At the age of twenty I had a decision to make. I’d reached the end of the road with the faith of my childhood, which was inherited rather than forged. I was a devout young man, praying two hours a day, in the hope that the touchpaper of spiritual experience might be lit, but after months of gruelling effort, I’d hit rock bottom. My search had come to nothing, and I felt frustrated and let down. I’d heard that God is love, but had only felt that love on one occasion; I’d heard that he is a friend who sticks closer than a brother, but I’d never heard his voice. I turned to face God with fire in my eyes:
“God! Knowing you should be the most amazing, absorbing, satisfying experience, but after all this effort, I’m just bored and depressed. The way I see it, it’s my job to seek you and your job to bless me, but you’re not keeping up your side of the bargain.”
I waited, cringing, for the lightning bolt, but nothing came, and over the course of the next few days, I was taken by a quiet knowing – if I wanted to have a greater experience of faith, I should go to those who enjoyed their walks with God, and who spoke of knowing his presence as if it were a lived experience. I acted on this, and that moment of raw feeling and honesty with God was the first step on a journey that has led to the rich spiritual life I enjoy today. It turns out that God can handle angry words and even rough speech, when the intention comes from faith. He is no snowflake. Did not Jacob wrestle with the Lord, refusing to let him go till he’d received a blessing? God appreciates that kind of faith, because it takes him seriously.
Over the next few years, my spiritual experience increased and deepened, with significant moments of breakthrough and growth. God answered my prayer more abundantly than I ever dared to dream, but if he hadn’t, that would almost certainly have been the end of faith for me. The reason for believing then, begins with the fact that God exists – otherwise, how could prayer be answered?
In the twenty-six years since that moment of faith, God has answered many more prayers – some for provision, others for healing, more for wisdom. In all that time, and in many challenging circumstances, he has never let me down. When you’ve laid hands on a person and seen them miraculously healed, it becomes difficult to question the existence of the Healer. When your back is against the wall financially, and provision comes out of nowhere to meet your need, it becomes hard to deny the faithfulness of the Provider. When you pray and are saturated by life-changing love, it is difficult to deny the presence of the Almighty, or that he is infinitely loving.
The presence of God changes me, as it changes all of us. It softens us, brings compassion, frees us from the pitfalls of judgement and self-righteousness, and leads us to service. It is not enough, then, to paddle in the shallows; we must take the plunge. It is not enough to explore the peripheries of divine love; we must get so lost in God that we can’t find our way out. That is how I try to live – saturated by the presence and love of God, and it is a tangible, transformative reality. I am fortunate, in a way, to know the contrast between the empty experience of untested religion and the felt abundance of divine love. The two could not be more different.
It feels entirely odd, as a result, when people tell me God doesn’t exist, or assume that people of faith are lying, to comfort themselves. Telling me God doesn’t exist, and is not love, is like telling me water isn’t wet. The life of faith is a journey, rather than a static state. It is not inert. Discipleship requires sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and the willingness to follow his leading, but its fundamental nature is change. It is difficult, after so much transformation, to find grounds to question its legitimacy, especially when the changes wrought have benefited me and those I love.
And so I believe. Not from some inherited, theological position, but from a place of experience. I believe because God has always shown me love, and has always proved himself faithful. Hebrews 11:6,
‘But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.’
1/13/2022 6:55:47 PM