I don’t love being fearful. I’m weary, so weary, of the loneliness — of being single, of being hard of hearing, of being the new kid in town. I often chastise myself: Oh, you of little faith. Why do you doubt your God? Why is He not enough to defeat your fears? Isn’t His presence enough for your loneliness? What is wrong with you, self? Faith up!
So I pray and pray and pray for my faith to be built up, for my fears to be overcome, for my loneliness to dissipate, for God to be enough.
I ask Him for the things I want, ask Him to give me what I need, ask Him for all my dreams to begin and end with Him. I ask Him for really good, deep and godly friendships. To teach me how to be a good, deep and godly friend. We have little chats about insecurities, budgets and even my hair. I ask for the right perspective on marriage and singleness. I go through the Lord’s Prayer.
Every day, I pray this.
And every day, the fears persist. The loneliness abounds. And where loneliness abounds, the guilt of maybe I don’t love Jesus enough abounds all the more.
Where is my faith, I wonder. Where is God?
I cry. I beg. I plead. Don’t forget me. Where are You? What are You doing?
And for just a moment, the tears still wet on my face but no longer filling my eyes, I hear the still, small answer: Building your faith. Like you asked.
If it were up to me — if it were really and truly up to me to decide how to spend my day, what to think about, what to do — I would choose the things God says not to do. I would choose sin. I would pick the broad and easy way, not the narrow and hard one. I would do whatever I thought would make me happy, by whatever means appealed to me most in the moment.
When left to my own devices, I choose the lazy way through life. Every time. There is no way I can summon the willpower to pray for faith on my own. So how do I get to the throne of grace in the first place? How am I able to pray when, in my most base, natural state, I don’t even want to?
brag talk a lot about how I was an English major, but I was also a psychology minor, and one thing that stuck with me from Psych 101 was a discussion on motives. Why do people do the things they do? What drives us? What compels us? I learned then that we do what we want. In the classroom of life, I’ve discerned we also do what we have to.
Might there be a third option? We do the things we do because it is God who wills in us to act.
Faith — faith enough to pray for more faith — is itself a gift from God. Not all my wantings or all my having tos can bow my head or clasp my hands. This precious gift of God is a guarantee that our groanings aren’t in vain. That He’s present in our bewilderment, that our sense of feeling lost is itself proof that we are not. That He watches us always and knows exactly where we are and has promised never to leave us as orphans. If we look into the whirlpool of our sin and come away disturbed and fearful and concerned (as we ought to!), then it’s only because He has let us know those things, and compelled us to call out for help, not because He has given up and left us for dead.
It bears repeating: If we can call out to God and express our fears that He’s left, or forgotten, or overlooked us, that’s proof that He hasn’t, because we can’t even ask for His help without His loving help.
If faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we don’t see, then faith does not always come by way of answered prayers. God will not build my faith today by saying, Yes, here are like five new friends for your soul and also movie dates. My joy will not be increased today by Him turning me into a warrior princess who fears nothing and no one.
No, today, faith is being built in my helplessness. God persists me in prayer even as my hands are tempted to build walls around my heart. He sows His Word in my heart and sharpens my sword in the battle against sin, when I’d rather lay the shield aside and let sin have its way with me. His mercy pulls me out of bed every morning — because I can’t even crawl out of bed unless He deems it so.
There’s no such thing as a wasted workout. Even when I don’t feel like going for a walk, I do anyway and my lungs still burn, because that’s what they do when I walk. It’s their very nature to burn when pressure is applied. So my feelings — or lack thereof — about exercise mean nothing to my biology. Muscles still stretch. My core still strengthens. My heart still pounds.
Maybe these mundane days of faith-building are like that, too. Even though I’m bewildered, even when my prayers are full of fears, when loneliness settles in next to me and threatens to choke, my soul knows no difference. God still incinerates my sin. Grows my faith. Increases my joy. And makes my heart (skip a) beat.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. — Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV)