Thursday, June 3, 2010

comfortable faith


I often wonder if, when we pray, we should be praying not for God to remove the obstacles but rather to help us through them. Think about how often you (or I, or someone you know) has asked of God, “Lord, please remove the obstacles. Please don’t let anything go wrong. Bless us Lord, with a clear and straight pathway.” …or however you want to phrase it. Shouldn’t we, instead of comfort, be craving a deepened faith and the ability to endure? Why do we keep asking God to remove the very things that will strengthen our hearts? I wonder if this habit has effected who we are (it has). I wonder, when we continually avoid the testing of our faith, if we can still call ourselves faithful.

I started thinking about this quite intensely last year, as I came across the story of a guy named Corwin. A regular man in his mid-20’s from Saskatchewan, asked by God to do something quite large and faced with countless obstacles since the moment he decided to go for it. Here’s why his story strikes me: after 3+ years of obstacles, closed doors, and frustrations, he’s still going; he is still trying to do the thing that he set out to do in the first place. How…odd. Is it not the trademark of our generation to say “Ohp! Well, the door closed. I must have heard the Lord wrong. This must not be God’s will for me. There is an obstacle in my path! Time to go somewhere else!” And yet, here is this modern day man of faith, holding fast to what he knows was asked of him, regardless of what gets thrown in his way.

What is it that causes us to shy away from opposition? Are we so afraid of it? Are we so abandoned to our “right to be comfortable” that we’ve lost the ability to endure? We panic and cry and beg God to “take it away” or “open up the right door” so that we can comfortably make our decision, instead of mustering the faith and longsuffering so wholly required of us.

“Lord, remove the obstacle.”

Sure, he could. But then we would learn nothing. Our hearts would remain weak and fragile, and temperamentally reactive. We learn to be faithful by surviving the battle, not by avoiding it. We will never be strong if our strength is never required. If our reason to be brave is kept at bay, then so will our bravery be. My faith is not stretched in complacency, but in the active pursuit of a life lived beyond my comfort zone.

Christians are most often criticized for their naivety; for their belief in what they are told vs what they’ve sought to know for themselves. Let us not be a generation that settles on mediocrity, on bumbling through this life gently and without effect and without real knowledge. Instead, let us be a generation that thrives only when we are actively seeking to know more fully who God is and how selflessly he asks us to live, and by learning why we believe what we believe, instead of simply believing it. Let us come alive, not when we can safely say “God told me so in a book I read,” but rather, when we risk our safety and comfort levels for the sake of loving others (even those who may not return the favour). I pray we are a generation that seeks to ask the Big questions, instead of blindly accepting what we’ve always been told is right and therefore believe. It may be right after all, but we should perhaps learn that for ourselves.

There is a myth in Christian community, so strongly advertised, that venturing into the uncharted territory requires a distancing from God; that to walk into the unknown is to separate yourself from what you Know. But actually, it’s the opposite. When we are walking into uncertainty we are actually walking towards what we know: that God, perhaps, is big enough to hold us steady while we look out over the edge. That he is, in all likelihood, bigger than we realize. Is this not faith, in and of itself? Choosing to see light where no one has yet seen it, choosing to step where no one else dares to? I will never truly know Christ if I do not risk myself to know him better. Do I love him? Absolutely. But love is more than just a word; love is not passive, and neither should my love for my Creator be. I do not venture out into the bigness of my questions or look my obstacles in the eye in order to distance myself from God; I do this to make sure that I know what I know what I know, and in direct opposition to that silly myth: bring myself closer to Him who promises to be faithful.

To avoid risk, or an obstacle in our path, is to imply that we would do these things (overcome this problem) on our own anyway. “I do not have the strength. Please take it away.”  How off the mark. When the obstacle stays and we somehow make our way through and past it, how dare we assume that we did any of it on our own. The strength we muster up for ourselves is the kind of strength that allows us to sit courtside, and that’s about it. By avoiding obstacles and sidestepping the wobbly, uncertain bits of our faith, we are denying ourselves the opportunity to not only be strengthened but to see the hand of God come sweeping unmistakeably into our lives.

Should we, who claim to know the absolute truth, not be certain we’ve looked closely at every aspect of our faith? Should we not know that we know that we know, and not just be guessing? Word to the wise: this doesn’t come from hiding in a foxhole (or a church), and it certainly doesn’t come from isolating myself on a “righteous” island. Faith without obstacle is not faith at all; if there is no risk involved, then there is likely no requirement for Faith, either. You may notice that Jesus spent more time on the street with the crazies and outcasts, and spent more time challenging the status quo than he did sitting quietly in the knowledge of his "rightness". Perhaps we should do the same... not abandoning our faith or beliefs, but bringing them with us when we go.


Ashlea said...

I love this post, Ashley. Very challenging; in a good way.

Mike said...

When I come across obstacles I am on one of two paths - MY path, or GOD's path. Seeing that God does not audibly talk to least at this point of my life...I am trying to make prayerful and peer-confirmed decisions that I believe put me along the path of God. I often choose the wrong path, either out of purposeful selfishness or accidentally, so I have grown accustom to having to re-adjust my goal and focus.

Being on the wrong path - my own path - is not necessarily wrong in itself, but how I react when I learn, hear, or have pointed out that I am on the wrong path is what counts. Do I push through even though there is a yearning in my heart to go somewhere else? Do I give up and say "I can't possibly know what God's will and plans are!" Do I boastfully and proudly say, "I can do this, with or without God's help!"

All that in consideration, there are both obstacles and clear paths on BOTH my own path and God's path, and neither state of the journey is indicative of which path I am on. Just because I am on the path God has laid out for me doesn't mean everything is easy-peasy, and vice-versa when I am on the path that is not where God wants me to go.

So, what can I do when I come up against an obstacle? Regardless of which path I am on there is an opportunity to fulfill one of my primary purposes in life, which is to glorify God. How do I do that even when I'm on the wrong path? I make the assertion that I CANNOT overcome this obstacle myself and God MUST be the one to put me over it. By changing the way I think, I give opportunity for God to show His greatness and receive the glory, even if I am on the wrong path.

I do find, however, that if I'm on the wrong path I have less success in receiving the power of God to overcome obstacles than if I'm on His path...after all...if God really does have a plan for me and I'm following it, won't He see it onto completion? I think so - it's His plan, His power, and the glory is for Him when it is done. He stays the centre of my life, my journey, and my plans...and this is where He is meant to be.