I find myself most often caught between knowledge of faith and practice of faith. I’m also fairly certain that my practice of faith is most often an attempt to earn something from God rather than merely following where he leads. It’s extremely difficult for me to balance verses like Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart” with Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Theologically, there is really no conflict there: the Psalm implies that by delighting yourself in the Lord, he becomes the desire of your heart; and Ephesians is explaining that the relationship that we can have with God comes only from his grace and our faith, so it cannot be earned.
What a worker bee like me sees instead is an if-then clause in the verse from Psalms: if I delighted more in the Lord or had more faith, then he will give me the things I long for. And then Ephesians brings me back to reality: there is nothing I can do to earn God’s love and grace. This can be a sticky point for most honest Christians. We tend to think in terms of direct cause and effect. Not only that, but we all compare ourselves to the people around us, whether good or bad. “At least I’m not as bad as that guy,” or “Why can’t I be tall and thin and graceful like her?” No matter what I attain to by comparing myself to someone else, nothing good ever comes of it. In fact, it most often leads to the “life’s not fair” argument between me and God. You know the one: you are convinced you are a better person than someone else, but they get what you want while you wonder what you did to deserve the mess you ended up with instead. At least that’s the way it unfolds for me. I’m always trying to figure out what I can do better, how much more I can do, how much faith I need to have to earn the life that I think I want.
For instance, I want to be a perfect wife; Proverbs 31 should describe me far more than I feel like it condemns me. I wish I always had my house clean and ready for visitors; I wish I cooked every night for my husband; I wish I exercised and ate perfectly every day; I wish my work life was efficient and stress-free (maybe not stress-free, but a fraction of the stress it is now); I wish I could have a baby so my husband could experience that joy and love – so I could experience it, too. Those are the little wishes. The loftier wishes go something like this: I wish I could volunteer for everything at church; I wish had the money to donate to every organization doing good work; I wish I had the time to write full time and craft full time. No matter what things I may wish for, I’d settle in a heartbeat for feeling absolutely secure in God’s love and purpose. I flounder and bargain too much for that to be wholly possible right now, if ever.
Not surprisingly, God frequently reminds me to worry about the plank in my own eye rather than focusing on the sawdust in someone else’s eye. Occasionally, that requires breaking said plank over my head before I pay attention. Lately, though, God has been talking to me quietly about finding his desires for me, and they are far grander and far simpler than my feeble brain could comprehend before. There are days when I can’t hear God’s voice at all, and some days it feels as though we are sitting on my couch talking like old friends. On one of those old friend days I was sad about our last miscarriage and begging God to let us have a baby. I heard him answer, “If that’s what you really want, but what if it’s not what I want for you?” Could I really live with settling for something I want without knowing if it’s what God wants, too? How many times have I blindly leaped for my own desires without knowing God’s heart?
So what does God want for me? To have a relationship with him and to follow him. It’s so simple that I am always throwing things in there that only complicate the plan. I add tasks that I think will endear me to God and measure my progress: Bible reading, church attendance, volunteer time, plus all the plans I set out to accomplish like weight loss and house cleaning and work goals. Those things are all important, but they are not the measure that God will use to judge us: whether I read my Bible every day doesn’t even begin to compare with whether or not I followed the instructions in the Bible every day. Who cares how many times I’ve read the Bible cover to cover or how many verses I can quote if I fail to love God and to share that love with others? I am far more obnoxious than clanging symbols and sounding brass; I am walking hypocrisy. But to follow God in every moment is the calling of a lifetime. To truly commune with God through every second of my life, with every fiber of my being, would be – well, it would be heaven. But how amazing would our lives be on earth if we stopped searching for bigger pictures and false confidence through earthly comparisons and accomplishments? How incredible must it be to know more often than not, “Who is God but the Lord?” (Psalm 18:31) I know the answer to having more faith is not some five step acronym program; it is not to have more faith at all. It is simply to have actionable faith, or, to borrow the Yoda quote I referenced in the title, “There is no try, only do.”