Friday, July 1, 2011

The Faith Walk

It was January, 1997 – a cold, blustery day with sunshine in full throttle…I sat in my car, unaware that I was about to make a decision that the very breath of existence hinged upon. All around me, there was a battle raging in the heavenlies over my weary-worned soul, the forces of evil fighting intensely with the forces of side fighting for death, one side fighting for life.

Straight down through that sun-filled sky, the Lord of the Universe beckoned me to Himself. The election, the Call—so strong that I couldn’t resist. Heavy-ladened and sin-stained, I fell into the arms of the Son. The Son held me with nail-scarred hands, the Father nodded His approval. While eruption of applause of deafening proportions filled the heavenlies, my soul experienced an eruption of another sort. Supernatural peace flooded in, squelching the chaos and noise that had filled it just moments before.

I experienced my very first brush with faith that day, initiated in me by a Father through the grace of His Son. The Divine Paintbrush reached down and lavished His first bit of color on His masterpiece. A hue of brilliant color began the painting, as I put my confidence and assurance in that which I could not see. The nail scarred hands embraced mine, and we began to walk together, my Companion and I.
Over the coming years, the colors my painting lacked would be added little by little, one faith step at a time. You see, God deepens and strengthens our faith along the journey of our life’s experiences. My faith walk had begun steady footed, but it was in need of some testing. We are told in 1 Peter 1:7 that we face trials so that our faith can be proven genuine in order that Jesus Christ may be glorified and honored. Yes, my faith would need to be proven genuine, and only walking some mileage with Him could accomplish that.

The next thirteen years proved to offer a variety of mileage for my walk of faith. There were seasons of down-hill coasts with the wind pushing me along, and there were uphill climbs with gusts so strong I thought I might not make it. There was treacherous terrain and there was safe, stable ground. My Guide, my Companion, my Jesus holding my hand through it all.

My first mountain pass came with the death of my mother in 2008. All that we experienced in that hospital on the day of her passing can be summed up in a few desperate phrases:

mistaken doctors, mishaps, chaos, confusion…gasping, gasping, gasping for breath…praying, begging for God’s intervention...more confusion…more gasping…code blue sirens…doctor’s rushing…life passing on…stillness.

I sat in that cold, dark, waiting room—in the deafening stillness--with a myriad of questions imprinted on my soul:

‘God, where were you? Where were you? Why did you abandon us? How could you have been in the midst of –of that?’

My faith walk was in a moment of crisis. There was a fork in the road and I had a decision to make. Which way would I go? Both directions included a steep hill climb over treacherous mountains. The only difference between the two paths was that one offered my Companion with nail scarred hands and the other I would walk alone.

I didn’t make my decision immediately. I fumed. I paced. I yelled. I cried. I sulked. I finally spoke it outloud:

‘But you abandoned me when I needed you most. Can I trust you? Really? Can I?’

There. I had said it. How relieving it is to throw off the mask and speak the truth, even ugly truth.
I waited. I braced myself for the blasting dissertation that Job experienced when he, too, questioned God.

It never came. Instead, God beckoned me to Himself with His all-encompassing height-and- depth love.

‘Dear Child, take my hand and bring me your hard questions, even the ugly ones. This is going to require a step by step walk of focusing on Me and not on the rough terrain of circumstances. Remember, true faith is not faith at all if you are not willing to tarry when things look bleak.’

He stretched out His hand. Timidly, I took the nail-scarred one in mine and let Him lead me along the path. Step by step through the grief and unanswered questions of the weeks to come, I learned that faith is stretched, refined and deepened through the deepest valleys. I wrestled through many faith-filled questions such as: Was I really living with an eternal perspective? Or was the here and now, my focus? If the Lord chose to take home another loved one, would I be okay with that? It’s easy to praise Him when things are going well, but what about when they aren’t? Am I going to praise Him even in the hard? Would I be able to say as Job had, ‘the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord?’

Zechariah 8:10 kept me afloat during those days. I don’t know how many times a day I quoted ‘the joy of the Lord is my strength’—more than I could count. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that ‘His Word is living and active…’ I can attest to that, for God took those Words right off the page in Zech. 8:10 and breathed them straight into me. Step by step I experienced His joy and His strength within the grief. Step by step, my faith in Him became stronger and deeper. Step by step I learned not to be marred by life’s circumstances. Step by faithful step, the Master Painter added new colors to His masterpiece.
I am thankful He took me through a crisis of faith when He did. He knew that it would be the training grounds needed to face the years 2010 and 2011.

2010 was the year that we lost two grandparents, an aunt and an uncle. 2010 was the year that Eric’s pay decreased by less than half while he had to work harder and travel more than he ever had in all of his career. 2010 was the year that Eric would be laid out flat with back pain for two weeks. 2010 was the year that he would lose his job just days after his back went out and just days before Thanksgiving.
Strange that his termination occurred amidst the Thanksgiving season. Because that is exactly how God taught us to tarry through these difficulties—with thanksgiving.

As we walked forth in obedience, choosing to thank Him in our adverse circumstances, He began to transform our hearts. Stone by stone, the hard wall in my heart came down. Down came stones of bitterness, down came stones of self-pity, down came stones of entitlement. A river of liberation flowed in its place, one of life-giving peace and joy. Phil. 4:6-7 tells us ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God that transcends all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.’

Sure, I had read these verses a thousand times, even memorized them! Yet, only when I began putting the ‘thanksgiving part‘ of these verses into practice did I begin to experience this truth. You see, voicing our thanksgiving to our Savior must precede experiencing His all-surpassing peace. It must.

As we have been thanking Him for the hard things, we are learning another important lesson: Our hope is not in a job, nor is it in money or any kind of security this world has to offer. No. Our hope is in Him and Him alone. Thus, whether He provides a job or not, He wants us to continually praise Him, praise Him, praise Him. While waiting on the Lord for His timing can be excruciatingly difficult, we are learning life’s biggest lessons are most often learned in His waiting room. Faith-building lessons of the holiest sort. We are learning by experience what it means to trust Him for our ’daily manna’, for daily manna just happens to be His strong suit.  We have been keeping a thankful journal and we are up to 128 ways the Lord has provided for us so far on this journey. We’re truly speechless by all the ways God has come through for us as Jehovah Jireh (the Lord will provide). We have seen answers to specific prayers when He provided a washer for us when ours went out. He has provided specific amounts of money right when we were in need. He provided a way to pay for a new transmission when ours quit. He has provided vehicles to drive when we have needed them. When our sewage backed up into our house, MSD fixed it for free. Over and over, when we have had a need, God has shown up to meet it. Through His faithful provision, our faith has been strengthened.  Provision upon provision…brush stroke upon brush stroke…paint is being added to my canvas of faith, my husband’s canvas of faith, and our childrens’ canvases of faith.

Mile after mile, step after step, my faith walk isn’t over yet; it’s in process, as is yours. Your journey will probably look much different than mine. He uniquely plans each of our walks of faith for two sole purposes: 1.) that we will become more and more dependent upon Him and 2.) that Jesus will be glorified in the highest.

Paint stroke upon paint stroke, the Artist of Artists will add paint to each of our canvases of faith until the day He leads us home…until then, may we grab hold of that nail-scarred hand, keeping our eyes off of our light and momentary circumstances and keeping our gaze upon the Author and perfector of our Faith.

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