A teacher of English would grimace at this post’s title because it ends with a preposition. So, I offer the following alternative titles:
In what or in whom are you placing your faith?
Where is your faith?
That last option, “Where is your faith?”, is the title of a meditation based on Luke 8:22-39 that I contributed to my church’s Lenten Devotional Guide for 2020, and it can be interpreted different ways:
1) “I don’t see evidence of your faith. Where is your faith? It’s missing.”
2) “In what are you placing your faith? Where is your faith placed?”
My goals for this article are two.
Goal one: To share with you the timely resource pictured and referenced above
I encourage you to click the link and view this Lenten Devotional Guide online. Even though we are a number of days into Lent, there is great opportunity for you to draw from each of the readings between now and Easter, and well beyond! As I “caught up” from Ash Wednesday to the following Sunday in one sitting, I found myself needing to underline certain gems within the first several readings:
- “Jesus is going to reverse the prevailing social norms of who is successful and valuable.” – Dr. David Eldridge, Feb. 26 selection
- “God [is] in control of the vast expanse of history” – Dr. Rogers Redding, Feb. 27 selection
- “When we are unsure of the truth, keep us bound to Your word” – Rev. Blake Jenkins, Feb. 29 selection
- “The approval and worth we work so hard to get from others God graciously bestows on us.” – Rev. Brad Gowing, Mar. 1 selection
- “generosity, honesty and contentment are marks of our repentance” – Jeff Glaze, Mar. 3 selection
Goal two: To look at some of the places where our faith may be directed
My second goal for this post is to showcase several things in which we often are found placing our faith (if we would be honest with ourselves) – the faith we would place solely in Christ if on a good, maturing path as we live the redeemed life.
Currently I am voice-recording No Doubt It’s Love scene by scene as I review the characters’ various journeys. This process helps me to create social media information and to prepare for speaking engagements. My novel’s theme is that self-reliance creates a huge hurdle for those who would claim Jesus as Lord. As stated in the front pages of the book: “The self-reliant person is not greatly malleable as clay in the Potter’s hands.”
In the first few chapters of No Doubt It’s Love, cases of self-reliance are fairly jumping off the page at me, providing clues to some folks’ presuppositions and foreshadowing circumstances that may result in changed hearts and minds!
Groom-to-be Sam Ryan is known by coworkers as “the man with the plan.” No surprise there, once you’ve read about his educational background and his current job. Sam’s sister April, raised by the same parents, is on a very similar path. She says to Sam on page 23 while giving him unsolicited advice about his wedding, “Haven’t the parents always told us that it’s in planning that one forgets at least some of one’s fears?”
Sam’s fiancée suggests to him on page 36 that if anybody questions what time of year they have decided to have their wedding, they can quote from an old Irish proverb that the month they have chosen indicates “always loving, kind, and true.” Grace adds, “That can be our motto. You know, ‘Love conquers all.'” The calendar photo above shows us another happy-sounding, positive-thinking motto: “Today is the perfect day to be happy.”
Self-control…or just plain self
Joan Ryan, mom of Sam and April and wife of Lee, is the first of the self-reliant Ryans we meet in this fiction series that begins with A Stranger’s Promise. In the early pages of the sequel, Joan is owning up to some details about her Tennessee adventure that she has heretofore concealed because she fears that one particular report is going to bother her husband – a lot. Their ensuing discussion has Joan saying on page 40, “We work so hard on self-control that it’s difficult any more to let ourselves blow up.”
Thinking on his sister’s recent antagonism, Sam tells Grace on page 34, “This wedding is about us most of all. That’s the key thing we’ve both got to anchor to.”
My fictional Ryans are the classic list makers. Joan goes to a Chinese restaurant in chapter 5 and immediately ponders whether to put any of their menu items on her “try soon” cooking list. Before that, Joan hears some details about her husband’s recent business trip and tells him, “It sounds as though I’m not the only one who came home with something to feel good about besides the usual sense of Ryan accomplishment.” Songwriting team Alec and Zach get a productive work session in on pages 124-132, understandably proud of what they have accomplished.
In summary: debunking these four faith moves in light of Scripture
I’ve told you that April and Sam have been taught by their parents to plan in order to squelch some degree of fear. I remarked to my husband while working on this post that I believed the Bible had various antidotes for fear, but planning wasn’t one of them! In fact, rather the opposite. Proverbs 16:9 reminds us, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” NLT
An Old Testament passage says it’s the Lord’s promise never to leave or forsake us that ought to counteract fear and discouragement (Deuteronomy 31:8). And Philippians 4:6-7 is a call to pray – the result being that God’s peace replaces our worry and our anxiety.
Planning, ordering, thinking, measuring out required building supplies (Luke 14:28) – all of these are good, wise actions so long as they don’t outrank or substitute for putting faith in God.
Mottos like “Love conquers all” or the one pictured beside it, above, “Today is the perfect day to be happy,” can be useful reminders or “centering” devices, reflective of good values and even of scripturally-sound concepts, such as the golden rule and “this is the day the Lord has made.” However, cute mottos will never have the Kingdom power or the Spirit impact of Scripture for instructing, guiding, awakening and rescuing! Only with submission to the truth of God’s Word are we going to find ourselves serving Jesus as Lord and understanding the need of allowing the Spirit to remake our minds and our hearts.
Self-control & self-first values
Self-control is a tremendously valuable virtue most people acknowledge as crucial to societal and individual well-being. We all must follow some rules and exercise restraint in certain situations. But the biblical type of self-control is really letting ourselves be controlled by the Holy Spirit. Self-control is a fruit of having the Spirit (Galatians 5:23), and that stems, as we’ve been looking at, from owning Jesus as Lord, submitting one’s entire being to that Lordship.
Putting self first is perhaps the most automatic, natural, and destructive of faith moves. Believe in yourself, we’re told over and over again by leaders, authors, personal coaches, and celebrities. However, the Bible tells us – and shows us – that isn’t God’s way. Selfishness doesn’t drive one to obey the Ten Commandments, nor to follow the golden rule Jesus gave us. It doesn’t build the Church, and it didn’t keep Jesus on the cross to pay the penalty for your sins and for mine.
Our faith belongs in the eternal, holy, perfect, all-wise God, not in mortal, fallen, imperfect self with flawed judgment and wisdom. Absolutely, Sam Ryan is misguided if the “key thing” he believes his fiancée and he should “anchor to” is that their wedding is, above all, about them.
Steady, even frenzied, activity – with boxes checked and resume listings added – characterizes and fuels many lives, including the Ryans’ and including mine. It’s really easy in our fast-paced society, where making a living demands quality output, to place faith in the accomplishments we would list on a resume or in an obituary. However,
“Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.” Psalm 127:1 NLT
“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Mark 8:36 NIV
I speak with the voice of experience here. I am self-aware enough to know I am almost maniacally driven by the need to feel I am producing tangible output and checking boxes off – daily, hourly, and over a lifetime. I get ideas and I want to find out whether they will actually work. I see a new knitting stitch design and I want to master it. If I get out of bed thinking of three major tasks that need to be done that day, I make the list on paper or in a “notes” or “reminders” app, usually growing it from three tasks to six or seven or eight. If you are like that, too, you know it can be a real roller coaster ride to measure the accomplishment of tangible things or resume items against “Is it really God’s will for me to spend my time and my energies in these ways?”
We are created with seemingly endless potential and we are gifted with so many aptitudes and abilities! To accomplish good things by exercising our gifts is a way of reflecting the image of our Creator, for sure. But our faith belongs in what the Creator is thereby establishing, not in what we believe we are accomplishing.
If our faith is placed in Whom it ought to be, we are no longer attempting to rely on planning, mottos, self-control, or accomplishment to direct us, nor to calm our storms.