"Just believe"... "Have faith"... these are words intended to offer encouragement to
struggling believers facing a challenge. Unfortunately, while accurate, they are much easier to say than do, and, quite frankly, incomplete. In fact, this reveals the heart of most believers' struggle: to truly believe God, not just believe in Him.
Though not raised in a Christian home, my upbringing was laced with respect for
Christianity--in fact, for all religion. But it was a disconnected respect; a courteous nod rather than an affirmation of value. Religion, though not explicitly described as such, was intimated to be a comfort and a reason for those who needed it to sustain them in life. Interestingly, in recent years this approach to Christianity has become fairly standard. Many unbelievers in public arenas have regularly adopted this perspective to respectfully demean those who structure their life choices around faith in God, even Jesus Christ. ("Respectfully demean" admittedly sounds like a bit of an oxymoron-at best a paradoxical hybrid, born of the present unacceptability of blatant hostility.)
Becoming a Christian at twenty, I discovered that God had so many more resources than I possessed! My introduction to college effectively crushed my self-esteem; the Lord offered His in its place. The most powerful hope I could ever have imagined surged through my heart, growing firmer as I faced trials here and there, giving me confidence I had forever sought but never genuinely felt.
Working toward finishing my degree as graduation approached, I began to seek employment. What good is a college degree without a job, right? I had visions and so many plans: I would interview with at least ten companies, all of which located within a day or two of my family; they would all offer me huge salaries and perks to come work for them; the positions I chose from would be dramatic, exciting and in my precise field of interest. I signed up for my first three interviews, attended my first and was told they had no openings in my desired field. My heart sank a bit. Also, the only location they were hiring for was 2500 miles away, on the other side of the country. I grew more disappointed. And the last and worst part of this, my first interview... it was clear immediately this was where Christ was calling me to go! Thus the first real challenge to my faith began.
Struggles with faith come in innumerably different shapes and sizes. Some seem extremely difficult to survive and yet turn out to be deceptively straightforward. Others appear quite simple on the surface but bring about deep, heart-wrenching agony. Mine was the latter. The only other two interviews I had--which incidentally were with companies hours from my home--went fairly well, but with little interest on either side of the table. More confirmation of what I didn't want to hear: God had prepared the way for me, and all I needed to do was make the decision to move out, walking on nothing but my faith. But faith in God's existence, even believing that Jesus Christ is His Son and that He saved me, is not the faith I'm referring to.
If your first thought after that statement was "Huh?" join the club. Ultimately, I made the choice to trust Him and follow His plan, and thank God I did! But this is where I became confused in those heady days of breaking out into the "real" world. You see, I always understood that believing God was God, believing in the inerrancy of His word, was the entirety of faith. Stand on that, and you will never fall. Fourteen rather arduous years later I've learned this to be a true but incomplete answer. I tried for many of those years to make that faith be enough for me to live a righteous life; what I encountered time and again was failure. But how could that be? Was my faith not genuine? While this is a valid and crucial question for each of us to ask ourselves, I was certain I knew the truth of the Gospel. What I didn't grasp was that eternal life in Christ is not limited to salvation. I needed more.
I am convinced I am not the only one who stopped short of God's whole gift in this way. Many believers I've encountered struggle with frustration and disillusionment, depression and anger; they truly believe in Jesus but continue to struggle. No one ever told them that what is needed in the believer's life is more than just faith in Jesus' work on the cross. Now, before you shout "sacrilege!" let me state that Jesus' work alone brings salvation, to be sure; but the moment we are saved from our sin is not the end of the story! In my experiences, I discovered that believing I am saved simply was not enough to prevail over spiritual and physical battles each day. Our enemy does not cease his attacks on us once our eternal future is out of his grasp--he simply alters his strategy from direct assault to seige and deception, and I had no idea how to be victorious in that.
In order to walk in Christ, to live righteously day to day in the midst of this spiritual hostility, we must continue to learn who He is, not merely rest in what He did for us.(Ph. 2:12-13) In theological circles, this is known as sanctification; unfortunately, the what and how of sanctification is often explored in sermons and teaching only a fraction as often as salvation. Just "religiously" reading my Bible every day wasn't cutting it. The Lord wants us to know Him more intimately every day. He has so much to show us! And in knowing Him more, we begin to take on His perspective and apply it to the day before us, bringing understanding. Who brings that understanding? The Holy Spirit. John 16:13 says "when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth." Of course, we receive the Holy Spirit upon salvation, but still, the decision to listen to His guidance is ours.
God's word tells us "be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD." (Ps. 27:14) Understanding that His spirit's power is outside of any present struggle we are enduring allows us to take heart and fight on, though victory may appear hopeless. Be encouraged! He will not abandon us, though our enemy attempts to persuade us He will. Through the Holy Spirit's instruction of His word and ministry to us in prayer, we rise, as Philippians 4:7 promises, into His peace, superior peace that "transcends all understanding." And that peace will carry the day.
Copyright (c) 2006 Jeffrey R. Snell
Scripture Taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION
Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
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