“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.¹ Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.² We have this hope as an anchor for our souls, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.³ Therefore, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and protector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
If faith is being certain of what we do not see, then a life of faith is carried out despite how things appear, a life lived by the sight of secret wisdom apart from the knowledge of the natural world. It is in some ways blind, groping and waiting for God to illuminate the next step. It is in some ways brilliant, living beyond the ceiling of this world’s sky. Glimpses of heaven reveal endless supernatural possibilities.
I – and surely many of you – have tasted this “life by faith”. For me, it has been carried out in parenting, marriage and seeking after meaningful work, by which I mean the opposite of futile. Once we experience God’s trustworthy care with our first small dose of faith, we are encouraged to place more of our trust in him.
Lately, I have leaned heavily on him as I begin to “teach” Celebrate Recovery in our local county jail. Well outside of my comfort zone and established skill set, I am forced to fully rely on God for everything: humility, courage, wisdom, answers, favor, safety, etc. I’ve learned in preparation for this love labor that one basic requirement for this degree of dependence is a full disregard of my own self and a full focus on Jesus, sort of like sighting in a rifle. Nothing else can matter, nothing else can come between him and me. I must have a clear line of sight to read his lips, see clearly where he goes.
“Where I go, there my servant will be.”
This is how we ought to live every day, not just during those stretching “ministry moments”. I forget that. The relief of having endured in faith tempts me to fall back on my heels, recover in my own strength, let loose my mind to consider superficial worries and pleasures – “shiny shit” as my husband says. When I look up a few days – or weeks – later, I find I am lost in the underbrush and must find my way back toward the trail by once again sighting in on Jesus. Why not just stay here, where Jesus is full and clear in my viewfinder? When will I learn that the real relief I long for is to be free of the world’s sticky fingers, no longer driven by deceptive messages and impulsive cravings and decimating doubt?
“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”(Matt 11:28-30)
Perhaps the cross was never meant to be heavy. Perhaps denying ourselves was meant to bring relief.
Yesterday, I saw a picture that grieved the inner reaches of my soul. In it several young boys were naked, starving and standing in some dark corridor presumably waiting for food. One was holding a small bowl; it was he who jumped out of the page and ripped my heart. The other boys were darkly black, but his skin was an albino black – mottled with fine ash. His small frame was bent nearly in half exposing the heavy suffering he knew in his short life. His face was uninterrupted by grave grief, and I could tell he was sorry to be alive. No one – no one – should be subject to such bottomless sorrow, rejection, shame. I wished to die for that boy, to take away his suffering and breathe life into his dying limbs.
I realized then that though I could not die for him, I could do nearly the same by giving up my life. I could cast aside all that the sticky world promises to rather spend myself caring for precious souls such as these. (Do we truly know what souls are worth??)
It was an uncomfortable moment. “Why all this suffering God?!” “Is this really what we are here to do?!” “What about the needs of my own family?” But the image was too compelling to ignore. No one should bear such a heavy curse in light of the truth of Jesus Christ. I am praying for the humility to move forward, to truly walk before the Lord as a servant. No more “self help” rumination that strives to solve or, in my ugliest moments, justify myself but is really just a secret paralysis. We are irrevocably broken and incomprehensibly saved. With great love I say to us, move on.
I believe these deep, full acts of kindness are what God sees as truly holy. We are made holy as we love this way. It is not the traditions, rituals, nor the many “new” elements of worship and programming. It has always been and will be this practice of compassion in which we are found holy and righteous. Can we stop making meaning where there is none to make? Can we stop seeking glory for ourselves where God does not intend to bestow it?
As a friend* so beautifully writes, “it is in receiving God’s love ourselves and in extending his love to others that we show ourselves to be sons of God, perfect as he is perfect”. (Matt 5:48) And it is here – in this “life by faith” – that we find relief from the futility of errantly placing hope in ourselves.
¹ Hebrews 11:1 ² Romans 8:24-25 ³ Hebrews 6:19-20, 12:1-3
*Karen Selby, along with her husband Saul, lead a ministry called MEC (Missionary Evangelism to Corrections). She publishes a monthly newsletter to all the volunteers. In the most recent issue, she writes about perfectionism: an addictive way of thinking that demands the perfect performance of self and others. She contrasts this worldly definition of perfectionism with God’s definition of being perfect: giving over oneself to love. I would be happy to forward the article to anyone who might be interested in reading it!