There were no grumpy Buddha statues that I saw in Thailand, China, or Viet Nam. Sitting or reclining, they were all serene. Those people who I observed admiring the statues (I guess it's worshipping, I do not know, I am not Buddhist), were serene. The people put gold-stamps on some of the statues, others put flowers or food, and others still lit incense. Were these acts of prayer? They were certainly performed in a reverent way. Their version of faith must be on some level of serenity; I went to a lot of shrines and temples and there were no grumpy Buddha’s.
Somehow, I believed that I would receive this type of enlightenment and calm after I was baptized and accepted Christ as my savior. I do not know why I thought this. It is kind of silly, really. The church I grew up in had a statue of Christ nailed to a cross hanging miserably in pain, high on the wall facing the congregation. It took me until 7th grade to realize that the great part of being Christian comes after the hanging on the cross. I guess the hanging on the cross was easier to put on the wall than the really important story points immediately following the crucifixion. Things like; resurrection, promising heaven to all, eternal life, the gift of the Holy Spirit, Ascension, among others are hard to anthropomorphize. A cross is just easier to hang on the wall I guess. The happy Buddhas provide better marketing, Christ provides eternal salvation. I'm going with Christ. Sorry, I got distracted with the incongruity of the imagery to the promise.
There is a promise I hear made in Christian churches that if you give your life to Christ then you will go to heaven because you have declared your commitment to Christ in front of God and the world (Romans 10:9). One is expressing faith, through a declaration of words of faith, and therefore, one is now a person of faith. Wow! I know that I was glad that was in my heart! In my mind, the only road for increasing faith was up. Studying the Word, small-group bible study, congregational fellowship, expressions of my love of God through service, and seeking the Holy Spirit in daily life- I will ride an upward hockey stick of faith, if you were to graph it), and I'm ashamed to say it, near perfection. (Ok, I acknowledge it-I'm a planner.)
Then, life steps in.
Good people die. Newscasts and newspapers, (for those who still read them), are all filled with suffering with few rainbows and hopeful stories. Marriage is hard. Kids get sick. People have money “issues.” “Issues” is code for arguments about who spent how much on what. why we do not have enough, or can we meet our bills, losing jobs, promises, feelings of failure; and all things that money represents. Few hopeful things are available to grab hold of. I pray, HARD. God seems quiet. My knock at the Holy Spirit's door is met with an "Office Is Closed" sign. This has been my life and these types of things may represent your life. I expect that it will continue for me until the next life. There have been times when it felt this way.
Going to church just feels like repetitive sermons. When I read to study The Word as part of a program, I’m stuck in the Old Testament. This is like being sentenced to dry-walling an airplane hangar with a rock.
Let me step in with some transparency; I'm writing this from a decent amount of personal experience. I've had heart attacks, business failures, epilepsy, brain surgeries, my twin-brother dying of Stage IV lung cancer, and my Dad surviving cancer three times; and those are just a few. God has really p*ssed me off a number of times. I've even told him so, using rather non-Christian language. I figured He knew what I was thinking anyway, so I had a green light to say it.
It shook me. I was forced to ask myself some hard questions. Had I signed up for a false belief set? Was I praying to just the air, the universe, make-believe? Oooooh…. Did even asking these questions mean that I was out of the Christianity club? Every time someone said, "We are praying for you," I knew what to say. I had heard other people say it, so I knew the script. I was numb to feeling it and I wished they would just shut up, but I said the words any way.
There is also the challenge of boredom when it comes to faith. The routine of a stable life. You do what you do and slowly your need for God and your commitment to your faith as you rely upon it begins to slip. It does not drop off as if you fell off of a cliff; however, it’s more of a gradual disengagement. When a small-group study ends, you look at your calendar, you decide to not join the next one or take a break and catch up the next time. Perhaps you move from an every Sunday attender at church to 3 times per month. Your study of the Word does not end, it just slips. You are a person of faith. If anyone asks you about your faith you are prepared to talk about your faith and the actions of being in a faith relationship with God, you just are imperceptibly slipping. Besides, not many people ask, not really anyway.
There is always the “faith without deeds“ (James 2:26)conversation. What a perfect Christian competitive sport! I'm not certain whether good actions bring me closer to God or being closer to God drives me closer to doing His work. I know that God loves happy givers. I believe that I actually know this as truth. When my heart is aligned with God, I really like doing good deeds that align with what He wants me to do for others. When I am drifting, it's a drudge. I do the drudge stuff when I am drifting anyway. There is an old statement from, I think St. Benedict has a quote that goes like this, "Keep the rule and the rule will keep you." It just means that if you follow the behaviors that have been a part of faith when you were joyous, they will keep you moving forward in moments when you are not. That's all I've got.
Faith is not a linear process; it’s not something that is ever increasing without challenges. Challenge and resistance, also known as friction, can create a lot of anger. There are people much more evolved in their faith than me who do not feel any of what I have described. I am so very glad for them and encouraged by them and I want to be like them.
I'm just not there yet.
If faith is not a straight line, then what is it?
Peter walked with Jesus for years. He watched many miracles performed. He heard the words of our Savior professed to the world directly. Jesus walked on water to Peter during a storm. GOD ON EARTH, THE MESSIAH WITH YOU. Jesus made an ask and only asked Peter to have the faith to walk to Him on the water. Peter got out of the boat, but he did not make it far before he lost his faith and started to go under. Jesus had to grab a hold of Peter and lift Peter back into the boat (Matthew 14:22-33), (KJ 14:25-31).
Faith for me is like that. I'm not saying that I walk on water- that would be cool and would put me at a level of faith that is promised to move mountains, but I am far from that. I can say that there are moments that I have just a glimpse in my heart of a pure love and trust in Jesus with nothing else needed (Matthew 14:27). Then those moments close like a blink and I'm Peter having to be dragged, spitting and choking, out of the water and into the boat. Jesus is right there for me, just waiting for one more step of faith on my part, and I waiver, thus I drop. Dropping isn't "community pool" dropping. It's the sloppy stuff. It’s the reality of trying to take over the managing of your life on your own. It's the skipping of prayer and reflection because you have "an early day" and you believe that you will get to it later.
My faith is bumpy. I have had miracles, watched miracles, told stories and gone to the mountaintops to profess God's performance of miracles. MIRACLES! FOR ME OR THOSE NEAR ME! I’m serious. Yet, sometimes, I forget God. I get busy and just do my thing. Other times I'm mad at God and I pout. How can you receive miracles personally and then forget God or get mad at Him?
What about praying and hearing silence? I hate that!
You notice in the story, Jesus does not just keep walking. He stays with the Peter and those in the boat, even though they had not yet shown faith. That is not faith. That is acknowledgement. I want the easy path. I want to just accept Jesus as my savior, die, and go to heaven, the end. Unfortunately, faith does not work like that. It is should be strengthened continuously (Acts 16:5). It is like the old joke about prayer, "Don't pray for patience, God will send you frustration in order to help grow your patience." Our faith grows through adversity and strain that brings about reliance and obedience. Faith, the belief that God is in control means that you have to surrender and let God be in control (Acts 20:21). In order to do that, you have to be out of control and rely upon Him. I know that this is hard. I don't trust God either. I mean it I can prove it. I keep not surrendering. I continue taking credit for my life when things are going well and ignoring God. I toss God the wheel when I am in the ditch and the car is headed straight at the fence with the barbed wire.
Recently, my business was in severe danger of bankruptcy. Severe means only three more weeks of operational cash left and we would be out of business. My partner and I had truly done everything that we could. We were going to go broke. As I sat down to pray in the morning, I said to God: “Whatever is your will is what I will do it. If it is your will for this business to close and we go broke, then that is your will. If we have to sell this house, change in anyway because of what happens, I will follow you. This is all yours, the business, my life and my family, this house and everything are yours. It’s not mine. Your plan is what I will do.”
I finished my prayers and felt an enormous sense of calm. I did not care if the business closed. I knew God was just going to change my path for His glory and I would serve Him. It all sounds so holy. I wasn’t being holy. I had prayed about the business a lot of times before. My prayers were for growth, to get us out of a mess, to help us find the right people, and for many other things. I was telling God what Ineeded Himto do. What I asked for seemed to happen, until it didn’t.
I went to work out. Forty-five minutes into my workout, I received a phone call from a client. The client needed us to do a project, it would be under a new contract and the price would be almost all of the revenue we would need to continue the business. The client had said weeks before that there was a freeze on all new contracts and that we would not receive any additional work. Yet, I received the call and God had provided, we received almost all of what we needed. That evening, I received another call from the same client. His company had another small project that needed to be completed. The contract was for the remainder of what my company needed to stay in business. What had changed? In my heart, I had truly surrendered to God’s will for the first time. I knew I had because after I had prayed that morning I felt the true peace that came from letting go to God completely.
After this huge moment of provision and many other blessings, I STILL feel moments of doubt. Perhaps you do as well. This does not mean you are weak. It does not mean that your faith is not real. It does not mean you have lost salvation. Faith is a bumpy sea that you have to ride out. Accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior is not a “one and done” thing. Life has rain, sometimes loud windy, thunder and lightning storm rain. It is not make-believe. The storms are very real and dangerous in this life as you are experiencing them. I have to take a deep breath. I wish I could just close my eyes and find my calm connection with God to still my spirit.
Jesus is that power for us in this world. How do we find the patience, calm, and confidence? In our church, we have two of the older pastors who have shown this peace in the face of adversity. They have seen and been through so much that when they are faced with your adversity, theirs or anyone else’s, they react with a deep connection. They are patient and prayerful. I am not like them. I know my first reaction should be reverence, but actually my more human response is fear. I want what and I want it now. Learning patience is hard. Part of how I am learning is to watch these two pastors. They do not do. They pray. They seek God. They ask with confidence for His will and provision.
I have to take smaller steps, I guess. I re-connect using prayer. It sounds a lot more like me having a conversation with myself but I direct it to the Holy Spirit. His followers are mighty because He is mighty. Their strength comes from their faith (Hebrews 7:25)and reliance on Him, not because he does anoint them. How do you grow that strength? Not watching from land. Not from sailing in the bay. It’s obedience and surrender to Him. That means in all waters, calm, maelstrom, and everything in between.
Keep the rule and the rule will keep you. If you want to find the serene "Buddha" faces in your church, go visit with the older pastors. Find the ones who have been missionaries, who have faced adversity, seen miracles, and experienced a deep testing of faith. They are serene because their faith has been built in stormy seas. Keep the practices of our savior. Pray, immerse yourself in The Word, do as He did, follow what He commissioned us to do regardless of the circumstances of your life, and your faith will grow.