As a teenager I was introduced to the world of self-help books, from nutrition and diet through to parenting and child-raising (when I was a little older!) The reality was. as a teenager, I just didn’t care about the advice as much as other 'important' things like social events, fashions, and my dreams and a certain boy who I married. When I had others to care about, that changed. However, the books that initially had an impact on me as a teenager, were about the outer areas of life. It is sad that often the teenager's focus is on the wrong part of our lives. And the pattern seems to repeat itself.
This may seem weird to think about, but it reminds me of how easy it is to become introspective and focus on yourself. We know the world tells us you can never have enough handbags or shoes and never be rich enough, pretty enough or slim enough. As teenagers, we hit this social dilemma with a thud. And it thuds even louder for our young people today. They see more images of beautiful people in one week than I saw in my whole adolescence. The self-help books are about our failure to fit in. And we desperately want to fit in. What about as an adult, when we know better than to be sucked into the world of insatiable desires and competitive perfectionism that inevitably leaves us feeling empty? I think we can replace this with fear.
I know we all have fears. Fear is a basic human emotion and there will be differences between us. But there are some common ones such as fear of death, fear of being alone, fear of failure or fear of buttons, (we all have strange idiosyncrasies).
Somewhere in all our thinking, God has to figure into the equation. There must be a reason that the Bible tells us (in various ways and in various places) to “fear not” many times. Fear is such a basic human emotion that sadly, many of us constantly live in the grip of. God told us to “fear not” because he knew that we would all wrestle with fear sooner or later. A favourite verse of mine is from Jesus in Matthew 10:29-32: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.”
God says hundreds of times in hundreds of ways "Fear not." I looked it up on Google; guess how many times the Bible tells us not to fear? 365 – one for each day of the year!
What do you do when your fears seem to be winning the day? What if you pray and God still hasn’t come through for you? If you are like most people, you begin to lose hope, and you wonder why you bothered to pray in the first place.
It has been said that “a Christian is immortal until his work on earth is done." And we know that God is everywhere and has promised that we are loved. Romans 8:38-39 says “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.”
That means that nothing can harm you or happens to you, without God’s permission. Not cancer, not bankruptcy, not theft, not physical disability, not the loss of your job, not a terrible accident, not any of a thousand other sorrows that afflict the children of God. As Christians we aren’t immune to sadness. What happens to others also happens to us. The difference is this: we know that God protects us from harm so that nothing can touch us that doesn’t first pass through his hands of love. That knowledge doesn’t mean that we don’t weep or we don’t suffer. Far from it. But it is the basis for Paul’s statement in 1 Thessalonians that “we sorrow but not as those who have no hope”. Our sorrow, our fear is different precisely because we hope in God. We have a forever plan with God.
Faith focuses on God, not on your problems. God is our shield, our fortress for eternity.
Faith trusts in God’s timing, not your own. It is so easy to stumble over this. We slight the near in favour of the far, shirking the duties of today because we are dreaming about some distant tomorrow. This reminds me of John Lennon’s ‘Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans.’ But until we have done what God has called us to do today, we will never be prepared for what he wants us to do tomorrow.
I also have learnt that faith is not just a throw away, Christian line. In fact:
Faith grows in spite of your circumstances.
Faith obeys God one step at a time.
Faith is a daily act.
Faith is a choice
Faith changes us.
Faith weaves a pattern in our lives.
In the end, 99 percent of life turns out to be humdrum, ordinary routine. It’s the same old thing, day after day. Yet out of the humdrum, God is weaving an unseen pattern that will one day lead us in a new direction. Faith is for us to take the next step - whatever it is - and walk with God wherever he leads us. Sometimes it will make sense, other times it won’t. But we still have to take that step if we are going to do God’s will.
Can God be trusted?
Everything comes down to one simple question: Can God be trusted to do what is right? If the answer is yes, then we can face the worst that life has to offer. If the answer is no, then we’re no better off than the people who have no faith at all. In fact, if the answer is no or if we’re not sure, then we really don’t have any faith anyway.
I have chosen to believe because I must believe.
Heartache, suffering and loss have been such a part of our context in the Senior School for the last four years. It doesn’t make any more sense to me now, than it did a few years ago. Why is it so hard when we are purposely and explicitly serving our God? It just seems so difficult in this Christian schooling system. However, I am choosing to believe (just as Danielle Strickland told us on the first day of the term), this is where God wants us and where he wants me. Each day, what I do becomes a choice to forward the Kingdom. But in the questions of heartache, suffering and loss, (questions that really matter) I have no detailed, philosophical answers. My answers feel trite. But I have learned since that faith is a choice you make. Sometimes you choose to believe because of what you see; often you believe in spite of what you can see.
As I look to the world around me, many things remain mysterious and unanswerable. But if there is no God, and if He is not good, then nothing at all makes sense. I have chosen to believe because I must believe. I truly have no other choice.
Fear not, child of God. No one knows what a day may bring. Who knows if we will all make it through this week? But our God is faithful to keep every one of his promises. Nothing can happen to us except that which first passes through the hands of God. If your way is dark, keep on believing. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he cares for you.
South Plympton Campus Principal and Head of Senior School