The Other Side of Believing
In last week’s post, I shared an abbreviated version of how I turned out the way I did. And while there are so many other undocumented experiences that have shaped me into the temperamentally suspect Christian I am today, I want to talk about the frequent wrestling I engage in when it comes to my believing in God. More specifically, it’s believing that WHAT I have asked God for will be answered to my satisfaction.
I vent about this struggle in chapter two of the book.
Throughout much of my adult Christian life, I had regularly felt deficient when it came to having faith in God or believing God for whatever it was I requested in prayer.
I had come to believe the lack of affirmative answers to my prayers were the result of my unbelief. But on an ordinary morning while engaged in contemplative worship, I perceived an internal, and different perspective was being given to me. The insight was proceeded by an occasion of mourning.
In recent weeks, a friend of mine’s closest friend in her 40’s suffered a massive stroke and wasn’t expected to survive. While I didn’t personally know the woman, I knew it was proper to join my friend and the host of other “believers” in prayer as we pleaded with God not to allow her to die.
Unfortunately, a few days later, I received the gut-wrenching call confirming the friend had passed away.
After offering empty condolences and assuring my now grieving friend I would pray for the family, I hung up the phone and spoke a prayer that was diluted with disappointment.
Why did this have to happen? A woman in her 40’s, with a husband and teenage children having a stroke? Huh?
Had I not done what it says in Matthew 21:22 which says, “And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive (New King James Version)?”
Did I mess it up? Was I not believing?
And if I wasn’t believing, then Lord, please help my unbelief!
As I share this story, I have to admit an erratic disposition surfaced during the short time I was praying for the woman. When I initially learned about her condition, the request to pray for her was punctuated by these words: “
"The doctors don’t expect her to live.”
In retrospect, those words materialized. But before the words came to pass, my attention became distracted by the grim announcement. The prayer I had spoken was marred by anxiety—extreme uneasiness of mind. This mental space is what Scripture advises Christians to avoid. And yet, there it was, rearing its ugly head and stifling implications.
I’m going off on a tangent, but I believe it’s worth it.
In the New International Version, Philippians 4:6 reads,
“Do not BE anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (emphasis added for effect).” Don’t dismiss the two-letter word that carries great significance…Be.
One of my favorite dictionaries (The American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster 1828) defines “be” as follows:
To stand, remain or be fixed; hence to continue.
The truth is, as I prayed for the dear woman, I was anxious. I knew it and God knew it.
But I continued to pray for her, despite the somber prognosis and despite the anxiety.
I was trying to be intentional by practicing not being anxious.
Becoming unnerved by shocking news is certainly natural. After all, we’re human. We have emotions. We have hormones…some more active than others.
But what stood out about Webster’s definition of the word “be” was it spoke to duration. It spoke to length of action. It seems what is most critical about the condition of anxiety is how long I remain in such a state.
The goal is not to be, or rather remain or continue in the space of extreme uneasiness of mind. By continuing in a place we’re not supposed to be is essentially loitering. We’re lingering around or slowly moving from a place that’s not designed to be inhabited.
I’m not suggesting we behave like everything is alright when clearly it’s not. I’m encouraging you and myself to take our crying eyes and runny noses and direct our frustration about a situation towards the Lord. Whatever that looks like for you is what you should do. And in the uncomfortable process, expect the Lord to respond in ways that only He can.
Okay, back to the story…
In spite of the dismal news, I had to pray because I’m a believer, aren’t I?
So what exactly does it mean to be a believer, I asked myself.
In my mind and considering what I think I know about being a Christian, a believer is one that believes in and follows the model of Jesus Christ.
As I sat alone that particular morning nursing abject feelings, I sought counsel from the various theological literature and resources I have assembled over the years.
Tyndale Bible Dictionary exposits it this way:
Believers are those who believe…specifically, those who believe in Jesus as Lord and follow him… Although New Testament authors emphasized believing, they rarely used the term “believer” as a name for Christians. There are a few clear examples…but in other places the term is a description, not a name…As a name, “believer” points to the personal commitment of Christians to Jesus.
On that basis, I, in fact am a believer. It’s not only who I am, but equally, it’s what I do. Believing is not a one-time event. Believing is a verb, thus it’s acting to achieve a desire or a purpose. Believing takes practice (repeated exercise of an activity to improve one’s proficiency) day in and day out.
I am more than a believer, but I, too am believing. So when I pray and endeavor to align my pleas with Scripture, irrespective of the outcome, I am still persuaded of the truth of God’s existence…I still expect things from Him and I still hope in Him.
After spending further reflective time with the Lord, I perceived the following as my take away:
On the other side of believing the Lord for a prescribed answer is…
In this narrative, the Christ-following, ailing wife and mother did not recover from the Cerebrovascular accident. Instead, she went to be with the Lord in Heaven.
While this was not the outcome I was hoping for, it was an occasion where I had to reflect on the passage in Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV) that asserts,
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
To be sure, this instance and others like it make me want to desert the Christian journey. But that would be too easy.
So I don’t get everything about the Word of God? Now what?
I don’t get everything about the various branches of math, but that doesn’t stop me from earning and spending money.
I don’t get everything about Science, but that doesn’t mean I refuse to breathe because I can’t see air.
No…I really don’t want to be a non-believer. What I really want is for the Lord to do what I want Him to do, when I want Him to do it. I want him to take my order like the wait staff do at a restaurant. And I don’t want to have to “wait” for my order or my request too long.
But what if I reversed the roles. What if I was the waiter and I approached the Lord with a zealous, “What can I do for You today?”
And what if He responded, “Your faith and trust in me looks good. I think I’ll have that!”
I’m sure that’s what He wants from me…and from you.
As a believing Christ-follower, my role is to do just that—believe and follow Jesus Christ.
I became a follower of Christ when I declared with my mouth “Jesus is Lord” and I believed in my heart that God raised Him from the dead. As a result of that act, I received salvation (Romans 10:9-10 NIV). In other words, at the end of my life, I will be delivered and preserved from the penalty and power of sin and upon the visible return of Jesus Christ, I will live with Him in Heaven, throughout all eternity.
Yet, having such a secure future doesn’t mean I also received infinite knowledge, though I wish I did. Consequently, I don’t get everything in Scripture, but I’m not going to let that stop me from believing.
As a Christ-follower and a believer, I am devoted to the sometimes frustrating work of believing. After all, a believer is who I am and believing is what I am to do.
My belief in the Lord and His Word should not cease because of my finite understanding of His divinely inspired Word.
What is certain (at least for me), is on the other side of believing is God’s answer. His response to my requests may either flood me with joy or level me with sorrow, but He still provides an answer.
For He is GOD and I am not.
In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus was preparing to physically leave his followers and return to Heaven. Prior to doing so, He asserted the following words:
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (NIV).”
I conclude with this passage as it is comforting to know on the occasions I’m having a tough time emotionally processing an unexpected outcome to a prayer request, that all authority in Heaven and Earth has been given to Jesus Christ and that He is always with me.
And dear friend, He is always with YOU!
So what’s the goad-getting task you can do as you head into the week?
What can you do different (if anything) when disturbing news rings your doorbell?
You’ll undoubtedly respond like any other human does, at least at the outset. But should anxiety begin to inundate your being, make an effort to practice what Philippians 4:6-8 asserts. Do it mindfully and in a deliberate manner.
Remember, the goal is not to linger in a space where you can be rendered ineffective.
Doing something over nothing,
Elwell, W. A., & Comfort, P. W. (2001). In Tyndale Bible dictionary (p. 157). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.