We get ourselves into trouble when we expect direct, visible growth. I had lofty expectations for spiritual growth during my time at Clemson. Aside from a few national championships in football, I anticipated drawing closer to Jesus, finding a community, and discovering clarity in my future: namely an aspiration for ministry.
Yet the only clarity I found was that I, for whatever reason, was not written into God’s plan. I wrestled with doubt and begged God to relieve me of the burden of constant questioning. The response I heard was not a powerful or even a polite refusal—I heard nothing. Absolutely nothing. I was depressed, I felt abandoned, and quite honestly I felt a bit pissed off. To me it seemed as if God had been leading me by the hand to a life of ministry and then just left me, cold and alone. Even worse, I would resent friends who were growing closer to Jesus because I was jealous that, metaphorically, Jesus had taken them by the hand while leaving me lost and looking. I felt like a lost, wandering, meaningless orphan. And worse yet, Clemson went 6-7, in as much of a tailspin as I was.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
In Psalm 13, David wrote those words to God. They felt like they had come on a telegram from my soul. I understood why God wasn’t felt by those who refused to seek him, but I was actually trying to seek Him. I was pleading God to remember me and show Himself to me. But I detected no response.
I’ll never claim to know the Will of God, but I do believe there was value in the suffering. Romans 5:3-5 says that ‘suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.’ And it was true. After two and a half years of desperation and perceived isolation from God, I could feel his hand and hope again.
But that’s all it was all along – a perceived isolation from God. He was no less with me after the storm than he was in my darkness. He was no less with me when I only bothered to pray once a month then when I prayed daily. He was there, regardless of what I did or how I felt or who I felt. Through it all I learned not to base my perception of Jesus’ closeness and compassion on something so untrustworthy as emotions and feelings.
The process was a lot more painful and took a lot longer than I wish it did, but the most meaningful spiritual growth in my life occurred during and directly after this most trying part. CS Lewis wrote – ‘He(God) relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.’
Why does God rely on troughs? It’s because real faith is truly born ‘when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do God’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.’ – CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
-Big G aka Gray Segars, UMin Intern
A key theme in my life recently has been this idea of being bold, stepping out and doing something no matter what the result might be. This is a particularly important concept for men. Men have this
tendency to be lazy and passive. We easily see this when a guy likes a girl and does his best to show her so, which usually ends up being a pretty feeble attempt. This shows up even more noticeably in our faith journey. We think because we are reading our Bibles and praying, then we are doing well. But God doesn’t call us to live a cozy life reading our Bibles and going to church where you know everybody. Life may involve these things but a life rooted in Christ is much more risky than that. It requires us to not know what is coming next, and to do things we would never think of doing. It requires us to step out, into the unknown and do things we wouldn’t necessarily want to do. For a lot of us it’s that simple act of being intentional in our conversations with close friends.
The beautiful thing about being bold and stepping out of our comfort zone for Christ is that it frees us. Once we take that action that the Spirit leads us to, we no longer have to worry about the outcome. That’s not ours to decide; that’s up to God — and in God that’s freedom. In being bold and living into who God has called us to be is freedom, and a life worth living.
Freedom lies in being bold
Kevin Petermeyer, UMin Intern
A recent adventure into Scripture has left me wrestling with God. It’s a story I’ve probably read a hundred times. And yet, somehow the questions I’m asking about this passage never entered my consciousness the first 99 times I read it.
It’s the story about Jesus healing a paralytic, found in Mark 2. Here’s what happens…
1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
I’m not gonna lie, after reading this recently, my reaction to Jesus’ initial response to such a bold, desperate act of faith was deep frustration, even anger. How must this paralyzed man have felt? I’m sure there was an element of embarrassment for him as he allowed his friends to fight against all odds to get him to this place before Jesus. And think of how the hope in him, the desperation for healing, must have been rising. As Jesus is about to open His mouth to speak, I’m sure this man was faced with the overwhelming realization that he might actually experience true healing. Only to then hear, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
I wonder if the man was processing Jesus’ words something like this:
“Um, excuse me… forgiven? Has He seen the state of my legs? Why does He think I came to Him? Maybe I wasn’t clear… I want to walk. I appreciate the His gesture of forgiving my sins and all. That was sure nice of Him. But that isn’t why I let my friends destroy the roof and interrupt His preaching. All I want are legs that work.”
Only after Jesus senses that the teachers of the law are making an inward fuss about His open display of authority does He say to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home,” thus healing the man of his paralysis.
I guess the question that troubles me is this: If the teachers of the law hadn’t questioned Jesus’ authority, would Jesus have healed the man’s legs at all? Could this story have ended with Jesus walking away from the man after forgiving his sins while leaving his legs paralyzed?
When I think about the places in my own life where I yearn to experience healing, I imagine being set in front of Jesus with my wounds open and bare before Him, hopeful that He’ll choose to heal me once and for all. I can imagine hearing these seemingly irrelevant words from Jesus: “Your sins are forgiven.”
“No, Jesus,” I can hear myself saying, “that is NOT what I wanted. Why can’t you just give me what I want? I want to be relieved of my pain, not forgiven of my sins!”
In all honesty, I have not come to a solid conclusion regarding the tension I find in this text. It still doesn’t entirely settle. The one thing that has become clear to me as I read, however, is my own short-sightedness and small-mindedness. I entered this passage wanting from Jesus an immediately gratifying result. Please, Jesus, heal this poor guy’s legs. But, surprise, surprise, Jesus doesn’t conform His ways to meet my expectations. I wonder if this man’s request was too small. The paralyzed man wanted his legs healed, but Jesus wanted the whole person healed. The paralyzed man wanted the freedom to walk, but Jesus wanted to give him freedom from the weight of sin. The paralyzed man wanted healing from the physical sickness he could see, but Jesus wanted to heal him from the spiritual sickness he could not see.
I wonder if the hope I have for my own healing journey is tragically incomplete. Perhaps Jesus wants to give me more than I have found the words to Him ask for. Perhaps He longs to give me true, eternal wholeness over immediacy. The question I find this text asking is, “Will I trust Jesus’ picture of wholeness and healing over my own?”
By Liz O, UMin Intern
I joined my first Core Group when I was a sophomore in college. I remember being scared – were they going to make me pray out loud? What if I can’t find the book of the Bible they ask me to open up to? Do I have to share everything about my life with them?
I remember these feelings most poignantly this time of the year, when we offer Core Group sign-ups to college students at the Inn. As I get to meet with some of the women signing up, I’m reminded what I risk it was when I first put my name down on the Core Group list; I’m also reminded how I was certain it was all at once exactly what I needed to do and something I was terrified to do.
What gets me excited, though, is remembering the community I found in Core Groups. I was blessed by a sophomore group that gave me the freedom to pray in silence until I was comfortable enough to pray out loud with them. I was blessed by a group of women and a leader who – though they had mostly grown up in the church – would unwearyingly explain things to me I didn’t understand (and help me find the book of Isaiah when I didn’t know where to start looking). Most importantly, they let me be myself.
I actually had a couple of different groups during my 4(+) years at the UW. Both groups became places where I could let down any guards and share how I was really doing, what I was struggling with, what my questions were about God, or what frustrated me about the church. We are reminded so often in scripture of our need for community. It’s right at the very beginning of the creation story: “”It is not good for the man to be alone.” We were created to be in community. I quickly learned that my belief that faith is my private business held no water. My faith was not private at all. Personal, yes; private, no.
Not only did Core Group offer peers to grow alongside, it provided leaders to emulate, who would challenge us. Both of my leaders were valuable mentors throughout my time in college.
Core Group is the place I learned how to both challenge my faith and share my faith. I am certain that I wouldn’t have grown as much by simply going to the Inn and talking with friends when I had a chance, even though I learned a lot from the sermons and was often challenged in conversations with friends. Without the set-aside time to be intentional about learning, growing, sharing, and walking alongside others in the faith journey, I would not be the same person.
That’s why this time of year is so full of excitement and hope for me. As I see men & women come into the office to meet with staff about Core Groups, I know a lot of them are taking a big risk. But I also know from experience that the risk can change their lives.
Written by Becky R.
I once heard of a young boy who was told that Jesus once said that you could say to a mountain, “Move from here to there!” and it would move. With faith, this little boy told a mountain to move. Years later, Mount St. Helens erupted! “Did I cause that?!” he wondered in his childlike faith.
When I hear about having a faith that can move mountains, I immediately want it and yet, at the same time, am aware that what I do have is mountains of unbelief and doubt within me. My doubt is not solely about moving mountains. My doubt is also not confined to some of what I would call the big questions of the Christian faith: Does God exist? Did Jesus really did die for my sins and rise three days later? These are important questions, but my doubts tend to run much more along the lines of: “Is God really in my midst and does He even like me? Can God really redeem me and make me new, even in those broken areas that don’t seem to ever be healed? Are God’s promises really for me? Can God really use me? Is God really using me… Or is this all in vain?”
A couple months ago someone pointed out one word spoken by Jesus about faith that I have not been able to shake. They have captivated my attention and given me great encouragement in the area of faith.
One place this word is seen is in Luke 7, where a Centurion asked Jesus to give the word to heal his servant. Here is Jesus’ response: “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.”
The second place this word is seen is in Mark 6, when Jesus visits his hometown people take offense at him there. In response, Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.”
Amazed. I am amazed that Jesus, the Son of God, can be amazed. But there it is, Jesus was amazed by two things: faith and the lack of faith.
I am convinced that Jesus, at times, is amazed by my faith and that He is also sometimes amazed by my lack of faith. I flip back and forth between the two. I am rarely 100% full of faith, nor 100% lacking faith. I’m usually somewhere in between the two.
What has resonated deep in my soul and has become the prayer on my lips and in my mind, is one I have copied, verbatim, from another character in the Bible. This time it’s from a man who is nameless, known only as, “the boy’s father.” His son needed help, so he came to Jesus. The father said to Jesus, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
In the midst of the pendulum of faith and doubt that I swing upon, my earnest prayer has become, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” In this, I can be honest about my lack of faith and doubt, and at the same time ask for help in becoming one who might amaze Jesus with the presence of faith.
Posted by Emily Vancil
As I look down the road in the future I am confident in the hope that I have in Christ Jesus. I do have faith in where he is leading me and that he is in control in my life and that when I look back in 15 years I will be even more confident that he has been at work than I am right now.
But where I get stuck often, is how often I question if God is at work in my life right now. And when I can’t see it or feel it, it is hard to know if it is real. Now this mostly comes at times where I don’t want God to actually be God, I want him to respond to my personal desires, but I still I get wrapped up in wondering what it looks like to experience God’s love in the present. “If he loved me, would this have happened?” I often ask thinking I know best for myself. And if I have faith in the past, and hope in the future, why don’t I always know how to experience that love in the present? What does that love look like? How do I know that it is here and active and present when I don’t feel it?
As God spoke into the silence over 2000 years to awaken the world that he is ever present on this earth, what came out of it was a tangible expression of his love. First in the Christmas story, soon followed by the Easter story. And the way that I experience that love in the present, is by the faith I have that when Jesus paid the price on the cross so many years ago, he did so out of a love for me that I can’t even fathom. And I absolutely believe that if Jesus Christ would have died just for me, and if I was the only one saved that day, that he would do it all again, just for me.
It doesn’t answer every question I have, but it does help to understand what love really is.
Posted by Mike McEvoy
When I experience deep pain or witness extreme injustice, I certainly find myself doubting a faithful God. There was a time when I would recognize that doubt and determine that I must not have enough faith. Now, though, I understand that true faith does not come without doubt. If I think I have faith without doubt, then I don’t have faith at all – I have certainty. But we are called to faith, and ultimately, that faith must lead us to “jump.” Trust me, it would have been a lot easier to take the plunge in Corinth from a place of certainty, but it was weighing all the doubts in my mind that made it a leap of faith.
Posted by Becky Riggers
A lawyer friend of mine recently shared with me the instructions a jury is given prior to a trial:
A reasonable doubt is a doubt that exists and may arise from the evidence or lack of evidence. It is such a doubt as would exist in the mind of a reasonable person after fully, fairly, and carefully considering all of the evidence or lack of evidence. If, from such consideration, you have an abiding belief in the truth of the charge, you are satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt.
How does being satisfied beyond reasonable doubt translate to faith? This same friend, who is a prosecuting attorney, talked about reasonable doubt being like a puzzle. She gave the example of a puzzle with a lot of pieces and some of those pieces are missing. She invited me to think of a puzzle that is a picture of a barn. If, without looking at the picture on the box, you can tell it’s a barn, even if there a pieces missing, you probably have enough evidence to make a decision. She pushed back on her own analogy by acknowledging that pieces missing here and there are a lot different than if an entire section of the puzzle is missing, wherein the whole picture is compromised and it is difficult to determine the bigger picture. Bottom line: in the legal realm as it is with faith, certainty is not always attainable, nor is it the ultimate goal. Rather, seeing past circumstantial evidence and seeing the big picture (abiding belief in the truth) is the goal.
When we consider God’s covenant and steady relationship with Israel do we count it as evidence of God’s love? When we think of the grand positives of the Mosaic law do we count it as evidence of God’s love? When we consider the life, death and resurrection of Jesus do we count it as evidence of God’s love? While at times in our faith there are pieces missing and pieces that don’t seem to fit, can we see the big picture of a loving God that seeks unfiltered relationship with God’s creation?
It brings to mind Paul’s words in one of the most beloved chapters of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
There are enough pieces to sustain my faith that God’s love for me is real. While I long to see and know the fullness of the picture of grace, compassion and love of God found in Jesus, I can see enough of the picture to give me great hope.
When it comes to questions about faith and doubt, the one that always arises for me is “why?” Not, “Why does God work in the way that God does,” but “Why do we have such a tendency to doubt that God is at work, and will be at work to carry through.?”
Recently, I was reading Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald, and he partially blames this tendency to doubt God’s promises on our expectations. And not just normal human expectations, but the expectations that we have in America because of the fact that we were born and raised in America. In reference to God’s promises to answer our prayers, he writes:
We live in a society that is reasonably organized. Put a letter in the box, and it usually ends up where you want it to go. Order an item on the Internet, and it usually comes to you in the right size, color, and model. Ask someone to provide you a service, and it is reasonable to expect that it will work out that way. In other words, we are used to results in response to our arrangements. That is why prayer can be discouraging for some of us. How can we predict the result? We are tempted to abandon prayer as a viable exercise and to try getting the results ourselves.
This observation resonated with me when it comes to the doubts that I have about the promises of God. My expectations are based solely on what I have come to expect in this human world, and I tend to place God in that box. When I don’t see the results I desire, I doubt that God will follow through, or has already followed through as the case can sometimes be.
This reminds me of experiences in other countries, where the values and expectations of the culture are completely different from my own. When standing in a queue isn’t the standard mode of operation, but rather people sort of mob toward whatever it is they are waiting for, I have stood there flabbergasted (and irritated) that this is the way things work. Of course, my culture knows the “right way” to make things work!
Isn’t that how we approach our faith in God and God’s promises? One wonders if the limitations we place on God are causing our own faith to remain stagnant and narrow. What would happen if we could remove our human tendencies to expect God to fit into the culture that we come from, and instead, allow God to blow our expectations out of the water?
Posted by Janie Stuart