Point of Reference
by Fred Price
I’ve heard a number of preachers speak on the idea of acting our way to belief. Not by faking it but by doing the God-expected thing, even when we don’t feel like it; expressing faith when we’re unsure, being faithful when we don’t see the benefit of doing so. John 7:16,17 records Jesus saying, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God…” or not. In making a conscious decision to do God’s will – regardless of the circumstances – we gain confidence in His word and will for our lives and more readily choose to do it. Our personal pilgrimage to confidence in God often starting in uncertainty or fragile trust.
Too many times our responses are limited by how we “feel” about people, the tasks set before us and our sense of “knowing” God. But our feelings are by-and-large unstable, by their very nature unpredictable. As such, it’s more productive to act our way into feeling than to feel our way into acting. Sometimes we don’t feel like going to work, loving our spouse, spending time with the kids, going to church, reading our Bible or spending time in prayer. But when we discipline ourselves to do what we ought to do the feelings and desire for those experiences usually returns and often intensifies. And even when we struggle with a genuinely difficult relationship or fail to understand our circumstances, a resolve to stay true to our calling and make the most of the situation creates a change in us that promotes a change in the people/circumstance we’re struggling with.
Will that occur effortlessly? Hardly. I have a difficult time defining what obedience to God’s will looks like much of the time. Which makes it all the more important for me to act on what I do know to accomplish anything at all, because what I do know is that God loves me, forgives me and redeems me for a purpose. Allowing – or compelling – me to treat my neighbors as equally made in God’s image, equally loved by him, and thus deserving of my forbearance and forgiveness.
I have few sensory reminders of who/what God is and has done, unless I’m looking. My pursuit of God is what makes an encounter with him possible, the growth of faith likewise requiring faithfulness. David assuring his son Solomon, “If you seek (God), he will be found by you;…” 1 Chronicles 28:9b He doesn’t necessarily make being found easy – if he did we probably wouldn’t ascribe much value to the search – yet he still desires to be found, for us to make the effort. Again, David explained what the church later came to consistently teach (See Luke 12:37 & 48), that acknowledgement of God and obedience to his will often fosters success. “Be careful to follow all the commands of the Lord your God… acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind…” 1 Chronicles 28:8,9
God initiates contact with us, by promoting the beginnings of an inquiring belief, the more we exercise that belief the bigger it grows. Author Sheldon Vanuken describing the process as, “Choosing to believe is believing. It’s all I can do: choose… I do not affirm that I am without doubt, I do but ask for help, having chosen to overcome it.”1Repeating the cry of the desperate father in Mark 9:24, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
The Old Testament prophets pointedly set the parameters for knowing God, epitomized by Micah’s question and answer, “…what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8 Jesus reinforcing this with his own explanation of what became known as the “royal law” of the New Testament Epistles. (See James 2:8 & Romans 13:10) Loving Him first and foremost, which would logically entail doing anything he wishes or commands, focused on loving our neighbors – and enemies! ( Matthew 5:44) (Succinctly laid out in Matthew 22:37-40 & Mark 12:30,31) The very act of doing to others what we would have them do to us, even when we don’t feel like it or see the benefit in doing so advances our relationship with God while fostering a better understanding of his nature, which is grounded in love for us all.
The hard truth being, people are less apt to get to know God and then do his will as doing his will and thereby develop a relationship with him. Author Thomas Merton asking, “How shall we begin to know who you are if we do not begin ourselves to be something of what you are?” Explaining, “We receive enlightenment only in proportion as we give ourselves more and more completely to God by humble submission and love. We do not first see, then act out: we act, then see… And that is why the man, who wants to see clearly, before he will believe, never starts on the journey.”2
Philip Yancey chronicled his struggles with faith thusly: “How can we obey without certainty, when plagued by doubts? I have concluded that faith requires obedience without full knowledge. ( Hebrews 11:1) Like Job, like Abraham, I accept that much lies beyond my finite grasp, and yet I choose to trust God anyhow humbly accepting my position as a creature whose worth and very life depends upon God’s mercy.”3
C.S. Lewis’ intriguing fantasy The Screwtape Letters , reinforces this concept by imagining the devil’s instructions to his minions concerning their efforts to entice humans away from God. Warning against a direct assault when God seems so miraculously close, he advises waiting a while, when certainty and enthusiasm wanes. Condescendingly warning however that, “It is during such tough times, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those that please Him best. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormword, our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending to do our enemy’s will, looks round a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys .”4
1From A Severe Mercy Harper Row Publishing
2From No Man Is An Island , Harcourt, Brace Co.
3From Reaching For The Invisible God , Zondervan Press
4Published by Simon and Schuster
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Fred Price - married (49 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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