Recently I was able to get back to church again for the first time after an extended time away. I had been dealing with a variety of physical problems which had made it impossible to get out and it was SO good to be back.
I go to a small church, and each person is known and cared about. To my delight, it also marked the return of several others who have been dealing with long term illness or who have recently been unable to be out for various reasons. Each was received back with joy. It was interesting that one of the topics in our message centered around the fact that as brothers and sisters in the Lord we are family. That is what it felt like.
One of those returning was a woman who has been seriously ill for a long time, and in considerable pain. She reported her progress to us and told us that she has realized that her place is just to accept the unchangeable, and say “Yes” to God and that we can find good in every circumstance when we know that He loves us. She said, “No matter what happens, good or bad, I trust Him.”
A second “returnee”, a young man who had just undergone dangerous surgery for a devastating cancer and seemed to be recovering well, shared with us that the latest tests had revealed several new nodules near his lungs. He has a young family, and I know that there is anxiety. Yet, he, too, expressed the same thing: “ My life is in His hands and no matter what happens, we are trusting in His wisdom and His timing.”
I had come to the same conclusion many years ago as I faced emergency heart surgery. I had no family nearby and I had never felt so alone. I prayed as I lay in the corridor waiting to be wheeled into the O.R. and was blessed to receive a strong sense of the Lord’s presence with me. I was able to rest in the same truth as my friend from church: “No matter what happens, good or bad, I am not afraid. I know in Whom I have believed.” It was a comfort to me to realize consciously that my faith was not just words or a pattern of living: that my faith was a reality of my heart and not just a creed which I believed intellectually. I have since learned that this is one of those lessons which may need to be revisited several times over the course of a life.
No matter what your circumstances, I think it is important to examine your faith from time to time to see whether it is a living faith, or one which just “coasts” on platitudes, memories, and a way of life that has simply become habit. We Christians have a distinct culture. We speak a kind of special language; we hear and say certain phrases or truisms over and over until eventually we may think we believe them because they are so familiar. We have answers for everything ~ yet we are sometimes caught unaware when some illness or uncomfortable circumstance happens to us and all of a sudden our real response is nothing like the one we think we should have.
I have been a believer for 70 years and have seen many kinds of people in many kinds of situations. I hope it is clear that it is as an observer and not as a judge that I make these comments. While I can never know with certainty what is in the heart of another, I do know that I often see people who say they believe in certain things, but whose actions are not congruent with those beliefs. I cannot count the number of professed Christians I have known whose final months were marked with a terror of death rather than peace and anticipation of seeing the Lord. I think it is really important that we examine ourselves from time to time and objectively evaluate whether or not our words are a true reflection of our beliefs. We often assume that if we do certain things or don’t do certain other things we are being obedient to God, and are therefore “good” Christians. To the contrary, what is really important is whether or not we have a healthy, thriving, growing relationship with God which is gradually changing us and increasing our faith.
When I become aware of the many blunders I have made in my own life, and see all the times when I have chosen my own way without ever asking God what His way might be, it is hard to feel justified in judging others for their blunders. All we like sheep have gone astray, and have turned everyone to his own way. We need to be humble and willing to follow the Good Shepherd and forget about assuming we are clever enough to make judgments about our own lives, let alone the lives of others. As one sheep to another, I have no right to judge you and you have no right to judge me. Judgment is the Lord’s prerogative.. Until we stand before Him, our job is to take up our crosses, deny ourselves, and follow Him.
I want my faith to be an aware faith ~ a conscious choice to keep my eyes on Him and follow closely. It isn’t about setting out the rules and following them; it is about following Him, and then the things we choose to do or not to do will fall into place naturally. He will never direct us to do or say anything which would dishonor His Name.
I think it is important that we pray for enlightenment and a clear vision of ourselves through the eyes of God. If we truly believe what we say we believe, it should be our goal and purpose to be in the process of becoming more like the Lord Jesus. That can’t be achieved by simple rule keeping. It might require times of stress and suffering. It might require walking blind for a while, unsure of where we are being led. It might require a period of unanswered prayer until we sort out what it is He is trying to teach us. One thing about which we can be certain: a conscious faith will recognize that His dealings with us are all about love. May we see ourselves clearly and humbly, and be prepared to submit in trust to every circumstance.