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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
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His posts are either funny or challenging. He is very friendly and nice.
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[He has] good posts, both the serious like this one, and the humorous like yesterday. [He is] the reason that I have restrained myself from making Canadian jokes in my posts.
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Daniel, nicely done and much more original than Frank the Turk.
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There are some people who are smart, deep, or funny. There are not very many people that are all 3. Daniel is one of those people. His opinion, insight and humor have kept me coming back to his blog since I first visited earlier this year.
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Friday, August 06, 2010
1010: Justified By Faith (Part II)
Have you ever felt like your prayers are not getting through to God?

You know, where you feel like even though God is aware of all things at all times, that is, even though you know that God must hear your prayer, yet because you know that you are not as holy and pure in your prayer today as you were on your best day, that because of your current spiritual deficit, or rather your currently acute awareness of the same spiritual deficit you had even on your "best" day, you are certain that your prayer is utterly useless. You tell yourself that even though God "hears" your prayer, yet He will not respect it because you haven't been perfect in your obedience, and you see yourself for a hypocrite, and imagine that anything you say is worthless because you're such a phony.

Well if you're a genuine Christian, I am pretty sure you have been there, and probably more often than you would comfortably admit.

What is it that draws a believer out of a funk like that?

A woman I knew once remarked at a bible study that she used "praise and worship" music to get her in the mood for church. As a personal rule, I am something of a bulldog when people say stuff like that around me. "In the mood for church?", I asked, "what does that mean?" I don't recall the exact wording of her answer, but the gist of it was that she felt she could not receive God's word unless or until she was hyped up emotionally. In a nutshell, unless or until she felt spiritual, she believed she wasn't being spiritual.

Don't get me wrong, I have experienced a very real, spiritual elecation through sining in a congregation of people who are actually worshipping God in song. I have tasted the exaltation of God in my soul when singing worship songs. I do not suggest for a moment that a Christian cannot be drawn closer to God through worship in music. But this did not seem to be the nature of what she was describing. Her response was not about coming to a place of worship, but rather coming to a place of heightened emotional response. In her mind, she equated high emotions with spirituality, and low emotions with a lack thereof.

I am not sure if this was my first exposure to this sort of quackery, but it was certainly one of the first, and if my soul could form facial expressions in the wake of this response, it would have been one of wide-eyed, gaping mouthed, horror. Let me qualify my reaction a bit further though; I do not mean to present myself as so far above this sort of thing that I am looking down upon it from some great spiritual height. In the infancy of my own faith I was by no means immune to the influence of various superstitions, empty traditions, and well intentioned appeals to the mystical. If I was appalled, it was only in the knowledge that this person had been a Christian from her youth, and in all that time had never learned any better. I was not appalled by the quality of her ignorance, as much as I was that it should still exist after so many years.

Every new believer wants tangible assurance that they are genuine - that their faith is the real deal. I myself wanted, in the infancy of my faith, to be able to appeal to some "saved" feeling whenever I needed assurance. Said another way, I wanted to be able to supernaturally sense that I was saved. I think that is a common felt "need" of every person who joins themself to Christ - and it is common to both the genuine and the illegitimate. I was more or less ignorant of the scriptures, so I didn't really know what assurance was supposed to be like. Was it emotional? Tangible? Mystical? I had my own preconceptions, and in my case I was certain that whatever assurance was, it would come with a serious and settled "saved" feeling. This feeling would be supernatural in origin (mystical) - a sensation of sorts that only I was aware of, but something that was always there so that I could, by tapping into it at will, always know that I was really, really a Christian.

In fact, I sort of thought that unless I had some sort of ever-present supernatural experience going on, I might not even be a real Christian! Especially having listened to the sort of superficial Christian conversations that were the mainstay of my early fellowship - Christians talking to one another in language that made it sound like their lives were sprinkled liberally with supernatural impressions. When someone said, "the Lord showed me this morning that..." I took that to mean that they either had some sort of supernatural ability to hear God speak that I lacked, or worse, that I was receiving messages from God all the time but was not spiritual enough to interpret them properly. I began to consider every stray thought as a possible message from God, and every twinge of guilt as condemnation from the same. Being inclined towards compulsive thoughts I would think about the most horrible thing that God might want ask me to do, then convince myself that God was in fact "moving me" to do it, and that my reluctance to obey the voice of God was the most heinous of sins. My walk of "faith" was more of a stumbling, barely controlled free-fall down a careening path, twisting and turning, and driven by the winds of guilt at not answering immediately every stray thought that God was "beaming" in to my head.

My walk was a mess, and my faith was a burden to me, for I longed to be righteous, but was weighed down with the notion that God was micro managing the minutia of my existence, and that I was failing left, right, front, and center, to answer every buffetting wind. As exposed myself to God's word, I began to be set free from these lying doctrines, and man-made, mystical superstitions. The truth set me free, just as it sets all free who genuinely seek and find it. Afterwards, I equated my former ignorance with immaturity, and though I was ashamed and embarrassed that I should have been so foolishly led, I chalked it up to the infancy of my faith, and set it aside. When I was a child, I spoke and acted like a child, but I grew out of that, and put it away from me. My assumption was that everyone else in church must have gone through that long ago, and that I had only come lately to be where they were at, if I had even attained to that height.

So when I heard this woman speak of needing to be emotionally hyped up in order to do anything spiritual, I was shocked and stunned by the news. Shocked that anyone who has spent their life in the company of Christians could, in practice, be so flaky, and stunned I say, by the magnitude of her zeal, given how sorely misplaced it was. How was it that no one had corrected her of this notion? How was it that when I spoke against it, I felt like Paul on Mars Hill - I was speaking strange things that offended and confused people?

My point is not to drone on about this one instance, but rather to show in real life ignorance in the church produces empty religious rituals that go no where, and do no good thing, rather they only contribute to the demise of a church.

Getting back to the first point in this post: the path out of a dead prayer life; the path out of the agony of feeling that God doesn't hear your prayers, is not to find some emotional pick-me-up, but to find again the first truth that you have set aside covered over with empty and even superstitious religious notions.

That truth is that if you are in Christ God will hear your prayers. God will hear your prayers whether you feel you are right and acceptable to Him (because of some merit earned through righteous living), or you whether you feel you are too sinful and unacceptable to Him (...having failed to produce this same personal merit).

Certainty does not (and cannot) come from your emotions. Certainty comes when you trust that God hears you because of Christ's finished work on the cross. Certainty - or assurance, flows from faith, and not the other way around.

Let me give you real life account from my own life. My oldest daughter had a bit of a crisis last night, and in part that is why I use this particular example of prayer to introduce the big picture. She is only ten, and after listening to me read Isaiah 23 last night, and in the course of the discussion that followed about the end of the world, she began, though she had given her life to Christ a couple of years ago, to be sorely concerned for her soul. She realized, perhaps for the first time publicly, that she was afraid that her faith might not be real, and that when she dies she might not go to be with God, but instead would be exposed to His wrath. Through large tears she confessed that she knew she wanted to believe God, but that she found herself not trusting that He really would save her.

I call "judgment day clarity" like that a God send, and rightly so. She saw herself, perhaps for the first time, for who she truly was - someone who wanted to avoid hell, but who didn't really believe God. She came face to face with a burning anguish that would not be pacified by any platitude, grand or small. She saw that [1] she needed to believe, and [2] that she couldn't "make herself" believe.

Would that more believers had such a clear understanding of their truest dilemma! We talked for hours, my daughter and I, and I had to deny myself several times as I so wanted to placate her torment with cries of, "Peace! Peace!" when it was evident that such cries of peace would be more for my benefit than hers.

I explained faith to her ten times in ten different ways, and I underscored the fact that she cannot ride on my faith, but has to deal with God personally and directly. I couldn't give her faith, nor could she generate it herself, but she had to turn to the Author of faith Himself, and deal directly with Him, for He alone was the only one who could raise her up out of her dilemma.

But here is the crux of this personal example: I myself was praying up a storm as we talked, I was begging God silently for wisdom, for the right words, for His words (i.e. words from scripture), that I might not speak from my own wisdom, but quote His, and though I have been in Christ many years now, - I began to feel a little impotent when all my prayers seemed to be having no immediate effect.

My daughter was still tormented having her eyes of understanding glossed over in doubt. Why wasn't God opening her understanding?? I wasn't exactly panicked, but I was definitely off my game, as it were. At one point she went to the bathroom, trail of tears in her wake, and I was able to turn my soul full faced to the Lord and pray not alongside what I was doing, but as it were, I was able to be alone with the Lord long enough to realize that I was no longer exercising faith, but had begun to simply pleah with God to do my will, and wondering where the lions were.

You see, I had taken my eyes off of Christ. I had started to worry, to fret, to try and call down from heaven the sort of resolution I thought the situation needed.

When the solution I thought was necessary failed to materialize, I began to question whether God was listening, or whether my own prayers were fruitless, ...useless. I wasn't praying in faith, I was praying as a form or diligent religion. I knew that prayer was called for, I knew that unless God built this house, the labourer (me) would labor in vain. But for all that, I hadn't actually been coming to God in faith while talking to my daughter, but coming to God in pretense. I was coming to God in my desperation and trying to force God (through prayer) to do my will (calm my daughter, and open her understanding... now!), and this primarily for my own benefit. I was trying to do the right thing and wanted God's power to make it happen - rather than resting in God, and trusting that the situation was in His hands and not my own.

When I saw that I was floundering in prayer, in that moment I set my heart on the truth - that God hears me in Christ, and that having committed my path to the Lord, I was willing to rest in whatever God would do. These matters were in His capable hands, hadn't I appealed to my God? Hadn't He heard my prayer? The bible teaches that He heard my appeal, for it is surely His will that I instruct my children in the way they are to go, that I share the good news of Christ, and that sinners repent, and the gospel be proclaimed. In the blink of an eye I went from a desperate father full of concern, to a man so certain of God's goodness and provision, that I was at once filled with all patience and joy. I was in the Spirit, not some mystical place of emotion, but resting in the certainty of God's presence, God's power, and God's provision. Jehovah Jireh, amen.

My daughter came back from the washroom calm and at ease. I told her about my own lack of faith in our discussion, and how in the moment it was restored to me, I was at peace, trusting in God to do what I could not. She was so excited to hear this because she said in the two minutes she had left to go to the washroom, she suddenly found herself comforted and calmed - she was excited to hear how God had answered my prayer in her. It is one thing for a little girl to hear about God answering prayer, and another to be the knowing recipient of it.

Now, she didn't come back and tell me about some transcendent peace and calm that overcame her mystically with some sort of tangible tingle; rather I told her about my prayer, and then she told me about how it was answered, and knowing that I couldn't have known about her calmness she realized that God must have heard my prayer and answered it, and that her sudden calmness and renewed certainty were proof that God had answered my prayer. If she was calm when she came back, she was strengthened spiritually by the news that God had heard and answered my prayer in providing her with the calmness that comes from resting in the Lord.

I could go on and on about the grace and majesty of God, especially as it pertains to my daughter whom I so dearly love, but I mention this only to introduce faith as a component of the Christian life.

When scripture says that the just shall live by faith, it isn't describing the process of the new birth, it is describing the life that follows the new birth.

It isn't that the just shall inherit life by faith, it is that the just shall live by faith. Faith is not merely the foundation of our justification, it is also, and perhaps more significant given how this point is practically unheard of in many congregations - the foundation of our sanctification. I hope to show in the next post, that many immature believers today are not living their Christian lives by faith as they should, both to God's glory, and to their own joy. I hope also to articulate, as best I can, exactly what it means to live by faith.

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posted by Daniel @ 7:46 AM  
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