Living overseas has a way of making you quit pretending…
…and, honestly, I’ve been struggling with my faith for several years.
What follows is like a journal entry about wrestling with my faith as well as the sweet way the Father is meeting me where I am. Over the past several years, living in Atlanta, I’ve been exposed to more people from different cultures and different belief systems than most folks in West Georgia come across in their entire lives. Their beliefs span the whole spectrum. I see people who seem only driven by money and status despite their religious claims, but there are some who exemplify a humility and passion in their work that truly cause me to wonder at their lives.
At those times I wonder, “Is heaven truly exclusive, and is Jesus the only way? Can I really be so arrogant to say that I’m right and they’re totally wrong? Is this one Jewish Man who lived 2,000 years ago the only way to reach the sovereign, uncreated God?”
Now I’m on the other side of the world spreading this faith, which, it seems, I’m not 100% sure of. I see Christianity pitted against Islam in so many ways. Some of my group recently went to an Da’wah event in the middle of town. Sheikhs and imams were preaching messages to convince townspeople of the truth and beauty of Islam while some of our leaders debated them. I wonder at times, can the Muslims be right about some things?
One can look to the church and easily be discouraged, if not cynical. It seems, here in East Africa, so many fellowships are driven by a flashy prosperity gospel, competing for members like entrenched military camps. They talk little of making disciples and much of God’s favor, little of their Muslim neighbors and much of being blessed in their businesses. On the other hand, the Muslims often seem wealthier and more educated. They go to prayer at the same time and seem more unified. Their women are more modest. Prices in their shops are more fair…
…It causes one to wonder.
What I’ve seen in America doesn’t help much either. National studies show a strange trend–paradoxical at best, disheartening at worst. A recent Pew Research study reports that the American states with the least religious populations have the overall strongest statistics of social health. For example, Vermont is dead last in weekly church attendance in the Unites States but is has one of the best education systems (1, 2). On the other hand, the most God-believing, church-attending states like Mississippi and Kentucky have some of the highest child abuse fatality rates in the nation (3). At worst, I might assume the church is the problem; at best, I’m forced to ask where we went wrong.
Such considerations have sent me running to the Father on my knees over the past several months, as my faith has honestly struggled. Is what I’m believing and giving my life for really real, to the expense of all else? If so, why do the lines between religions seem so gray? Is Jesus truly the only way to heaven? Does that mean all other belief systems are illegitimate?
Amidst my inward wavering, I have gotten at least some clarity. I know my faith struggles can only be remedied by one thing, and it’s not a better commentary on the Bible. It’s not a xenophobic tirade from a sweaty preacher. It’s not an airtight apologetics discourse on the authenticity of the gospels. It’s not a year of solitude away in a monastery. It’s a Holy Spirit heart-level revelation of this God-Man we call Christ Jesus…
and maybe … I need Him just as badly as the East Africans do.
Or short-term group has a commitment to 20 hours a week in the prayer room. This, we believe, is the most important part of what we do. Several weeks ago in a post, I explained how continual incense arising from the city is what begins God’s redemptive process. Today, I want to make clear the mission worker needs the prayer room even more than the city, keeping intimacy with Jesus first place in all that he does. It’s that which ultimately sustains a man or woman in the rigors of this work.
Last week, entering one of my devotional sets*, I was at a particularly low point. I wasn’t even worshipping on a piano because of tendon pain but was using an instrument sound program on my phone to make music. I began by singing a Misty Edwards song about Jesus, the Servant. As I sang words about the man who came to serve all humanity, something began to happen in my heart. Halfway through the set, I found I was unable to get off the subject of Jesus. My gaze and my mind were solidified – maybe smitten – with who Jesus is, and I continued to sing about Him. I ended with a song from Jon Thurlow about how Jesus is fairer than all men on the earth. The sensation in my spirit continued to grow. I have sung that song many times, but this time it touched a depth in my understanding it had never touched. Before leaving the set, I knew a miracle had taken place in me that was significant…
…so much that if nothing else happened on this trip, it would be worth it.
Later that day, we prepared to go do an outreach in one of the roughest parts of town, a heavily Islamic section stricken with poverty, drunkenness, and even demonic possession. Faced with the prospect, though, my heart was not the least afraid for the spiritual struggle ahead. Why? I now had an unshakable confidence – no one could possibly persuade me otherwise – that Jesus is the most beautiful Man Who has ever lived. No one in history can compare with Him. Not Buddha, not Mahatma Ghandi. No one served like Him, spoke like Him, laid down His life like Him, and still pursues us like Him. His eyes even today are like fire, His head shines the brightest white, His body glows like bronze, and the sword from His mouth at once slays his foes yet speaks words of comfort like sweet raindrops. In the past, I would have agreed with all this as a matter of theology, but this time, I knew it as sure as I knew my 10 fingers and 10 toes…
Moving forward, I know my struggles and faith are not over. I will burn out or get out if I do not have continual revelation in my heart of this Man. I will face greater challenges even in the future, but I know that the Father has given me something very precious recently. In a small, quiet way, he has answered my prayer. I pray that he continues to do so for me, and I pray that he does so for you as well. You’ll need it.
Father of glory, give me the Spirit of wisdom and revelation that I may know Jesus better. Let the eyes of my heart be flooded with light so that I may know the hope of His call, the riches of His inheritance, and the greatness of His power.
Stay hungry, my friends.
*A few notes on sets. A devotional set is when one person plays his or her instrument and sings worship songs to the Lord. The rest of the room engages with the Lord quietly through reading or pray silently. In an intercession set, there are corporately focused worship songs, corporate prayer leading, and the developing of courses, so that we can sing our prayers.
(1) Bernardo, Richie. “2015’s States with the Best and Worst School Systems.” WalletHub. Accessed 8 Jan 2016. https://wallethub.com/edu/states-with-the-best-schools/5335/
(2) Newport, Frank. “Frequent Church Attendance Highest in Utah, Lowest in Vermont.” Gallup. 17 February 2015. Accessed 8 Jan 2016. http://www.gallup.com/poll/181601/frequent-church-attendance-highest-utah-lowest-vermont.aspx
(3) Zuckerman, Phil. “Think religion makes society less violent? Think again.” LA Times. 30 October 2015. Accessed 8 Jan 2016. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-1101-zuckerman-violence-secularism-20151101-story.html