When Faith Stretches our Life

The toughest time to walk by faith is when God asks you to walk by faith through something that is close to your heart.  Even when we generally use our faith in spite of our feelings there are those times when something happens that hits close to home.  Our faith is challenged in a place that we really care about.  Suddenly, all those truths that we have heard, studied, and even quoted to others seem shaken.  It’s not easy at all then.  We cry or shake our fists, and then we wonder if we aren’t the biggest hypocrites in the world when we come to church and nod our head at the preacher’s words.  At times like that, I think about Mary and Martha.

Why do I think about Mary and Martha?  I think of them because of how similar and yet different they are.  I also think of them because of how differently we see them.  There are three big circumstances where we see one or both of them living their life with Jesus.  In those instances both Mary and Martha were faced with this type of faith challenge.  Something they cared about deeply was being challenged.  Through Martha’s failure and Lazarus’ death, what I find teaching me the most is how I personally respond to their cares.  One, I brush off as if it isn’t important.  The other I empathize with.  However, both were deeply hurt by the circumstances in front of them.  Both of them of them stumbled with regards to faith.  Why did they stumble?  They stumbled because they were called to walk by faith when what they saw meant much to them.  Martha stumbled because her self worth was wrapped up in how she could perform.  Mary stumbled because she had lost her brother.  What is the good news?  The good news is a person.

What is real is always based upon the person and plan of God.  However, there are many areas of life where we build (probably unintentionally) apart from God.  This happens when you are saved at an older age.  It also happens when a Christian believes something about their life that does not reflect the absolute truth of the Scripture.  In either case, those assumptions about life will eventually be challenged by Jesus.  He loves you to much to leave parts of our lives built on sand.  We are told in Proverbs 3:12, “For whom the LORD loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.” God does not correct our misconceptions because He is angry with us.  He works in these areas that we care deeply about precisely because He loves us.  He knows that building our spiritual house on sand (even if we are well intentioned) is a recipe for disaster.  When we feel we must live by what we can see instead of by what is real, we set our self up for pain.

For example, when our life situation affects who we think we are, faith is a struggle.  Think about a man who works with his hands.  For years he has built things.  It is his occupation.  He has made Christmas presents for his wife and children over the years.  He has served his church by doing work in the baptistery, redoing the nursery, and redoing the carpet in the sanctuary.  Suddenly, he is in an accident where nerve damage takes away the use of his hands for this purpose.  He may learn a new trade.  He may pick up singing in the choir at church.  He may buy presents instead of making them.  However, we all know that these things are inconsequential to his main question: who am I now that I can’t work with my hands?  His pastor speaks with him about being a child of God.  The pastor encourages him to value himself because God gives him value.  His struggle between the reality of what God says gives a person value and how he had gotten value before will be very real.  He knows what both Mary and Martha feel like.

Nothing hits us like death.  It doesn’t matter if that death is a person or a much loved dream.  For anything that is important to us to be suddenly taken away we feel a tremendous loss.  When the love of our life is dead, faith is a struggle.  Have you felt that struggle?  The struggle comes out in when God’s truths feel like platitudes.  The struggle comes out when we feel anger toward God for taking away that something or someone we valued so highly.  The struggle comes when we think that we understand what life is about and then find out we’re wrong.  This is the struggle of Mary and Martha.  This is our struggle every time we focus on something that we think is real and God points us to faith instead.  It is hard.

Where is the hope?  How do we weather a storm that challenges the core of what we are?  Sometimes it feels like the very foundation of who we are is being challenged.  We aren’t sure if challenge is coming from God, Satan, or just circumstance.  We feel like a boat without an anchor in a hurricane.  Where do we find hope?

The hope that Martha points to is the hope for us.  Martha’s declaration of Jesus’ ability to save her brother was not just an accusation or even a statement of faith.  She declares, “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” (John 11:22)  Even more so, she hears Jesus declare a most profound truth.  He says, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)  What was her hope?  Her hope was not to be in a religion or even a body of knowledge.  Jesus called her to place her hope in Him.  She was to place her hope in the person of Jesus.  This is what she did.  She says in response to Jesus’ statement, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” (John 11:27)  She does not question Jesus’ statement.  She does not argue that His statement is confusing.  Martha states her agreement.  She declares that Jesus is her hope.  That hope gives her strength.  That hope moves her to be one of the few who declare before Jesus’ own resurrection that Jesus is the Messiah.

If you think about it, this is where hope really comes from: a person.  The hope we feel in the truth of the Scripture is not a dry and impersonal hope.  It is the personal hope that the One who has made promises to us can keep them and also loves us enough to keep them as well.  It is this hope of Jesus’ love that invites us to trust Him with our lives even when He is asking of us something that we aren’t ready to give.  Hope comes from trust.  When we trust Jesus we can take the curves, bumps, and pains of life.  We need this hope when the very foundation of what we think is real is challenged.  Here’s a simple example: as each of my children learn to ride a bicycle without training wheels they believe that they can’t do it.  They feel that it is just not possible for them.  I always ask them to trust me.  When they trust, they learn that I love them so much that I will take care of them and will tell them the truth.  This makes them hope that one day they will ride without training wheels.  This is what I mean when I say that hope must be a person.  The hope that can overcome our false reality must be based on trust.  It must be in Jesus.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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