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Perhaps the best devotional book that I've ever read, and continue to regularly read, is My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. Today's selection once again touched me and fit so beautifully with some other Scriptural reading I had just done ahead of time on the subject of faith. Before I share my reflections on those readings, let me quote the Oswald Chambers selection entitled "The Transfigured Life." He writes:
"What idea have you of the salvation of your soul? The experience of salvation means that in your actual life things are really altered, you no longer look at things as you used to; your desires are new, old things have lost their power. One of the touchstones of experience is - Has God altered the thing that matters? If you still hanker after the old things, it is absurd to talk about being born from above, you are juggling with yourself. If you are born again, the Spirit of God makes the alteration manifest in your actual life and reasoning, and when the crisis comes you are the most amazed person on earth at the wonderful difference there is in you. There is no possibility of imagining that you did it. It is this complete and amazing alteration that is the evidence that you are a saved soul.
What difference has my salvation and sanctification made? For instance, can I stand in the light of 1 Corinthians 13, or do I have to shuffle? The salvation that is worked out in me by the Holy Ghost emancipates me entirely, and as long as I walk in the light as God is in the light, He sees nothing to censure because His life is working out in every particular, not to my consciousness, but deeper than my consciousness." (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, November 12)
How does all this fit with my other readings this morning on the subject of faith? It fits in that I've been wondering how many of the actual things and circumstances of my life have really been altered and how many of them still (unfortunately) still remain pretty much the same as those of the rest of the world. Have the old things of the world really lost their power, or do they still have a grip on me? Has God really altered the things that matter to me, or am I still hankering after them?
What are the things that matter to me? Three quickly came to mind this morning. I'm sure that they are likely the same things that matter to most of us. They are, (1) my employment needs, (2) my home and my ability to pay for it, (3) my health, especially in light of the current global H1N1 pandemic (not to mention all the other health concerns that we all have). In all three, I wondered about my faith (or lack of it). Am I still looking at all these things with worldly eyes, or am I walking through them "as the wind blows" (John 3:8)? Am I trusting only in my efforts and understandings, or am I really walking by faith? I wonder.
Paul said, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Romans 12:2). It is a completely NEW mindset and a completely NEW way of looking at our circumstances in the world. We must not lean on our own worldly understanding of all these things (Proverbs 3:5). Ultimately we must not trust anyone or anything when it comes to job, home and health - except God alone. If we can do that, then that is having a transformed and a renewed mind. Anything less is still a hankering after these things just like the rest of the world. If we are still hankering after worldly things then, contrary to 2 Corinthians 5:17, then we are NOT a new creature and old things have NOT passed away and all things have NOT become new. In that case, it's fair to say that there is no difference between the way we think and the way the rest of the unbelieving world thinks. Evangelistically speaking, we have nothing that the unbelieving world would even want. We could even potentially go so far as to say that we ourselves then really are not true believers at all either. I know that sounds harsh, but if we are honest with ourselves, I think we have to admit that it's true. Having said that, it is not my place to judge anyone but myself. "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves" (2 Corinthians 13:5).
So what is the answer then? It is a serious re-examination of our FAITH in light of the providence of God in all things. How does my faith in God's providence play out when it comes to my employment needs? How does my faith in God's providence play out when it comes to issues that I may have with my home and housing needs? How does my faith in God's providence play out when it comes to my health concerns? Am I worried sick over these things, or am I walking in complete and total faith, knowing that while we may not know what the future holds, we do know who holds it? Do I really know and in complete faith believe in Him who alone holds the future? I wonder.
All this is not to say that you and I should simply liquidate everything and sit cross-legged on a mountain top waiting for our manna to fall from heaven. God does expect us to be doing something about our circumstances in accordance with our abilities and gifts that He has given us (Matthew 25: 14-30). But having done what we can with what He has given us, are we still freting when things don't go as we would like them to go? Are we still leaning on our own understanding? We must remember that God's ways are not our ways, and our ways are not God's ways (Isaiah 55:8). It's very likely, then, that if our thoughts and ways seem right to us, then they are probably not God's thoughts and ways. This too probably explains why we so often still make a mess of things; because we're still leaning more on our own understanding than on God's divine providence.
Hebrews 11 is a wonderful chapter on faith. "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Do you and I have the assurance that, though we do not see any evidence of the things we hope for with our worldly eyes, that God is FULLY in control of all things? Or have we got ourselves so wrapped up in the things of this world that this world has become our home? If so, what are we going to do when the testing and the fires come? Paul says that ALL natural things will be tested with fire (1 Corinthians 3:13). What will we do when that day comes? I wonder.
I am not saying that we should all get rid of our homes and live in tents somewhere, but how we live in the homes we have does seem to say something about our earthly versus heavenly values. When God called Abraham to a new land, Hebrews 11:9 says that he was "living in tents." The Living Bible paraphrases this further to suggest that he was living in that area as "a mere visitor." In the same way, Acts 28:30 says that Paul spent two years living in a "rented" house. Likewise, Peter speaks about living as strangers in the world (1 Peter 1: 1,17) in "reverent fear." That's not a fear of the world and all that it might do to us and our beloved possessions, rather it is the reverent "fear of the Lord" (a concept I would argue has become all but lost in Christianity today, but that's a topic for another day).
The point I'm trying to make is that if we are really walking by faith, then we will not spend our time worrying and freting too much about (1) job, (2) housing, (3) health. If God takes care of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field (Matthew 6: 25-34), then what makes us think that He will not also take care of us? Is God not bigger than an unemployment, housing or health crisis? Worry equals unbelief, pure and simple. Let's stop justifying ourselves in our worry! To watch us scamper around, sometimes you have to wonder to what extend we are believers at all. In saying this, I speak to myself as much as to the next person.
To quote Oswald Chambers again,"If you are born again, the Spirit of God makes the alteration manifest in your actual life and reasoning, and when the crisis comes you are the most amazed person on earth at the wonderful difference there is in you."
Are we amazed at the "wonderful" difference there is in us? If no, then why not? If yes, then praise God! Have I got this all figured out already? No, not by a long shot! Sometimes it feels like I'm only 2% there on a good day. I do, however, believe that this is the kind of faith that God desires for us, and thereby it is also the kind of faith that pleases Him. "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me" (Philippians 3:12).
May our prayer be like that of the father of the boy with the unclean spirit in Mark 9:24, "I believe; help my unbelief!"