I always wondered about faith. Evangelicals say that you have to choose to have it. Calvanists say that you are predestined to either have it or not. It’s a free gift that you cannot earn. But you have to nurture and hang onto it. Catholics and Orthodox Christians practice it with rituals. So many contradictory ideas.
What I have learned is that faith is the little voice that pops up when you are discouraged or even despairing and points you back to God. It tells you something true and sometimes what is true is not what you want to hear. And you can choose to embrace it and continue walking by faith or you can reject it and try to find your own way forward. And when times are hard, you have to really listen for it. You have to really hold onto what you hear. Because soon enough something will come and wash that little piece of comfort away.
When I have taught my kids to pray, I have always started with the story of Elijah at Horab from 1 Kings 19:
So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
I just love this story. It has the rythmn of a children’s story: “but the Lord was not in the wind . . . but the Lord was not in the earthquake”. And it so perfectly describes encountering God. We know He is coming. Promises have been made. I can just see this story being taught to the children of Isreal when they would ask who God is. What God is. Where God is. What does it mean to know God? Well, here’s how it happened for one man.
There will be chaos. Your brain will chatter, every worry and doubt you have will pop up, you will seek safety and run away – find something else to do, somewhere else to be. But just wait. Learn to find the quiet after the chaos. And listen. God is close.
Why do I say that these words and their amazing power to sustain us are faith? Scriptures describe Jesus as the author and perfector of our faith. Jesus is the Word made flesh. In the beginning there was the word and the word was God and the word was with God. Listen and you will hear words pointing you back to God.
I came across these words a couple of months ago: “who told you that winter will never end and spring will never come again?” And regularly when I have been ready to consign myself to a life of permanent misery, those words: “who told you that winter will never end and spring will never come again?” would drift into my mind. And I had a choice. I could believe what was pointing me back towards God or would I continue embracing the darkness? The darkness seems so reasonable and safe. It’s real. I can think of 100 reasons to just let go of what I have put my faith in until now and give myself up to misery and call it my fate. But everytime I am quiet, every time I cannot hold onto being miserable anymore, the words of faith keep coming back.
For years I heard them, read them, sang them, prayed them, studied them – these words that are truth pointing me back to truth. And now, they come back to me. They are songs running through my head when I wake up in the morning. They are words I have planted in my children coming back to me in their own voices for their own reasons. They are the words that come to the surface every time I pause my recital of the litany of reasons I just cannot and will not continue. And consistently they point me back to God when hitchhiking to Vegas starts to seem like my only hope for survival.
This is how faith works: what you allow in, will come back to you when you need it. That’s just the way it works as is being confirmed by neuroscientists looking at brain plasticity. This is a free gift we all have thanks to these amazing brains we have been given. Our brains will take the smallest good thing we give it and when we most need it, spit it back out at us. I cannot tell you how often when I have been quiet and just listened, something so tiny, so seemingly insignificant will come to mind and that’s just the little boost I need for the moment.
This is God teaching me to see and be nourished by even the tiniest things and the smallest drops of water so that I can survive in a desert place. This is Jesus authoring the words which point me in the direction I need to go on the path that leads to God. Faith is a tiny mustard seed sprouting and pointing towards the sun, however dim and distant it may be. Go that way. Towards the son. There’s love there. S o you hope that God is as good as he says he is and hold onto the light for as long as you can, letting it strengthen you to endure the darkness from the next wave threatening to rip this little bit of comfort away. And somehow, it’s always enough. My hope is that it always will be.