You think you know what you’re going to get when walking in on a new worship experience.
Not this time. It was a typical enough service, with nice looking people, children running around, familiar songs, warm coffee. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing noteworthy; until they started passing the microphone around. Then everything changed. A cancer update less about diagnosis and treatment and more about anxiety management and how faith was (and wasn’t!) functioning. A moral dilemma solved by riding bike as an expression of faith. A struggling parent whose prayer/spiritual life was also being eroded. A particularly challenging passage of scripture. Candles lit for unnamed concerns, a lamp for the people of Iran. Anger expressed at the president, followed by humble hope-filled prayer.
Like the Psalmist crying my soul “melts away for sorrow” (Psalm 119:28) or prophet with “a faint spirit” (Isaiah 61:8), each in our own way understand how fragile life and faith, soul and body can be. And if life doesn’t erode our faith, busyness will, or boredom, or relying on a pastor to believe for you, or the temptation of your siren’s song of choice, or…. Well, just about anything.
What can we do to regain lost faith? Or stop its erosion? Or find stability in the midst of the storm?
The author of the New Testament book called “Hebrews” suggests that the spiritual disciplines are God’s way of allowing the gospel to influence and sustain our souls. Here’s 3 spiritual disciplines suggested in Hebrews 10:19-25:
We’re invited time and again to bring all of ourselves to God: “my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus…let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” (Hebrews 10:19-22, see also 4:15-16). This is pretty easy when the “all” is positive and happy. Less so when it involves alcoholism, depression, shame, social-media addiction, past wounds, parenting struggles, or faith doubts. It’s complicated by the magic power most church front doors possess in locking out our secret and private selves, leaving us to gather and worship with nothing but our public persona. Complicated, but not negated. The church I shared about above has reached a striking level of community authenticity. But first and foremost, the invitation from Hebrews is to a spiritual authenticity between you and God. No emotion, no thought, no doubt, no sin is more than God can handle or wants to be involved in.
We’re also need to allow the gospel to dialogue with our weary soul: “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).” That which we believe, and trust, and hope comes to life only when it rubs shoulders with what we’re living, feeling, and thinking. We must time and again be oriented to Gospel, to the beautiful new world God is creating in the midst of the old, and to the worth-ness of God above all else. ”Holding fast” may most powerfully take the form of allowing the gospel to “read” us, rather than us reading it. Indeed, for me, faith grows when the gospel is teacher and my life the curriculum; formation rather than information. And no preacher or devotional book can do that hard work for us.
But neither are we alone in that hard work.
We’re also invited to bring all of ourselves to community, and to empower others to do the same. Hebrews invites, “and let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another (10:24-25).” The level of relationship necessary in order to effectively “provoke one another to love and good deeds” is quite deep. Beyond platitudes and generalities, such depth includes open sharing of what “stops” you in being obedient to Jesus, and a willingness to humbly dig deeper into each other’s blind spots (what others can discern about us that we can’t see ourselves). This may happen in a more public setting as in the worship described above, in a small group, over coffee, or amongst friends committed together to grow in Christ-likeness. But encouragement is never general. It is always specific, always personal, and always active.
Our souls will melt and our bodies will decay. Our faith will be tested and our patience rocked. Not because we’re weak, or special; but because we’re human. It’s happened before, it’s probably happening now, and it will definitely happen again. And when the rains come, and the floods wash past us, it will hurt. But it need not destroy us.
Preached November 18, 2012 at Houston Mennonite Church. Join us next Sunday at 10:45AM!