Tag Archives: faith

God’s window

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In this past week I was involved in quite a few conversations and scenarios where the idea of “doubt” came up: What is it? What does it do? Is it good or bad? (etc. etc. etc., as the good king would say :D) And you, knowing me by now, should know that these situations and conversations got me a’thinkin. This is how far I’ve gotten; maybe you can comment and take us all a little further?

“Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.” – Khalil Gibran

I have always been one to ask questions – from the obvious to the awkward – which means I have always asked questions of my faith as well. In studying theology I found a certain freedom – finally it wasn’t frowned upon to ask questions! In fact, it was encouraged. But in this process of letting go, of going farther and asking more than I had ever imagined, I lost something. Something precious, something that I only realised the worth of a few years later – I lost faith…I lost the capability to know when to let go. I got lost in the pain and the uncertainty of doubt, arrogantly thinking I had finally gotten to where everyone should be journeying. When in fact all I had become was hollow. It was in this time that God graciously introduced Himself to me again – through the faith of others, through their lives and their stories. I was confronted with a freedom I did not know anymore, for I had chosen to become confined within my own small mind and the things that mind could think of and could handle. I thought I had found the answers, because they were answers I could work out; when, in fact, I had only lost the capability to venture outside of myself. I had gotten stuck. Luckily, I got “pulled out” again before there was no turning back. But from then on the debate has raged within and around me – for “doubt” as such is not a bad thing. It makes sure we do not become complacent. Become petrified in our ways.

If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” ― René Descartes “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson Doubt is the beginning, not the end, of wisdom” – Ancient proverb

Doubt can be exactly the window God needs to be able to settle Himself in our souls – it very often is. And doubt can make sure that we are still in relationship with the real God, not our imagined or accepted picture of Him. So when does doubt become negative? When does it scoop all meaning out of our thoughts and our lives? When there is nothing left but doubt and cynicism. When all we do is question and doubt and fear. For then we have nothing to live for, nothing to drive us, nothing to strive towards. All we have is emptiness and trying to live through it.

Faith in doubt

Every mental act is composed of doubt and belief, but it is belief that is the positive, it is belief that sustains thought and holds the world together.” ― Søren Kierkegaard ” “The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.” ― Franklin D. Roosevelt “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” – Dale Carnegie

May there always be enough doubt in our lives to keep us honest and our minds and hearts clear. But may there (also) always be a little faith in our doubt, enough faith to make the doubt an instrument, not the end. And may God, the true Source of all doubt and faith, keep watch over us all in our journey on this balancing act called life.


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Sore thumb

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“Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.” – Albert Einstein

Earlier today I was talking to my mother – a woman of beautifully simple and childlike faith (something I have always envied in a way) – looking at the tears in her eyes as she explains to me how stupid she feels when comparing her faith and life to those of others. I tell her that she shouldn’t be comparing herself or her journey/faith to others, as it is exactly the uniqueness of her life that makes her special and mesmerising. And yet, at the back of my mind, I know that I should actually be “preaching” this to myself, for I know that I am constantly comparing. We are all constantly comparing…from our bodies to our things to our faith…and we almost never come out on top… We are so quick to see and appreciate the value of others, yet simultaneously always quicker to dismiss ourselves. But then I am reminded that you can only see others as clearly as you see yourself…which implies that we aren’t really seeing other people as accurately as we think we are…and that we are using skew images to compare ourselves to…like walking in one of those classic carnival “Hall of Mirrors” and taking whatever we see – no matter how disfigured – as our only truth…

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” – Maya Angelou

But that means that I, that every one of us, are not living within the identity God gave us. We might be confessing that belief every day, but we sure aren’t living it – for our every need to compare ourselves to others is a warped sense of self worth and a not-so-solid self esteem, based on a definition of success that we never chose in the first place! The solution, obviously, would then be to stop comparing yourself – by building your self worth and developing a solid self-esteem that cannot be disturbed by outside factors and opinions. For doing so will give you the freedom to be the only person you were ever meant to be – yourself. The wonderful – and terribly embarrassing – thing is that we do not need to search for a source of self worth or a basis for developing self-esteem, because WE ALREADY HAVE IT! We have had it all along!

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule…you’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you…you’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought…you’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat…you’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.” – Matthew 5:3-8

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers – most of which are never even seen – don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” – Matthew 6:30-34

So, if we truly are the believers we claim to be, we have to stop comparing! We have to start finding ourselves where we should always have been looking – with God. And we should RELY ONLY on His opinion! “If God had wanted me otherwise, He would have created me otherwise.” – Johann von Goethe “Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.” – Janis Joplin

“Each of us has a fire in our hearts for something. It’s our goal in life to find it and to keep it lit.” – Mary Lou Retton

The heart of God

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“JOY is the SERIOUS BUSINESS of HEAVEN!” – CS Lewis

I had the privilege of being present at a baby shower last weekend, and the joy of a wonderful Cape vacation this weekend…and all I constantly found myself thinking about was the spiritual discipline of joy. Which sounds strange – how can joy be a discipline?! But maybe it isn’t that strange, seeing that God’s joy and its many different faces surrounded me.

For the joy of the Lord does surround us – in the spectacle we call “Creation”. Just think about how different the story of creation would have been if God had not been as enthusiastic and as joyous…if He had created like we so often do. Content with “it’s all right”. Not wanting to have to go to too much effort. Just doing the bare minimum to get by. What a sad and depressing thing Creation would have been! But instead infinite combinations, spectacular engineering and abundant creative thought surround us. God did not “settle”, did not simply say, “it’s OK” or “it’ll have to do” – His creation ended with “it was GOOD!” And it was!

And it is this joy, this pleasure of the simple fact of being alive and having possibilities to consider, which should fill us with gratitude and make us jump out of bed every morning. Joy is at the heart of God’s plan for us…is at the heart of God! Does this mean we will never know sorrow? Quite the contrary – we were promised two things…one: that we would be surrounded by difficulty and sorrow…two: that we would never be alone in this, and that we would always have something to look forward to, to strive towards “with grace in our hearts and flowers in our hair” – Mumford & Sons

Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don’t have anything: This day is holy to God. Don’t feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!” – Nehemiah 8:9-10

So, make time to celebrate every day’s smallest of miracles. Always keep in front of you the Source of our joy and strong hope. And remember, selfishness is the only thing that keeps us from experiencing the myriad joys God puts into our every day. So don’t just wait…LIVE abundantly! For “today is the day that the Lord has made!”

Up! And away!

Mission impossible

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When the answer is "no"...

In life, we all love a good mystery. I’m sure that, if we were to talk about our favourite TV series’, one or other of the “CSI”’s, “Law & Order”’s, “Criminal minds”, “Lie to me”, Dexter” etc. would pop up. We love the uncertainty, the tension and the figuring it out. Except when it comes to prayer and our spiritual journey. There we don’t want any uncertainty or mystery…and definitely NO TENSION! That’s why we latch onto those believers, those stories, of immediate answer – whether it be healing or a job or a husband. We desperately want the same for ourselves. Otherwise we (and others) start to question our faith. But uncertainty and mystery is exactly what we so often experience…if we’re honest…Those times when our question isn’t answered and our issue isn’t addressed.

In these situations people LOVE to quote the Bible at you, when pointing out that it must be your lack of faith that is leading to this calamity. And indeed it is true, in the life of Jesus we often find him talking about the importance of faith when having to do with miracles. Countless examples can be given of the faith He talked about while healing, exorcising, moving mountains…Matthew 17:20 being only one…

But what about those times when, no matter the size of your faith, the mountains don’t move? We have all known people, whose faith were our bedrock and our example, that landed in situations that they could not pray themselves out of. And we KNOW that we can’t pin it on their lack of faith. But what then?!

“I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me: ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness’. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

We do not know exactly what the “handicap” is that Paul talks about – most recently researchers have stated that it was probably his physical “disability” due to the struggle, hard travel, beatings, floggings etc. that were part of his everyday living. But we do know that he pleaded with God to remove it three times…and that, every one of those three times, God said “no”. Paul, a bastion for what faith is, did not receive what he was praying for. But then again, neither did Jesus – think back on the Garden of Olives…

What, then, can we surmise about faith and prayer? Maybe these things…

Abandon

  • Faith and prayer shouldn’t be about me; it should be about moving ever closer to God and his heart. This is not the same as saying that I can’t pray for myself, but that it does matter what I am praying for when it comes to me – am I praying for more tolerance, wisdom and courage? I have a feeling that, the closer we become, the more our prayers will change.
  • Faith and prayer is not about certainty, far from it! It is about being real and honest. Faith and uncertainty/doubt walk hand in hand, and form the basis of an honest relationship with God. Only in honesty can there be growth and change.
  • Faith and prayer cannot be about “testing” God. That is not real relationship, nor does it symbolise trust.
  • Faith and prayer were never meant to be for “individuals only”. When we start praying in community with others, it is amazing how our prayers are refined. How difficult it becomes to pray from a selfish place.

We are called to pray actively, personally, honestly, intimately, energetically and relationally – not because it guarantees us answers, but because it guarantees us relationship. And in relationship, even “no” starts to sound different…feel different…

Bated breath and open doors

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The elements

“Passover Seders are like the night sky:

A moment of moments long past and just gone;

Starlight years old next to planets nearby

Shining as though joined in one joyous song.

Over our heads is a book of the ages

Vividly chanting the stories of old,

Even as under our fingers are pages

Resplendent with light come from cauldrons now cold.

So may we gaze at the past in the present,

Each prayer a jewel in a darkness undone,

Destined to light on our eyes in a moment

Embracing all slaves out from Egypt as one.

Rejoice, then, in this living graveyard of light,

Singing the words, that they last one more night.” – Nicholas Gordon

Yesterday, as the sun set on the different parts of the world, Jews everywhere celebrated the Passover Seder. The very same Seder that Jesus and his disciples celebrated on that fateful night before the crucifixion.

The Passover Seder is a beautiful ritual – one that has blessed me every time I took part in the celebration. It is good and necessary to remember the way that our family of faith has been walking from the very beginning: to eat of the “karpas” and the “maror” and be reminded that our tears are not the first shed, the bitterness of parts of our journey not the first to be experienced; to take part in the “yachatz”, the breaking of the bread, celebrating that God would even part the seas for those He loves. In each different phase of the meal, in all the different elements, to know as concretely as the things that we smell, touch and eat that – though this life is often filled with suffering, pain and bitterness – we are enfolded in the promise and the blessing of God’s presence…of his unceasing love and involvement in our lives.

I am the bread of life...broken for you...

“Palpably, You are in this room,

A presence just as certain as our own,

Singing with us — family friend, well-known —

Someone, not just something we assume.

One can know You only intimately.

Vast as You are, You fit into our home.

Every tick of life we’re not alone,

Rejoicing in a love we feel and see.” – Nicholas Gordon

The wonder and grace for those of us who have come to know Jesus for Who He was? That our Passover Seder does not need to end with a prayer to Elijah, the opening of a door to symbolise our expectation for the coming of the Messiah or the words, encapsulating the hope that the Messiah will come, that “next year (will be) in Jerusalem”. For God and the Kingdom have already entered the door – as unexpectedly strange as only God can be – and all the offerings needed have already been made. “Our true identity is flat and plain, not puffed up with the wrong kind of ingredient. The Messiah, our Passover Lamb, has already been sacrificed for the Passover meal, and we are the Unraised Bread part of the Feast. So let’s live out our part in the Feast, not as raised bread swollen with the yeast of evil, but as flat bread-simple, genuine, unpretentious.” – 1 Cor 5:7-8 So, on this “Silent Saturday”, find time to be at peace and bask in this time…God’s reminder.

“Pour yourself like wine into the glass,

A liquid shaped by glass blown long ago,

Singing every year the words you know,

Songs that do not change as your years pass.

Old glass, new wine; new matter, ancient form;

Vintages that burst with life and joy;

Enduring hope no horror can destroy;

Ritual that makes a faith a home.”

– Nicholas Gordon