Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Faith Comes from Doing

It's hard to sit in a room and think your way into believing in something. Trust me: I tried.

When I was a child, I read and studied and prayed about being a Christian. I wanted more than anything to believe. I wanted to stop going to bed every night worried that, if I died, I wouldn't go to heaven. So I read and studied and prayed. I learned everything I could about Jesus, and I knew as much about him as any of my peers. But, still, I didn't know what it meant to believe--to trust--that God's love would take care of me no matter what. Something was missing. I needed an existential crisis.

Finally, in a rubber-meets-road moment, I was forced to acknowledge to my boss--someone who had hired me to be a counselor at a Christian camp--that I wasn't sure about my faith. I told him about my repeated prayers and my earnest pursuit of salvation. He chuckled gently and said, in effect, "Words don't make you a Christian. God does." He invited me to consider that me choosing God wouldn't ever be effective. Instead, God choosing me is what would make the difference. My pursuit wasn't to convince God to save me but to convince myself that God already had. Long story short: I discovered what it means to believe--a powerful realization that God's love is bigger than any choice I can ever make. It seems simple looking back, but it's the kind of thing I couldn't ever figure out on my own.

On Sunday, those of us who hear the Track 2 reading from 1 Kings 17 will encounter again the story of the widow of Zarephath. She's the one to whom God sent Elijah, saying, "Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you." The story is a beautiful tale of faithfulness. The prophet asks for some food, but the widow declares that she only has enough to feed herself and her son before they die. Elijah promises that God--specifically "the LORD," which is to say the God of Israel's proper name "Yahweh"--would provide. And the poor widow woman did what she was told.

We don't get to read the whole story on Sunday. You may recall that it ends with the widow's son dying after a sudden illness and Elijah praying to God, prostrating himself on top of the boy, and God bringing the boy back to life. The climactic end is the woman's declaration, "“Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.” In other words, the story ends with the woman (a Gentile) acknowledging the rightness of the LORD's prophet. It's a conversional moment. It's a confession of faith. And where did it start? With the woman's willingness to trust.

We have an opportunity to trust, but sitting in a room and reading and praying won't instill faith in our hearts. In other words, coming to church and listening to a sermon and saying our prayers won't make us believers. Yes, I know what Paul says in Romans 10:17, and I'm not trying to contradict that. Hearing comes first, but faith is action. Faith is trusting. Faith is putting it all on the line and saying, "Ok, God. Here it is. What's next?" If you suspect that sacrificial, proportional, first-fruits giving is one way to do that, you're right. But this isn't just about financial stewardship. It's about putting your life in God's hands. Money is one way to do that. What are the other ways? How can we encounter the existential crisis of needing a savior so that we can practice the art of yielding ourselves to salvation?

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