The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."
May 21, 2001
Do I Really Believe this Stuff?
"Do you really believe this stuff? Do you trust me?"
In one way or another, God has been asking me these two questions ever since I woke up to his presence in my life seven years ago.
The questions get asked when he wants me to grow in a specific area of my faith.
There's always something more God wants to show me, to have me understand and experience. I have the feeling it will ever be so.
I have learned that God sets specific faith hurdles before me and that I don't grow as a Christian until I get over them. When I get to the place where I can answer "yes," my walk with Jesus deepens. Then this becomes part of my Christian witness to others. I can say to people the Lord puts in my path, "Look, you really can trust God in this."
But that doesn't mean getting to "yes" is easy.
When God asks me his two questions, I always seem to have a longer set of questions for him in return.
I ask him, "How do I really know this is you speaking to me? Do you have my back, Lord? I mean, if I obey you, will you really be with me, protecting and looking out for me?I know I shouldn't ask you for a sign. I don't want to ask you for a sign. But could you give me a sign?"
My biggest question is this:
"Why do you make it so hard, God? Why do I always have to make a leap based only on trusting you? Why can't I know for sure ahead of time?"
I still vividly remember the first time this happened. God had burdened me with a growing awareness that I had never fully turned my life over to him to do with as he wished, and that the time had come to do so. I was overwhelmed by what this meant: I would no longer be in control of my life. God could take me along any path he wished. It might not all be pleasant. I asked all the questions above, and more. I wrestled terribly with the decision for weeks. And finally gave in to faith.
I was partially right in my fears. My life has not all been pleasant. But that has been far outweighed by the peace that comes from knowing I am obeying God, and that he has always been faithful. I would not go back on my decision for anything.
Some time later, I felt God wanted me to start tithing. A good pastor friend had assured me that if I trusted God enough to tithe, God would take care of me. "Right," I thought. "You're a pastor. God called you. Of course he's taken care of you. This can't possibly apply to everyone." Once again the questions surfaced. Once again I wrestled, this time for months. Once again, faith won out. And God has been faithful to me. Now that I am on the other side, I would make that same decision in an instant.
Can you see the pattern here? Before you take the step of faith, you have no idea how things are going to turn out. You waver, you fear. On the other side of the commitment, you see that God has been faithful. Your trust in him grows.
My current faith crisis has been developing slowly. I am beginning to feel that God wants me to rely more heavily on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Among other things, this means trusting that the leading I'm feeling is, in fact, the "still, small voice." (1 Kings 19:12)
The hurdles I'm facing now are based on new fears. Do I listen to the Spirit if what I am hearing does not make pragmatic, human sense? What if it is true to Scripture and what I know of God's nature, but goes against what my Christian friends advise me, and maybe even estranges me from them? Because of my mainline denomination heritage, I've got a nagging fear of becoming "too charismatic" by making decisions and taking steps based on an inner voice.
I ask God, "How will this turn out? Is this really you? Will you protect me if I comply?"
In return I hear God asking me, "Do you really believe this stuff? Do you trust me?"
There's new meaning to the questions in this context.
Because I've trusted God in the past, I now have a set of tools I can use to evaluate what I think I'm hearing and more quickly overcome my questions and fears.
God and I have a track record with each other now. I have seen that he is always faithful. He has never failed me. Looking back on his faithfulness in the past gives me confidence in what I am hearing in the present. In addition, because I have trusted God before, I better know when he is trying to get through to me now. I know "the feeling," in other words.
Not surprisingly, God's faithfulness is pointed out over and over in the Bible, in passages like this:
The Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from evil. - 2 Thessalonians 3:3
When I feel I am being led to a new faith decision, I have learned to check what I am hearing against what Scripture teaches to see whether the leading is of God. I have found the further I walk with God, the more I see his faithfulness, and the more my trust in his Word increases. I have found by personal experience that what the Bible says is always true.
I also can verify my leading by the experiences of others. I used to listen to stories of God's guidance and providence with a very skeptical ear. In the churches I attended, these stories mostly came from pastors and guest speakers - never from my fellow parishioners. I thought one had to be ordained or some special type of Christian for God's presence to really be felt. But this isn't the case. I have found through my own experiences that if you actually comply when God wants to stretch your faith, all kinds of things happen in your life.
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. — Hebrews 11:1
This is the opening verse of what is called the "roll call of faith" chapter in Hebrews. Going through that chapter reminds me about two things:
This squares with what Paul said in Romans about how it is faith — faith alone — in Jesus' redemptive work that saves us:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. — Romans 5:1-2
I marvel that God in his grace always seems to be at work to increase my faith.
Read through Hebrews 11. Pause at each name and think about what it must have been like to have the faith to act as God asked without being able to see the consequences of the action. Or to hear a promise made but not see it fulfilled in your lifetime.
The heroes of faith were just like you and me. The question always is: Are we willing to play the part God has for us in his plan to redeem the world?
God has created a role specifically for us. We can trust that when we step out in faith in response to his promptings, we are on the path he's created. One of the biggest things to trust is that while we may see some of his promises fulfilled in our lifetime, other pieces get fulfilled afterwards.
Following Jesus will always be a leap of faith as long as we are on this earth. If you've never experienced what it's like to leap, you're missing out on the grand part of the Christian adventure — the part where you get to see God's faithfulness as you respond to his invitations.
Do you hear God asking you to believe him in some matter? Take it seriously. Wrestle with it if you must. Then make the leap. He will not let you fall.
I know that now that he's got my attention, God will continue to challenge my faith for the rest of my life. I imagine that when I lay on my death bed, I will hear him gently ask, "Do you really believe this stuff? Do you trust me?"
I'll look back at our journey together and I'll see that he's never left me nor forsaken me. I think I know what my answer will be.
I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!