Got Faith?

“Yes, I’ve got to have faith . . .” are the words that end the popular 80’s song “Faith” by George Michael. These are telling words, prolific words in fact.  I too have got to have faith. But it seems that I’ve lost my way . . . lost my faith?  My faith has been, and may always be, a questionable matter (and that pains me). In the past decade or so my endurance in this race has been challenged in a number of ways, on a number of levels, and a number of times.

In the bible there is scripture that points out that, “Knowing this, the trying of your faith works patience,” (James 1:3).  If this is in fact true, I have gained a great deal of patience over the years.  I am also familiar with Hebrews 11:1 which reads, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” There have been times in my life where I have been extremely hopeful.  There have likewise been moments when I couldn’t capture an ounce a hope to cup in my hands.  And finally, there is Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”  Herein lies my true dilemma. As an individual who was raised to “fear God” (reverence God) I have struggled with this concept of faith for nearly all of my waking life.  Has my lack of faith or intermittent faithlessness displeased God?  On a conscious level I believe that God is real, but there are moments when I question His presence in my life.

Perhaps my problem is that I lack the diligence to seek God. If I think about my spiritual “walk”, I have to ask myself: have I been walking with God?  Do I commune with Him daily?  Do I seek His face with a heart and demeanor that desires nothing in return but the feeling of His love, forgiveness, and devotion?  Honestly?  I cannot in good conscience claim that I seek God’s face faithfully. There are, and certainly have been, moments when I have walked far from God.  And conversely, there have been moments when I have seemingly been in stride with God.  There are days when prayer is the last thing on my mind.  And then there are days when I am thrust upon my knees.  There are undoubtedly moments when I ponder God’s presence.

Why?  You ask.  I question if He is real because of all that I have ingested from the Bible, what I have heard from one pastor, preacher, evangelist, etc., and from what I have experienced in life. Take Psalm 37:4 as an example. It reads, “Delight thyself in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”  If I take the logical approach, it seems that all I would need to do in order to actualize the desires of my heart is to delight myself in the Lord God.  But what does that really mean?  Does it mean that I walk around 24-7 spouting that I’m delighted to know God?  Or is it something more?  I’ve cross-referenced the KJV with The Message translation and this is how The Message reads, “Get assurance with God and do a good deed, settle down and stick to your last.”  Honestly, I’m even more confused.  How does one get assurance with God?  Is it through prayer?  Through communing with God? Is it through reading and confessing His inspired word?  The translation says to “do a good deed”, but what qualifies as a good deed? And is there a quantity attached to the number of deeds required before my heart’s desires are actualized/realized? Now if “assurance with God” comes through faith—this substance of things I hope for and the evidence of what I don’t see, then my faith must grow in order for me to please God and then receive the desires of my heart—at least logically that is the conclusion I have drawn.

So let’s take this conundrum a step further.  Let’s look at Romans 10:17 which reads, “. . . faith comes by hearing, and hearing the word of God.” Okay, in order for my faith to grow perhaps I have not heard enough, heard enough of God’s word. I’m torn again. I grew up in church. I grew up hearing some man or woman [of God] share his or her interpretation of the Bible which is “God’s inspired word to man”.  I grew up hearing my grandmother’s and mother read from their Bibles.  And I have heard, heard God’s words for all these many years, yet why is my faith, my faith in God, called into question time and again? Why do I doubt that He will give me the desires of my heart?  Why do I wonder if he has heard my petitions?  Why God? Why?

Today, I posed a question to a group of students who had been reading a book, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, about a Rwandan woman’s survival of the 1994 genocides that rocked her country. Here is what I asked four 8th graders, “Does it take an experience like Immaculee’s (surviving genocide) in order to meet God face to face—grow your faith?” I too had been reading the book alongside my students. And while I had been reading the harrowing experience this woman went through, it seemed that my faith kept being called to the carpet.  One at a time they each shared their personal thoughts.  The consensus: perhaps it does take a life-altering experience for our faith to grow and develop.  I looked at one of the girls and said rather plaintively, “I would hope to never have to experience genocide in order for my faith to grow.” I went on to state that I wanted a spiritual experience like Immaculee Ilbagiza (the author of the book and genocide survivor).  “Here dream was so vivid,” I said as I recalled the dream Immaculee had regarding her murdered family after she had made peace with their deaths and forgiven their Hutu killers. Immaculee had great faith throughout her ordeal.  She prayed and sought God daily while hiding from Hutu tribesmen who sought to rid Rwanda of its Tutsi population.  And it seemed that her seeking God made all the difference for her survival amidst the genocide.

  • She sought God and He protected them from being detected in the Hutu pastor’s bathroom for three months
  • She sought God and avoided being attacked on the road by a throng of Hutu killers wielding machetes
  • She sought God and obtained a job working for the United Nations
  • She sought God and married the man she petitioned God for

 

I too want(ed) my faith to grow and expand to the point that it is more than positive thinking, but a deep-seated intrinsic “knowing”. As the group’s discussion transitioned, I found myself moved for two reasons. One, I was so very much impressed with the level of analysis the students had with regards to the text and the concept of genocide.  All too often we Americans take things (experiences) for granted.  But more importantly, these four young adults had made such poignant remarks about humanity that I was nearly moved to tears. And all the while I kept questioning my faith.  Where is my faith?  I’ve got to have faith!

So I am posing a question to anyone who doesn’t mind answering.

 

How do I grow my faith?

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The Power of Prayer

“Their minds had been infected with the evil [propaganda] that had spread across the country [Rwanda], but their [Hutu extremists] souls weren’t evil.  Despite the atrocities, they were children of God, and I could forgive a child, although it would not be easy . . . especially when that child was trying to kill me . . . That night I [Immaculee Ilibagiza] prayed with a clear conscience and a clean heart.  For the first time since I entered the bathroom [genocide “sanctuary”], I slept in peace.”

–from Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiz (with Steve Erwin)

I read the words and felt immediate conviction.  Perhaps my inability to sleep soundly (without waking at the slightest sound or movement) is directly related to my efforts (or lack thereof) in praying for others.  Sure enough I have a prayer life.  At times I have been more fervent than others with my prayers.  But I’m talking about praying from a deep place within.  I’m talking about praying for more than myself, the safety and well being of my friends and family; I’m talking about praying for those who have brought anguish and pain to my doorstep.

When I was younger I was often confused by the language found in my bible (King James Version), I sought to know The Word, but found myself struggling to make sense of the unfamiliar string of phrases.  As I grew older I found solace in the myriad of translations that were made available.  I still read from the King James Version, but now I find clarity in reading from the Amplified Bible as well as The Message translation.

Luke 6:27-28 (KJV) calls us to “. . . Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.”

The Amplified Bible translation of the same verses reads, “But I say to you who are listening now to Me: [in order to heed, make it a practice to] love your enemies, treat well (do good to, act nobly toward) those who detest you and pursue you with hatred, Invoke blessings upon and pray for the happiness of those who curse you, implore God’s blessing (favor) upon those who abuse you [who revile, reproach, disparage, and high-handedly misuse you].”

The Message translation of Luke 6:27-30 notes, “To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies.  Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.  When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person.  If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it.  If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it.  If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life.  No more tit-for-tat stuff.  Live generously.”

That call to action can seem like a pretty tall order when you are carrying the load of hurt, pain, anguish, hatred, and/or malice in your heart.  Just recently I began reading the book Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by genocide survivor Immaculee Ilibagiza.  Ilibagiza tells the harrowing truth of how she survived the genocide that ripped through her homeland of Rwanda in 1994.  The text is not typically one I pick off the shelf; decidedly so, I have been on a science fiction high as of late.  Nevertheless, I just began a unit of study with my 8th grade students on the challenge of social justice.  While the unit of study initially called for the students to form literature circles and read about the Holocaust of European Jews, my school’s media specialist and I made the executive decision to expand the readings to explore stories of global genocide (fiction and non-fiction).  We found half-dozen-or-so titles that cover acts of genocide from across the globe and spanning the past eighty years.  Ilibagiza’s Left to Tell is one of the books on my student’s list.

By now you may be wondering where I’m going with all this.  It’s actually rather simple.  When I reached part two of the text, “In Hiding”, I was confronted with a harsh reality similar to that of Immaculee Ilibagiza—a heart that contained hurt, hatred, and unforgiveness.  At this point in the text Immaculee is hiding in a small bathroom in the house of a sympathizing Hutu pastor in her village.  One of six women in the cramped space, Immaculee comes face to face with the reality that she must forgive, and pray for the souls of the Hutu extremists hell-bent to rid Rwanda of the Tutsi tribal minority they believe are out to gain control over the government.

The conviction hit me square in my chest.  How could I continue to harbor feelings of unforgiveness (hatred and malice) and not pray for those who have despitefully used me, when this woman who suffered a far worse experience, was able to do so in the midst of her turmoil?  Right then and there I put down the book and began to pray for those individuals who I felt had wronged me over the course of my life.  I prayed for God to forgive me for the things I had said and done to hurt others.  I prayed, not because I so desperately want a night full of peaceful sleep (earnestly I do), but because I want a life of peace.  We have been given life in an effort to make the world we live in better.  Each one of us has something to say and/or do that will leave this world better off, not worse off.

Despite the fact that Immaculee Ilibagiza went through a living hell in Rwanda, she has been able to use her experience to heal a country–a world that is fractured.  I have been moved by her experience.  Though I have not yet finished the book, I am looking forward to the additional lessons–morals that it holds for me.

Every book that I read leaves me different.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a work of fiction or non-fiction; I am never the same person after the book is finished.  The same is true about the individuals who bless us with their presence.  Every friendship changes me.  Every experience of love (breath taking and heart wrenching) has changed me. I firmly believe that we should take away something positive from every person, every experience we encounter—good and bad.

I’ve been challenged to live differently, to pray differently.

What “take aways” have you gleaned from acquaintances, books, enemies, experiences, friends, family, movies, songs, etc?