Two anonymous questions (edited for length):
– Sometimes I think I have a ‘bipolar faith’. I am annoyed at my own inconsistency … Lately I feel that I am passionate about ministry, but lackluster when it comes to Jesus. I fear God, but I doubt that I love Him because of the distractions and idols in my heart. I can’t surrender or repent. How do you learn to love God more and develop a steadfast faith?
– Why can’t I be more serious about my relationship with God? If we can be so ‘committed’ to our human friendships … why is it so difficult to commit to God? Why do I constantly walk away from my first and one true love even though I’ve realized human love will always fail me? I’ve read Lewis/Augustine/Piper/Keller on heart idolatry so I ‘know’ what the root issue is but it’s still not drawing me back to God.
As I’ve said many times before: I struggle in my faith daily. It’s become better over time (however we define “better”), but I’ve accepted that it will probably be like this most of the time, if not a lifetime. And that’s okay. Some of us are gifted with a robust roaring faith; others like us will wrestle all the way to glory.
When Moses parted the Red Sea, some Israelites ran through shouting in total triumph. But I’m sure others tiptoed through shrieking in terror. I’m a shrieker. They all made it: because their faith depended NOT on them, but their steadfast Savior. I’m not absolving you of your responsibility — but God works with you right where you are.
That was really the entire point of starting my blog: to begin honest discussion about our crazy faith journey. I also preach on this quite a lot, which are still my two most downloaded sermons here and here.
Please allow me to encourage you with a few thoughts here. As always, please feel free to skip around.
1) A bipolar faith is part of our growing journey.
You only need to check out the Book of Psalms to know that faith is never a straight line, but a messy up-and-down journey. I don’t say this as an excuse to be “lukewarm,” but rather to encourage you that 1) this is all part of the growing experience of a Christian, and 2) God completely understands your specific struggle.
Romans 7 is an accurate description for many, many Christians. I know there is some debate about whether Apostle Paul was writing on a pre-Christ or post-Christ life, but Romans 7 is such a vivid piercing essay on faith that it feels like right now. Romans 8 is the victory that we all want to experience, but as I’ve said before: some days are Romans 7 and some days are Romans 8. We should be grateful for both.
2) A “victorious faith” shouldn’t be measured on Christianese standards.
Sometimes when you hear an awesome testimony, read certain Christian books, or see the way another person sings in worship service, it’s easy to become discouraged. Why can’t I have a faith like that? Am I doing it wrong? Do I really get it? What am I missing?
We play this same game in every area of life. Being an Asian, I see tons of students comparing themselves with other peoples’ grades and library-time and prep-methods. Even in the first few centuries of Christianity, the ascetic monks would compare how long they could fast or how loud they could sing. Can you imagine? Look at my ribs, son. Watch me sing with my ribcage stickin’ out.
This is a losing game. It makes no sense to set up arbitrary standards for your “level of faith,” because at the feet of Jesus we are all the same broken sinners in need of mercy.
You must believe that God is working through you much more than you think. Don’t be too hard on yourself. The very fact that you messaged me and you’re concerned about your issues shows you WANT to change. That’s already a huge step and puts you right where you need to be today. If it doesn’t bother you, that should bother you: but it does bother you, and that’s already God grabbing your heart and squeezing it in His gloriously gracious grip.
I’ll end this point with the always-reliable Lewis:
“You must ask for God’s help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again.”
— C.S. Lewis
3) God calls us to remember the mountaintop during the valleys.
I probably say this too much: but you really only get a few mountaintop experiences your whole life. So much of church relies on emotionalism and “feeling God,” so when we no longer feel God, we think something is wrong with us. The truth is: the Bible never calls us to continually duplicate our highs. We’re called to remember the Most High in our lows.
If you tried to have a wedding every day of your marriage, it would get exhausting. Preachers often try to do this to you in church, and this is why we keep hitting a dead end. Churches try to whip up a sacred moment out of thin air, but instead should really be reminding us of the reality that Jesus is present in both our mountaintops and valleys.
Peter really only “felt God” twice in his life: 1) on the mountaintop when Jesus revealed his total glory, called the Transfiguration, and 2) at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled him. Peter never tried to re-create these moments. He only called them to mind over and over, which sustained his faith for the rest of his life, even when he was crucified upside-down. Read 2 Peter 1 and see how he brings up the mountaintop.
Moses didn’t part the Red Sea every Thursday. Jesus didn’t transfigure every breakfast. I have never heard this in church before: that when the college professor brings up the skeptical argument, or disillusionment sets in from church, or I go through a gut-wrenching trial, I can still declare, Jesus is real, he was there, I met him, I saw him, he was with me on that sacred mountain, he is here in this valley of the shadow of death, and I might feel beat up right now — but nothing will take Him away from me.
4) Faith takes a step at a time, every time, the whole time.
You want your faith to be whole this very moment, but the bad news is that it takes time. There’s no way around it. The good news is that it takes time. Even a lifetime. Allow that process to breathe, and give yourself some grace as you move forward.
I could probably address your issues very specifically with outlines and pep talk and doctrine, but I don’t have any magic words that will solve your heart in a day. I wish I did. Even then, you might not be any closer to feeling whole, because faith takes time.
Faith will also take that one more step you don’t want to make right now. It takes one more Bible study, one more act of service, one more worship song, prayer, Bible verse, conversation. It takes finding a pastor, mentor, friend, and talking it out. I’m not saying we do this stuff to “earn God.” But your life has been launched into being and you must choose.
So long as you’re pursuing Him, however imperfectly, you’ll grow without knowing it until hindsight. To love God is as much of a daily choice as it is how you feel. The Bible portrays the Christian life most as a walk — a step at a time.
I know this way will feel mechanical sometimes. By all means, rest when you must. But looking back, you’ll come to see that you love God more than you ever thought you did, and you’ll be further along than you ever thought you’d be. I don’t completely understand it myself: but I know He is changing me as I choose Him.
I’m rooting for you and I love you. God does so infinitely more.
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.