Do you remember the moment that first made you wonder if He truly loved you?
I don’t know if I remember the first one. But I remember the first big one, and I can trace the crooked, faltering lines of the rest of them through my past. (Fear has its way of searing itself upon the conscience.)
These are moments when suffering simply appears so nonsensical, that to say it was God-engineered feels cruel. If He is good, we think, He was not great enough to stop this. And if He is great, how can He be good?
As a freshman in college, I tumbled headlong into one of those teetering moments of unbelief. That was the weekend I’d received the phone call: a believing friend of mine—on her way to try on her wedding dress—had fallen victim to a fatal car accident.
Like Psalmists before me, I hotly, brokenly presented to God for explanation this portion of His character. It glowed red, ominously inconsistent with all the rest: Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? … Why do you forget our affliction? (Psalm 44:23-24).
It’s these moments, as we press into 2017, that unresolved suffering can line our prayer lives with the coarse, clotted soil of unbelief. It’s just enough, y’know, to stonily cushion our fall, but just fertile enough we hardly realize it’s there, choking our hearts and our prayers.
For me, unbelief usually blossoms as fear; as worry. My unbelief stems directly, stealthily, from its taproot in my heart. He loves me? He loves me not?
Perhaps I should ask you what it is always good to ask myself: This year—or, just today—what makes you afraid?
At times, the notion stalks the corners of our minds when loss shadows all we see: Maybe God’s power is just blindly bent on His purposes. Maybe that grand scheme of His just trumps…
Or even, Me.
I confess to thinking in my own times of grief, I would not love my kids like this.
But that was Eve’s mistake, too, I guess—getting cajoled into lies that eventually left her naked and hiding. And still, God looked for the two of them, with words I imagine Him calling to me in my humiliation and anger: Where are you?
As we think about how to pray for ourselves this inaugural month of 2017—I begin with an ancient prayer. It begs God to fill us with belief, to root us—always first–immovably in His love.
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father… so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge… “(Ephesians 3:14,17-19)
And why? That you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Wouldn’t that be a prayer for 2017.
In what areas do you most struggle with fear right now? Come with me. Create time to explore, pray through, and scribble down the underlying reasons and concerns threaded through those fear. Then, just as aggressively, search out truths from God’s Word about those specific fears.
This year, let’s press into the honesty of our hearts, naked and unashamed. And then—preach to them. On New Year’s morning, I decided to write out statements of belief, directly addressing the fears circling my heart: “Lord, I believe that if you want to __, You can __.” Sometimes, I need even more: “And if you choose not to, I know ___.”
A friend of mine who eventually lost his wife, and the mother of his four children, to Lou Gehrig’s disease once recalled to me a profound moment with God. While he still cared for her as her body spiraled downward, he had lain on his bed, overcome by loss.
But God seemed to be pointing him toward thanks. Not able to immediately turn to full-on gratitude, my friend simply started small. He thanked God for the ability to breathe; for the bed he wept on; for the air conditioning. From there, his gratitude snowballed, steering him into praise.
My friend’s attitude has revolutionized my approach to my bad days; to my pain.
In truth—it’s shifted my focus from my own, disbelieving self, to who God is. Quietly, and over and over in my doubt, God has changed my tone from my Prove it!—even when I’m pleading for it—to How could I deny it?
This year in prayer, may we courageously present ourselves in all truthfulness to God, asking Him for help in overcoming our unbelief. Then, beginning with gratitude, may we choose soul-satisfaction in His love—and belief in the God far greater than our most hidden and penetrating doubts.