Sunday, July 26, 2009

Empty Cell Faith

Earlier this week, I was reminded of John the Baptists last days. He was sitting alone in a cold, dank, probably empty cell. That corner over there was his toilet. This one was his bed. He had nothing. He probably knew he was going to die. He was looking at his life and wondering if he had done what he was supposed to or if he had missed the mark. He sent some of his followers to ask Jesus if he was actually the Messiah.

Normally, Jesus didn't respond well to such things. “Oh ye of little faith!” “How long must I suffer this people?”. Yet, when John asked, “Are you my Messiah?” Jesus answered him without a word of reproach. Why didn't he rebuke John's lack of faith after proclaiming Jesus' coming? Because John had faith. That's all he had. He wasn't hoping for a new car, a better job or to make the house payment. Sitting in that cell with nothing left all he had was just enough faith to believe.

The last week or so has flatly been one of the worst weeks of my life; certainly my life since becoming a Christian. There were times when the idea of being dead sounded like a really good idea. If you have never had a time in your life when your prayers seemed to just hit the ceiling and fall back to the floor for the cat to bat around, I envy you. I have had that feeling for a long time. More than that, I believed God didn't WANT to answer my prayers. Blessings were for other people. Any real prayers getting answered was far beyond what I got.

Earlier this week I was done. Everything I have ever hoped for or dreamed of was securely out of my reach. My cell was empty except for the refuse of my own making. All I had was my faith, what was left of it. I prayed the most honest prayer I have ever prayed in my life. I told God things I felt about Him, what He has done with my life (with much help from me I might add), and the Universe in general. I said things that would probably get me kicked out of most churches if they found out about it. Shocked? Why? God already knew it was in my heart, even if I had never said it.

What John did was essentially the same as Peter's answer when Jesus asked the disciples if they were going to desert him too after a particularly tough sermon. Peter answered: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69 ESV) Sure, things could hardly get worse for John but what was he going to do? Turn his back on the Most High, the only source of eternal life?

That's where I was this week. My post from last week shows how lost and alone I was. I still am mostly. Even if God chose to hold me up for ridicule and leave me wasted and alone, where else could I go? But that was all the faith I had. I'm not proud to admit that I may have actually said out loud to the God of the Universe that if there were another option I'd take it. But there isn't.

This is not glorious strong faith. This rock bottom, got nothing left, hey God have you considered just killing me faith. It's an empty, cold faith. I can't claim it as my own. I am not writing this to brag about how much I'm like John the Baptist or how faithful I am. I'm not. I had no other choice and God gave me the grace to know that just like he did Peter and, I believe, John. It's not an automatic. Judas didn't get it. Judas tried to find another way right up and including hanging himself from a tree.

Just this morning I told God I needed to hear from Him. Not just a vague feeling or a verse that stood out. Something. Anything. I love you. I hate you. Who are you? I didn't really expect it. I NEEDED it but I've needed it for awhile and the cat was swatting that prayer under the couch.

Then, in church, it came out. The Pastor, who knows little or nothing of my struggles, gave the interpretation to a word spoken in tongues. I am a believer in the present Gifts of the Spirit but I am also jaded. I have seen the “gifts” move in ways that are less than inspired. Yet, Pastor recited a list of things God was saying. Each one was something I had prayed about in my “faithless” prayer. The phrases “I have heard you” and “Don't give up” were even mentioned. I don't really believe in coincidences. Sure, he didn't walk up to me and say “God told me to tell you..”. Sure, it would have made it crystal clear if I had been called out by name. But how dim do you have to be to not put a little stock in a person who had no idea what you prayed and would probably be offended by it if they did can tick off the complaints like they were standing next to you when you prayed it?

It's not my pastor who knew.

It was my God.

Maybe there really is hope for that road ahead.

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