i have shared how i became convicted about setting annual goals for spiritual growth in my life. to continue the story from that thursday night devo in january of 2006... our friend, chris, challenged us to choose a theme or focus to guide our year in intentional spiritual growth & to choose a passage of scripture that could guide & encourage us. i chose FAITH.
the passage i chose to keep me focused throughout the year was ephesians 6:10-18 [nasb] --
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addtion to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints...
like i said yesterday, i was completely dedicated to being a christian. but that was different from being completely dedicated to Christ. i didn't realize that difference in myself until late 2005, early 2006. i had known for many years that i was better at the knowledge side of christianity & i struggled with faith. my sister & i have often commiserated over this shared fact about ourselves. we are incredibly thankful for the foundation our parents laid for us & the heritage from the churches of Christ in knowing the bible in depth. but we rarely experienced the emotional side of christianity, the passion, the heart of God in depth. we relied too much on our knowledge about God rather than on God Himself. i certainly don't think that faith is a warm fuzzy, emotional kind of thing. faith is a decision. but there is an emotional side to God & the life to which He calls us. sorrow over sin, compassion toward the hurting, anger for injustices, & great joy in His presence. and life is emotional. there are times when no amount of biblical knowledge can stand up alone to our circumstances & emotional turmoil. these are times in which faith is a must. a different kind of knowledge. an experiential knowledge. a relational knowledge. this was the knowledge i lacked & desperately desired. i wanted to be real & for God to be real to me.
for christmas in 2005, my husband shaun gave me a most insightful gift, the book believing God by beth moore. the subject of the book is as plain as its title, dealing with our faith being real & active. it is one of the most influential books in my life. i don't believe this to be coincidence. first of all, i believe that it was so influential precisely because it was a lesson & a journey that i so needed. shaun knew this & lovingly acted on it. another reason beth states best herself in the introduction: "i am convinced that Christ is always the initiator of matters concerning faith (heb. 12:2). so if i'm on target, you've neither stumbled onto this book nor accidentally found it in your hands. Christ is initiating a fresh anointing of faith in your life..." reading this book prompted me to choose faith as my 2006 focus. it was the area i most needed to grow in my walk with Christ. i still read this book through almost every year.
i don't recall doing many proactive things to increase my faith that year beyond journaling a lot. i finished reading believing God & regularly engaged in the faith practices suggested by beth. my favorite was recording "GodSTOPs" -- those times when you notice God active in your life, whether through a sunset or a particular bible verse or a timely conversation with a friend. i continue the practice of journaling these to this day. i also made one of my goals that year to study the bible & pray every day. i didn't do it everyday. but by the end of december i had made significant progress in having regular "quiet time" with God throughout the week.
from my journal, january 18, 2006: i want to impact my generation & the Lord's kingdom. i feel (& have always felt) called to stir things up, spark a fire, swing the baseball bat of truth, & dole out passion! and i have felt so helpless, not knowing how; and i have felt so ashamed, not having tried. i certainly don't see myself or my church "causing the gates of hell to tremble." we are working so hard, at what? if we're not fighting for God, we're standing around for satan. we are nothing more than a glorified social club. i am nothing more than a religious sorostitute. where did we put God? we blend seamlessly with the world... but i will not be like the rest of the world! i will be a follower of Christ, a co-conspirator to God!
i have to shake my head at some of the things i wrote back then... but i'm thankful for that humble beginning to a lifelong journey of learning.
from wanting to be real & effective, i gained a budding sense of urgency [something i'm still growing in & needing much growth in]. o Lord, be faithful to my faith. teach me Your Ways. drench me in a sense of urgency for Your kingdom. restore my life, my purpose, my passion. i wanted to practice my faith daily, even though i've never had a disciplined bone in my body. i became very attached to journaling which led to greater frequency in praying & greater thirst for studying & learning. i began to believe that He could help me believe. i began to believe that He could help me change. i began to believe that He could make me victorious in my faith, over my sins, in effectiveness for His kingdom.
but... 2006 was one of the hardest years in my christian life up to that point [& for being so young, i had already experienced a significant amount of trials, especially in the church]. there were many serious & divisive issues within our campus ministry at the time. differences of opinions & beliefs, conflicts, gossip & slander, factions, & poor leadership [including on the part of yours truly] all combined & escalated, creating some nasty consequences. the ministry that i had poured my life into, that i had allowed to become my very identity, was falling apart around me. it was a time of intense faith crisis for me.
i was tempted to & often acted on growing distant from God. and yet God continued to work on me to put my knowledge & fledgling faith into action. through spiritual disciplines, conflict, rebuke, forgiveness, obedience, depression, failure, & self-reflection. and then, it was september. one morning i happened to be doing my quiet time, reading through a book & meditating on some scriptures & songs. it hit me like a tidal wave. my own poverty of spirit. my own sin & weakness. what God has done for me & in me. that morning, i made a new decision. to follow God & not a church. to be in relationship with Him & not a ministry. to embrace the sorrow over my sin & the joy of His salvation. i was baptized at age 12, but i became a disciple at age 25.
december 31, 2006 found me writing these words: this year has been a period characterized by my entrenchment in campus ministry, inconsistent faith & focus on God, & slavery to sin, depression, & selfishness. i am now reborn, recommitted, & repentant... i've spent a year "focused" on faith, yet find myself at the end so unfaithful... what i want from myself is to be unabashedly who i am, to always be willing to learn & improve, to become ever more Christlike, to work hard to reach my dreams, & to never settle for average.
i may have deemed myself still unfaithful at the end of 2006, but i realized a couple of years ago very suddenly how much God has grown me in the ways of faith. little by little, i flopped & failed my way to increased faith. as evidenced by all my falling along the way, no credit to increased faith lies with me. it was all God. i asked for increased faith, even begged for it, & did the few things i knew to do by reading my bible, praying, self-reflection, & attempting other spiritual disciplines. and in my meager efforts [sometimes in spite of my meager efforts!], He was faithful. even through the major faith crisis i faced last year, my reactions were so different from what they were six years ago. He never failed me, & He never forsook me. even in every awful thing that has happened, He has brought something good through it. God has proven Himself so faithful over these years, & He has blessed me with eyes to notice some of it.
He has turned my mustard seed of faith into a tiny seedling. it's still small to be sure. but it has grown.