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.

Hound

Hound

There have been 3 or 4 times over the years when I have been ready to give up my faith.

I have walked away from God, not prayed, not read the bible, not gone to church.

I have made a conscious choice to live a godless life.

There have been different reasons why; life circumstances, emotional responses and intellectual questions.

This has gone on for weeks and on one occasion, months, at a time.

I share this with you because I think it’s important that as Christians we are real with one another.

It isn’t all mountain-top moments and seamless travel from glory into glory. Being a Christian can be hard, and sometimes we are left peering over the edge.

The last time this happened to me was about 3 months ago. I won’t bore you with the details, but it would be fair to say I was making pretty concrete exit plans. I even got as far as sharing how I was feeling with a couple of close friends.

It didn’t stick.

Francis Thompson called God The Hound of Heaven in his remarkable poem of the same title, and I’ve found that to be a very apt description.

Whenever I’ve decided to walk away from God, there’s always been something (or someone) pulling me back.

He’s done it through the Bible, through my friends and through my thoughts and feelings.

His grace is irresistable.

On the most recent occasion I began walking away, I experienced a God-given dream for the first time in my life. God literally jolted me out of my sleep in the middle of the night. This dream was vivid, visceral and real in a way I’ve never experienced before. I have no doubt it was God calling me back.

The skeptics among you will probably just say I convinced myself to return to faith because I was scared of the alternative, because I didn’t have the courage to follow through on my conviction, or perhaps my subconscious couldn’t cope with the change, but that wasn’t the case.

Life isn’t the same without God. Life isn’t as good without God. It isn’t complete.

Jesus said he came to bring life in all its fullness (John 10:10) and I can testify to that. 

So often the Christian faith is portrayed as an escape route from hell, and heaven to look forward to in the future, but when we read the words of Jesus, it’s so clear that he believed the Kingdom of God was for living in the here and now. 

This is why when I walked away from Him, it felt like a core part of my life was missing. My life was no longer being lived as it was intended to be. This is also why when I returned I felt joy, relief and fulfilment.

I’m sure many of you can identify with these experiences and can tell a similar story.

If, on the other hand, you have chosen to be far from God at the moment, the life-affirming, liberating truth is that he is waiting for you to return with his arms wide open. There is no judgement, no condemnation, no cold shoulder.

He loves you and He says to you…..

“…Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”