Faith has never come easily to me. I am quick to doubt, question, and wonder. I’m rarely sure about anything, often overanalyzing to the point of inactivity. Ever done that? Processed through something so much, looking at it from so many different angles, that you end up being frozen? I have lived in this reality for as long as I can remember.
I was that kid—always questioning, always pushing. I would often question the most basic teachings, from stories in the Bible to my first-grade math book, assuming there must be some other answer or some other angle that needed to be discovered. And as I moved from questioning math and science in elementary school to wrestling with theories and ideas in college and graduate school, my faith in Jesus was left in tatters. In many ways, my academic success was linked to my ability to deconstruct and question everything I read, everything I heard, and everything I believed.
I’ll never forget the feeling that I was losing something. I would sit in church with a sense that, as much as I kept singing songs, listening to messages, reading my Bible, and praying, my incessant questioning and doubt was leaving very little room to experience Jesus.
Remember that scene in the movie Castaway? The one where Tom Hanks is on his raft in the ocean and he awakes to find his only friend, Wilson the volleyball, drifting away. I felt that with my relationship with Jesus—stuck on a raft of doubt and cynicism, watching my faith drift away.
Ok, at this point I can imagine some of you are probably thinking, “Wait, what?
In Castaway, Tom Hanks decides to stay on the raft and let Wilson float away. I stayed on the raft of doubt and cynicism for many years, but I began to realize that staying on the raft was pretty lousy, life was pretty boring, and I wasn’t making any impact in the world around me. So, unlike Tom Hanks, I made a conscious choice to jump in the water and pursue a relationship with God with all that I had (which wasn’t much).
At the time, I used to joke that I loved God with all my heart and all my mind—I just had a tiny heart and a skeptical mind. Nonetheless, I knew I wanted something more; I was tired of the cynicism and yearned for a vibrant faith.
Once in the water, I stopped trying to emulate the faith of others. For far too long I was envious of those who had the spiritual gift of faith. People, like my wife, who has an inner sense of belief, a deep abiding trust in God, and an unshakable faith. I figured that if I had faith, it must look like theirs, free from doubt and questions.
What I realized, however, is that faith is as unique as the people who espouse it. Faith isn’t one size fits all. I can’t begin to describe how freeing this realization was. Instead of trying to rid myself of doubts and questions to find faith, I realized I could pursue a life of faith in the midst of them. Something happens when pursuing a vibrant relationship with Jesus becomes the goal, instead of trying to emulate someone else’s faith experiences. Instead of being consumed with guilt about doubts and questions, I become passionate about pursuing Jesus—being real and authentic before Him and experiencing the full life He offers.
The restoration of my faith didn’t happen overnight; it grew in moments where God proved faithful, moments where I said “yes” to God’s calling instead of “no,” moments where I could see God work out miracles in the lives around me, moments of profound grace extended to me by family and friends. It was in these small, simple moments that my faith began to grow.
One of these moments started with my wife, Karla, having coffee with a young lady from our church. My wife is always connecting with people—she’s amazing. So I wasn’t surprised when she said she was having coffee with Dasheena, a 19-year-old who had recently been released from federal prison and was attending our church. What I was surprised with was, when they were an hour into the coffee date, I received a text from Karla letting me know that Dasheena was coming to stay with us. You can see how well I handled it:
Nice, right? Hey, at least I was clear about what I was feeling. In the end, Dasheena didn’t come to stay for the night. She came to stay for five months! In that moment, Karla was responding in faith and I was responding to doubts and questions and a tinge of anger. And yet, It was through that experience that I was able to glimpse the miracle of new life, restoration, and God at work in ways that I would have missed had we not invited this woman into our home.
I love looking at that screenshot. I keep it on my computer at work. It reminds me that faith doesn’t grow by wanting it to grow. Faith doesn’t develop by hoping it will. Faith comes when we step into the unknown and say yes when we jump into the waters and pursue Jesus with reckless abandon. Faith grows in those moments, when we have the opportunity to either say yes or say no to God.
This past week at our campus we introduced a new song called, “Peace, Be Still.” There’s a line in the song that says, “Let faith, rise up, oh heart believe. Let faith rise up in me.” My hope is that each one of you would make this your prayer. Whether you feel close to God or not, I believe that each day there is an opportunity for faith to rise up within you. And with each step you take, experience the freedom of bringing all that you are and all that you have to Him.