Larry Crabb says that we find God only when we need him. Simple words, but true. It’s like looking for the light switch in a dark room. No one goes searching for it until the sunlight has gone. Similarly, darkness can impel our search for God.
Several years ago I met the last survivor pulled from the wreckage after the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001. During our time together, Genelle Guzman-McMillan told me a story about flirting with faith but choosing to live without it. Then, on September 11, her world fell apart and she found herself in complete darkness, buried alive under a mountain of rubble.
“God, you’ve got to help me!” she prayed, lying beneath a stairwell. “You’ve got to show me a sign, show me a miracle, give me a second chance. Please save my life . . . and I promise I will do your will.”(1)
What shocked me most about Genelle’s story was not that she managed to survive after the North Tower collapsed on top of her but how she reflected on that experience. She told me she thanked God for it because it was a wake-up call. In the midst of impenetrable darkness, she discovered his light.
We, too, have found the light that is our salvation. Even so, there are times when we hit patches of darkness, when we don’t know what to do, when we feel challenged beyond our strength. Difficult as it can be to navigate our way through the darkness, it is precisely in the midst of it that we can find God.
Rather than giving in to the gloom that threatens us or those we love, let’s allow it to press us toward God, believing that he is near, whether or not we sense his presence. As Larry Crabb points out, “When we seek him with a stronger passion than we seek anything else (such as solutions or relief), we will find him. . . . After a long fall through darkness, we will land on the truth of his eternal, almighty, and loving character, and will believe he is always up to something good.”(2)
(1) Genelle’s remarkable story is told in Jim Cymbala, Breakthrough Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 69.
(2) Larry Crabb, Connecting (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 179.
Any thespian worth her salt knows about the importance of preparation. You begin by memorizing your lines, imagining the scene, acting it out. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready for the first rehearsal. But when you make your entrance, everything goes haywire—apparently you’ve memorized the wrong part! The director stops the play to inquire just who you think you are and what you think you are saying. The whole thing is confusing, embarrassing, and frustrating. You’ve worked so hard and only succeeded in messing things up.
That’s a very rough analogy to convey what can happen in our own lives when we get our part of the story wrong, taking on a role God never asked us to play. When we come into relationship with Christ, we realize he is the main character in the story of salvation. That means he is also at the center of our personal stories. With the knowledge that we belong to Christ, we forsake the deep selfishness that once characterized us.
Even so, a funny thing can happen over the course of time. Some of us begin to lose our grip on the story we believe in. Forgetting who the Hero is, we begin to act and think as though everything depends on us and very little on God. Instead of rehearsing what Christ has done for us by committing his promises to memory, for instance, we begin to rehearse all the wrong lines—“I’ve got to do whatever it takes to get that promotion” or “God couldn’t possibly save my marriage” or “God must not love me because he hasn’t answered my prayers the way I asked him to.” Lines like these will cause us to mess up.
The good news about messing up, of course, is that doing so may help us wake up to the fact that we’ve forgotten the big story that should guide our lives. If you’ve nudged Jesus into a minor role in your life, ask God’s forgiveness, telling him you want the show to go on—but this time with Christ in the lead.
It’s easy to think that peace comes from having everything just so. A clean house. Clean children. Everything and everyone in their proper place. Consider a couple of postings on a blog entitled I Am Neurotic:
Every file, folder, song, picture, etc., must be alphabetized and spelled correctly before I can open the file. If I find them uncorrected I will spend the rest of my free time assorting and respelling every file in the computer’s hard drive.(1)
Ever since I started school at 5 years old I have had an obsession with the teacher erasing the chalkboard entirely. Most would rub the eraser around but leave stray lines and continue writing. I would stare at the stray lines and it would drive me crazy the remainder of the class. I would get hot and get headaches. I am 22 years old and in college and nothing has changed.(2)
If you know anyone who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, you know that his or her life is far from peaceful. But what does any of this have to do with the ordinary, run-of-the-mill perfectionist? Only this—that our search for peace will never bear fruit if we insist on trying to control all the unruly bits and pieces of our lives.
If you are frustrated because of all the things you can’t control, try bringing them one by one into the presence of the Lord. Ask him to help you sort through the pile, deciding which ones to let go and which ones to hold on to. He can give you wisdom and grace to deal with the things in your life that are threatening your peace. More
(1) “Musical Order,” I Am Neurotic (blog), June 6, 2008, http://iamneurotic.com/2008/06/06/musical-order.
(2) “Clean Chalkboard = Sane Students,” I Am Neurotic (blog), April 19, 2011,http://iamneurotic.com/2008/06/18/clean-chalk-board-sane-students.
The life of faith is meant to be active, dynamic, and adventurous, not dull, suffocating, and restrictive. Some people say that faith is a verb. I like to think of it as a bike with large, sturdy wheels. As with most bikes, this one only works when you climb on and start pedaling. In other words, you have to do something with the faith you’ve been given if you want it to take you where God is leading.
Scripture tells us that we have to stand firm in faith, live by faith, receive by faith, continue in faith, contend for the faith, put on faith, hold on to faith, keep faith, share faith, and conquer through faith. You get the picture. In order to be the kind of people God wants us to be, do the kinds of things he wants us to do, and live the kind of life he created us for, we need to act on the faith we have. Yes, there are times when we need to be still, when we need to wait patiently for God’s direction. But even then, faith goes into action, enabling us to trust that God will speak to us as we come to him in prayer and that he will lead us when we seek his guidance.
Do you want to live a fruitful life? Do you want to experience God? Do you want to become more like the Jesus you love? Then say good-bye to comfort and ease and safety and doing everything your way, and say hello to a life of faith and adventure. Tell the Lord you’re tired of straddling the fence and living like everyone around you, caught up with worldly cares and concerns. Tell him you can’t go on without a living, vital faith. Ask him today to help you respond in faith to whatever he asks. Then put your faith into action by believing he will answer that prayer.