“Faith dies by a thousand cuts more often than by a single fatal blow. In this it is like other forms of love.”
>Daniel Taylor, The Skeptical Believer
“God’s presence is not the same as the feeling of God’s presence and He may be doing most for us when we think He is doing least.”
>C.S. Lewis, letter to Mary Margaret McCaslin, 8/2/1954
With Hurricane Ian doing its devastating work, we’re reminded how quickly a house can be destroyed. When tragedy strikes – like a hurricane, a fire, or a tornado – a home can collapse quickly.
But tragedy isn’t the only way a house comes down. Some houses collapse in an instant; some come down over decades. Some fall through catastrophe; others through neglect.
It occurs to me the same happens with faith. For some, faith comes down seemingly overnight through a tragedy. A sudden death. An incurable illness for a child. A relationship that unexpectedly collapses. A deep hurt from someone (or some church) we had trusted.
These types of devastation we’re never really ready for. And when they come out of nowhere, they leave us grasping for answers – and wondering where God is. And for some, they decide God is either not present, or not powerful enough, to change things. So, faith falls apart.
And while there are plenty of things we can say to the person going through such a tragedy, their loss of faith is understandable. While I believe that God is near to the broken-hearted, sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. And patience and grace are necessary to walk with someone through such a loss.
But what about the other type? What about the loss of faith that doesn’t come from one devastating circumstance, but develops over time through neglect and apathy? Is that kind of collapse something that we should see coming? For it’s true that anything that is neglected will suffer. Your golf game. Oil changes on your car. The garden out back. Relationships with family. And certainly our relationship with God.
While we can prepare for a devastating event, we often don’t know what – or when – one will come our way. And rare is the person who isn’t thrown off their game – at least temporarily – by the sudden loss of someone or something they love.
But for each person who loses faith over a devastating loss, how many lose it, instead, over years of neglect? Faith isn’t automatic, nor does it grow without cultivation. And it’s certainly not something we wait for God to give us as we sit passively by. Instead, faith is choosing to trust God and reach out to Him through all seasons of life – the boring ones, the frustrating ones, the doubting ones, as well as the exciting ones where God seems so obviously present. Faith ultimately isn’t what you feel when the worship service is good, or the sermon “feeds you.” Faith isn’t primarily about the obvious ways you sense God’s presence, but your deliberate efforts to reach out to Him when you don’t.
This is why mountaintop spiritual experiences feel so wonderful, but aren’t continual. You simply can’t, and won’t, feel spiritually “high” all the time. Just like marriage, there will be days you just don’t feel all that excited to be married – and you simply need to take the next step – trusting God will be in the love you choose, rather than the love you feel (or don’t).
To this end, don’t be surprised if your Bible reading doesn’t always “hit the spot,” or your prayers seem perfunctory, or that the sermon didn’t “recharge your batteries,” or the music didn’t inspire. It happens. Or it doesn’t.
But when what is happening in your spiritual is that not much is happening, what happens next may be the most important. For it’s precisely when you don’t feel much that your choice to: continue choosing faith … continue walking with Jesus … continue worshiping and serving and praying … continue believing – is so vital. Even when it doesn’t feel like much is happening. For just like maintaining our homes, our gardens, our cars, or our bodies – it’s what we do when we don’t feel like doing it that often has the most impact.
And so, the most important thing you do might just be choosing to get up off the couch, and take the next step, when you’d rather linger in your apathy – or wallow in your misery. For it just might be that when tragedy does strike, you’ll be more prepared than you realized – simply because you chose to continue seeking Jesus through the boring, the tedious, and the lifeless parts of life. After all: anyone can trust God on the mountaintop; it’s what you do with the 99% of life that’s not mountaintop that ultimately shapes your faith the most.
I recently came across this song by Andy Squyres. It’s a cry of faith during our “locust years.” As he sings, “Either nothing is wasted or everything is.”