I learned a life-altering reality about God today, something that I may have known all along. But, there is a significant difference between understanding something and having it sit at bay and understanding something and having it lead to action. The latter is faith or belief. It’s proactive. Luther once said, “Faith is an active little thing.” The truth has moved from the head to the heart. Yes, faith without works is dead because faith without works is not faith at all. So maybe I should say I believed a life-altering reality about God today. The reality was this: The validity of God and His truth, as found in his Word and in the person of Jesus Christ, is not based on or dependent upon my feelings at any given time. That may not be a new concept for you and it may seem relatively simple (or maybe not?), but hang with me. I want to give some personal illustrations and show why it’s so important for the Christian to understand this truth.
Over the past three months I have been struggling with some unknown illness that is really wrecking havoc on my body. I won’t go into the ins and outs of the sickness. I’ve turned to James chapter 1 for help over the past week. Verses 6-8 have really perplexed me up until today. James says, “But let him ask in faith (for wisdom – vs. 5), with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
It became apparent to me today that I was living as if I had to climb some spiritual latter and make it to a specific height of faith in order for God to grant me some wisdom in my particular circumstance. But, there are a number of things wrong with this type of living and thinking. First, God cannot be limited by anything outside of his own nature. There are things God can’t do. For example, God can’t sin. God can’t act unloving. God can’t accept injustice. Etc. These things all fly in the face of who He is in His very being. Second, it placed far too much emphasis on my personal faith, when I should have been emphasizing the unchangeable nature of God’s character. That is the object of our faith –His (not our) faithfulness. That is the faith James is talking about in chapter 1 of his epistle. You see, there is a difference between having doubt in a given situation (we all have times of doubt) and doubting the things that God has revealed to be true concerning himself. God is who he says he is, despite how I may be feeling. His character is the key, not my current state of emotion. The double-minded man doubts the character of God as revealed by God.
I had slipped into works righteousness, replacing faith in God’s character with faith in my ability to have faith. It was up to me to climb my way to God. I had believed a lie and, for a moment, abandoned the true gospel of grace alone. What I needed to be doing was exercising faith in God’s nature by acknowledging my need for his wisdom and by believing that I would get it according to that nature. For, “God gives generously to all without reproach.”
I also remember a wrestling with God that sounded something like this, ‘God you have placed so many ministry opportunities in my path, if you would just grant me some relief from the pain, I could be watching you do amazing things for your kingdom through me!’ Wrong-thinking again. More than that it was a sinful indictment against God that I needed to confess. I was essentially saying that God did not possess the ability to do in my weakness what he could do in my health. He needed my health. But, what does God’s Word say: When we are weak He is strong. Not only does God not need my health to accomplish His work on earth, he doesn’t need me. I hope that concept is not earth shattering to you. If the living God had need of anything he would cease to be God.
So what can I do now in the midst of my trial?
- Understand that God has not promised relief, but he has promised his followers endurance and steadfastness, and one day…perfection. These things are not gained or accomplished without trails in our lives. I found it important to recognize that James says the “testing of your faith,” already assuming that faith is present in the individuals that he’s speaking to. The saving faith that we already possess (Amen!) is simply being refined and strengthened. That, to me, is encouraging.
- Praise Him. The old Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego line of thought comes into play here: I believe He can, I believe that He will, and even if He doesn’t…!
- Proclaim the Truth. Even in my battered state I can proclaim the truth because the truth is unaltered by my feelings and God is unaltered too! That is relieving.
- Keep going, despite how I feel. Keep pressing on. Keep confessing. Keep running to obtain!
- Change my mindset and pray for a heart that is tried and true.
- Leave “tomorrow” alone – Matt 6:34
- Fear not! – Rom 8:15, 2 Tim 1:7, Psalm 56:3-4