Sunday, July 22, 2012

"God, can I have a sign?"

How many times have I asked God for a sign?  Countless.

Looking back in an old journal, it was almost a daily thing. Will God give me a good parking space? Will I do well on this test or project? Will this deadline get pushed back? Will this person give me approval? Will I get the scholarship? Each "yes" was interpreted as a sign of answered prayer. Looking back, it all revolved around me.

But when I got sick, some of those "signs of favor" on my path with God started to fade. I didn't feel comfortable walking this trail without reassuring arrows and guideposts every few steps, without getting what I thought I needed. In fact, I started flailing, trying to make my own alternative (dead end) routes. Panic set in upon seeing and feeling nothing but more trouble ahead. Instead of signs, the forest got darker, the overgrowth got thicker, and at times I could barely discern my way at all - only weeds, thorny bushes, and a silence that made me question if all I had felt before was really even God.

Making the decision to keep going was extraordinarily difficult. I felt disappointed, hurt, lost, and confused. Deep down, I suffered from a prideful sense of entitlement: "I have done my part, and God is not doing his part." After prayer and reading, I realized that I was not the first person to feel that way. Many people expected Jesus to act differently as the Messiah - to turn things around for Israel and make earthly circumstances better immediately. However, God's complete physical renewing of this world is to come later. First, the spiritual transformation must come. And that starts with repentance and trust in God, not based on what I feel or see but based on who He is.

Who is God? He declared to Moses:

"The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness"  ~Exodus 34:6

This is echoed by many of the painful cries in the Psalms. It's clear from God's word that when we are in crisis, we must return back to the unchanging character of God and decide to trust Him - over and over again.

In my devotion time recently, I read that there are 3 levels of faith:

"While the first level of faith believes when our emotions are favorable, the second believes when all feelings are absent. And the third level transcends the other two, for it is faith that believes God and His Word when circumstances, emotions, appearances, people, and human reason all seem to urge something to the contrary." ~Streams in the Desert

I've been thinking over these three levels. Though my old, simple path with signs every couple feet felt comfortable, it was inherently unstable. I had to feel secure and see clearly before I could trust, or at least not be thwarted from moving forward. Meeting strong resistance required me to choose: either harden my heart or turn from my selfish pride and rely on unchanging God himself, not the variable signs I wanted.

Although this period of heartache has brought me deep into dark and unsafe woods, I now have faith that is based on something solid, resting on a firm foundation. My hope for the future is sure, not based on worldly successes but on saving up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20) and an inheritance that will not perish, spoil, or fade (1 Peter 1:4).

This inheritance is made possible through Jesus. Even when I still act selfishly and feel entitled and weaken in faith, his righteousness and forgiveness are given to me by grace. In this dark, lonely, thicket, I have found the cornerstone of my life - my love for Jesus Christ. He is the gift of eternal salvation for those who believe, and this is by far the greatest sign of all.