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Posts Tagged ‘believing vs. faith’

When John the Baptist heralded the coming of the Messiah, he used the words of the Prophet Isaiah, saying, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for Him.  Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low.  The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth (Luke 3:3-5).”  And I believe that this imagery was meant to portray to the Jews (& ultimately to those of us who would one day be grafted into the covenant) what His coming could mean to them.  The redeeming work of the cross would soon facilitate the abiding presence of God in their lives, and put an end to their long cycle of seeking Him in times of oppression, and drifting from Him in times of prosperity.  With the Spirit of God active in their day to day lives, He could become their source for life, love, security, provision, strength, hope, and justice.  By becoming partakers of the divine nature, they would no longer be at the mercy of their fickle human nature.  These images speak of the steadiness that naturally flows out of that kind of singular focus.  So great was God’s plan to dwell within them, that Jesus told His disciples it was actually better that He would leave them, so that the Spirit could come.  And in looking at the first century church, we see those words largely validated.

 

But as we endeavor to make straight pathways in our own lives, it doesn’t always seem to work out.  Sadly, many who identify themselves by the name of Jesus live lives of quiet desperation; often times battling sickness, depravity, insecurity, abandonment, depression, condemnation, fear…  Though we can have some mountain top experiences, we often find ourselves in the depths of the valley.  Like a person trying to plant a garden, we try to cut a straight row, only to turn and see that it’s anything but.

 

Experienced gardeners tell me that the best way to till a straight row is to fix your eye on a specific point (on the opposite side of the plot), and to plow directly toward it.  This would seem to be the same advice the scripture gives us, as the Hebrew writer tells us, “fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith (Heb. 12:2),” and Paul says, “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things (Phil 4:8).”  Along with scriptures like, “be anxious for nothing (Phil. 4:6)”, “let not your heart be troubled (John 14:27)”, and “Don’t worry about tomorrow.  It will take care of itself (Matt. 6:34)”, the New Testament is filled with directives about what we need to be focused on, and what we can’t afford to concentrate on.  If our God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, becomes our singular reference point, then our pathways can’t help but straighten out.

 

Many would cite the manic nature of our spiritual walk as evidence of poor faith, but I think that conclusion requires a little further dissection.  Some see the terms “believing” and “faith” as being synonymous, but I would disagree.  At its lowest level, believing can be very superficial, and little more than mental assent.  We believe a lot of things in the abstract, or in principle, that never really make their way into our practice.  For instance, I believe in eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, but my normal pattern doesn’t necessarily reflect that notion.  My tendency to overload my schedule, and to eat on the run, generally takes precedence over that concept.  Faith, even at its lowest level, requires more than that.  It requires enough belief to make us willing to risk something, and maybe even to act upon it.  Because I was raised in church, I always “believed” that there was a God, and that His son Jesus died for my sins.  But it wasn’t until my early thirties, when the life I’d built without Him began to collapse, that I actually found the faith to fully invest myself, and my life, in Him.  I sense that many others are living this same kind of existence, where they claim to believe, but have little or nothing really invested in it.

 

The wisdom of the world encourages us to diversify our investments as a hedge against big losses, but the wisdom of God calls us to put all our eggs in one basket.  The erratic, and sometimes tortured, path we take is an indication of which philosophy is prevalent in our lives.  To the degree that our identity is invested in Him, we should be able to walk free from the oppression of what other people might say or do, and from the identity crisis’s that so frequently beset the natural man.  To the degree that our security and hope are invested in Him, we should be able to walk free of anxiety, fear, and depression.  The Lord tells us that everything in the seen realm is perishing, so investing ourselves in temporal things sets us up for disappointment and failure.  The old axiom says, “you can’t take it with you.”  But for those who’ve invested themselves in the eternal kingdom, that’s not really true.  Straight pathways may not be the norm, but if we’re willing to adopt a singular reference point, they could become our destiny.

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