Many of my very dear childhood friends have had what I call a “crisis of faith.” They believe in God, but they are totally skeptical of the church.
Who can blame them, when their childhood church experience consisted of:
a majority of teaching that majored on minors, quirks, and non-essentials (the pastor’s wife wears this…here, you can’t see? Let me get up on the platform and model what a Christian woman wears, and so must you…and if we see you out and about dressed differently, we’ll call your parents/husband/father to task)
a healthy dose of fear-mongering (if you are sinning you’d better check to make sure you are really saved! Struggling with sin means that you are most likely not!)
a lot of pride (we’re so glad we’re not like those really bad sinners out there! God is good! Make sure you stay away from them!)
a lot of partisanship (OUR church is the best and we don’t mind saying so.)
a little condemnation (If you don’t do such and such [tithe, read Bible, witness], I’d be afraid to get into my car and drive.)
a little self-sufficiency (You don’t need counsel from anyone. Anything you need will come from the pulpit.)
major people worship (OH MY GOSH, that was pastor so and so. Hello, Pastor! Giggle, giggle. THANK GOD that we have THIS man as our pastor!)
feelings that they were never accepted, and that they never measured up. (When you start doing this, you’ll be qualified to serve. “THIS” usually meant conforming to the church norms on non-essentials.
“family love” that was pretty shallow (We’re all a big family and we all love each others. Unless you cross ME. Then I will cut you.)
They were taught a wishy-washy gospel that led you straight back to law-keeping for acceptance. You can be saved, yes, but after that, you’d better perform.
They’ve come to equate Christianity with rules, regulations, and fear-mongering.
I’m actually thankful that my friends knew enough to reject this type of religiosity. It’s a false gospel of works, and certainly not the atmosphere of a loving family of God. They’re still searching, many of them, and that gives me hope.
They want to know God, but they doubt they can trust the church.*
So for you who are searching, I know from talking to you, that it’s hard to unravel what God is like from how the church treated you.
But, hear me out, knowing God is your oxygen. It’s what you need for life. Like physical oxygen to the body, without it, your life is just a choking, suffocating existence.
Let’s be frank, God is not like the church. Isn’t that a wonderful truth! God is so much better. In fact, the glorious truth of the gospel is that God came to rescues an “adulterous” people. We are so unfaithful to God in word and deed…but God loves sinners. I know you’ll be tempted to tune me out right, but please try to read:
There’s nothing you can do that will make God love you any more or any less. It’s unconditional love. That means that the love never changes. Never. Jesus paid it all, did it all, and continues to do it all for you.
How do you wrap your mind around such grace? How do you de-program your mind from such ingrained wrong teaching ?
How do you come to believe that God does actually love you? What exactly does it mean to keep the faith? Does it mean that you grit your teeth and hold to a certain creed with dogged determination?
The answer is to go back to the basics of faith.
If you’ve been raised in Christianity from childhood, the word faith is used so frequently that its meaning begins to be foggy.
Faith is simply believing what God says.
And because we are mortal, from day to day, our faith can vacillate.
But we can’t even begin to keep the faith if we don’t know the Faithful One. I don’t mean that you haven’t trusted Christ by faith to save you. Many of you have trusted Christ for salvation. But on a daily basis, do you know God personally and in a friendship way, so that you can believe God?
I recently went apple picking. My dad’s big old apple tree lost a branch and we collected all the apples in an LL Bean Boat and Tote Bag. I trust LL Bean because I know that if anything happens to the bag, they’ll replace it. How do I know this? They say it in their catalog, yes, but they’ve also been faithful to their 100% satisfaction guaranteed warranty for many years and have a reputation for doing what they say they’ll do. I trust LL Bean.
It’s the same with faith.
I can’t trust someone that I’ve spent no time getting to know personally.
I can say I know about Princess Kate. I might follow her styles and hair styles, but I only know OF her. I don’t actually know her personally. If I got the chance to sit and chat with Princess Kate, and find out her likes and dislikes, and understand her as a person, I could say I really KNOW Princess Kate.
God’s the same way. You need to know Him personally through His Word and time spent communing with Him. Think of it like spending time getting to know a friend.
Faith that gives hope is not just some nebulous dream, like, I hope that someday I’m going to heaven, or I hope that things will work out the way I’d envisioned. I hope God has this situation in hand.
Faith is based on knowing God’s character as revealed in His word. Just like I learned what Peter was like through writing letters when he was away for three years at college, I learn what God is like through His book, the Bible. It’s history, poetry, doctrine, law, prophecy that all points to God and reveals His character.
I knew Peter’s heart because I studied those letters in High School. They were a priority to me.
And I know God’s heart because I read His Word.
One of my favorite things about God is His faithfulness. In a world where people change and fail you, God’s faithfulness is a rock of security.
So many times throughout Scripture, we’re told that:
God is faithful,
His faithfulness is great and never fails,
He’s the faithful God, keeping covenants for generations because of His steadfast love and mercy.
He faithfully upholds us, literally keeps us together, by the word of His power.
We see time and time again how God intervened for His people to protect them. We see His faithfulness to the extremely unfaithful, sinfully idolatrous nation of Israel. We know that God even sacrificed His “only begotten Son” for our benefit.
What should be our response to the faithfulness of God? Faith, faith, faith.
Is God a liar? No.
Is God more powerful than I am? Yes.
Is God attentive to detail? Yes.
Does He promise to care for our needs? Yes.
Is He more capable than I am to care for my needs? Yes.
Then why don’t I trust Him?
Fear and faith cannot co-exist in the same heart. And so often, we suffer in this life with anxiety, doubt and fear, because in truth, we lack faith. We have to ask hard questions, like “Do I really know God for myself, or have I just heard of Him through other’s experiences?”
Notice the connection between lack of faith and its consequences in these verses:
Fear: “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.” Matt. 8:26
Doubt: “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” Matt. 14:31
Anxiety/Worry about tomorrow: “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Matt. 6:30
Lack of Power in Ministry: “Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it [the demon] out?” He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matt. 17:19-21
Unforgiving Spirit: “So watch yourselves. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” The apostles said to the LORD,”Increase our faith!” He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” Luke 17:3-5
Having faith in God:
- means that you believe what He says in His Word. Even things that are hard and may not sit right.
- Faith believes that God will do all things for your good. Even the things we perceive as bad.
“Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there.” Spurgeon
- Having faith means that we don’t have to attempt to dole out punishment for those who have wronged us, in childhood or in the present. We can forgive them, as God has forgiven us. It doesn’t mean that what they did was right, or that they are out of trouble, but simply that the Righteous Judge who sees all things will judge them as He promised to do. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.”
- Having faith means that you let God be God and you abdicate all rights to self-rules and allow Him to preside in your life.
- And having faith means knowing that God will help us on days when we don’t feel faith. Feelings are not to be trusted. Feelings are not facts.
Living a life of faith means looking to God and following Him. Loving God with all of our mind means believing Him to be a truth teller.
So many of my sweet friends really struggle for even basic things like happiness and joy. They don’t want to live that way, and neither do I.
On the days when I struggle for joy, the real cause may be that my faith is anemic.
The cure may be closer than you think and easier than you expected.
The cure is to look for God in His word. Get one-on-one with your Bible and admit, “God, I know that my experience has left me wounded, but I really, really want to know you! I need you to show me what you are like!”
I promise, if you do this, God will reveal Himself to you through His Word. “Draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to you.”
He wants you to really know Him. He’s made all the provisions, and He knows all of your hurts and baggage. He’s available for you. Go to Him.
Do you struggle with faith? How has it affected your life? Do you find worry, anger, and doubt come easier than faith in God? Don’t be defined by your past. Don’t let the fact that you’ve lost your way here and there stop you. Seek the Lord. “Return to Me” is the desire of His heart towards you.
* This is why it’s so important to teach the clear Word of God, ministry leaders. Can you imagine what God will say to those in Christian leadership who made it harder for others to know Him? Instead of leading them straight to Christ through the Word, they made His sheep jump through hoops, live in fear, and serve some pastor’s small-k kingdom desires, when Christ has already done all the work and made the way wide open?