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GOD at your wits' end
By marilyn MEBERG
W Publishing GroupCopyright © 2007 Marilyn Meberg
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFaulty Thought No. 1: I need a sign
Several years ago when our baby Joani was born with spina bifida, the prognosis for her surviving was poor. I loved and trusted our pastor, but as we moved through those stressful days wracked with sorrow and fear, I wanted to ask some theological questions in total anonymity. I didn't want my pastor to know my faith had been shaken to the core by Joani's condition, so I made an appointment with a local pastor whom I did not know but whose ministry I had observed and thought I trusted.
After I briefed him on our situation, the pastor leaned across his desk and said, "Marilyn, could there be any unconfessed sin in your life? Could there be any in Ken's life?"
Shocked by his question, my faltering response was, "Are you suggesting Joani was born with spina bifida because of our possible sin?"
His answer was for us to do a thorough soul-search and confess everything displeasing to God. I asked him if, once that gargantuan task was completed, Joani would be healed.
His answer was, "Take it to the Lord."
I was devastated when I walked into that pastor's office, but I was doubly devastated when I walked out. Could it be that some sins had gotten past me and were never confessed? Could it be that my sin or Ken's sin had resulted in an innocent child's being born with a crippling disability? Was Joani's condition a sign that God was punishing us for our lack of righteousness?
It took me some time to work out all that faulty thinking, and I'll share more about why it is faulty in the next chapter. I finally realized if that pastor's assumptions were true, the entire world would be on crutches, because no one is born to totally sinless parents!
It's frightening to realize how faulty thinking can alter our belief systems and erode our faith. It's also disturbing to see that even church leaders can develop and promote faulty thoughts that impede our faith rather than strengthen it.
To sort through the thoughts that crowd our minds during times of stress and heartache, we need a sound scriptural foundation, a heart of faith, and a "discerning mind," the kind of mind David asked God to give him as He had promised to do (see Psalm 119:169). And we need to remember the teaching of Proverbs 3:5, which says to "trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding."
Misunderstanding Who God Is
My "own understanding" can be full of faulty thinking, which leads me away from developing a scriptural belief system that leads to a firm faith. Faulty thinking comes from a misunderstanding of who God is. You may remember that when Job was being tested seemingly beyond human endurance, one of his "comforters" suggested Job's calamities must have come upon him as a result of his sin. When God ultimately restored Job to health and prosperity, He turned to the "comforters" and said, "I am angry with you ... for you have not been right in what you said about me" (Job 42:7).
Faulty thinking comes from a misunderstanding of who God is.
We want to have an accurate understanding of God. When great difficulties beset us-when a child dies, a job is lost, a marriage fails, or some other calamity occurs-we long for reassurance that "his love endures forever" (Psalm 118:1 NIV) and that He is actively working for good in our lives. We want to believe He's hearing us when we cry out to Him in our distresses.
But when we're in a faulty-thinking mind-set, we think we need a tangible, visible sign that these promises are true. Perhaps we seek the kind of miraculous sign Moses used to convince the people of Israel that God had, indeed, sent him to lead them out of bondage. When God told Moses to tell the Israelites they were going to be delivered, Moses argued with God:
"Look, they won't believe me! They won't do what I tell them. They'll just say, 'The Lord never appeared to you.'"
Then the Lord asked him, "What do you have there in your hand?"
"A shepherd's staff," Moses replied.
"Throw it down on the ground," the Lord told him. So Moses threw it down, and it became a snake! Moses was terrified, so he turned and ran away.
But when God told him to grab the snake by its tail, he obeyed-and the snake became a shepherd's staff again. God wrapped up the conversation by saying, "Perform this sign, and they will believe you" (see Exodus 4:1-5).
In those Old Testament times, the rod that went from being a shepherd's staff to a snake and back again prompted belief among the Israelites because it was observable and tangible. Faulty thinking tells us we need that same kind of sign today. And when it doesn't come-when there's no visible, emotional, or tangible evidence of His working things out in our lives, answering our prayers the way we want Him to and within the time frame we want Him to-we may sink into the dirt of discouragement.
Faith is believing what we can't see, what is not tangible, and in some cases, does not make sense.
To get past this pit of faulty thinking, we need to understand the difference between belief and faith. Though similar, the two have an important difference. The dictionary defines belief as "mental acceptance of or conviction in the truth or actuality of something." In contrast, faith goes beyond mental acceptance. Faith is believing what we can't see, what is not tangible, and in some cases, does not make sense. The dictionary states that "faith does not rest on logical proof or material evidence." Sounds right in line with the biblical definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1: "the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see."
God's Gracious Gift
While we may not have miraculous "signs" that provide this kind of evidence of God's enduring love, we are fortunate today that God graciously provides another type of gift to help keep our faith strong. I call this gift a faith object, and there's no better way to illustrate it than through the athletic prowess of the Hedrick Racing Pigs.
OK, I'll explain. The Hedrick Racing Pigs are fast-paced porkers who hurtle down a racetrack for the competition's only prize ... an Oreo cookie. I learned of them several weeks ago, when my attention was captured by the newspaper headline "Racing Pigs Run for the Love of a Cookie." Of course that appealed to my quirky nature, so I read on. I learned there are twelve pigs who make up the Hedrick Exotic Animal pig-racing team. They run, not for honor or even for the thrill of victory, but for the coveted prize of one Oreo cookie. Tim Hart, their trainer, says the pigs endure two to three weeks of rigorous training before they qualify for competition. He pointed out that his pigs are not the usual stick 'em in a pen, fatten 'em up, and then see 'em off to market types. They are all lean, eager pigs with one goal in mind: that Oreo cookie.
Now, let's suppose that one day before a race the four pig stars, Jean Claude Van Ham, Sylvester Staloin, Arnold Snoutzenhogger, and Rush Limhog (I did not make up those names; they were in the newspaper), were feeling a bit disgruntled and did not want to race. Their reason? They had not actually seen a cookie in weeks. They no longer had the visual assurance that there truly was a cookie at the end of the racetrack, and as a result they had lost their belief that it was even there. (Actually, they had not seen a cookie because for weeks another pig racer, Snoop Hoggy Hog, had gotten to the finish line first, snatched the cookie, and devoured it on the spot.) Thus the four other competitors now sank to the dirt in discouragement, their belief system destroyed, their racing days perhaps over. They had to come to their wits' end.
For the racing pigs, the Oreo served as a faith object, a tangible object that helped them believe in what they could not actually see. A faith object is something that can be seen, experienced, and remembered. When the pigs remembered that the Oreo was waiting for them at the finish line, they ran their little hearts out, trotting eagerly toward the goal. But the longer the loser pigs went without seeing the Oreo, the weaker their belief was that it actually existed. And finally, they just lay down and gave up.
In order to have faith, I must move beyond mental acceptance. In faith I hold fast to something, or rather, to Someone, whom I cannot see. And that Someone is Jesus.
I hate to tell you how easily I understand the discouragement of Arnold Snoutzenhogger and his other three racing buddies. For one thing, both the pigs and I live in expectation of a reward. When I do a good thing, like winning a race (not that I've experienced exactly that specific "good thing" in more than half a century), I want praise, recognition, or at least an Oreo. Sure, I'd like to think I would run the race of life based on faith and not on the vision of tangible rewards. But all too often I slip into the faulty thinking that says I do need a sign-a piece of visual, emotional, or tangible evidence that God is aware of my struggles and is hearing my cries for help.
When this happens, I ask myself, Marilyn, is this discouragement you're feeling due to shaky faith or faulty thinking? I have to remind myself that in order to have faith, I must move beyond mental acceptance. In faith I hold fast to something, or rather, to Someone, whom I cannot see. And that Someone is Jesus.
Experiencing Salvation ... Because of a Turtle
I came to know Jesus through a rather unorthodox route-a reptile. Were it not for the life and death of Leroy Walker, I might never have experienced salvation. Leroy came into and out of my life when I was five years old. Leroy was my turtle. He probably would have lived a long and productive life had our neighbor lady not restricted him from her garden. He'd apparently wandered into her lettuce patch one afternoon and was wreaking havoc. When I was introduced to Leroy, she suggested he could be my pet if I just kept him off her property.
Unfortunately, the food I provided Leroy wasn't sufficiently palatable; he soon succumbed to the "failure to thrive" syndrome. For several reasons I was stricken by his death. For one, I had envisioned great companionable walks for the two of us, even though the string-leash I managed to get around his neck obviously annoyed him. He pulled into his shell and stayed there until I disappeared from view.
In addition to grieving his death, I felt a sudden fear of my own death. I'd overheard my father tell my mother he'd be surprised if I lived to be six. (I was constantly flinging myself off anything over ten feet high. I felt sure I'd be able to fly if I could just get my arm rhythm right.) Leroy's death occurred shortly before my sixth birthday.
Hearing my concerns, my mother gently coached me in how to receive Jesus into my heart. I prayed immediately, stumbling over a five-year-old's version of the sinner's prayer-something like, "Dear Jesus, I believe You are God's only Son and that You died on the cross and arose from the dead, and I hope You will forgive me for my sins and take me to heaven when I die so I can live with You forever and ever. Amen."
Mother assured me that should my untimely death occur, I would instantly be in heaven, a place that was perfect and where no one died. What a tremendous relief that was for my young, anxious heart!
Looking back, I don't think my conversion was a faith-motivated experience; it was more from fear than anything. I didn't have a clue what real faith is. The faith I did have was in my mother, who explained salvation to me. It made sense that God loved me (I saw no reason then why He shouldn't), and I liked the idea of Jesus living within me forever. All in all, it sounded like a good deal.
To combat faulty thinking, we need a firm, utterly reliable faith object, and we have one. It's the Bible.
Salvation still sounds like a good deal; in fact, it is a good deal. For me, conversion was simple because my faith object was my mother. I trusted her; she was reliable and she was also tangible. I could see her and hear her voice. She said there is a God who loves me, and His Son, Jesus, forgives sin (the sin thing made perfect sense to me), and with His forgiveness I would one day follow Leroy Walker into eternity. (The Leroy part was my idea.) I had faith in the whole transaction because I had faith in my mother.
We may think we need Old Testament-style "signs" (although I'm not sure I would want a shepherd's staff that turns into a snake) in order to have faith, but that's faulty thinking. Instead, God very graciously provides faith objects to encourage our continued and future faith. They help us believe in what we cannot imagine to be true. To combat faulty thinking, we need a firm, utterly reliable faith object, and we have one. It's the Bible. It's tangible, I can see it, I always have access to it, and I have faith in what it says.
In the next chapter I'm going to discuss how the Bible keeps our thinking straight and our faith grounded. Many Christians have faulty thinking on the subject of how past sin determines the events of their lives. They go through life bent over with guilt and regret thinking God must be punishing them for their sin even though it was confessed and forgiven. "How else," they ask, "can we explain the hurt in our lives?"
What does the Bible have to say on that subject? We need to know. It's crucial for the building of our faith.
1. Belief is mental acceptance. One can believe in God, mentally accept that He is, but still not have faith in Him. Faith goes beyond mental acceptance to the place of having faith in what is not seen. In which of the two categories do you most frequently find yourself?
2. How does it help you to understand the two categories?
3. In what ways do you recognize faulty thinking in your approach to God? Can you describe some faulty thinking that has influenced your decisions?
Excerpted from GOD at your wits' end by marilyn MEBERG Copyright © 2007 by Marilyn Meberg. Excerpted by permission.
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