Wednesday, October 15, 2014

“If any of you lacks wisdom, [she] should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to [her].” ~ James 1:5

Sometimes it can be scary to ask questions. We fear sounding uneducated, we're afraid someone will question our faith, we worry that our questions might sound dumb. It's hard to live in fear. I step into the fear zone way too often. I don't like to draw attention and asking questions requires attention. I've been afraid to share my thoughts and worries - most recently for fear of being accused of not being a true Christian. Although how someone can weigh someone else's Christianity now sounds silly since I know only God can know someone's heart. But I've been afraid and I remember how it feels to worry about asking a question.

Never be afraid to ask questions. The Samaritan woman wasn’t shy about pressing for answers and didn’t hesitate to ask for clarification. Sometimes we’re afraid to wade into theological waters with someone more knowledgeable than we are for fear we’ll ask the wrong questions or appear foolish. Take the risk. Find out what you need to know. If the Lord has provided a teacher, be a willing student. If she hadn’t asked all her questions about living water, the woman at the well would have gone home with nothing but a pot full of lifeless liquid and a dozen unanswered questions burning in her heart.” ~ Liz Curtis Higgs

In the past, I don't really think I ever truly struggled with knowing what I believed. I had wonderful examples - parents who loved God and lived out their faith every day in all ways; pastors and youth pastors and Sunday school teachers who loved God, loved people and helped me to learn and grow in my faith; mission trip leaders, Christian school teachers and relatives who lived their faith and taught me much about deepening my faith; and honestly I always felt close to God and didn't have any doubts or reasons to dig deeper for truth.

“There are tremendous thoughts expressed in God’s Book, and unless we have learned to rely on the Holy Spirit we shall say, ‘Oh, I shall never understand that.’ But the Holy Spirit in us understands it, and as we recognize and rely on Him, He will work it out, whether we consciously understand or not.” ~ Oswald Chambers

All this changed for me when someone in authority began saying things that went against what I believed to be true. It stirred up questions and anxiety and anger and frustration. Although I disagreed with what I was hearing, I also wanted to know "why" I disagreed. I knew that it couldn't just be "because I thought so". I wanted to know the truth about what God had to say in His Word and so I began to dig deeper.

I had intense discussions about the topics that caused me to struggle. I began reading the New Testament in more depth, searching for answers. I began to seek out theology and doctrine and not just those which supported my current beliefs. I read the suggested readings of the person whose words I had disagreed with. I also read things from the opposite perspective. I cried and prayed and struggled and questioned.

“Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice.” ~ Psalm 55:17

“God rewards those who seek Him. Not those who seek doctrine or religion or systems or creeds. Many settle for these lesser passions, but the reward goes to those who settle for nothing less than Jesus Himself. And what is the reward? What awaits those who seek Jesus? Nothing short of the heart of Jesus.” ~ Max Lucado

As I read more and prayed a lot, I began to deepen my faith and understand why I believed what I believed and why I disagreed so strongly. I began to try to understand the reasons why there are many on both sides of these types of issues who are true Christians who have earnestly sought God's truth and come to differing conclusions. I began to understand that while I did feel strongly about what I believed, that it was possible to come to a different conclusion. The important thing I discovered was that we will likely never know for sure (until we get to heaven) and ultimately it wasn't important who was "right". We want everything to be either/or...but God has made many things both/and...and this seems impossible to our human understanding.

“As believers we cannot always know why, but we can always know why we trust God who knows why, and this makes all the difference.”
~ Os Guinness

“I had to be willing to live inside the mystery…Some things in life will never make sense. They won’t be made right or explained. At least in our lifetime. They float around in a swirl of mystery. I wanted God to explain all that mystery to me before I agreed to trust Him. But I discovered it doesn’t work that way. He is God, and He doesn’t have to explain anything. When I understood that, then I could surrender to Christ and step inside the mystery instead of stand back and resist.”
~ Robin Jones Gunn

What is important is trusting God and loving Him with all my heart and mind and soul. If I can surrender and trust that He is in control, that He understands, that He is my only truth then my faith is secure. The important thing is believing that Jesus is who He says He is...believing in His death and resurrection...believing that He is the Son of God. Everything else is secondary and while it can be well and good to study the Word and form thoughts and opinions from that study, it's not what matters the most. I can disagree with someone about those secondary issues and I don't have to question my faith or theirs.

“Honesty is often very hard. The truth is often painful. But the freedom it can bring is worth the trying.” ~ Mister Rogers

What I came to realize is that while I was able to agree to disagree, not everyone is able to do this. This required some difficult and honest conversation that ultimately led to us stepping away from that person in authority. It was handled about as well as I was able and while perhaps it could have gone better, I also did not say or do anything I regret or feel badly about. I had to be honest...and it was very painful...but the freedom I've felt since leaving has been far greater than I could have ever imagined. Yes, I still feel afraid at times. Yes, I still struggle with understanding. Yes, I still have questions and doubts now and then. But I know that no matter what happens, God is with me. He is faithful, He is able, and He is trustworthy.

“God can handle honesty, and prayer begins an honest conversation. My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, ‘I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,’ that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. If you told me you had said to God, ‘It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,’ it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real – really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.” ~ Anne Lamott

One of the great joys I discovered in this time of struggle was the beauty of God's Word. One of my favorite discoveries was in Psalms. I found that as I read through the Psalms there was a cycle of praising God, crying out to God and asking God to curse and cause pain to one's enemies. After reading through this cycle a few times I was struck by the thought that God made our emotions - He knows that we have a full range of them and that we are constantly cycling through them. Perhaps the Psalms was His way of assuring us that it is okay to be be be happy. The truly important thing is to be honest before God with all those hold nothing back from Him and to ultimately trust Him to know what to do with our concerns and feelings. He wants us to be real...really REAL...and although He already knows everything about us, He wants us to choose to share it with Him. This was a life-changing insight for me and took a huge weight off my know that I can be real about my feelings and my questions, but to give them all to God knowing that He can be trusted.

“Authenticity implies honesty, struggles, questions, desert times, shaking fists, and hopeful silences. I can only model what I am experiencing. Anything else is either behavioral modification or ‘faking it’ – neither of which is transformational…God lives in the struggle. It is there we find Him.” ~ Nancy Ortberg

I think we get afraid sometimes that having questions or raising doubts is something that a "good" Christian never does. But I'm discovering that this isn't true at all. We all have questions - God made us to be curious and He is not frightened or worried or diminished by our worries and doubts. God wants us to be if that means you have questions - be honest. If that means you have doubts - have faith that even if you can't understand that God does. We may never know all that He knows, but we can still trust Him.

“Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart, and learn to love the questions themselves.” ~ Rilke

“Doubt is not always a sign that a man is wrong; it may be a sign that he is thinking.” ~ Oswald Chambers

There is always something new to learn about God. And having questions or concerns or even doubts is never a bad thing. What matters is whether or not those things lead you closer to God or drive you further away. If we can learn to let those questions draw us deeper into relationship with God, deeper into study of His Word and deeper into conversation with Him through prayer and thanksgiving...then those struggles are worth far more than we can imagine. While I would never willingly choose to go through struggles (who would?), I am so incredibly grateful for the questions and doubts that arose in the past few years. The reason - because it drew me closer to God and made my relationship with Him more real and true than it had been in years...perhaps ever.

"Experience is never your guide; experience is the doorway for you to know the Author of the experience. Get at the knowledge of God for yourself, be a continuous learner, and the truth will open on the right hand and on the left until you find there is not a problem in human life that Jesus Christ cannot deal with." ~ Oswald Chambers

"Never stop learning. People stagnate, not through backsliding, but because they stop learning and harden into a wrong mental poise." 
~ Oswald Chambers

Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't be afraid when doubts arise. Don't be afraid to wrestle with your faith. Let those things draw you closer to God. He is able to handle your fears. He is capable of withstanding your doubts. He is faithful to meet you where you are and lead you to the place He has for you....but you have to make the choice to place your hand in His and trust Him. God loves you and He wants to have a relationship with you. You must choose to be real with Him and love Him too.

“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry” ~ Psalm 10:17

Dear heavenly Father, thank You so much for being big enough to overcome our fears and doubts and questions. Thank You for listening and being patient about our sometimes endless questions. You are a loving Father and we thank You for never growing tired of our curiosity. Thank You for giving us a full range of emotions and for being kind enough to suffer through our cycles and depths of emotion. Thank You for times of struggle and the ways that it can lead us to deeper relationship with You. Help me to remember to seek You when I feel afraid, to trust You when I have doubts and to ask You when I have questions. Thank You for the people You've placed in my life who've helped lead me to deeper knowledge and understanding of You...and for showing me what it means to be loved and for allowing me to show love to others. You are the mighty God and I thank You for loving me. I love you too. Amen.

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