Sermon for March 11, 2018
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
A close friend was helping me through a trial several years ago. He and I had been through many trials, the worst of which I am absolutely sure was divinely orchestrated. Our fates were tied together, for a time, and God intended a great work, through a very great pain. It would be easy to look back and romanticize the experience, glorifying myself as important and wise since I was part of God's work. That would not only be a lie, but it would defile God's true purpose which, in fact, is totally beyond my ultimate understanding- except for what He gives me. In truth, I was angry, afraid, defensive, blinded, just to name a few things, while going through that trial with my friend. I had no great revelation, or peace, to guide me through my experience and I wouldn't have claimed God was at work, or even present, at all, at that time. I felt alone, and even betrayed, by a God I wasn't even convinced cared. Life felt cold and unfair.
As my friend consulted with me about my trial, a minor hiccup compared to things we had previously trudged through, we came to the subject of religion, and God. I was vaguely aware that he was not what mainstream religion would call a "believer". We had never really talked about the true basis for this "unbelief", but I was aware that was his general view. As we discussed some of the issues at hand, mostly surrounding religion, I could feel that each time the idea of God came about, my friend was adamant that he did not believe. Keep in mind also that, to my friend's credit, he was willing to tackle these issues with me, for my benefit, even though to him it was clearly not a subject he would choose to expose himself to.
My friend's lack of belief was so strong, the strength of his faith pierced my heart. "What?", you say. His "faith"? YES. Not only his faith, but his great belief in God. Mind you, this revelation did not come from me. It came from my friend- more specifically God working through my atheist friend! My friend's great unbelief showed his passion for God- even though it isn't my God or your God. My friend is seeking his own relationship with God and it has expressed itself as a lack of belief- not because he doesn't believe but because he has yet to find God.
Religious doctrine, my description, the man yelling about the apocalypse on the street corner, these things don't touch my friend's need to find God. This is the essence of a genuine seeking of God. My friend is so dedicated to finding God that he is even willing to deny God when the need arises. He isn’t willing to simply settle for someone else’s notion of what God is. That is courage. That is seeking God with all your heart. A man with such a need for God can't respond to my relationship with God because it doesn't ring true. He is truly a seeker. Stay with me...
I can hear someone saying to themselves, "Wait, that's disrespecting his right to believe what he wants to believe!". I don't think that's the case because his belief, as far as I know, remains unchanged. I made no effort to "convert" him to my way of thinking. I made no great argument to get my friend to think my way, based on my experience, and MY relationship with God. I did not attempt to judge him for his way of seeking. In fact, although others may hear him say "I don't believe" and be bent on changing that, I don't want to change my friend. His relationship with God is strong. He need not mirror some generic idea of a believer for me to see his great faith and path to God. More than that even, I trust in God. I believe God will keep his promise- yes, even to an "atheist".
Still with me? You see, God is beyond any understanding to me except that which I allow Him to give me. God gives us the free will to separate from him if we choose. He, however, is boundlessly full of love for us, all the time, forever. He works for us, waits for us, and will never forsake us for the things we have done or said. We only need to seek Him and He is there. And here is the truth- GOD WAS WITH ME, THROUGH MY TRIAL, WHEN I HADN'T EVEN THE COMFORT OF BEING AWARE OF HIS PRESENCE. HE WAS THERE, JUST WAITING FOR ME. IN THE SAME WAY, HE IS WITH MY FRIEND, EVEN IF HE CAN'T SEE IT RIGHT NOW.
God works beyond time, beyond the sequence of our lives, and is ever present. Our relationship with God is much like a child who believed his parents were mean, too strict, or even absent, and then sees, maybe even years later, how things worked for his benefit. Even the absence of our parents allows us to grow at times. A parent who steps back, out of sight, and allows their child to fail, can be just as important as an outstretched hand. To the child, this goes unseen, and often, misunderstood. Later, he sees how much he was unaware of all those years, when he was judging his parents every move as though he knew the entire context of what was going on.
There is great truth to be seen in God as a Father, and we his children. Although I didn't see God's hand, nor feel His peace, during my trial, He was ever present. Looking back, just as a child might, I can begin to see His purpose. God's purpose might be hidden from us at times, but that doesn't mean God's purpose is absent. Although my friend doesn't feel God working in a way he can see,, I see God working through him in a miraculous way.
Trust in God. Trust that you, or a friend who proclaims their unbelief, will find God, in exactly the way He intends. If you're going through your own trial right now, try to remember a time when you couldn't see a purpose during a difficult time, but found it once you were through to the other side. Don’t allow a reliance on your own understanding, on the perspective of the moment, to push away God’s promise that all things will work for the benefit of those who seek Him with all their heart. It is not for me to judge what seeking should look like. My friend is seeking with all his heart, in a way some might be tempted to judge as against God. The passion of my friend’s unbelief, however, is all I need to believe God’s promise will be fulfilled for him. I can only trust God and love and support my friend.