"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known."
1 Corinthians 13:12
Our church just started a series on the book of Esther called, Messy Faith, Finding our Story in Esther. The sermon this week left me thinking about the concept of "messy faith." Now the book of about all the different reasons a life of faith is so messy. The book of Esther deals with believers living in an unbelieving world much like Daniel and his friends did. From the first reading of the book, I surmised that Esther and Mordecai handled living in a foreign culture very differently than Daniel and friends. As we work through the book I am sure I will write about what I am learning from the series. But mostly this week I just thought about the concept of "messy faith." It is an interesting term and I more than like will use it a bit differently than our pastor is using it in his series.
When I was a child, I was invited to church by friends and I went. I somehow developed this picture that if one did everything good (which I know now is impossible) God would be pleased and my life would be blessed and everything would make sense. Though I came to understand my sinfulness, Christ payment for sin, God's grace, and redemption through faith, I still had some crazy misconceptions of the faith walk and they left me feeling shame to the point I believed I was a second class citizen in the body of Christ. Over the course of time, those misconceptions have been corrected, which I thought would make the Christian life less messy. But it hasn't! There are several reasons for this.
First, this life we live is messy because we, as believers, are regenerated beings indwelt by the Holy spirit living in fleshly bodies that still have the propensity to sin. The Spirit reveals and convicts us of sin at its deepest level--the level of the heart. This means that we have an internal battle raging in us--a strong desire to sin and a strong desire to obey God and live worthy of our calling. The Bible says we can overcome those desires but it also uses words like "die to self" to show us it is not easy. Yet, often we are quick to judge each other when we are struggling. Life is messy as the Spirit heightens our sensitivity to sin and causes us to sorrow over sin so we begin to recognize sin at the level of the heart--the sin that no one sees, but we know it well and we want to hide it.
The life of faith is also messy because there is an Enemy who has ultimately been defeated at the cross. Yet, he still slithers around seeking whom he can destroy. But right now his power has been reduced to lies and half truths which have the power of a whole lie. He is sneaky and he is persistent. He whispers the lies so often that they become second nature to us. That is when we fully believe them as truth and they become a part of our core system and remain a stronghold making faith messier than it needs to be. Then Satan can take a step back. Those lies run through our mind of their own accord like a broken record that keeps replaying and replaying. He smiles as he watches the lies destroy us and our relationships.
One of those lies for me was, "I am unlovable." Because I had that lie (and a few others), I didn't take good care of myself physically and lived in bondage to an eating disorder and unresolved emotional pain. I didn't have healthy boundaries and didn't speak truth in love to those wounding me. I didn't communicate my desires, needs, or expectations in relationships and found my self interpreting every action others took through the belief that I was unlovable. When I began to grasp that I was unconditionally, radically loved by God that lie began to dissipate and relational problems began to get better.
Another lie I developed was that I was invisible. This will sound weird to some, but to others it will resonate to the core of your being. When I was getting some counseling for an eating disorder my therapist asked me what word I would used to describe myself as a child. The word that I immediately came up with was invisible. I later prayed with a prayer director, who told me that she believed God wanted me to renounce something she had never heard of. It was the spirit of invisibility! We did so that day and within a week I came across the story of Hagar who was Sarah's handmaiden. She had been sent away and was crying in the wilderness. God came to her and spokes to her and she ascribed the name El Roi to Him, which means the God who sees. Then one year at a conference, I was feeling invisible. I saw a shirt I liked and would not ordinarily buy. My friends and my husband encouraged me to buy it and I wore it the next day. I had so many people compliment me that I was overwhelmed. I realized that because I believed I was invisible, I dressed in a way that no one noticed me. I sat and spoke so quietly--essentially making myself somewhat invisible to others.
Another reason a life of faith is messy is rgat a life of faith is a life of relationships. We are all messy beings and, yet, made to desire relationships with each other. We have wounds and this desire to protect our hearts from more pain rages with this desire for relationship--messiness in all of its glory. As humans we have the tendency to filter what we see, what we think, and what we hear through several lenses. The lens of past experiences, core beliefs, spiritual gifting, and past history with people. As humans, we are all growing and changing and at the same time we are filtering through years of baggage even when we try not to. Most of us don't look at our baggage and understand it as baggage. We have tendency in our wounding to develop cognitive distortions and we don't always see and interpret things accurately. We can make mountains out of mole hills. We can expect others to be all good or all bad instead of the blend of both they are, We can hold on to magical thinking and feel disappointed when it doesn't work out.
We also have a messy view of God. Children often learn about the unseen God by looking at the authority figures in their lives. If we had a fairly healthy home, we will have a fairly healthy view of God. If we grew up with parents who were perfectionists who harshly judged, we will more than like attribute those same characteristics to God and fail to see His love and His grace. We also may have had a pastor who had an inaccurate view of God whose preaching skewed our view. We have to constantly compare our view of God with the truth of His Word and have open discussions with other believers who have a strong faith.
Finally, we have a messy faith because we are human and have a very limited view of spiritual things from down here. Psalm 139:16 tells us, "...in your book were written, every one of them the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them." There is nothing in our lives that surprises God, but there is a whole lot in our lives that shocks the heck out of us. That is because we can't see all that God sees. We can't see how the hard we experience now will be worked for our good and for His glory. There are several Biblical examples of what I am trying to say. I know if I put myself Sarah's shoes, I would have felt like God was messing with me and I would have become very angry, First, she Abe lived in a culture where people worshiped fertility gods and they were struggling with infertility. God calls them out and promises them a child. They wait and they wait and they age well past the normal age of conception. Talk about feeling invisible and teased by the God of the universe. From the view from here they couldn't see what God was doing. Then at the right time--the time when it would truly take a miracle God raised their bodies to conceive showing Himself to be the one true God of life.
Then there is Daniel, who was thrown into the lion's den because of His faith and his friends who were thrown into a fiery furnace. Remember, they were faithful men living in a Godless culture, They could only see what you and I could see. Yet, they chose to remain faithful, even though there were no guarantees. And God, saved Daniel from hungry lions and his friends from fire. Some believers don't have their lives preserved like that. Hebrews 11 says that some remained faithful and died without having seen the fulfillment of their faith. Yet, God honors both in the hall of faith! I honestly don't know why He works one way one time and another at a different time. I do know from having been witness to 21 people slaughtered for their faith that the church is being stirred out of a dream state to live boldly for Christ.
Then there is Christ himself. What appeared to be the darkest day for his disciples and for mankind ended up being anything but. He came to earth to be the promised Messiah. His disciples had to have been confused by the events that followed the last supper. They didn't have any more insight into the events of their day than we do of ours and all of a sudden their fearless leader is washing their feet, praying so passionately He sweats blood, is succumbing to arrest, being tried illegally, and hanging on a cross as the sky darkens, ground shakes, and graves open. From their perspective that day, it looked like the Enemy won. but, we see it differently on Resurrection Day. The darkest time was when the greatest act of love was carried out and our sin was put on His body so He could impute His righteousness to us.
There are times when we look back we can see things from His view. One man from a former church shared his daughter left college for a year and moved in with him. He then lost a job and for almost a year he couldn't find one. He couldn't understand what God was doing until he later lost the daughter suddenly to illness. He had an extraordinary year with his daughter that he would never have had had he been working. What looked like a hardship was blessing.
Several years ago I went through a pretty rough time in ministry which eventually led me to a completely different type of ministry. I prayed while going through that time and felt unheard and invisible to God. But I wasn't. In the new ministry I wrote books that we use and many women here have found healing going through them. I have even had women from other places across the country contact me and tell me how much my writing has helped them heal and reconnect with God. Even this year, I have been writing a book that I have at times doubted I was to write. Repeatedly I have had people encourage me in one way or another to continue writing. About a week ago, I was really struggling with it and ready to quit and a friend I haven't seen in awhile wrote me and said she didn't know why she was writing me the things she was. I knew! I wasn't sure about the book I was writing. I wasn't sure if the chapter I was writing was even supposed to be in the book and what she was sharing with me was the very thing with which I was wrestling and her letter helped me know I was to proceed. That I knew her long ago at a time that was painful for her and that she wrote me as I was writing was nothing either of us could see in the past or now, until it played out.
We do have some advantages over the people in the Bible. We have the advantage of seeing stories sovereignly authored by God displayed in Scripture. Knowing this, we can begin to see how He works in people's lives take notes on how He is working in ours and in the lives of those we love. These written counts can encourage us when the view from down here looks bleak and hope wavers. The accounts can remind us that though our view from here is limited by finite minds, God's view isn't. We serve a God who pens our stories whose view is from the eternal and sees all from the beginning to the end. We serve a God who lovingly knits our good from what we perceive to be bad. We serve a God with a great big view.