Friday, November 3, 2017

The Only Thing That Counts

It only took about two years for me to finish the nine-week Bible study, "Believing God" by Beth Moore. I actually started it over five years ago, took a hiatus for a while, then began again. I found it helpful and appropriate five years ago, in very different circumstances, and now in changed circumstances and environment, it is still helpful and appropriate. The challenge then and now is to live the faith I claim.

If you've gone through this study, you probably remember the five points on which the study is based. If you haven't, here they are:
     ~God is who he says he is.
     ~God can do what he says he can do.
     ~I am who God says I am.
     ~I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
     ~God's word is alive and active in me.1

Faith is easy to talk about - harder to practice. Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." The point about faith is the "not seeing" part. We are talking about things hoped for, but not realized yet. Time moves slowly when you're in "hoping" mode. The needed funds, a job, physical healing, emotional restoration, the change that is expected but a long time coming: these are the things which tempt us to lose heart.

I think of Abraham and Sarah waiting eons for the promised child. They are both listed in the hall of fame for faith in Hebrews 11, even though they tried to take matters into their own hands a couple of times. That gives me hope, since I've done the same thing. God seems to be having a problem getting this one worked out, but I have a great idea!

What I'm taking away right now, from Believing God; what I'm pondering and processing is something the author said in the very last study, almost the very last day. She pulled out a little scrap - part of a verse that I know I've read a hundred times - and asked, "What about this?"

Here it is: in Galatians 5:5 - the only thing that counts is faith expressed through love.

Wait. How did I not see this before? The only thing that counts?

It seems pretty straightforward, but think about expressed through love.

I like to think I'm pretty faith-filled. I've got this. I know about God's faithfulness. I've experienced and seen great moments of faith in my life and others. I feel confident that my faith is placed in Christ and he has forgiven me. I trust the promise of resurrection and eternity.

It's the more nebulous areas where I falter. There's always the muddy question of God's will versus my will, and the fact that God sometimes says no. I tend to practice my faith kind of like I practice piano - when the mood strikes, or when I must play for some event and I desperately need practice. But the truth is, I desperately need to practice faith every day.

And now this verse adds a whole new dimension to faith. I couldn't connect the dots without a little help from Beth. She does the math where faith is an exponent of love.

I have a hard time with love.  GASP!

I know a few exceptional people who appear to have genuine love and compassion for mankind in general, and for the unlovable in particular. I'm not one of them and...admit it. You struggle too. That doesn't make it right - for me or you.

I struggle to love the relative who caused me pain. I struggle to love people who have hurt my children. I struggle to love the mother who sent her kids to an outdoor church event in 40-degree weather in dresses, or the neighbors who routinely let their dogs out in the middle of the night for the sole purpose of barking. The takers, the stalkers, the people who use over and over, who show more sense of entitlement than gratitude. The guy who pawned my husband's guitar for drug money, or the couple who "bought" a car from us but somehow managed never to pay for it.

To quote Beth Moore, God has called us to love even when - 
     ~We don't want to.
     ~We don't feel like it.
     ~We get nothing obvious in return.
     ~They don't deserve it.
     ~They're not worth it.
     ~They don't even know it.
     ~It makes no difference.2

Petty? Cynical? Justified? You may be thinking, well, nobody can love everybody. Except that somebody did - and he places that call on my life, if I'm going to be his follower.

The truth is, I can't. And that's where faith enters the equation. If I want to be like Jesus; if I want to reflect him in my life and my actions, then I need to trust that he will help me to love when I ask him. I must believe that I don't need to work up or even pretend a love I don't feel. Rather, I trust the truth that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:13) On this journey where I am challenged to practice faith every day, and realize my own weaknesses where love is concerned, I cling to the Source of love and trust him to fill me with his limitless supply.

For me, that's a leap of faith. For all of us, it's the only thing that counts.

1. Moore, B. (2004) Believing God. Nashville, TN: LifeWay Press. Pg. 9
2. Moore, B. (2004) Believing God. Nashville, TN: LifeWay Press. Pg. 214

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