February 20, 2008

Facts then faith, and then feelings—maybe

Lately I’ve struggled with trusting God concerning other people. This morning He speaks to me about the alternatives. Psalm 16:4 says, “Their sorrows shall be multiplied who hasten after another god.

Duh! Who or what else will I trust? When I think that someone’s hardness of heart is too strong for God to break, who am I saying is in charge of things? When I compare what my eyes see with who God says He is, and become unsure of God, who am I declaring is more reliable?

Sometimes God challenges my silliness with the smallest things. While no one should base their life on slogans and pithy little sayings, occasionally He uses one to jolt me, particularly when it’s read in context of biblical truth. This morning it is one written in the back of a Bible and can’t even find, but I remember what it says: “God said it; I believe it; that settles it.

Facts, I’m supposed to base my faith on facts, not feelings. Duh, oh slow of heart is me.

My devotional reading nailed me again with this: “If, for instance, we feel a glow of love toward Him, then we can say heartily that He is enough; but when this glow fails, as sooner or later it is almost sure to do, then we no longer feel that we have found our all in Him. The truth is that what satisfies us is not the Lord but our own feelings about the Lord. But we are not conscious of this, and consequently when our feelings fail, we think it is the Lord who has failed, and we are plunged into darkness.”

Years ago I went round and round like this concerning the presence of the Lord. Sometimes He seemed near and sometimes He seemed far away, but no one had moved. It was only my fickle feelings. An author wrote about the all-permeating presence of God and likened Him to the air around us. That worked for me. Now, whether I feel the presence of God or not, I know He is right here, as close as the air I breathe.

Facts then faith. David wrote, again in Psalm 16, “I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will rest in hope.

The fact of God’s continual presence is my stability too. So many times the certainty of His nearness gave me all I needed to overcome all sorts of issues. I understand how it works. It is not about feelings.

However, I also know that the “therefore” part that David added needs further explanation. Knowing God’s nearness produced overwhelming joy for David, but this is not necessarily a given. Sometimes joy bubbles, but sometimes it simmers and stays inside because the situation may be grave, terrible even, and one that does not call for rejoicing. When my mother died, the presence of the Lord gave me a deep peace that sustained me through her funeral, but it was not the same giddy joy I felt when my forty-year-old nephew gave his life to Christ. The presence of the Lord produces joy, but the Holy Spirit knows appropriate levels!

Now to today’s issue. Faith follows facts. God is sovereign over all life. No matter how the heathen rage, He will deal with all those who raise their fist against Him. No matter how deep the darkness surrounding some of those I pray for, His light can melt it in an instant. These are facts. Faith follows them, or it should.

When I watch a person from my prayer list flounder in darkness and guilt and sin and all sorts of things that Christ can fix, my heart fills with a burden that often overwhelms me. I get my eyes off the facts and let my feelings of sorrow and despair take leadership. Once that happens, faith falls off the rails and crashes into a blank wall. Ouch.

I’ve been here before, and God bailed me out each time. Now He takes me to another kind of wall and reminds me that He is in charge of everyone, always. He reminds me that just as I may not feel His presence all the time but still know that He is here, I can also know He is in charge, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

Faith follows facts, not feelings. Feelings usually derail the train. Facts keep me going on my faith journey. Facts are the things God says. Faith is me believing it, feelings or not, and I’m thinking that ought to settle it.

How is this practical? When I pray, instead of focusing on the huge problems in front of me, I will say affirming words from His Word about God’s great power and mercy above me. I will remind myself that just as He is always here, He is also always enough.

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