So often, we attend church services all scrubbed up and looking our best. On the outside, we probably look like we have it all together and life is just one giant juicy peach. For some of us, that might represent reality for the moment. For so many others, that perception is just a thin veneer covering over a myriad of hurts, struggles, challenges, confusion and doubts. Not that we are deliberately hiding things. We may not want to bother others with our problems. We may just enjoy a break from dwelling on them. Regardless of how together people might seem, most likely, they still need some word of encouragement because walking by faith is challenging and increasingly challenged.
Walking by Faith
The Christ-follower lives by faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists… (Hebrews 11:6 NIV)” The Apostle John wrote his Gospel so we would believe. Paul tells us, “The path we walk is charted by faith, not by what we see with our eyes.” (2 Corinthians 5:7 VOICE)
We place our confidence, our faith, in an unseen Creator God whose ways and very nature amaze and confound the wisest among us. However, by his grace, he has revealed enough about himself for us to trust him for the aspects we don’t yet understand. That is the very essence of walking by faith. It is not a blind faith that hopes (with fingers crossed) that we have made a good choice. Based on the evidence and experiences we have already evaluated, we make a conscious choice to trust God for the rest. Faith is central to our walk, but so often…
Walking by Faith is Challenging
Even John the Baptist had second thoughts about Jesus–whom he had baptized and declared to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Sometimes, events take an unexpected turn–maybe God had a different plan than we did. Sometimes when we allowed sin to go unchecked, we also allow doubts to sprout. We get our eyes off Jesus for a bit and it’s hard to get back on track again.
Even apart from moral issues, we must discern between conflicting signals. Proverbs 3:5 tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding”.
The Three Enemies of the Soul
The Bible also warns us of specific forces that will continually war against our efforts to stay focused on and faithful to God. Whether intentionally or by default, they all conspire to distract us from our relationship with God.
The world systems set themselves up against God’s ways. Jesus promised us his peace–especially contrasting it with the trouble we would have in the world (John 16:33). In his first epistle, John warned us to not love (“agape” = strong commitment to) the world or anything in it. “If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world (1 John 2:15-17).
On the night Jesus was betrayed, he said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. (John 17:17-18)” He said this just before his arrest, mock trials, brutal treatment and crucifixion. This continues to our day as well. The more we take a stand for God, the more we stand out from the crowd around us. The crowd’s reaction might range from disapproval to outright violence.
There is hope! Paul urges us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. He goes on to say, “Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete” (Romans 12:2 VOICE).
In short, this refers to the self-destruct button that so many of us love to flirt with. It’s the voice that says, “You don’t need God, you can do it on your own.” It also draws us to short cuts–ways to get something good in life without earning, working or paying for it.
Paul writes, “If you live your life animated by the flesh—namely, your fallen, corrupt nature—then your mind is focused on the matters of the flesh. But if you live your life animated by the Spirit—namely, God’s indwelling presence—then your focus is on the work of the Spirit. A mind focused on the flesh is doomed to death, but a mind focused on the Spirit will find full life and complete peace. You see, a mind focused on the flesh is declaring war against God; it defies the authority of God’s law and is incapable of following His path. So it is clear that God takes no pleasure in those who live oriented to the flesh.” (Romans 8:5-8 VOICE)
There is hope! God has sent his Holy Spirit to dwell within us and guides us to “live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature”, (Gal 5:16).
Once a resident of heaven, he rebelled against God seeking to be worshiped rather than to worship the true God. He sets himself up against all that God is and seeks to carry out. He is called the deceiver, the enemy (John 10:10), the evil one (Matt 13:19), He accuses believers (Rev 12:10), seeks to devour (1 Peter 5:8) and seeks to “steal, kill and destroy” the quality of life that Jesus offers (John 10:10). He seeks to lead believers away from “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” ( 2 Cor 11:3). He blinds the eyes of unbelievers so they won’t see God (Gal 4:1-7) and snatches away the seed that was sown so they won’t understand (Matt 13:19). He even “has taken (unbelievers) captive to do his will” (2 Tim 2:26).
There is hope! We are “not unaware of his schemes” (2 Cor 2:11) Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work (1 John 3:8) and if we resist him, he will flee (James 4:7).
Walking by Faith is Increasingly Challenged
So, that brings up the question, does your church offer a safe place for people who are struggling with their faith? I’m not talking about unconvinced newcomers or seekers. We need to provide a place for those who are just beginning their journey. That’s one of my favorite parts of ministry. But, for now, I’m thinking about believers. How do we respond to people who are struggling with doubts? It doesn’t have to be an “official” program–maybe it’s just one person who can listen and help.
If we don’t offer that safe place, people who do struggle will go to other places for answers. In our day, that’s probably going to mean going online to blogs, forums, Facebook and other social media.
Recently, Pastor Randy Frazee interviewed Hemant Mehta who is known as The Friendly Atheist. Hemant hears many people tell him they became atheists because “‘when I have questions about my faith, the church was not the place to go to get those answers. And I couldn’t tell my parents because they would have disowned me, they would’ve kicked me out of the house if I said I don’t believe this anymore. It’s not that I’m having problems, but I don’t think I believe everything that the Bible says.’ There’s no safe place for them to go. So, they don’t talk to their family. They don’t talk to their pastor about it. They tend to go online and atheists tend to win online. Because we’re really good about the Internet.”
He went on to say, that if he were a pastor (or church leader), “I would think, the church has all the answers so come with me, come to me with your doubts because I think I can help you. I don’t know why they don’t do that, but a lot of churches don’t. So they come to me.”
Hemant is just speaking from an atheist’s perspective–very nicely, I might add. There are many other challenges to our faith in God that we, and our kids, will face from other faiths, other orientations, other worldviews, etc. Are we ready for them? Are we ready to help others–or at least listen? If not, what can we do to get ready? Please share in the comments below if you’ve seen ways that the church has been a source of strength a light in your own struggles.
(The interview is available online. This part starts at 28:30 and runs about two minutes.)
This is the last in a series of posts examining some of the reasons God urges Christ-followers to encourage one another when we meet together. Earlier posts in this series include:
- Part 1: We Need Encouragement Now More Than Ever Part 1 (Our Culture Focuses on the Negative)
- Part 2: We Need Encouragement Now More Than Ever: Part 2 (Fear-Based Marketing)
- Part 3: A Little Encouragement Can Make a Big Difference
- Part 4: We Are All In a Battle
- Part 5: We All Have an Enemy