Genuine Faith is Messy!

You know, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over these past depressing years, it’s that faith is messy sometimes.  Faith hurts sometimes.  It’s not as easy and predictable and “magic-wandy” as I used to think it was. 

And I think a critical part of strengthening and purifying your faith – of learning humility - is going through the trials and learning to praise Him in the pain, regardless of what’s going on in our lives.

Because it’s in the trials and the hurt and the messiness that I have learned to see God for who He really is and myself for who I really am.  It’s where I learned more about His love, grace, faithfulness, forgiveness, all-sufficiency, etc.  It’s where my faith grew (after much confusion and pain) and where my trust in Him was purified.

I think many of us have faith in God at first because we think it will fix every problem, or because it’s fun and gives us an emotional high, or because we think it will make life the way we want.  But the trials and pain and “unanswered” prayers force us to decide if God is real enough for us to have faith in Him, even when those things don’t happen.  They force us to decide if He is enough for us, if we will cling to Him anyway, if we will trust that He is still good and faithful, even when life is messy and it hurts and prayers don’t “work.”

Painful trials are a line in the sand.  It’s God asking us “Which side do you choose … and why are you choosing it … and will you still stay on My side even if I don’t do all that you want Me to do?”   

I think our faith becomes more real and strong as we face the hard times and trials.  It’s easy to “have faith” when life is going like we want it to.  But that’s not really faith, now is it?  It’s gratitude that life is good.  It’s happiness because we are getting what we want.  And many times, it’s idolatry in disguise. 

I mean, how many times do you hear that someone has left Christianity or turned their back on God because it “didn’t work”?  They were going through a hard time or needed some answers or were looking for something more, and so they decided to “try” God and faith.  But then when it “didn’t work” the way they expected, they gave it up and decided that it’s all just a fantasy anyway. 

Trials and pain force us to decide if we really believe that God is real, that faith matters, that He’s good enough and faithful enough to keep clinging to, that there is more to this life and eternity than the circumstances we face.  They force us to decide who we really want on the throne in our lives. 

And that’s the scary part.  It’s why many people turn from God.  If we sit on the throne ourselves, then we get to handle things our way and we believe that we don’t have to answer to anyone.  And we like that power.  But if God sits on the throne, then we have to accept His answers to our prayers, in His timing and in His way.  And that’s a hard thing to face when we are hurting and want relief.

I think that to make it through the painful trials with our faith intact, we oftentimes have to take inventory of what our expectations and misconceptions are of God and of ourselves and of faith and life.  We need to get rid of our wayward, unfair, unrealistic expectations  and misconceptions of how life should be and how God should be and what He should give us and what He should do for us … and we need to replace them with biblical expectations, based on what the Word says about who He is and how He acts.  (Check out "Through The Furnace: Your 'Sweetly Broken' Journey" for more on this.)   

Oftentimes, it’s not God who lets us down.  It’s our misconceptions and expectations that let us down.  If we base our views of God and faith on what we wish was true and what we expect to be true – instead of on what the Bible says in true – then we will be let down when the trials come.  Because we will think that God failed us and that He can’t be trusted. 

If we base our view of God and our belief in Him on our circumstances – instead of getting to know Him as He really is in the Word – then it’s just a matter of time before we decide that faith “didn’t work” and we turn our backs on Him in bitterness and go our own way. 

Because He wasn’t who we thought He should be. 

But once again, it isn’t God who lets us down.  It’s our own views – our expectations and misconceptions – that ruined our faith because we were building our faith around them. 

And I think this is sometimes why God allows the hard trials, the deepest heartaches.  They are what cause us to take a good, long look at what we believe about Him, about faith, about life, about ourselves. 

And if we are wise, we will evaluate them and toss out the bad and replace it with godly, biblical truth.  (But if we are unwise, we will simply grow bitter and turn our backs on Him.)  

And as we begin to understand deeper biblical truths and to see God for who He really is and ourselves for who we really are, our faith will grow and our trust in Him will become more pure.  It will move from a “what’s in it for me” faith to a “I will trust You regardless of what happens in my life because I know You too well to turn my back on You” faith.  And we will be humbled before Him, as children at the feet of the Father.  And we will be able to praise Him for who He is, even when life hurts.

A faith that is based on the idea that we can manipulate God to give us what we want is not true faith in God at all.  It’s faith in ourselves, in our faith, in life working out as we plan it. 

And that is not faith in God.

We want to lead and we want our prayers to control God, whereas true faith in God says, “Whatever happens, I still believe in You.  And I will follow where You lead.” 

Our hope should not be in the idea that God will eventually give us what we want if we just pray the “right way” and if we just wait long enough for His answer, as if He is obligated to do what we are asking simply because we are showing such “great faith.”  (Oh, how many times I fall into that!) 

Our hope should be in the fact that God is here and now, that He is working things out in His time and in His way, even if they don’t match our time and way. 

It’s not letting the darkness and confusion pull us away from God, but letting it draw us even nearer to Him. 

When we have learned to seek, desire, and enjoy Him more than the things He can give us, then we will find peace, contentment, and joy, even in the hard times.  Because our faith will be in Him, not in some idea of who we think He should be and how He should act and what He should give us.     

In the trials and the pain, we say “I have faith in You that You can do what I am asking You to do.” 

But God might just be saying, “Yes, but will you still have faith in Me if I don’t do what you’re asking Me to do?”

Genuine faith in God is not one that says, “I asked for this and I believe that You can do it, so I’m claiming in faith that You’ll do it.”  (Unless it is in reference to a clear biblical promise God has given us, like for wisdom.)  That’s presumption about what God wants and about how He should answer. 

Genuine faith in God is a faith that says, “I can’t see what’s ahead and I may not get what I want, but I still believe in You.  I believe that You can do what I am asking.  But if You don’t, I know that You are good and that You will work all things out for good.  You are God and I am not!” 

This is putting our faith in God.  This is humility.  (And this is quite a journey, learning to get to this point of trust.) 

It's letting God be God, while we are the children at His feet. 

We can ask, but we have to let Him decide how to answer.  We can desire and plan, but we have to include Him in the planning and be willing to let Him interrupt and change our desires and plans.  And when He wills that a mountain moves, it will move when we pray.  But in His time and in His way!     

If we can’t say “Blessed be Your name” during the hardest trials then we don’t really mean it during the easier times either.  If we won’t follow Him in the hard times – if we turn our backs on Him when the going gets tough or when we don’t get what we want – then we were never really following Him to begin with.  

The genuineness of our faith isn’t tested and proved by how well we handle the successes, how many earthly “blessings” we have, how much we serve at church, or how polished our words and prayers are. 

The genuineness of our faith is tested and proved by how well we shoulder the crosses He places on our backs, how well we handle the trials and if we continue to follow Him even when times are hard and our hearts hurt. 

As I laid there one night thinking about everything I’ve been through (in the post "Where I'm Coming From"), I asked myself if I really wished I was one of those people who has “the good life”?  Who has it easy?  Do I wish that my life was one of smooth sailing?  

Well, of course, yes.  That sounds great. 

But honestly . . . no, I don’t. 

While life sucks sometimes and the burdens are heavy, I wouldn’t trade them for “the easy road.” 

I’d rather struggle with deep loneliness, feelings of failure, and unfulfilled dreams than struggle with how big of a television to buy. 

I’d rather desperately desire more of the Lord’s presence than desperately desire the newest upgrade for my phone. 

I’d rather know pain so that I can sense it in others than know such incredibly self-centered happiness that I fail to notice and have sympathy for those who ache. 

I’d rather cling to a tiny bit of grace than a whole bunch of toys.

I’d rather know brokenness so that I could know His grace so that I could pass it onto others than have so much self-confidence and self-sufficiency that I don’t need the Lord’s grace and don’t know how to extend it to others. 

I’d rather spend my days struggling with deep, meaningful ache than fritter away my days on meaningless pursuits. 

I’d rather struggle with a confusing faith and a mysterious God than have simplistic pat answers about how faith works and have a shrunken, easily-manipulated God that I keep tucked away in a little box until I want Him to do something for me. 

It is in the struggle and the longing and the pain that I have learned just how sufficient God’s grace is, even if life still hurts. 

I have learned that God truly is enough, because nothing else in life really satisfies.  Nothing else in life is that firm of a foundation. 

I have learned to keep my eyes on and to work for eternity, because this life holds very little for me and it will all pass away soon. 

I have learned that God is so much greater and more mysterious than I ever imagined, and I’m learning to be okay with that . . . because that’s what makes Him the God that He is and not a god of my own imagination (which would be no god at all). 

I have learned to sense pain in others and to desire to speak a word of encouragement or eternal hope to them, because I know how a broken heart and broken spirit feels. 

And I know that these trials are building something in my spirit and my faith that will come to fruition and fullness in eternity.  And so I can bear with them for now.  For they are temporary.  And they are building a character and faith and trust that will reap rewards in eternity.

And so I can call them “blessings in disguise” and thank Him for the good He brought out of the pain.

            James 1:2-4:  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

          2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all,  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

To be clear, when I pray, I do let the Lord know about my wants and needs because transparency and connection matters, but I’m learning not to demand my way and not to let my faith be defined by the answers I get from Him. 

I’m learning that my job is to ask, but His job is to answer.  His job is to guide and provide and lead and work things out, but my job is simply to trust Him to do this.  To thank Him for it.  To find any and all blessings that He has already given me – the ones I overlook or take for granted – and to thank Him for them.  To trust His timing and to trust that He will work it all into good.  To fall into His embrace every day and to keep putting one foot in front of the other in daily, humble obedience.  To work for eternity and not for the temporary.

            Matthew 6:19-21:  “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in a steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I have had to learn to live the life I have and to praise God anyway.  While it’s been really hard and I have gone to some dark places in my mind, I really do believe that the struggles have purified my faith in God. 

You know ... to be honest ... I got to a place last year (the year I broke) where I thought, “I wish I could give up my faith!  It would be so much easier to not have to feel that God Himself was allowing this or like He wasn’t listening to my desperate prayers.  If I only had myself to rely on, then I could do whatever I wanted instead of waiting on Him.” 

But I know that’s not the answer.  And I know life would be so much harder if I was the only one I could rely on.  (My goodness, I couldn't even imagine the fear and uncertainty that would come with relying on little, old, broken, anxious, depressed me!  Oh, the horror of it!)  

So why do I stick with my faith, when it doesn’t seem to be “working”?  When so much has gone wrong? 

I guess I stick with it – with the Lord – because I have been through enough with Him to know He’s real, to know that there is nothing else out there that’s worth believing in.  I know Him too well to be able to turn away from Him.  And I have learned that I cannot base His existence on whether or not I get what I want in life.  How short-sighted and self-centered! 

Faith that is based on getting what we want is not really faith at all.

And I guess that’s what I mean when I say that the trials have “purified” my faith.  They have caused me to ask, “So why do I have faith, if it’s not because I think my faith will make my life smooth and carefree and happy?" 

I have faith because I know He’s real, because there is no one else to go to.  And so I will still cling to Him, no matter the trials.  I cling to Him not for selfish reasons but because I know He is real and because I have been through enough with Him to trust Him and to know that He is good.  Even when life is not.  And I have faith because I know this life is not all there is.  Everything in this world – the possessions, the blessings, the trials, the pain – is temporary.  And I am going to live for something more permanent, for the world beyond this one.  The best is yet to come.  And God will eventually make everything right and make something beautiful out of the messes and He will carry me through, if I will humbly throw myself at His feet and into His arms. 

And that is what I can have hope in when I can’t place my hope in anything in this world.

While I have been praying quite honestly that God will shield me from more trials for awhile until I can regain enough strength to stand, I can see the sweet lessons – the bittersweet lessons – that the trials have taught me.  And I know that I will be okay!

My hope is not in anything this world has to offer.  My hope is in the Lord alone, in that fact that He walks with me through the hard times, that He will make something good out of it, that I will see the rewards in eternity, that He will eventually make all wrongs right again, and that all of this struggle will be worth it when I hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” 

And until then, I am learning to praise Him – just because of who He is.  And I am learning to trust Him, no matter what happens, because He has proven Himself to be a good, faithful Father time and time again. 

It is because of the trials that my faith has grown from a pat-answer, self-assured, “gimme” faith in a god of my own imagination into a real, hard-won, lasting, sustaining faith in God as He is - a God who is mysterious, who can’t be manipulated by me, who has His own plans and timing, and who loves us immensely.  Enough to die for us so that we may have eternal life, where He makes all things right again.

That is a God worth clinging to!  Even when life hurts and faith is messy!         

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