Friday, May 27, 2005

Book Notes: Authentic Faith

authentic faith

A few nights ago, Bailey jumped on my bed with enough force to knock the books off my headboard shelf--and onto my head! Seemed to be a good time to do a little winnowing.

One book that stayed is Gary Thomas' Authentic Faith: The Power of a Fire-Tested Life. The tagline is What if life isn't meant to be perfect but we are meant to trust the One who is? Similar in format to his Sacred Pathways, Gary outlines several disciplines that God uses to bring us to greater depth and maturity--authenticity--in our relationship with Him. He's not talking about the disciplines we can take pride in: Scripture memorization, fasting, giving, quiet times, etc. Those are cake compared to the ones God allows on His terms: selflessness, waiting, suffering, persecution, social mercy, forgiveness, mourning, contentment, sacrifice, hope and fear.

The opening story is about a one of those golden guys with a Midas touch. Then one day he's hit with a brain hemorrhage and life changed.

Gary writes:

The devastating effect on his body was paralleled by an equally powerful--and wonderful--change in his spirit...Whereas before his focus was on the masses, Mike now specializes in healing hurting hearts one at a time.

"The brain hemorrhage took a lot away from me," Mike told me recently, "but it gave me even more." Mike is now the type of guy whose spirit invites you to quiet your heart, get rid of all pretenses, and revel in God's presence. I think the main difference is that in college, when I was around Mike, I wanted to be like Mike. now, after spending time with Mike, I want to be more like Jesus.

Wow. Gary got my attention.

The premise of Authentic Faith is that like any relationship of depth, our faith must move past the infatuation stage where God is palpably present and our prayers are quickly answered. Gary writes:

That means...growing in ways that we naturally wouldn't be inclined to grow...This is a painful process, a very real spiritual death...The first sign that a believer has failed to move in a timely fashion past the spiritual infatuation stage is usually disillusionment. Whereas before they thought of God as only kind, only merciful, and only loving, they now tend to view him as stubborn, severe, and unyielding...There's a place for this disillusionment, provided it effects the change that leads to mature friendship with God. If disillusionment remains, however, it ceases to motivate and eventually may bury the believer under its despair.

I admit, I've been a bit mired in disillusionment lately. I've been a believer for 14 years, and know--intellectually--that my faith ebbs and flows, and the depth of my friendship with God dips and dives. And if I'm really honest, as much as I hate the valleys, I know they are necessary testing grounds, to slough off the dust of all this world dictates. Growth is painful.

Gary's words both encourage and disappoint me. I'm encouraged by the reminder that asking the tough questions and honestly admitting my frustration is a natural and necessary part of the process. I'm disappointed that the depth of my disillusionment reveals how necessary this test has been. We live in such a formulaic culture, especially in the church: if you do A, B and C, and avoid X, Y and Z, you'll return the favored result. God isn't that predictable. I think I needed this disillusionment to recognize some of those shadow beliefs I've yet to surrender. God has given me new life and the promise of forever. When will I really realize that my life here, because it is HERE and not heaven, by definition, cannot be perfect? When will I submit my idealized life as an attainable goal? If I believe that God is moving too slowly according to my timetable, or what I perceive is the world's timetable, is that really His issue, or am I humble enough to accept that it is mine?

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