I gave up on church-going faith a long time ago. It just wasn’t big enough to carry me and all my baggage. Mind you, I loved it dearly, because it was a part of me from my earliest remembrance: the hymns that I knew by heart, the words of Scripture that convicted and encouraged and told me what life was supposed to be like, the kind smiling faces of the people who believed it, the gathering together many times a week, the long prayer lists of needs that we lifted up to the Heavenly Father…all these things framed my life and shaped my thinking from the beginning. And every bit of it was good.
But at some point everyone will find themselves in the middle of a storm, and when the darkness closes in, you just have to ask the hard questions, lean right into this Truth you’ve known all your life and find out if it is big enough to carry you. Because if the words God says are true, then they should make a difference in everyday life– or else what good are they? If they are real and living, like He says they are, then they need to apply to me and the real situations I am in, and to be as powerful as they were when He first said them to people long ago. Going to meetings won’t stop the waves from crashing into the boat. Doing all the good work won’t keep the creeping fear at bay, or help me sleep at night. Singing the songs and going to fellowships won’t change my home-life. When your boat threatens to go under, then you begin to see what really matters, and there is only the raw cry of need: Find me, change me, meet me here or I won’t make it through. If I have to pretend that everything is all right in order to fit into my faith, then I’m the one who is adrift in a leaky boat. The Musician-King David had no trouble being honest and raw about his need, and he knew that mere church-going wasn’t anywhere near enough. “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in His word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning….” (Psalm 130:5-6)
I see friends struggling with faith in wilderness places, and I get it. When the walls are crashing down and gut-wrenching prayers seem to go unanswered, it makes you wrestle with what you believe about the Person in charge of all this and how willing He is to get involved… in a way that a pedestrian list of public prayer requests never will. It makes me think that faith is a deeper, wilder, more frightening leap than we are led to believe. But when life brings you here, there is no turning back from the questions, and I can hear the Musician-King still singing, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” (Psalm 46:1-3) If God’s help and strength is more sure than the earth beneath us, then it is big enough for what I am facing, and at some point I need to stop seeing those as poetic words to read in church, and either choose to believe them, or not.
Once I stop relying on the church-going stuff and really start listening to what God is saying to me, I hear Him saying everything I need to hear. The Church-planter Paul recorded God’s promise to him when he was going through hard things: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) And I have to decide whether that answer– that promise– is big enough for the problems I face. Is it just a good church-going verse to memorize? Or is it a truth that is actually sturdy enough to hold up when I come pounding on the door in the middle of the night, with needs big enough to swallow us whole, and gritted-teeth reminders of the promises He made? Paul shared the hidden riches he discovered in his own hour of need: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” Somehow the way God met Paul in his storm made the pain worth it, in the long run. That speaks volumes to the needy heart.
So maybe there is a strange mercy in the storms that drive you to examine what you really believe God is doing, and what you are expecting from Him. And maybe the bravest thing you can do is to leave behind the faith you’ve always had, trade it for something bigger….finally give up on the tidy organized church-going-things that you can do yourself, and fling yourself heart and soul on the One who can do all things. Jesus’ words still ring through the raging storms with all authority, “Peace, be still.” (Mark 4:39) Not even the blessed existential peace of shalom, but the nitty-gritty everyday command to hush the clamor, stop the shrieking of chaos, still the frenzied activity… because the Lord your Maker has come to you. And some days that kind of practical peace is exactly what we need.
The wind and waves obeyed Him because they were His; it was that simple. Seems to me that our lives would be simpler too, if we had that relationship with our Maker; if we listened to what He said and obeyed just because we are His, bowing down to His power in complete trust and worship. I am gradually learning that this is a deeper faith: to fasten my eyes on Him and trust that His words are for me, that He is right here with me. It feels a little like stepping right out onto the waves, but I do believe His Kingdom is real life, and I choose to bend everything I see, and feel, and think, to fit with that Reality. Nothing safe and tidy about it, but honestly, it is finally big enough to carry me.
Teach my eyes to recognize You;No Other Name (Unhindered)
Teach my lips tp glorify You.
Guide my feet so I can find You,
Wherever You are.
Be my way; I’m lost without You.
Be my light, shining through
My every breath, my every move,
Till every thought is You.
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh faints for You, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.Psalm 63:1-2