Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Great is Thy Faithfulness: Observations on Stepping Out in Faith

"The Lord grants wisdom. 
He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest. 
He is a shield to those who walk with integrity. 
He guards the paths of the just, and protects those who are faithful to Him. 
Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will find the right way to go
For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will fill you with joy. 
Wise choices will watch over you. 
Understanding will keep you safe." -Proverbs 2:6-11

Three years ago, when I got back to Illinois from Peru in 2013, my faith was small as could be: I was just beginning to think about it and to seek. I was just beginning to ponder, 'what's so special about the Christ-centered life versus the way I think to do things?' I was just beginning to believe in myself, and in things bigger than myself. 

I left Illinois several days ago, feeling very anchored in God: my faith has grown tremendously, not just through what could be called my 'religious' life; actually more so through my day-to-day existence- what I do with my time, who I trust my heart to, what I value, who I've chosen to let influence me and from whose influence I've had to step away, and what I want my life to mean. My relationship with the Lord has been upheld by many people- and subtly challenged by even more. 

But one thing I know is for sure: I have never spoken so little and acted so assuredly on the promises of God. I have sought Him, and He has granted me the peace bold enough to take me to Colorado, a wisdom deep enough to live my life from; a guarded path of safety and abundance; a right way to go, a freedom from the dead-end of a life spinning my wheels with no particular direction or purpose. 
"Store my commands in your heart. 
If you do this, you will live many years, and your life will be satisfying
You will find favor with both God and people, and you will earn a good reputation. 
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding." 
-Proverbs 3:1-5

I am learning what it means to be faithful: to see the fruits of commitment, to understand the importance of a life of examined character.

My job at the YMCA of the Rockies is already, simply put, blowing my mind. I have been on-site for one full day (today was orientation), and there is a magnificent peace in being around people who are not interested in themselves or what they have to prove, but are more interested in the simple philosophy of enjoying and respecting and honoring the creation of God; who are living their lives (whether serving food or cleaning laundry or cutting lumber to build things) with a higher awareness of God than of just themselves.

The Y's mission statement is, "to put Christian principles into practice through programs that help healthy spirit, mind and body for all." A healthy spirit is so crucial and so overlooked: we are so concerned about feeding our body good food, feeding our mind knowledge or facts or scaffolding for our opinions, and yet we forget (or find it unimportant) to feed our spirits. But I have found that my whole life- the way I paint, the things I write, the way I bond with others, the way I bond with nature and myself, and my God- is all spiritual.

It all has to do with feeding daily on the things of God, meditating not just on nothing but on the Word of God; it is as crucial to a well-lived life as food and water.
We learned a little about what this mission statement in action meant today (it was part of what drew me here in the first place), and to be around others who understand the love and joy of living in faith (I do not mean this to sound selfish or self-righteous) has been a blessing that my soul has been craving. 

It's partially because I'm a young Christian, but it's also because to see through experience the ways in which the Lord rewards faithfulness has deepened my trust even further in His love. I 'had a feeling' this would be a good move for me spiritually, but to see the Lord multiply blessings when we step out in faith is the best feeling in the universe.

Beyond many of the people I've met so far simply loving nature and the mountains too much to not be here (it's pretty clear that that's why most of us, from the teens to the sixty year olds, are here), almost everyone I've heard speak has delighted in the fact that God is so evident here, that His presence is all around. 

And I have known that, but to be around it on such scale, with such uncivilized, untouched purity, that really drives it home. I was honestly not sure to what degree the Christian component of my new location would actually be manifested, but I can see it clearly, ingrained into the mission of the organization and carried- humbly and quietly- in the hearts of some of the wonderful people I've already met here. 

The Christian life is invitational: it invites us and others into a life of joy, abundance, freedom, authenticity, and satisfaction. But since it is rooted in love, it does not force or convince; love never does. It simply serves. And that is what the soul craves- what God provides: love. It is life-giving
I have been praying for the continued sense of community and relationship in faith I had back home- one of the things I have been doing only a few months now and was very sad to leave in Illinois was my Bible study: a group that meets weekly to talk about Scripture or a specific book, and which has also been a place for me to have an authentic voice and talk to others from the heart; a nice break from the sort of 'distracting' or 'opinionated' conversations we fall into so often on a daily basis. 

And love multiplies love: the more you have these life-giving conversations and interactions, the more, I know I, at least, crave them.

So I was happily surprised to learn on our tour of one of the chapels here that- among prayer-led nature walks and Bible studies in the mountains- there is a Bible study that meets on Tuesday nights, so tonight (after I finished beautifying my room) I went.

It is amazing how the Lord puts in your path just what you need just when you need it; it is even more amazing how often I doubt when I know He will provide. I just thought, logistically, that I'd have to do a lot of research and that it would take some time to get connected- but sometimes the more intimately you work with God, the more intimately He works with you. It's often the case that what I just can't see ahead, I worry over, even when I do trust Him- and then am pleasantly surprised that He catches me every time I leap. 
It's not that I live life marching forward with impossible confidence- it's that I live life with the full awareness that my doubt, my fear, my I-just-don't-knows are nothing in the hands of God. (Basically, my ultimate confidence is not in me, but in the awareness that I am His). He will make whatever way, He will calm whatever storm. He will see and create what I cannot.

Tonight at Bible study, I learned that it just so happens that the pastor of the chapel and leader of the study went to my high school and grew up minutes away from me. It reminded me of the funny and amazing ways God works in our lives: I had little to nothing to report on walking with the Lord when I was young, back in our hometown- and what a humbling conversation that always is. 

It is amazing too what I have discovered about people who walk with the Lord: they always seem to be walking in more interesting places. I couldn't find my way out of a paper bag before I understood and loved Christ: no matter how smart or 'wise' I was in my own eyes, my life was flimsy, blown about by the wind and never moving in any set direction. It was like grabbing at air to make things work; and nothing really seemed to.

And our study tonight was on the Book of Proverbs- one of the first books of the Bible I read on my own and a really accessible, simple read- and it warms us of this very thing: a life un-anchored, with no particular direction or flow. Proverbs instructs us to value something our world doesn't value much anymore: wisdom. Discernment and understanding of human nature so we can empathize, love, feel, and move through life making good decisions not just for our own self-advancement, but for God, who then helps us advance beyond what we ourselves could do.
My life now is a mere byproduct of following the Lord. Whatever happens from here on out is not in my hands. Proverbs is a book of contrasts: light is contrasted against darkness; life is contrasted against death; wisdom is contrasted against foolishness. Life ultimately comes down to the choices we make, and knowing God's design and plan for us empowers us to make right choices from the heart that never let us down- and that glorify Him.

I never try any longer to 'see myself somewhere in five years' or 'know where I'll end up in a decade'- life just doesn't work this way unless we're ultimately after comfort or control: the two things that decimate our inner and spiritual life and that stand at odds with letting God work in us. 

I've learned that God can use anyone- the lost, the broken, the sad, the down-and-out; the brilliant or the average intelligence, the articulate or the soft-spoken, the bold or the very quiet- but He can't use the proud, the ones who think they are wise on their own and know all there is to know. The ones who are sure of themselves. Life is too complex and we are too short-sighted, even the most visionary of us.

Looking at life without our hearts tuned to the wisdom and righteousness of God is like groping around in the dark for answers that only really become clear in the light.

"So don't bother correcting mockers; they will only hate you. 
But correct the wise, and they will love you. Instruct the wise, and they will be even wiser
Teach the righteous, and they will learn even more.
If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit. If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer."
-Proverbs 10:8-12

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