Disclaimer: This post is a post I’ve been quite nervous about posting. I think it comes across as much more ranty then I meant it to be. I was going work on it significantly to make a specific point. Instead I’m tagging everything “Supporting Individuals Pursue God” as a new category. I’m going to just splurg almost all my ideas in lots of little blog posts with the aim to eventually write whatever it is I’m trying to say properly. So lets see where this goes! Also, the preacher who preached this sermon is awesome. The attack I’m writing is definitely not on her, but what she said sparked something.
Recently I attended HTB’s weekend away as part of their leadership course where they train people to lead their pastorates. HTB is a very large church that has 10 services and thousands of people who attend. Pastorates are little mini-churches that HTB puts on that allow people to actually get to know people in the church and happen during the week. They are actually quite big and range from about 20-80 people. I was kind of asked in passing if I’d like to help be part of a “core team” of a new pastorate plant and one thing lead to another that meant I did the leadership course. They are massively looking for new pastorate leaders as many of the pastorates are full whilst more people are going through Alpha with no where to go.
During this course a sermon was preached that got to me. After speaking to the preacher about it she said “This is not meant for you”. I’d like to unpack this.
The sermon was on Hebrews 11. This is quite a famous passage where the author repeats “By faith … something awesome happened”. By faith the world was created and by faith the mouths of lions were shut, etc. It pretty much goes through everything in the old testament and says that this happens by faith.
Now the heart of what I think she was saying was that it is by faith, these things happen not by barter. Its difficult summarising 30 minutes of talking and so I may not have got it exactly correct. Faith is a very difficult concept in the bible. Its talked about very strangely and usually poetically. Lets look at this passage regarding faith which I may come back to:
Luke 17:19-20 “19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” 20 And He *said to them,“Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith [i]the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. 21 [[j]But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”]
I mean, what on earth is going on here? How on earth can you measure “faith” in degrees of mustard seed sizeness? In fact how can you measure faith in anything that is volume related? Now obviously this is not literal, the point is a mustard seed is small. However, the whole point is that the disciples didn’t have enough faith to cast out this demon? So having a really really small amount of faith is not enough but having a really small amount is fine? Except, although nothing is impossible this kind of demon only goes away with prayer and fasting… not faith?
In my mind there is an intuitive understanding of what faith means. I have faith in my chair to hold me up when I sit on it. Due to this faith I will sit on the chair when I want to be held up. This view of faith has within it “is certainty on the things unseen” yes… I cannot predict the future, I cannot see whether or not the chair will hold me up but it is still based on evidence. Its because the chair has done a good job in the past and because it currently looks great that I have faith in it. However, this is only part of the story of what faith is because you get verses like the one above!
Now… this preacher was saying that we as Christians tend to lack faith. If God says for us to go somewhere then we’ll say “Are you sure? I dunno, will I have enough money? Give me some money first and maybe some political power and then maybe I’ll go”. This I suppose is apt talking to a bunch of pastorate leaders. They are about to step out into something that is potentially scary and may come to that meeting wanting some assurance that it will be ok. That HTB will support them, that fights won’t break out that they can’t deal with, etc etc. However they can’t get that assurance, they just need to step out in faith. This is a message I have heard a bunch of times in the church…
My problem with it
Maybe the word “problem” is too strong. But there was something that riled me up whilst I was listening to it. It was kind of the fact that I had heard this all before but it was more then that. It was that not only had I heard it all before…. I had been there and done that and got the T-shirt.
I have stepped out in faith. Throughout my life, if I have ever had the inkling that God wants me to move in a certain direction then I’ve done it. Usually I don’t hear from God that well so I do things that a good little Christian would do. I’ve gone out of the street and told people about Jesus including someone who tried to mug me (sort of). I’ve gone to drum and bass nights and asked random people if they wanted prayer. I’ve preached mini-sermons in school assemblies with my peers and then put on evangelistic events where I personally invited everyone with a track in my year and then announced on our school forums that essentially a revival was going to break out in our school (It didn’t). I did a gap year working for the church and did some foreign mission and then when I went to university it was for pub conversations. I did physics with philosophy simply because it would help me witness more as it would provide lots of “ins” into evangelistic conversations. I then started a company that was doomed to failure because I felt God wanted me to do it and then I got up, moved to London and moved into a ridiculously expensive lifestyle and house (relative to Manchester) without having a Job yet because I thought New Wine might say yes to a project and needed to be in London to do it. I have gotten very close to having no money and have been hungry for a bit.
And in the words of Metallica …. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxZ4Z6Zo3Fk (Warning: Rude words behind this link)
Now where I am going with this, is that stepping out in faith like this is pointless without something else. I don’t know what that something else is. It could be listening to what God wants, it could be love, it could be obedience. So bare with me here… I’m probably not going to answer that question now.
Whilst I regularly succeeded at getting into long and interesting conversations about Jesus with strangers doing “Campus Evangelism”, I went out with a crippling fear that got too much for me. What was it a fear of? Failure? I never failed nor did I think I would. Embarrassment? I used to regularly wear PVC trousers. I don’t know what it was apart from being pathetic. I lead a large number of bible studies and was leading a Christian Union hall group. It went pretty amazingly and again I quit due to emotional exhaustion. Whilst I ended up using my degree to have lots of conversations about Jesus no one became a christian. Revival didn’t break out in my school. I got so close to achieving lots of things and then I’d just get knackered and go no where. I basically achieved nothing throughout university.
There once was a time when I was doing some chemistry coursework. I remember really hating it and saying to God, “please, I want to do something else, send me to do anything, I’ll do foreign mission, I’ll go into the streets of Sutton or give my life up to the church, what do you want me to do?”. The response I got back was “Do your homework”.
See this is my problem. I am Brad Pitt speaking to his dad in Fight Club. I’ve gone and got the job, I’ve done the stepping out in faith bit, and I’m asking “What now?”. In fact if there is anything I can do to show people I’m a good Christian I’ve pretty much done it. Amongst the charismatics I can tell stories of speaking in tongues from a young age or shouting out prayers in parks at night. Amongst the social justicey people I can talk about the tears I’ve shed for palestinians or stream off lots of rhetoric about how to help the homeless. Amongst the conservatives I can talk about all the books I’ve read and impress people that I’ve read the bible.
The church has told me “Do this stuff and we’ll accept you, we’ll call you a good christian” I’ve done those stuff and what do I get?
“This isn’t for you… maybe you’ve got a problem with pride?”
I’ll divert to this question for a moment. This is a really good get out of Jail free card. I can never do enough to please the church because if I do anything in a way that they will notice they can then just say that I’m proud and need to be more humble. Actually I’ve done humility. I can actually tell you stories about how I’m the humblest of them all. I’ve stacked chairs and I’ve cleaned toilets. Apparently this is what you have to do if you want to start being famous amongst Christians I’ve also gone to churches, kept my head down and focused on people on the fringes. This has obviously got me no where because that was the purpose…
But I feel like I detect a rat here. There is something that plato really liked about the Spartans and that British people really like. British people love under dogs and they hate proud people. Its really bad to drive a nice car around London, you’ll look foreign. How can the Apostle Paul get away telling people that he wished they were as Holy as him? Surely that is arrogant, surely that is proud? I said that to a christian once. She said “yeah and I really don’t like paul”.
Galatians 6:3-4 “3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else,”
The opposite to Pride is not Humility. Its Truth. The kings God hated in the old testament where the people who thought they ruled the world. They didn’t. God showed them. He humbled them. Pride is thinking you are above your status. Truth is knowing what status you are rightly in. Humility is then going further, knowing how great you really are and how much status you deserve from people, deliberately lowering yourself to a lower level. Pride is trying to sit at the head of the table when you’re the youngest in the family. Truth is sitting where you’re supposed to and humility is giving up the head of the table to someone else.
Do I have issues with pride? Yes. Instead of doing my chemistry homework that is “beneath” me I want to be like Paul and go out changing the world. However… I don’t think that is quite the same as what she was talking about. She was saying this in the context of me going up and telling her that all this “faith” stuff she was talking about, well I’ve done it. (Note: Not GOT it, DONE it… or at least look like I’ve done it).
SHE then congratulated ME on my faith. She said that people are not as far as me, that the leaders of the biggest church in the UK haven’t quite got to my level of great faith. That other people would love to have faith like mine. If I believed her on that I can see why she’d think I was proud. But I don’t think that is what I was trying to say. What I was trying to say is that all of this was meaningless… It was like chasing the wind. I was trying to say that these stories of faith are pointless. That if people set down the path of trying to step out in faith like I did they will get no where.
She said that this meeting wasn’t for me.
What is there for me?
There is something else brewing. There is something that God is doing. This thing I think will be for me. I don’t know what it is but I have a hunch and I’m going to pursue it and maybe even write about it. The thing for me is a system that helps me pursue God. Its not something that helps me serve the church. Its not something that makes me a better person through a 10 step program nor something that gives me more theology. Its something that helps me pursue God.
See in HTB there are two things for me:
1) I lead a pastorage and start serving. This will help me rise the ranks of HTB social status and I’ll then start getting access to the big guys who well help me out
2) I get a mentor. An experienced christian who works with me, chats to me and leads me to know God more.
However. 1) God doesn’t want me to. I’m pretty sure of this. I try really hard to serve the church and I know I can do it, I’ve done a great job in the past but every time I try it fails at the moment. Its because God doesn’t want me to lead a pastorage. 2) I am suspicious of this. There is a time and a place for mentoring and its really great and certainly biblical. But it puts a single person massively in control of my life. It also can tempt me to look to my mentor and not God. No whatever this system is it will not look like a single person. It will not be lead by a single priest.
I want to sit in a room with people like me who are ok with stepping out in faith (which is actually really all humans. Stepping out in faith is just what greedy people do who find a treasure in a field. Sell all their possessions to buy the field and dig up the treasure. Faith is for people who like cheating in life and want to win the lottery) and then I want to pursue God in front of them and with them. I think I could do it alone but that is not what God wants. He wants 2 or 3 people to gather in his name. This pursuing God is a corporate event and is only solitary when times are extreme.
A system that supports individuals in their pursuit of God. I am an individual and I want this system.
Where does abaraham fit into this and his faith?… Next blog post