Faith is a process you have to repeat

faith-tested-endurance-growth-runner_1170x350

My roommate is training for a marathon. Well, it’s not specifically a marathon. It’s only a 5K.

“Only a 5K.”

Ha.

I don’t run. The only time you’ll see me run is if someone is chasing me. And the way I see it, when the zombie apocalypse gets here, I don’t have to run the fastest. I just have to run faster than the guy next to me. So I’m set.

Running is one of those things you don’t just go out and do if you haven’t done it. I mean, you can, but you’ll probably hurt yourself. If you want to run for any length of time, you have to work up to it. You have to train for it. If you don’t, your body won’t be able to handle the strain.

But lots of things are that way in life, not just running or physical activity. You have to work up to them. If you try to accomplish something without preparing yourself first, you’re likely to fail. So is it really surprising that faith is the same way?

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” That’s what the Bible says in James 1:2-3, one of the shortest, most practical, most painful books on the New Testament.

You don’t start out with strong faith. Faith starts small, and it has to grow into something bigger. But it can’t grow until it’s tested.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]Faith starts small, and it has to grow into something bigger. [/su_pullquote]

What does a test of faith look like? That varies from person to person, but some tests of faith are financial (do you trust God to provide?). Some are relational (do you love God more than your significant other?). Some are physical (do you believe that God has your best interests in mind whether He heals you or not?).

Tests of faith come in many forms, but they’re always about the same thing. Do you trust God?

That’s what faith is about, following Jesus, trusting that He knows best, trusting that He’s got everything under control even when it doesn’t feel like it.

But God doesn’t drop you into these situations until He believes we’re ready. Looking back on my life, some of the tests He gave me as a child seem pretty insignificant. But I chose to trust Him then, and He came through for me. So I learned that I could always rely on Him, no matter what I needed.

So do you want powerful faith? Start small. It’s like training for a marathon. You can’t just do one day of training and expect to run the whole race without stopping.

Trust God for something small. And when He comes through, trust Him with something else. And something else after that.

Just like anything else you have to get better at, faith is a process you have to repeat. You won’t always see immediate results, but neither do runners.

The more God answers you, the easier it is to trust Him. The more you trust Him, the bigger you’ll realize He is. And before you know it, those giant problems that seem overwhelming to you today will just be a tiny blip on your radar that God helped you overcome.

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How a blanket reminded me that God’s way is always better

We’re getting ready for a new resident at Safe Haven Farm. I haven’t really said too much about it because I wasn’t sure how everything was going to work out, but because of some visa issues, my best friend who has been living in England for 2.5 years is coming back to Kansas. And we’re super excited that she’s going to be moving in here at the farm! But I can’t give her back her old room from the six months she lived here during her last furlough. That room has since been converted into an office and shipping area for my crazy book business, so the only room I’ve got for her is–get ready for it–my old closet.

Now, truth be told, the closets here at the farm are pretty massive. I’ve had a guest room in one for the last few months, and it works just fine. So she’ll have plenty of room. My only concern is the fact that the second floor of the farm still has no heat or air conditioning, and the winter months are coming. It gets freakin’ cold up here. I acclimate really fast, and I’m super hot blooded, so it doesn’t bother me. But I wanted to make sure that my friend wouldn’t freeze to death.

My plan was to buy a little infrared heater and an electric blanket for her room, but there was just a tiny little problem. I don’t have a steady paycheck anymore, and I don’t just have $50 laying around that I can invest in heaters or electric blankets. And, good grief, electric blankets are pricey!

But God’s been teaching me a lot about trusting him over the past 10 months or so. In the past, I would have just rushed out and purchased what I needed, but this time, I wanted to leave it up to Him. So that’s what I did.

Shortly thereafter, I found a cute little electric heater on sale for $10 at Wal-Mart, and it’s perfect. And yesterday as I was cleaning out another closet that my friend can use for storage and clothing, you’ll never guess what I found. That’s right–a practically new twin-size electric blanket. We didn’t even know we had it. It’s just been sitting in a pile of plastic bags in this old closet upstairs for who knows how long.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like a miracle of provision to anyone else, and that’s fine. But it’s exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. And I walked around all day long yesterday just grinning ear to ear because God took care of a need, and I didn’t have to do anything about it. And that, Christians, is exactly how we’re supposed to live.

The second floor guest bedroom (aka my old closet) at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The second floor guest bedroom (aka my old closet) at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Philippians 4:19.

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

Over and over and over again, the Bible tells us that God will provide for us. Over and over and over again, I experience His blessings on a daily basis, but there’s something in my brain that keeps me from grasping that He isn’t going to stop providing for me. There’s this idea in my head that tells me one day He won’t come through, one day He’ll realize that I’m not worth His time.

I’ve given God every reason to give up on me. He knows my heart. He knows how screwed up I get sometimes. He knows that I struggle to trust Him. And if He hasn’t given up on me yet, He isn’t going to.

But I think we look at God’s provision with a skewed perspective. It’s not wrong to ask God for what we need. It’s not even wrong to ask God for what we want. But where is your heart when you ask Him for something? If you ask God for something and He doesn’t deliver, do you get upset? Do you take it out on Him? Do you walk away from Him because you think He’s a liar or a trickster?

If that’s your response when God doesn’t give you your way, your heart isn’t in the right place about what you’re asking for.

God has promised to provide everything we need, and He always keeps His promises. I needed a heater and an electric blanket, and I decided to sit back and let Him provide them instead of rushing out ahead of Him to get them myself. And He came through. And if He can come through so perfectly on something like this, He’ll absolutely come through on the bigger things. I just have to have the same faith and patience about the big issues in life as I do about the small issues.

What are you asking God for today? Or have you asked Him for something and then turned away from Him because He didn’t give you what you wanted? Don’t walk away because you didn’t get your way. His way is always better.

Faith isn’t blind if you know who you’re trusting

Christ-followers talk about faith a lot. It’s one of the most basic, most essential tenets of following Jesus. We have faith that the Bible is 100% true. We have faith that Jesus is who He said He is. We have faith that God will keep all His promises. We have faith that living the way God says is right will result in blessings in our lives. And the list goes on and on.

But somewhere along the line, faith earned a reputation for being blind. It’s not, and it never has been. Blind faith is naivete, lazy, foolish, and dangerous. God demands that we have faith, yes, but not without providing copious evidence that what He’s asking us to believe is true.

There’s faith and there’s recklessness. Some people think it’s the same, but it’s not. Being reckless is spending money you don’t have and expecting God to replace it. It’s living irresponsibly and expecting God to pick up the pieces for you. Reckless living means you don’t think. You just feel. And while there’s an element of feeling in faith, faith should always always be based on the solid bedrock of Scripture.

A3FFD863B6Today’s verses are Hebrews 3:7-11.

“Today when you hear his voice,
don’t harden your hearts
as Israel did when they rebelled,
when they tested me in the wilderness.
There your ancestors tested and tried my patience,
even though they saw my miracles for forty years.
So I was angry with them, and I said,
‘Their hearts always turn away from me.
They refuse to do what I tell them.’
So in my anger I took an oath:
‘They will never enter my place of rest.’”

Faith doesn’t test God. Granted, there’s a verse about tithing and giving to the church where God invites you to test Him (Malachi 3:10). That if you give sacrificially to God’s work, God will bless you abundantly. But there’s no verse in Scripture inviting you to test God’s mercy with driving drunk or even driving buzzed. There’s no verse in Scripture that says it’s okay to immerse yourself in debt and expect God to help you pay it off.

When Satan came to tempt Jesus, I think Christ’s response should guide our actions when it comes to taking unnecessary, reckless risks. Because if Jesus wouldn’t test God by throwing Himself into danger and expecting God to save Him, we shouldn’t either.

But what is faith then if it isn’t blind?

I know many people who have made choices that seem reckless. I have friends who’ve left a comfortable American life to live in third-world nations with corrupt governments. Some live there alone. Others are raising a family in that environment. And many people I know hear about them and comment on how dangerous they are. It sounds reckless. It sounds like blind faith, leaping into a dangerous situation and trusting God to get you out of it. But it’s not. It’s very different.

First of all, faith is knowing who God is and what He expects from His children. He expects us to follow Him, to agree with Him, to say that what He says is right. But the second part of faith is action. It’s doing what God says to do, going where He says to go, living how He says to live. And that is different for each and every Christ-follower.

For some, God directs them to leave their homes and travel through dangerous countries telling others about Jesus, but if God has told them to go, they’re safer in those dangerous lands than they would be at home. For others, God has told them to walk away from their jobs and live a life devoted to Him and to ministry and to others, and if God wants them to do that, He’ll provide a better way of a life for them than if they made six-figure salaries.

I guess, what it comes down to is that it’s not what you do for God that matters. It’s why you do it.

Faith isn’t blind if you know who you’re trusting. If you’re following God with your whole heart, He won’t lead you into a situation He can’t get you out of. And even though your actions may seem crazy to everyone else, if God is leading you, you need to follow.

If you live recklessly expecting God to put your life back together when you’re done having fun, you’ll regret it. God will help you, but it won’t be easy. If you give your life to God now and He leads you to do something the world calls reckless, that’s a completely different story. It may not turn out how you expect, but you can trust God will provide because that’s what He’s promised to do.

The view from Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Staying focused in the midst of the storm

I didn’t get to do some of the things I’d planned to do last night. I had every intention of getting some laundry done, and I wanted to do my dishes (seriously, I promise). But doing dishes would require me to stand by the window in the kitchen, and last night when I had planned to do my dishes, another massive storm swept through here. The sun is still coming up, so I haven’t been outside to check the damage, but three miles south of me reported tennis-ball sized hail. And I’m pretty sure I heard some that big when they were hitting the house. And when you have tennis ball size hail and 75 mile per hour wind, standing in front of a window isn’t a good idea.

So I sat in the basement, watching the weather reports so I would know how to prepare for what was coming. It was more than one storm cell with lots of pink, red, and yellow. But as I was sitting there, I got to thinking about all the things I could have been doing. Even as the hail started coming down, I thought about the things I would have been able to accomplish if the storm hadn’t interrupted me.

And then I kicked myself. Not literally because that would have taken dexterity I’m not capable of. But mentally because I had some things I could do remotely, using my netbook. Technology is a wonderful thing. So as the storm raged outside, I worked on drama team planning and some of the other writing projects I’d put off because I didn’t have time for them.

No, I didn’t get the dishes done. And my laundry is still dirty. But I did get quite a few things done in spite of the storm.

The view from Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

The view from Hadrian’s Wall, Northern England

Today’s verse is Ephesians 5:16.

Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.

Storms are going to come in our lives. Some are worse than others. Some leave us feeling beaten and battered, and others are more of an annoyance than anything else. But kind of like living in Kansas, if you don’t expect the storms, they’ll blow you off your feet. And if you don’t have a good foundation, you won’t be able to stand up.

You have to expect the storms. They’re part of life. You have to be ready for them, and you have to be able to keep functioning when they hit.

I think that’s part of the Christian life, honestly, is learning how to keep focused and keep doing what God has called you to do even when the storm is raging around you. It’s not easy, but God calls Himself a shelter and a safe place for a reason.

If there’s a storm blowing outside or even if you’re waiting for a storm to get to you because you can see it coming, you have a choice on how to handle it. You can hide from it or you can embrace it. And when I say embrace I don’t mean run outside and take photographs, although that’s perfectly fine. I’ve done my fair share of that.

But don’t use the storm as an excuse to hunker down and stop what you’re doing. Don’t use the storm as a sword to cut yourself off from people or from what God has called you to do. Yes, storms are scary, but weathering them alone is scarier.

You don’t have to stop working just because a storm rises up around you. Do what you need to do to survive it and push forward. Your other choice is to cower in fear of it and do nothing.

Maybe you’re okay with that. I’m not. There’s too much to do. There’s too much wrong in the world. There’s too much at stake. And I personally let too many opportunities pass me by.

So if you’re facing a storm today, don’t be afraid of it. God lets storms into our lives for a reason, and He never leaves us to face them alone. Ask someone for help. Tell someone what you’re feeling. And whatever you do, don’t focus on the storm. Focusing on the storm is what got Peter in trouble when he walked on water with Jesus. Instead, focus on Jesus. Focus on what He’s doing. Focus on what He’s called you to do.

You’ll be amazed at how the size and scope of the storm fades when you do that. And what’s more, you’ll be shocked at how quickly the storm passes.

Beach chair overlooking the waves on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

The one thing you have that God wants

God expects a lot from those who have chosen to follow Christ. There’s a verse in Luke that says that people who have been given much have a responsibility to accomplish much, and as Christians we’ve been given a precious gift. Salvation is priceless and a relationship with God through Jesus is something we can never earn or buy.

We know about loving God and loving people. We know we’re supposed to do the right thing. We know we’re supposed to show mercy. We know we’re supposed to live humble lives. We know all those things because the Bible talks about them over and over, although it’s easy to talk about them and much harder to live them. But have you ever wondered what you can do to make God happy? In a way, all of those other things (loving people, living humbly, doing right, showing mercy, etc) all stem from this one concept, and this one thing you can do will please God because it’s the one thing we have that we can give Him.

Beach chair overlooking the waves on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Beach chair overlooking the waves on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Today’s verses are Matthew 8:5-13.

When Jesus returned to Capernaum, a Roman officer came and pleaded with him, “Lord, my young servant lies in bed, paralyzed and in terrible pain.”

Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.”

But the officer said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to those who were following him, he said, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel! And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Then Jesus said to the Roman officer, “Go back home. Because you believed, it has happened.” And the young servant was healed that same hour.

If you want to make God happy, you have to trust Him. The one thing we have that we can give God is our trust–our faith. Faith isn’t something God will just take for granted. It’s not something He’ll ignore. Faith matters to God on a level that supersedes anything else. This story about the Centurion is just one of many stories throughout Scripture showing how God rewards faith. There are other stories of healing, stories of salvation, and there’s even a story about how the faith of four friends saved another friend. Faith is a powerful thing, and it’s the one thing that Jesus pointed out over and over and over again as something God wanted.

Some days it’s difficult for me to wrap my head around the idea that God doesn’t need anything from me. I feel like I need to do something. I feel like I have to earn His love or perform in order to show Him that I’m truly devoted. But that’s my pride talking.

Why is faith so important? Yes, the most important commands are to love God and love people. Yes, it matters to God that we do the right thing, that we love mercy, and that we live humble lives. But how do you expect to accomplish any of those things without faith? Faith is the foundation of the Christian life. You can love God, but first you have to believe He’s there. You can love people, but if you aren’t loving people for God what’s the point? And you can’t love people for God until you believe He’s called you to do it. Same with everything else. Faith comes first.

I’m at a place in my life right now where I’m so stressed out I hardly even know how to function. I don’t want to admit that, but it’s the truth. I knew all of these things I’m dealing with were coming. I’ve been expecting it, and none of it’s bad. It’s all good. And on one hand, I’m so excited to see how God is going to use it all–but on the other hand, I’m just so tired I want to quit. But in those moments when I feel like quitting, I just need to remember what matters. I need to go back to basics.

Faith is as basic as you can get. And it’s the simple truths that sustain me when life gets too complicated to keep track of anymore.

I believe Jesus. He’s my best friend. He wants the best for me, and He has wonderful plans for me. And even though I live in a broken world with broken people and broken circumstances, He can use all of those broken pieces to make something beautiful from my life. I haven’t seen it yet. I have no idea what it’s going to look like. But it’s going to be good.

None of my plans are worth holding on to because they’re not big enough and they’re not complete. God’s plan is better.

Is it easy? No. Letting go of what you want is never easy, especially if (like me) you’re prone to taking things back after you’ve let them go. But once you let go and continue to let go, you don’t have to worry about it anymore. Maybe it’s hard to release it, but the relief is sweet. And when you’re not weighed down with worry, you’re free to focus on other things that matter.