I was in church the other Sunday and a friend of mine was telling her wonderful story of God’s love, support and healing in her life at this time. What a great encouragement. How great is our God. What an amazing answer to prayer. What an amazing God we serve.
And then I was hit, smack between the eyes, completely out of the blue, by an entirely different series of thoughts. What if all of this is totally make believe? What if there is no God? What if we are all kidding ourselves? This could all be an elaborate farce that we are all buying into. It could all be explained away by coincidences, the power of positive thinking and the reasoning of science.
Suddenly I felt empty. I was alone in the universe. Life seemed meaningless.
And I was ashamed. What if anyone here knew what I was thinking? Here I was, encouraging others to move on in their faith journey, whilst being flooded with doubts I didn’t know what to do with. I told myself not to panic, but my knees were shaking. I told myself not to let anything show, but all I wanted to do was run out of the church. I told myself it would pass as quickly as it came, but I couldn’t imagine ever being able to believe again.
Three things helped.
Firstly, we sang.
“Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hidden…
(that’s blown my cover, then – if He’s there, then He knows)
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit..
(that is exactly what I need – couldn’t have put it better myself)
That we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name
(that is exactly what I yearn for – with all of my being)
Through Christ our Lord, Amen.
(so let it be – Amen)”
Secondly, a friend sought me out after the service to tell me what an incredible encouragement my writing had been to her. It had lifted her up in a difficult time and helped her to see God through it all. Ironically, her words did the same for me. She helped me to see God at work. Seeing God in her assured me that He is at work in all of us. That’s how we know God is real. We see the incarnation of God on earth in others. We show God’s love, we demonstrate God at work, we reflect God to the world around us.
Thirdly, a couple of days later, I read these words from Rob Bell –
“I believe that the indestructible love
of God is an unfolding, dynamic reality
and that every single one of us
is endlessly being invited
to trust, accept, believe,
embrace and experience it.” (LOVE WINS)
Unfolding. Dynamic. Reality.
Faith is not a one off decision, a single act of conversion. It’s not as easy and straightforward (or static and ‘in the past‘) as that. Faith is an ongoing series of daily decisions to trust. More than daily, even…in every moment, whatever comes our way, we have the choice to trust God or be cynical, to accept God or to reject Him, to believe God or to doubt Him, to embrace God or to push Him away, to experience God or to ignore Him.
Choosing to trust God with every breath we take. Whatever the circumstances, whatever the challenge, whatever the “rational explanation”, whatever the outcome, whatever the doubt.
Nothing can separate me from the love of God.
Nothing can separate me from God.
In considering love this week, I’ve thought a lot about what love in action might look like. I was reminded of a friend I knew a few years ago. He was pretty hit and miss in his church attendance. He would not have been able to deliver his testimony from the front of church. He did not know his Bible inside out. He did not have all the right answers. But he did know the names of all the children in the Primary School where he was the Head. He did show an interest in every individual he met. He would do anything for anyone. He never had a bad word to say about anyone.
I remember one night at house group, we were talking about discipleship and David said –
“I’m not sure I know exactly what discipleship is, but I do get out of bed every morning and say ‘I wonder how I can love as Jesus loved today’. Is that what you mean?”
David died very suddenly in his mid forties and at his funeral, the church was overflowing with individuals from all walks of life whose lives had been touched by this extra special man and his extraordinary love.
And then just last week, I attended a retirement ‘do’ for the tutor of my Living Theology Today course in Durham. He had tutored the course for ten years, each year welcoming in a new set of students and walking with them through their head and heart journey of faith and discovery. When I received the invitation, I knew I had to go, but was concerned that there would be no one else there from my course. How wrong I was. The room was full of people whose lives had been changed by this man. Everyone was there because they wanted to testify to the difference that this one man had made to their faith and life.
But Jim is not a loud, confident, charismatic individual. He is the epitome of ‘unassuming‘. He is reserved and shrinks from the limelight. He hates being the centre of attention and does not stand out in a crowd. His knowledge of theology is extensive and deep and yet he values fresh insights from much less learned individuals like myself. His love is patient, gentle and kind. He seemed overwhelmed by the good wishes of us all, as if surprised that he had had an impact on so many lives.
Of course, the very best example of love in action that has ever lived is Jesus himself. Look for love in his every action. Look for love in his every word. Love is there to be found in all that Jesus did and said.
He did not heal the sick to show how spiritual he was.
He did not turn water into wine to prove a point.
He did not pick these particular disciples to make himself look good.
He did not cast out demons to prove how much God was using him.
He did not tell parables to get in with the in-crowd.
He did not walk on water to impress.
He did not calm the storm to gain respect.
He did not feed the five thousand to become popular.
He did not wash the disciples’ feet to make people look up to him.
It was all out of love. Love for his followers. Love for the sick. Love for the lost. Love for God. In Jesus, we find a kind and compassionate love. A love that cares and meets needs. A love that nurtures, cherishes and forgives. A love that is patient and humble.
Let us be inspired and challenged by love in action.
Let us learn to say with my friend – ‘I wonder how I can love as Jesus loved today’.