. My job was to plant seeds, regardless of the consequences. My job was to pray, in faith, trusting that God would work all things for His greater, ultimate good, which is to draw people into intimate, living, dependent relationship with Him.
Not by my might.
Not by my power.
But by His Spirit.
So, whatever your impossible circumstances, pray. Persistently. and wait. His timing is perfect, even when He delays.
“He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24
“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” Corrie ten Boom
In my previous blog post, practice God’s presence. forget. remember. repent. (repeat, ad infinitum), I talked about practicing the presence of God by pretending Jesus was physically present with me everywhere I went. I confessed that, despite my sincere intentions to be aware of God’s presence with me throughout my days and my moments, I chronically forgot Jesus was with me. I realized I couldn’t remember on my own.
I needed help.
I was striving – and struggling – and failing – to consistently engage in an intimate, living, dependent relationship with Christ.
Change is difficult, but I’m a firm believer in the old adage “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” I knew that this intimate, living dependent relationship I so desperately wanted wasn’t going to just happen because I wished it.
It requires intention.
It requires discipline.
Intellect says you make time in your life for the things you love.
Reason says that if you want your life to change you’ll have to do something different.
So I had tried intention and discipline. With the best and strongest of intention.
No matter how “hard” I tried, consistency was elusive. To say I was frustrated would be an understatement.
And then, God reminded me of something Paul said:
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”
Romans 7:15, 18b
My natural inclination is to try harder. But if Paul couldn’t even do it…
My next inclination is to feel guilty about it. Is that What did Paul did? Continuing to read in Romans:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit…
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Romans 8:1, 5, 8-9
Intention is needed, but it is not enough.
Discipline is needed, but it is never going to be enough.
Remembering that Jesus is with me everywhere I go requires a dependence on the Holy Spirit.
I could. not. do. it. on my own.
So instead of trying to remember Jesus was with me all day long, I began to pray that the Holy Spirit would remind me that Jesus was with me all day long.
Sounds like semantics, but oh, what a DIFFERENCE.
I already know the Holy Spirit dwells within me because of my relationship with Christ:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit,whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
I can’t remember on my own. I can’t do anything on my own. But the Spirit who dwells within me CAN.
Therefore he told me, “These signify the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by strength and not by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD who rules over all.”
So, I stopped “trying” to remember Jesus was with me everywhere I went and I began praying for the Holy Spirit to remind me, again and again and again, of His presence in my life.
Do I forget to ask the Holy Spirit to help me?
to be continued…
I was recently part of a discussion about a church supported service project. A number of different ideas were on the table, none of them mine. The project itself wasn’t my priority. They were all good ideas. All needed. All would “do good.”
My concern, what I had been thinking and praying about for over a week prior to this meeting was that whatever service project we decided upon, it would track back to Jesus Christ.
Over the years, I’ve observed and/or been a part of a number of church supported service projects, at a number of churches – very, very few of which led to an open door to share the gospel.
All were good. All were needed. All did “good things.”
But serving those in need without tracking back to Christ is just philanthropy, not Christian mission.
I feel a metaphor coming on.
Both my daughter and my son are having a full and stress filled week. A VERY full and stress filled week. Sleep is going to come at a premium.
It’s “tech week” for a show PinkGirl is teching. She’s not performing in this show. She’s one of the people wearing all black who works behind the scenes and helps keep things moving smoothly during a show, no matter what the need. That means rehearsals every night this week – for her own show Monday/Tuesday night and rehearsals for the show she’s teching Wednesday/Thursday night. The show opens Friday night and additional showings are Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
FavoriteSon is in the final week of his spring semester and he works as a tutor, so he literally did math for over 12 hours on both Monday and Tuesday, either learning it or teaching it. He has two finals today and another paper due tomorrow. His week started after an exhausting (but great) weekend. Saturday the weather was rare and perfect on the ocean, so he and his dad got up at 5am to go on a PHENOMENAL fishing day on our boat.
They got home late and stinky. Then, he got up Sunday at 6:45 to run sound for the K-5th grade worship services at his church from 8am to 1:30pm. (He does that every Sunday.) He spent his Sunday afternoon writing a paper and finished off his weekend tutoring a friend till late Sunday night.
It’s only hump day and both PinkGirl and FavoriteSons are already tired. This means one thing. They both need grace from me this week. (And from my husband, but he is admittedly better at patience and giving grace than me. I’d like to think it has something to do with the fact that due to his work schedule, I see the kids more hours in a day, but the fact is, he’s more easygoing than I am.)
Giving grace takes prayer. Some might say it takes patience.
Because I knew cranky was coming. I knew frustrated snark was in my future.
I’m still praying. For patience like manna. My schedule is pretty calm these days, so I ordered my week in anticipation for their growing exhaustion by making myself available to help them. Little things, like picking up some of their chores, typing a handwritten paper, putting healthy snacks down in front of them, prepared and ready to eat, pushing them to go to bed when they are still worked up from their day, and praying for them and with them for strength and stamina, among other things. Praying for myself to be able to give them grace in response to cranky snark.
Some might say I’m a patsy.
If this happened all the time, I’d entertain that thought. But it doesn’t. It’s rare and temporary. Both these kids and my husband are there for me when I need them to pick up my slack or help me out, and I don’t take that for granted.
Is someone in your life dishing up a full helping of cranky snark?
I don’t just assume I can muster up patience and grace on my own.
I already know I can’t.
Pray for patience and for God to bless you with a supernatural ability to extend grace. His grace is sufficient in your weakness and He is glorified when His strength is visible in your life.
Sunday evening. Easter Sunday. I was sitting at the kitchen table, focused on my laptop. PinkGirl came over and turned my chair sideways so she could curl up on my lap and lay her head on my shoulder.
“Mom? How can I find joy in God?”
13 years old.
Immediately, I prayed.
“Lord, is this moment one of the reasons for everything that’s happened over the last year? Have you been preparing me for this question? Please help. Please speak through me.”
Me: “Well…for me…the way I find joy in God is to grow closer to Him. There are a few things you can do to grow closer to Him. You already know what’s first though, right?”
Me: “Yep. There’s lots of different ways to pray, but I think the way that brings me closest to God is practicing His presence. You remember what I told you about practicing the presence of God? How I first started doing it?”
Me: “I imagined Jesus physically with me everywhere I went – in the passenger seat of my van…”
PinkGirl: “oh yeah.”
Me: “Jesus is right here with us now.”
I pointed to the chair next to us.
“If you imagine Him sitting right here with us – not just sitting here, eavesdropping on our conversation, but actually participating in it, it changes everything. And sometimes not in a way you might expect. It won’t be all rainbows. You won’t be thanking Him and praising Him all the time. If you really do imagine Jesus with you wherever you go, you may find yourself crying and yelling at Him sometimes. Telling Him all the things you don’t think are fair, begging him to help you and heal you and protect you and getting frustrated or mad or even heartbroken when He doesn’t do what you want or expect or if He’s slower than you think He should be. But you have to be honest with God.”
PinkGirl: “He already knows anyway.”
Me: “Yeah, He does.”
We sat there for a while, talking about all the different ways to pray. We talked about honest, wide open prayer, without holding anything back. We talked about how authentic prayer helps us to grow closer to God and how growing closer to God helps us find joy in Him, no matter whether we’re happy or sad about what’s happening in our life. We talked about how happiness is temporal and based on our circumstances, but joy in God is eternal and based on who He is and our relationship with Jesus.
Me: “Prayer is when we tell God everything. But we also need to listen to Him. What’s the best way to hear from God?”
PinkGirl: “Be alone with Him?”
Me: “That’s one way. I call that abiding in Him. But that’s next. Something else comes first. The best way to hear God speak to us is to read His Word.”
PinkGirl: “I try, but I don’t understand a lot of it.”
Me: I get that. There’s a lot I don’t understand either. But here’s the thing. There’s a lot you do understand – way before you even get to the stuff you don’t understand. You understand what you learn in Bible [class], right?
Me: “So, see? You understand more than you think. Outside of Bible [class], what’s the last thing you read on your own?”
PinkGirl: “I don’t remember.”
Me: “You understand the scriptures in your devotion book, right?”
Me: “What was your last devotion about?”
PinkGirl: “I don’t remember.”
Me: “When do you do your devotion, in the morning or at bedtime?”
PinkGirl: “In the morning.”
Me: “After your devotion time is over, how often do you think about the scripture you read later in your day?”
Me: “Just reading the Bible isn’t enough. You won’t grow in your relationship with Christ if you don’t remember what you read. You have to engage in God’s Word. That takes effort. How can you remember the scripture from your morning devotion throughout your day ? And for days after that?”
We talked about how on our own, reading the Bible isn’t something we want to do all the time and that God knows that. We talked about forgetting to read the Bible or not making time for it. We talked about how we make time for the other things we love. We talked about the first and constant thing we should do: pray and ask God to give us a desire to read His Word. We talked about the fact that we can’t just “do better” on our own. We talked about asking God to give us – to bless us – with a hunger for His Word – with a hunger for Him. We talked about setting reminders on her iPod, bands on her wrist, special jewelry, even writing notes to herself on her hand.
Me: “After reading the Bible, another good way to hear from God is to abide in Him. You called it being alone with Him. When are you ever truly alone. Quiet and still?”
PinkGirl: “When I’m in my room.”
Me: “Sleeping doesn’t count.”
Me: “If you want to be closer to God, if you want to find joy in Him, you have to spend time with Him. Think of it this way. When you and PeterPanFan (her BFF) hang out together, you grow closer, don’t you think? You talk to each other, you have inside jokes, you start to think alike, finish each other’s sandwiches…even when you two are at your own houses, when you interact over the internet through text or instagram, you’re still spending time with each other even though you are miles apart. But if you were at your house and she was at her house and you weren’t interacting over the internet, you wouldn’t be able to hear her. What would happen to your friendship if you didn’t spend time together?”
Me: “How connected can you be to God if you don’t spend time alone with Him?”
Me: So. Prayer. Reading God’s Word and Abiding in Him. There’s something else you can do to find joy in God.”
PinkGirl: “Thanking Him?”
Me: “Actually there’s two kinds. Giving thanks for His blessings and praising Him for who He is. When you thank Him for blessings, you begin to recognize those blessings in your life more and more. And when you praise Him for who He is, no matter what your circumstances are, it helps you remember that God is sovereign and nothing happens to you that He doesn’t will or allow.”
We talked about disappointments, God’s providence and the peace that comes from trusting that all circumstances – which lead to both happiness and sadness – are God’s providence. We talked about tapestries. And praising Him, no matter what.
We talked about a lot of things. The things I’ve shared here are the things she gave me permission to share.
Afterwards, I realized.
Prayer. Reading God’s Word. Abiding in Him. Gratitude. P.R.A.G. The first four chapters of the book I was writing about how to experience a more intimate relationship with Christ. Seems so easy, just looking at them here. Not so easy. To do or to write about. If they were easy to do, every Christian would do them. If they were easy to write about…I haven’t been able to write for months. But in these precious moments with my daughter, I was able to articulate a summary in kid language.
He has been preparing me. Not only for that question at that moment.
God is Good. All the time.