Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Three Things

My apologies for the lack of posts recently, I've had something of writer's block, although it's not so much mental as spiritual I think. Sometimes I just feel held back from writing. More on that another time I think. For now I wanted to share a simple thought I had just recently whilst praying.

Many things come and go in my life - many desires, ideas, hopes and dreams, doubts and fears. At the time when these things are in the present it's hard sometimes not to get distracted by them, to focus on them. I'm a person with a very active mind, and when something gets on my mind, it stays there until I've turned it over and over and evaluated it from every point of view possible. Many times I never feel as though I can get to a final conclusion.

As I was praying recently, having been feeling a bit lost, three things came to mind; three things that really motivate me, three things that I desire.

1 - To know the Word of God
2 - To hear the Voice of God
3 - To do His will

I find at times that my faith and life have two sides, two versions. On the one hand I have what I call a life or faith 'on paper' and then I have a life or faith 'on the road'. Both of these have their purposes and place, and both can encourage and discourage. Although both of these have had both positive and negative effect, recently it has been the 'on paper' faith that has been a drain and my 'on the road' faith that has lifted me and brought encouragement. As one with an active and sometimes over-working brain, I think perhaps this is my default.

To what do I refer then? Well, do you remember high-school science classes? I loved science, I found it interesting, a challenge, at times a voyage of discovery. I loved all the various aspects and especially when something we were doing related to life on earth. Actually, I still do; sometimes I'll sit and think about what I know of how the world works, physics, chemistry and biology, and value the knowledge I have which makes me life in this world so much richer.

Anyway, if you recall, school science could be broken down into two parts - theory and practical. There were the books you read and lectures received where you heard history and theory and learned of facts and thoughts. Then there were the practical assignments and tests where you would get to try things out and have fun 'experimenting'. I think by far, most people would say that they enjoyed the experimentation more than the theory. Fair enough. However, while that enjoyment might have been fed by just the opportunity to mess around with smelly chemicals, beakers, bunsen burners (fire in school - what joy!) and all the other apparatus, for me, what was more significant was that I could take something that was supposed to be true and see it work. I could see the science in action, at work, and not just learn about it. What's more, there were numerous times when the science in application brought out the flaws of the science in theory; experiments that looked like they should have worked, did not in fact go as planned and that forced greater learning, study and views from other perspectives.

Now let me get it straight, I enjoyed the theory very much; just being able to know stuff about stuff was satisfying for me. In fact, the more time passes the more I value my learning then and now. Just being able to know 'stuff' about 'stuff' on a wide selection of different types of 'stuff' is useful, enriching, and at times good for the self-esteem! Without the learning and theory the experiments wouldn't have made as much sense (sometimes none at all), nor would the experiments have been as much fun or as interesting. What's more, being able to learn the theory and facts enabled one to grow in knowledge and ability faster than had we tried to just figure it all out for ourselves. No, the theory was vital and enjoyable, but without the experiments, I think it would be both boring and in someways, pointless. Science for science's sake, with no real-world application or practise, would be flawed and also I think, a waste of time...?

Well, in the same way, I view faith and life. The 'on paper' version is the theory, and the 'on the road' version is how it all works out in the real world. Many times I find myself mentally working through my faith. Figuring things out, trying to understand how things fit together and what the proper interpretation of Scripture is. All good things and I love them. On top of that I often try to do this very thing with a specific issue in specific situations - trying to reconcile points of view, experiences, Scripture and of course my own beliefs. I'm a strong believer in truth and like to get to the bottom of things, to establish the truth and build a solid faith upon solid foundations. My faith 'on paper' is the sum representation of that. It is what I would hand in if I had to write down my faith and understanding of it. Sometimes though, as with other 'on paper' exercises, be it in life or math or science, endless theory can become tiresome, and when in places no solution seems to present itself or it runs in perpetual circles, the theory can get tiring. This is particularly true when it seems you're losing the point of all this 'paperwork' - "What does any of this mean anyway?"; Ecclesiastes moment anyone? I have often been exhausted and frustrated when trying to reconcile things and am always dealing with conflict and resolution. It's at those times when I find comfort in turning to an 'on the road' faith.

At the start I mentioned three things. It is in those three things that I find a place of balance between these two sides of life and faith. My faith is an interaction between a growing knowledge of the truth and understanding of God and His gospel, and the real experience of that gospel, and relationship with that God, in my own life. To have only a wonderful 'on paper' faith without any real-life application or experience does nothing for me, and leaves me only frustrated with my sinfulness, bad traits, habits and even with the 'paperwork' itself, since whatever intelligence I do have is limited. I don't want a faith that promises so much but delivers little. Paul speaks of words without power, and for me there are times when that is my cry. I can search and search for the right understanding and explanation, or to figure out just what might be the issue in my life that I can deal with it and get past some problems, but sometimes I just need to see some results, some action. I need to see that Christ's death on the cross, His promises of life, and freedom from sin are more than just my own re-explanation of the same events or the product of my own willpower - which fails far too many times. I desire at times just to get the answer not having been able to do all the working out.

I know of some who, it seems, cannot accept that last statement. As far as I can tell it is, for them, something dishonourable or unacceptable to get answers and results without getting it all down 'on paper' first. I know that feeling, and I know the desire to ensure that one is maintaining the truth and not just ignoring facts. At the same time though, I wonder if that attitude isn't a product of pride hiding, perhaps imperceptibly so, beneath a false or shallow pursuit of truth. I imagine it is different for each person and I do not aim to condemn or accuse anyone.

On the other side, whilst the constant need for understanding can get frustrating, particularly when I try too much to depend upon it, that understanding is a great asset and a vital one in life and faith. I cannot imagine a faith that does not strongly feature a growing knowledge and understanding. I think learning, studying, reasoning, understanding and exploring are part of the divine design for humanity. As I said in my previous blog 'A Fellowship of the Word', God has deigned that it is the glory of kings to search out the matters He has concealed. Coming to know and understand His ways and His word are part of what God intends in life with Him. That search, that growth in knowledge and truth is the first of my three things.

The second of my three things, however, is what allows me to live on with, and beyond, the first. To hear the voice of God is what gives me the relationship and and direction I need beyond my own workings out. It is what cuts through the mist when my thinking has started to revolve in circles. It is what gives me the answer and helps me know what to do when nothing definite is clear. It is what lets me know the specific steps to take in situations where details are needed beyond prinicples. Do I hear this voice and get to know God apart from His written word? No. At least, not contrary to it. In fact the two most often work together. Scripture coming to mind at the time I might need it for encouragment or direction, or that voice guiding my study and helping my understanding. There might be some who seek to follow this voice only and not apply their reason - a relationship with God where you never need to understand, only hear. That might sound very spiritual but it is, I think, neglecting of God's ways themselves. To say that one desires to follow God closely yet ignore the greatest and available means provided by God - to know Him and His ways, to study and learn from - is a contradiction. Nevertheless, along with the Word and understanding is the Counselor, the Spirit who "guides into all truth" and who is a companion in and through all things. To hear that voice in all settings and situations and to hear the directions and answers He gives, is the second thing.

The final of the three things is that which utilises both of the others to produce a satisfying and purposeful life. To do the will of God is more and more the only thing that brings any satisfaction in my life. Perhaps one of the worst feelings I experience is that of wasted time, effort or money. The times when I realised that I have spent some resource or other and have in the end accomplished nothing, or worse, something negative, are the times which fill me with the most regret and disgust. More and more I realise the speed at which time is passing, the importance in this life to make the most of the days you have. Their are many pursuits in this life, but of those I have tried, only the hope and promise of being part of an eternal creation is the one that excites and motivates me. When we talk of 'creation' almost all of us are always looking backwards at what ever it was God did many years ago. Yet I think what is more exciting is the thought that God is currently in the process of creation - creating a world, a universe that will last forever. It is a glorious creation, and what makes it all the more amazing is that He asks that I be a part of that creative process. As He works in me, and as I allow Him to do that and follow the direction He gives me, I am working side-by-side with the Master Creator as He works on a universal masterpiece. As I come to know His word then I start to learn and understand His truths and His workings, and also how I can live day by day in a way that honours Him and maximises my contribution to His eternal creation. I touch the being of Earth's most valuable resource - human lives - and God uses me, allows me to work with Him, to take dark and broken lives and transform them into such bright and shining treasures the value of which I cannot begin to count.

As I endeavour to hear His voice and follow Him, then I find the relationship with the Almighty that transforms me in my very being and provides answers to any question or problem I can present or encounter. Hearing the voice of the Spirit within me and living in harmony with the Eternal Creator is the reality of faith 'on the road' as I slowy write and come to understand that eternal faith 'on paper'.

As understanding falters, so God remains, and remains effective. As experience shifts and confounds, so the truth remains and faith speaks out boldly.