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Raw Faith Bible Study
what happens when God picks a fight
By Kasey Van Norman, Stephanie Rische
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2014 Kasey Van Norman
All rights reserved.
A Raw Look at Faith
For most of my life, faith has been a word I kicked around when I couldn't really think of anything better to say.
"Why do you believe in God, Kasey?"
My response: "Well, because I have faith, of course."
"Kasey, what makes you sure you will get to heaven?"
My response: "My faith, of course."
Someone could have just as easily asked me, "Hey, Kasey, do you believe in rainbow-colored unicorns that shoot fairy dust from their backsides?" Because at that point, faith was just as far fetched and unrealistic as the notion of pixie-dust-snorting unicorns.
I knew the classic verse about faith in Hebrews 11:1: "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (niv). But although I accepted it in theory, I never really dug deep and figured out what that would look like if I put it into practice in my own life.
What about you, my brave companion? Are you embracing a shallow, "safe" version of faith? Do you want to live out the full, abundant faith God has in mind for you?
Describe what comes to mind when you hear the word faith.
Why are you joining me on this crazy adventure toward raw faith?
Both Christians and non-Christians can have a defective view of what the Christian life really is and what faith has to do with it. There are plenty of voices out there whispering lies to us about faith: the world, Satan, other people, and our own feelings. But God is an expert at blowing away the fog of confusion around us to show us who he really is and what his calling is for our lives.
Hebrews 11 is one of the clearest passages to help us brush away the cobwebs and get a sense of what real, authentic faith looks like. Let's take a look at Hebrews 11:29-38.
It was by faith that the people of Israel went right through the Red Sea as though they were on dry ground. But when the Egyptians tried to follow, they were all drowned.
It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down.
It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.
How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back again from death.
But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
What miracles or unexplainable experiences take place in this passage?
What circumstances do the people in these verses experience?
How would you describe the faith of the people in this passage?
What did these people place their hope in during tough times?
What were these people of faith too good for?
For the men and women listed in Hebrews 11, life surely didn't turn out the way they'd expected. When children of God are permitted to experience suffering, rejection, and mistreatment, when children of God end up destitute and afflicted, we have trouble understanding what's happening. We think blessing follows faith, but blessing doesn't always look the way we think it will.
When faithful people suffer, God is ultimately giving a gift to the world. He is spreading his love and grace to the world through those who suffer and even die while clinging to the unshakable belief that the Lord is better than life itself.
Once upon a time, my aim was to live as comfortable a life as possible—to survive the brutal blows this world hands out with as little damage as possible and then move on. My goal was to wade in the shallow pool of contentment—go to church, have a loving husband and healthy children, get a house with a white picket fence and maybe a small dog, and above all to never venture far outside my religious box in my Southern Baptist small town, complete with sweet tea and steeples. I didn't want to look under the covers or ask questions that would stop preachers in their tracks or do anything to make waves.
But God wanted me to look closer. He invited me to dig deeper. With a single phone call and a dreaded diagnosis, I no longer had the option of shallow faith.
There's good news, though: it doesn't have to take a crisis for us to start embracing authentic faith. You can start living it today!
What is compelling to you about digging in and experiencing a deeper level of faith?
As you think about your life right now, what is holding you back from raw faith?
During the two agonizing years I battled cancer, I experienced sides of God I never would have imagined. I saw him as my Provider, giving me the strength I needed to make it through each day. I saw him as my Father, gently caring for me when I was in pain. I saw him as my Friend, always near me when I was afraid and lonely. I saw him as my Redeemer, bringing good out of the worst circumstances. I saw him as the Lover of my soul—someone who loved me unconditionally, even when I had nothing to bring to the relationship. But I also experienced an aspect of God's character I'd never encountered before: God as a fighter.
And when I talk about God as a fighter, I'm not referring to God as one who fights for us, although he certainly does. In this case, I'm thinking more along the lines of a big guy in a boxing ring, a tough cage fighter, someone who lands a sucker punch in your gut out of nowhere.
Think of that guy.
Are you ticked off yet?
It may strike you as sacrilegious to talk about God as a fight picker—someone waiting to pounce when you least expect it. We've been taught that God is love and that he is a good Father—and he is all those things. But Scripture also makes it clear that sometimes God uses drastic measures to get our attention. In fact, some of God's greatest acts of love for us come through pain. Like a parent taking the training wheels off a child's bike or letting him fight his own battles, God knows that sometimes the most loving thing he can do is to let us fall down and get hurt.
Read the following passages and then write down what strikes you about God's role in each passage.
Oh, why give light to those in misery,
and life to those who are bitter?
They long for death, and it won't come.
They search for death more eagerly than for hidden treasure.
They're filled with joy when they finally die,
and rejoice when they find the grave.
Why is life given to those with no future,
those God has surrounded with difficulties?
I cannot eat for sighing;
my groans pour out like water.
What I always feared has happened to me.
What I dreaded has come true.
I have no peace, no quietness.
I have no rest; only trouble comes.
O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?
Without mercy the Lord has destroyed
every home in Israel.
In his anger he has broken down
the fortress walls of beautiful Jerusalem.
He has brought them to the ground,
dishonoring the kingdom and its rulers.
All the strength of Israel
vanishes beneath his fierce anger.
The Lord has withdrawn his protection
as the enemy attacks.
He consumes the whole land of Israel
like a raging fire.
He bends his bow against his people,
as though he were their enemy.
His strength is used against them
to kill their finest youth.
His fury is poured out like fire
on beautiful Jerusalem.
Yes, the Lord has vanquished Israel
like an enemy.
He has destroyed her palaces
and demolished her fortresses.
He has brought unending sorrow and tears
upon beautiful Jerusalem.
He has broken down his Temple
as though it were merely a garden shelter.
The Lord has blotted out all memory
of the holy festivals and Sabbath days.
Kings and priests fall together
before his fierce anger.
Jesus said to his disciples, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it."
We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.
2 CORINTHIANS 1:8-9
To me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
This list only skims the surface of people in the Bible who got "beat up" and experienced suffering of some kind. In fact, if Scripture is any indication, suffering isn't the exception for believers; it seems to be the default. There's a long line of faithful followers of Christ who have gone before us and have the black eyes, broken bones, and bloody noses to show for it.
You probably won't like my saying this, but the truth is, God can be a bit of a bully. Now, he's not like your average school bully who gives you a wedgie and dunks your head in the toilet just for the sake of proving his power. God isn't like that. He does pick fights sometimes, but his motivation in doing so is always love.
From our limited human vantage point, we can't see the big picture, so what he's doing may not seem like love. But in the end, his love always shines through. Always.
Tell about a time you felt you were "sucker punched" by God. What happened? How did you respond to God in that moment?
Read Genesis 32:22-32 for the account of Jacob's spiritual wrestling match.
During the night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two servant wives, and his eleven sons and crossed the Jabbok River with them. After taking them to the other side, he sent over all his possessions.
This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob's hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, "Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!"
But Jacob said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."
"What is your name?" the man asked.
He replied, "Jacob."
"Your name will no longer be Jacob," the man told him. "From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won."
"Please tell me your name," Jacob said.
"Why do you want to know my name?" the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there.
Jacob named the place Peniel (which means "face of God"), for he said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared." The sun was rising as Jacob left Peniel, and he was limping because of the injury to his hip. (Even today the people of Israel don't eat the tendon near the hip socket because of what happened that night when the man strained the tendon of Jacob's hip.)
What did Jacob learn about God through this experience?
Have you ever felt like you were wrestling with God? What did you learn in the process?
Read 1 Peter 4:12-19.
Dear friends, don't be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.
If you are insulted because you bear the name of Christ, you will be blessed, for the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you. If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people's affairs. But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name! For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God's household. And if judgment begins with us, what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God's Good News? And also,
"If the righteous are barely saved, what will happen to godless sinners?"
So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.
What are three truths we can learn about suffering from this passage?
Excerpted from Raw Faith Bible Study by Kasey Van Norman, Stephanie Rische. Copyright © 2014 Kasey Van Norman. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
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