Tuesday, May 7, 2013

So-Called Faith

There is a story in the book of Ezra that is both a blessing and a burden.  I stumbled upon it a few weeks ago in my morning devotional, and I can't get it out of my head.  The story is about help.

Ezra is on his way back to Jerusalem with the exiled people of God, granted permission to return and rebuild.  The king has signed official letters authorizing the group's safe passage through somewhat dangerous territories, but let's face it - the nations that opposed Israel were still dangerous, and Ezra knew it.  As they journey, he is torn by that very reality.  

I had this group gather by the river that flows to Ahava, and we camped there for three days.  ...Then I announced a fast there at the Ahava River so that we might humble ourselves in the presence of God to ask him for a safe journey for ourselves, for our little ones, and for all our goods.  I was ashamed to ask the king for an armed escort with cavalry to help us against enemy attack on the way.  We had already told the king, 'Our God works things out for the good of everyone who dedicates his life to serving him, but his power and his anger oppose everyone who abandons him.'  (15, 21-22)

So here's Ezra, and he's leading this group of God's people.  If it were just him, maybe the choice of faith would have been an easier one.  It's hard, but not as hard, to trust God for just yourself.  But when you're holding the lives of hundreds of others in your hands, you would never dare make the mistake to be so foolish as to simply go in faith.  What if one among you doesn't believe?

Ezra is torn because he wants his faith to be enough.  He has already made a bold declaration of his faith - God works for the good of His people.  Since I, Ezra, am His people, He works for my good.  It is God who will grant me safe passage.  Yet on the banks of the Ahava River, firmly into enemy territory, maybe it's not so clear.  Maybe there are a lot of unfamiliar places around, a lot of foreign peoples, a stronghold of armies that look more intimidating than he could have imagined them back in exile.  Now, they are reality, and faced with that, the question arises - is faith enough?

It's a question that binds many of us.  I know it does me.  I absolutely believe in God.  I believe in His power; I believe in His promise.  I believe in His glory and in His good.  And I am prone, like Ezra, to make bold declarations of my faith and firmly assert that I trust Him.  Until, of course, I'm deep in enemy territory and those unfamiliar lands, foreign peoples, and plentiful armies remind me I'm kind of through the looking glass, sucked down a rabbit hole into a land where all of a sudden, I question again whether faith is enough.

Is it?  Really.  Is it?

And that's the thing, I think, about God's people.  We are in this weird place where we've redefined faith to mean that we both proclaim that we believe and also ask for help.  We trust in God to do what He promises to do, and then we set about working for it.  Just to make sure.  We put our own safeguards in place while insisting that we trust in God, but our best-laid plans betray us and stand against our so-called faith.

I want to believe God as strongly as I say I do.  I want to trust when there seems no reason to trust.  I want to know in the deepest part of my heart that He is who He says He is and as He promises to be, and I do know that, but I want to live like I know that!  It's awesome to see and to experience and to know what God can do with us, but it's something else beautiful entirely to see and to experience and to know what He is doing for us.  On our behalf.  Just because He promised He would.

It's too easy to say you believe and then to put your own hands to believing, but that's not how faith works.  In moments of doubt, in moments of fear, on the other side of the rabbit hole where you can't help but question whether faith is enough, you have to recommit yourself to believing and reset your heart on the truth.  

Hey, it worked for Ezra.

So we fasted and asked our God for a safe journey, and he answered our prayer.  (23)

If you say you believe in God, then believe in God.  If you come to a place where it's hard to believe, pray until you can believe again.  You don't have to work things together to show God is good; He's taking care of that.  You just have to throw yourself into the good that God is working together and just believe.

That's faith.  And it's enough.

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