I met Jill* when I volunteered to be part of a new discipleship program at my church. I was to guide her through a program which helps newer or younger believers understand their faith in God and Jesus. At our first meeting she described her life situation as fairly dire. After becoming pregnant as a teenager much of her family disowned her. If not for her godparents she would have found herself destitute. Fortunately, she and her mother eventually came to a place in their relationship where she and her son could temporarily live in her mother’s house.
As I listened, I discovered a few things. First, her professed Christian grandfather had a lot to learn about love. At every turn he made her and her son feel outside the love of God because of her sin. Second, I realized, having asked her what she believed, her faith was based on what others believed. She could not answer what she honestly believed. And lastly, I witnessed how easily it is for us to focus on the terrible things in our life and push God to the outskirts.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind." James 1:5-6
I’ve referenced the book of James before because it is a no nonsense look at life’s reality – we will experience trials and temptations. We shouldn’t be surprised by this statement. Sure, we are maybe stunned by what the trial is or the level of its awfulness. But we live in a broken world full of sin and sinful people. The key to all of this is first seeking God’s wisdom in a trial. Turning to Him before all else. And secondly, to have faith without doubting that He will find a way. That path He works you through might have a few more bumps and bruises in store but with our eyes fixed firmly on Him we will also see the blessings before us. And when we feel we can’t or don’t know what to pray? We ask the Holy Spirit for help. “Help me stay faithful, help me to know what to pray!”
So why did I bring up Jill? Over the next few months, I tried encouraging her to ask God in prayer for direction, both about a job and her housing. I pointed out the blessings in the midst of her trial. I urged her to see the work God was doing in her life. What I got back from her was the opposite. I’m sure we have all been in relationships like this (or maybe we’ve been the one like this). At each turn a blessing she received was still not good enough. There was always something else wrong. She told me she was getting nothing from God. And yet she had a place to live, food to eat, a school for her son, a church that was helping her, and someone to talk to – me.
How many of us when we are in the inevitable troughs of life, troughs that feel lacking in joy and love, create an equally deep trough of faith? If asked that question just a couple years ago I would have raised my hand in agreement. God’s not there. God’s not listening. God doesn’t care about me. God doesn’t see me. And sometimes leading to my cry, “I don’t believe in you anymore!”
Friend, God never, ever leaves. He never stops listening and responding. He never stops loving. But we do. And it’s time to start a new practice. I used to tell the girls I coached in softball, “If you keep practicing something the wrong way you will get very good at doing it…the wrong way.” So, yes, it’s time to look in the mirror and tell yourself a new approach is needed. A new way of practicing our faith. The second life takes a twist we must drop to our knees in faith. We become people with buckets overflowing with faithfulness rather than fruitlessness. Because let’s be honest, the old way really wasn’t working that great in the first place, right?
"When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, 'Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.'" Matthew 8:10
Do you want to be recognized by Jesus like the Roman centurion who pled with Jesus to heal his servant? He told Jesus he had faith that Jesus didn’t even need to come to his house in order to perform the miracle. He told Jesus – “just say it and it will be done.” Whew! That’s some amazing faith for a man who shouldn’t have had anything to do with this Jew.
I love this quote by Charles Spurgeon about our relationship with the Almighty during difficult times:
When you go through a trial, the sovereignty of God is the pillow upon which you lay your head.Charles Spurgeon
When it comes right down to it you have to ask yourself, “Do I trust God? Do I have real faith that He is faithful?” Not just in the good but in the bad. When you are facing homelessness, financial ruin, the death of a loved one, sickness, pain, betrayal, and more – are you finally ready to say to Him, “You give every good and beautiful thing. And I know you will work this out for my good.”?
It’s time for a perspective shift in our faith lives. Seek the blessings. Search them out more earnestly than we do trying to find the worst in any situation. You’ll find it’s not that difficult after a while. That’s the fruit of faithfulness. That’s loving a God who loves you deeply.
I have read mystery and detective books my whole life, starting with Nancy Drew. Recently I decided to use any free time to read various theological books. I’m currently in the midst of the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. For those not in the know about this book, it’s letters from a “head” demon advising a lower demon on how to best ensure his assigned “patient” goes to hell. I was writing this post on faithfulness and came across this passage:
“In a week or two you will be making him doubt whether or not the first days of his Christianity were not, perhaps, a little excessive. Talk to him about ‘moderation in all things’. If you can once get him to the point of thinking that ‘religion is all very well up to a point’, you can feel quite happy about his soul. A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all – and more amusing. Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.On the troughs of faith, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis
Think on that spiritual battle in your next trough. Will you allow it to pull you further down? Or will you fight back in faithfulness?
Coming up: Faithfulness in action
*Jill is not her real name