I recently spent some time encouraging a friend who has felt extremely abandoned by God in a very tough time for his business. In the process, I shared some of my own difficult experiences from the tough year that 2014 has been. I was thinking about that when I came across a story by psychologist and author Larry Crabb, describing the faith of his 79 year old dad.
Larry was driving him home after his dad had spent two weeks admitted in hospital recuperating from open-heart surgery. Lying in the backseat, his dad broke the silence by saying, ‘You know, I had many visitors during my difficult hospital stay, and I appreciated every one. But the one visitor I most wanted to come never showed up’.
‘Who?’ Larry asked? ‘God!’ his dad answered. ‘I prayed every day that I would feel his presence. I never did. And I’m so grateful!’
When Larry prodded further for what he meant, he answered, ‘God counted me worth to trust what he said in his word in the absence of His felt presence in my experience. And His Spirit enabled me to do just that, not without struggle of course. But I never turned away from Him. I think that made Him really happy.’
I’m not sure I would respond that way to the challenges I face! Which makes me think that much of my faith, like that of many today, is based a lot on experiencing God’s favor and goodness. It’s based on loving and following God for what He can do for me.
But that’s not true faith! True faith never values experience in God above hope in God. As Hebrews 11 says, ‘faith is being sure of what we hope for, being certain of what we cannot see’.
12th century mystic, Bernard of Clairvaux (who began the Benedictine order of monks) talked about the four levels of love…
1. Loving myself for my sake – the ‘normal’ human condition
2. Loving God for my sake – when I ‘discover’ God and follow Him to make me happy
3. Loving God for God’s sake – when I begin to understand how much God has forgiven and loved me and stop feeling like He owes me
4. Loving myself for God’s sake – when everything in my life (joys & sorrows) becomes an eagerly received opportunity to bring Him pleasure by trusting in His goodness and leaning on His word, with my one goal being to delight Him.
Are you in a tough spot? Don’t allow your pain to lead you to give up on God. Instead hold on in trust to Him, and let the pain, anger, disappointment or fear fan the realization of your need and hunger for Him. See it as an opportunity to grow deeper in your love for God.
Lord, please help me to move from loving You for my sake to loving myself for Your sake. AMEN.