Post-Dated Three Weeks Ago…How Do I Still Have Doubt?

I’ve seen the vision and witnessed the provision and faithfulness of God, yet I still doubt.

How is it possible to still have doubt?

Unfortunately, I believe this is the nature of man. Why do we continue to go to church week after week? Yes, obedience is part of it, but another part is that it is so easy to forget. If truth could be placed efficiently in our minds, life would be easy, but it can’t be. Truth has to be beaten, molded, and shaped in us until it’s no longer possible to get it out.

Israel, God’s chosen ones, witnessed more of His great power than any of us ever will and still doubted. So, how can we manage not to doubt? Our task is just as great today, our enemy is just as strong, and, truthfully, we are just as capable of doubting.

So what hope is there for us?

I think Israel never realized that their doubt was not the end. There will be doubt. People are evidence-based, and we expect to see to believe. We will inevitably doubt ourselves, our pastors, our friends, our families, our circumstances, and, eventually, even God, but this doubt is not the end. It’s part of the life we choose. The walk of faith is a life that believes what it cannot see. It’s a life that has to learn to see in ourselves, in others, and in this world what God sees and then act on it. It’s rare, and it’s difficult. How many Israelites went back to Jerusalem with Nehemiah? One percent, I think? Only one percent said doubt would not be their end. Of course there will be doubt, but doubt will not be my end.

The Difficult First Year

difficult-face-of-matt-sliva

The most difficult thing about this first year in missions has been…

well let’s get to that in a minute. On any given day we might meet someone and witness to them, they might pray with us, or even come to church. Those are exciting days; the instant results of the work. It reminds me of when I used to cut grass for a living. There was nothing more satisfying than looking out over a finished lawn, seeing the perfectly cut grass and trimmed edges.

There is only one problem: people are not really instant projects. Instantly, there might be a spark of a result, but is this what we are looking for? It’s kind of like planting a tree versus cutting grass; it takes years to see the results of a planted tree. We are looking for disciples, people that want to be planted, but, also, on a natural level, we are looking for results.

This brings us back to the difficult part of missions, for me, at least. Truthfully, the most consistent evidence that we are in the right place doing the right thing is not in the people we minister to but in the opposition we face in ministering. We see it in many different ways, but it is almost always present. It’s an antagonist constantly questioning us. I realize this doesn’t make any sense, but, in a way, it makes a lot of sense.

I realized that the only evidence I needed was grace

The most beautiful thing about the resistance is that the grace is greater. As I looked for the evidence in my life to battle the opposition and prove to myself that I am in the will of God, I realized that the only evidence I needed was grace. How can we know we are in the will of God? We see that we have the grace to be there. I know the results will come, but I’ve learned that I don’t need them. I’m content to be resting in the daily deliverances of grace.

Created to be Formed

These days have been filled with deep unveilings, unveilings of deep-rooted selfish tendencies, distorted frames of reference, judgmental attitudes, deep-seated fears, and the overall ugliness of depravity. If we are all honest, these days are universal, and I think they are what we spend the vast majority of our lives trying to avoid. We don’t want our true nature to be exposed. We don’t want people to find out who we really are behind closed doors and in the deep recesses of our secret mind. So, we set out to ensure it is never exposed, and we tell ourselves, “I’m not so bad,” until we actually start to believe it.

The trouble is, this process of self-assuaging is a sugar-coated trap. It’s like trying to ignore a cancerous tumor by saying, “as long as I feel fine, I’m not really sick,” all the while the tumor is silently growing and sucking the life from your vital organs. The more frightening part of the whole thing is how slowly the tumor can grow, so you actually may have time to truly convince yourself that you aren’t sick and you’re not so bad off after all. We are incredibly talented at this process, and we are very able to surround ourselves with people who will agree with us and validate our denial.

So what can I do? I’m terrified to face the reality of my diagnosis. I want to find another way to escape it. I can’t really be the person who is afraid God isn’t good or who judges other people or who is simply dissatisfied with my lot in life. Right? Surely if I think positively and take care of others and keep my life in order I will make it through somehow. Right?

The cold, hard, black and white answer is, No.

No?

No.

Crushed under the weight of this “No,” I picked up my Bible desperate for a word of reversal, something that would rebut its oppressive verdict. I found the dichotomous answer in Isaiah 43:1:

 

“But now, in spite of past judgments for [your] sins, thus says the Lord, He Who created you, O Jacob, and He Who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you, ransomed you by paying a price, instead of leaving you captives.”

 

Here was my answer. God recognized my hopeless situation and did something about it. He loved me so much that He punished His own Son so that I wouldn’t have to be a captive to my depraved, secret self. He even chose an example to reinforce it.

In this verse in Isaiah, He references Jacob and Israel, but Jacob and Israel are actually the same person, nominally distinguished by different stages of his life. God created Jacob, but He formed him into Israel. Jacob was like us, a prisoner of genetic tendencies, striving to make sure his life turned out in his favor by never letting other people get the better of him.

Then, he met God.

He wrestled with Him.

God won.

But, so did Jacob.

Jacob acknowledged God for Who He was, and he was transformed by that acknowledgment. He was renamed Israel. He had a new understanding of life subject to the One who instituted life itself.

But, what about the deep-rooted, habitual tendencies of Jacob that had governed his entire frame of reference towards life prior to recognizing the authority of God over it? The recognition of his redemption by God only took a single decision, but realigning his frame of reference would be a formative process.

So here I am. Here we are. Here are all the saints down through history. Moses endured this process. King David endured this process. The apostle Paul endured this process. Amy Carmichael, Charles Spurgeon, Billy Graham. The list goes on.

God didn’t redeem us so that we would be left captive to our oppressive, secret natures, but so that we would be free from them. He created me to be formed into the whole person He lovingly designed me to be. But, it means I have to face the music. I have to admit that I have a problem, a deep, ravenous, incurable, life-sucking problem, that can only be dealt with if I acknowledge that it’s there.

So, these unveiling days have to come; these days I’d much rather avoid, rather sweep under the rug, or run away and hide from. But, I’m in good company. I can humbly be counted among those we usually consider “The Greats,” who also had to acknowledge that they weren’t great at all. They too had to meekly say, Lord, You have created me. Now, form me.

Love,

Lisa 🙂

Everyday Faith

This thought of poverty has been on my mind lately. I have never seen poverty this vast. Even in my travels to South America and Asia nothing compares. I don’t think anyone would argue that poverty should be, where possible, removed from existence, but how that happens another story.

While having lunch with some guys from the church the other day an interesting question came up. Can you diminish poverty in society without at the same time diminishing the relevance of God?

As I thought about it, staying poor seemed like the best answer, but not the way you might think. Christ said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” I believe what Jesus is saying is blessed are those that need the presence of God. Maybe staying poor is the answer after all. We can grow in wealth and knowledge of many different kinds, but we don’t have to lose God in that process. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?

I’m writing this today because it encouraged me. Everyday we see the poorest of the poor living here in Malawi, and it can be overwhelming. Not a day goes by that we are not reminded of the harsh realities of life, and yet the reality for us is that helping the poor work out their poverty is not what we came to do. Perhaps all we came here to do was witness their faith. In spite of their circumstances, these are a privileged people. They are most often short on money but rarely short on faith.

Where There Is Gratefulness There Is Not Always Thankfulness

It’s Thanksgiving Day, and I’ll admit I’m not a very thankful person, but I’ll also say I think I’m a grateful person. In thinking about the holiday today, I realized a few things about thankfulness.

A grateful person is appreciating some benefit given to them. That’s out of the dictionary, not me. Christmas Day is full of grateful people who are not at all thankful. The world is full of grateful people. I’ve visited countries around the world, wealthy and poor, and one thing remains the same: give a gift, a smile, or maybe a little money and I think you will find a similar spirit of gratefulness.

Thankfulness is an attitude deeper than being grateful, similar to the idea of happiness and joy. Happiness comes and goes with the circumstances or situations in our lives. Joy is an attitude; it’s planted deep within us, and it shows itself through every bit of our being. Thankfulness is the same, it’s not me choosing to express it or not, it’s just present and it’s evident. It’s rooted deep and can’t be easily uprooted.

I don’t want to be confusing because I think gratefulness is a good thing. It can be an expression of a truly thankful heart, but thankfulness can still exist even when there is nothing before our eyes to be grateful for.

Finally, I will admit something else; I wish Thanksgiving Day was everyday. I love turkey and every dessert, but even more than that, I wish for a heart with a deep-rooted thankfulness. I know it’s not a wish, it’s a work of God.

From Matt and Lisa, this November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!