~ Faith and Personalizing Scripture ~
The writings of a friend had me thinking about a crucial element in the practice of faith. Perhaps you will also find these thoughts helpful in your spiritual walk and talk. To stimulate your thinking, here's a question: Other than the change of nouns, what is the major difference between statements such as "Have compassion!", "Have love!", "Have a good time!" and "Have faith!"?
Would you agree that the first three point to the self? That the first three puts the burden on the self? "Come on, have some compassion!" or "Go have a good time!" means it is up to me, that the outcome depends upon me. However, to view "Have faith!" in the same way is dangerous.
Spiritually speaking, having faith in one's abilities poses a risk and a violation of Christ's instructions to deny oneself and rely fully upon God. The risk is that our abilities often vary from situation to situation and are dependent on changes like our emotional and physical health, amount of sleep, etc. Having faith in others poses risks for the same reason. And who among us has not been betrayed, hurt or let down by someone in whom we invested great faith?
Even having faith in our prayers points back to ourselves and is risky. The scriptures teach that we, "In certain ways are weak, but the spirit is here to help us. For example, when we don't know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words." (Romans 8:26.) Who among us has never had the experience of feeling as though our prayers were feeble? Who among us has never prayed for the same thing repeatedly feeling that God's response depends some how on the way we pray, the length, the words we choose?
"Have faith!" In what or whom? In our abilities, beliefs, prayers, scripture studies? There is only one answer that doesn't point back to ourselves. There is only one answer that doesn't place the burden on us. There is only one answer that doesn't suggest we deserve some credit when our faith is fulfilled, our prayers answered, or blessings come: God.
God's abilities are infinite and He is consistently faithful and loving toward His children. Faith in God requires self-denial, a full, total surrendering to Him. We, then, free up God to work in our lives with our total trust, and taking absolutely no credit for the outcome He produces for us.
Of course! you may say. However, in practice, many don't like that. Many like to hear (though they deny it with false humility), "Your prayers saved me." (Wrong! God did the saving.) Or, "If it wasn't for you…" (Wrong! If it wasn't for God…) In His "Sermon on the Mount," Jesus continually instructs us to get our eyes off ourselves and to keep them on God. He even tells us to rely upon the Holy Spirit giving us the words when we are persecuted in court. I'm writing the next sentence in sarcasm. The downside to total surrender to God is that we cannot take any credit when the blessings are manifested. In reality, since we cannot bolster our egos, many of us don't place our egos on the sacrificial altar, we don't allow them to be crucified with Christ. Our clinging to these egos then impedes the full unleashing of God's power and will in our lives. So prayers go unanswered and our egos justify this by saying, "It must not have been God's will." Or, "You didn't have enough faith." Well, maybe you did, but it was faith in your ego, your prayers, your tithing, your good deeds, but not in God.
The question, "Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?" strikes me a bit odd. Is it possible to have an "impersonal" relationship with Jesus? A relationship with God cannot be anything but intimate, profoundly personal, and all consuming of the self. If my self isn't consumed in and by God, then it is not a relationship with God as He defines it. There's a saying, "Let go and let God." How many of us have truly done that?
It helps, therefore, to personalize scripture: "Michelle, I'm telling you for certain that if you have faith in me, you will do the same things that I am doing." (John 14:12.) "When you don't know what to pray for or how to pray, Joe, the Spirit prays for you…" (Romans 8:26.) "Joan, the Holy Spirit will give you life that comes from Christ Jesus and will set you free from sin and death." (Romans 8:2.) "Pete, if you wait upon the Lord, He will renew your strength; you will mount up with wings as eagles, Pete; you will run and not get weary and you will walk and not get faint." (Isaiah 40:31.) "Rose, a Savior was born for you, Rose!" (Luke 2:11.)
The Scriptures are God's personal voice to you. After you are finished reading this, please consider reading the Sermon on the Mount, starting in the 5th chapter of the book of Matthew. This time, read it aloud and every time you come across a "they", a "those" or a "you", substitute your own name instead. The Scriptures will take on a greater power for you, and you may find it difficult to stop reading them in this way! This will also increase your faith, your faith in God.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © October 14, 2000
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