Compare

One of the things I really struggle with as a Christian is comparing my faith to those around me. I wonder why I’m not as devoted as some, or passionate as others. I question why I don’t hear from God in the way that people at church seem to or get as much from reading the Bible as them. I get frustrated because my faith doesn’t seem as steadfast as the other people in housegroup.

These thoughts leave me feeling discouraged and distant from God. Sadly it often means ending up spending less time with God, less time in the bible and less time in fellowship with other Christians.

I suspect I’m not alone in this, but it’s a very difficult thing to admit to, particularly when we compare ourselves to others who seem to have it all together. We don’t want to appear like the weak link in the chain, the doubting Thomas or denying Peter.

At this point some of you might be thinking, ‘Well, you should be more disciplined in prayer, in bible reading, in church attendance. Maybe then you would experience a faith more like those other people.’ That is true to a point, but if my experience is always clouded by comparison to others, then those actions are just as likely to make the situation worse.

If you are with me in this, I think we need a change of mindset, a different starting point. American Pastor Rick Warren suggests that being honest with ourselves is the starting of point of changing this damaging cycle of self-damnation…

“Just acknowledging that you struggle with envy [of the faith of others] can be painful, but it is the first step toward a change of values and a more mature spiritual life.”

Our faith is meant to be personal, meant to be unique. The Psalmist wrote that God knows us from before we were born. Jesus tells us God knows every hair on our heads. The Apostle Paul says God has good plans for us.

That means your relationship with God will be different from the relationship He has with your mother or brother, the person sat next to you on Sunday morning, or that blogger who you read every week.

God loves you for who you are. He knows you and so will relate to you in ways that you can understand.

And it won’t always be the same. How you communicate with and relate to God will develop and change over time. And no, it will never be the same as that person you are always comparing yourself to. It can’t be. You are unique. Your relationship with God is unique.

Remembering that is a good start to a deeper and more satisfying faith.

Change

change

I’ve always identified myself a Christian, but what that means and how I’ve expressed it has altered through the years. Over time faith grows, changes and becomes new. It’s a relationship: first of all with God, but also with others. This means by its very nature, faith is dynamic. Where I was when I was 8, 18 or 28 is not where I am now. This is a good thing.

In contrast, faith stagnates when it becomes static, when nothing changes.

Change is often profoundly uncomfortable and so we can be tempted to shy away from it. In the long run though, it is the only way we can grow as people.

My aim is to become more like Jesus. This necessitates change.

Times of struggle can be particularly change-inducing. We are forced outside of what we know, of what feels comfortable and we respond in ways that are not our usual pattern. It can be unsettling as our previous understanding of how the world operates no longer functions. This can include how we view God, and our place in relation to him.

In the book of James, the author spends part of his letter contemplating this truth and how we should respond to it. “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colours. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”

He basically says the difficult times in our lives are an opportunity for growth. It’s never easy when we are going through hard experiences, but it’s rare to come out the other side the same person we were when it began.

In his superb book, The Sin of Certainty, Peter Enns reflects on the impact that events and tragedies can have on our understanding of God, and the best way to respond; “The way forward is to let go of that need to find the answers we crave and decide to continue along a path of faith anyway… that kind of faith is not a crutch, but radical trust.”

I’ve tried clinging to what I knew before. It didn’t work. I’ve tried ignoring God and living as if he wasn’t there. That also didn’t work. What did work, was trusting my heavenly father, even though I didn’t understand what was going on around me. In the long run, just as the apostle James suggests, my faith did show it’s true colours, and I was changed for the better as a result.

How about you? What are the experiences in life that have brought you closer to God? Does Peter Enns’ assertion that we need radical trust rather than answers ring true for you?