Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Faith, Hope, and Love

A cold front is moving through middle Tennessee, replacing last week's unbelievable warmth and sunshine with an equally unfathomable wind that can only be described as "blustering." These fronts are the famous sources for countless Whitehead family pressure headaches, and I have one now.

Stress also gives me headaches. The Whitehead family has an abundance of that, too. Last night was particularly stressful for the sorts of reasons that all of humanity has experienced. I won't go into details, but I was glad to be "tucking in another day" (Chris Rice) when bedtime finally rolled around.

It is a blessing the way the Lord restores one's soul after a full night's sleep. Maybe that's part of what it means that God's mercies are "new every morning." Everything seems new in the morning. I apparently clenched my teeth all night and woke up with a killer headache, mind you, but I woke refreshed in spirit if not in body. After a glass of water, a shower, breakfast, sudafed, tylenol, and coffee, I was far better in body too. Next, I set to work on my state of mind with some morning reading.

I have been studying the book of James for the past few weeks. The first week I read chapter 1 every day, the next chapters 1 & 2, and I have worked my way up to 1-3. (One can't use this method with all books, but I like the reinforcement and James is a short one.) The second half of chapter 2 caught my attention today. The subject is Faith, and I need it right now.

I suppose it is only though the blessing of trials that God's word can be made alive to us. I may have been interested in "having faith" before, but it is when my faith is failing that I am most thankful for the Word's elaboration on the subject. James 2:14-26 discusses the invalidity of faith without works. We've both heard that before, but reading it today brought to mind a conversation in which a dear friend was near despair and said he just didn't know how to "have faith" right now. It occurred to me today that these verses address that very problem.

(I'm young. Bear with me.)

Faith seems to me an abstract thing. I say I want to "have faith" and to "believe," but when I'm really struggling I often note that I "don't know how to have faith right now" or that I "don't know how to believe" what I claim to believe. Maybe these verses are the answer to those dilemmas: Faith IS work. Studying grammar taught me to see a linking verb as an equals sign. Thus, the two are not only linked, they are equivalent. "Having faith" and "believing" are not abstract things, they are tangible actions in the form of works. Just as with Hope and Love, I am discovering that it takes a lot of courage, energy, and effort to "have Faith." In fact, all of those seem to involve a lot more "trying" and a lot less "having." This made me think of our conversation last night, how sometimes we just don't know how to be (and the bible telling us "how to be" sometimes doesn't seem to help as much as point out impossibilities). However, the Word always tells us what to do, and that is something tangible. I am thankful for the occasional tangibles of faith (she stated paradoxically)!

An author once illustrated Christianity with the "say like" game. Do you remember?

"Say like I'm an astronaut and this is my rocket ship."
"Say like I'm the mommy, you're the daddy, & teddy is our baby."

Faith and belief are a game of "say like I'm Jesus." In Lauren F. Winners's memoir, Girl Meets God, she narrates from an obscure British novel a scene in which a believer and a cynic are debating God. "Of course I know you believe in it, the cynic says, what I want to know is do you believe in it the way you believe in Australia?"
My answer is usually No. I don't know if "I believe" God is answering my prayers. I don't know if I "have faith" we can overcome the demons that sometimes indwell this house. But I can ACT as if I do. I can continue trudging along in the actions that are required of me, trusting grace to meet me in the middle. I turn to the golden rule. I begin to discover how King David could delight in the Law, how it ceases to be a task and even becomes a relief to meditate on it day and night. The Word tells me what to do, the work of my faith. One of my psych professors said it this way: We cannot think our way into a better way of living, but we can live our way into a better way of thinking.

All that being said, I must finally reminding the pragmatist in me that this "better way of living" is not to effect some change in the world around me but to fulfill my destiny to become more like Christ. It is likely that the fruits of the latter will take care of the former, but I must trust God's sovereignty and, in obedience, take responsibility for myself alone. And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion. . .soon. (Philippians 1)

Well, that's my spiel. It was a bit of a revelation about faith for me, and a much-needed encouragement.

"I am amazed at the patience of my blessed Master & Teacher, but how I love His school!"
E. Prentiss

1 comment:

Susan Tipton said...

It was an encouragement to me as well- thanks.