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A Childlike Faith
I turned the key in the ignition and instead of the usual sound of engine roaring to life, there was a click.
Here we were in a hot parking lot. The five of us, the groceries and a van with a dead battery. No jumper cables. Parked inconveniently for boosting. Not in the mood to have vehicle troubles (who ever is in the mood for that?). Here we sat.
I glance in the rear view mirror. Four children look back at me with round eyes. What's wrong they wonder. Why won't the van go? A dead battery I say. My most dramatic daughter emits a little whimper. A dead battery sounds quite serious.
I try again. Click. Nothing. I groan a bit and rest my head on the steering wheel.
Then from the back I hear a young voice, "Mommy try again." Dramatic daughter is bouncing and smiling and her eyes are shining beacons of hope. She is practically giggling because she is so excited and I just know... she has prayed and she expects that the van will start.
I tremble a little. What if it doesn't start? Is this the day that her childlike faith will lose some of its expectancy? Is this the day that the reality of life will begin to quench the hope and expectant joy in her eyes? Is this the day when doubt will begin to tinge each prayer?
I turn the key. I think I know what will happen, but the engine springs to life. It isn't reasonable. It wasn't likely. I look back at my daughter. She is giggling and clapping and she laughs and she says, "I prayed!" and 3 other voices say that they prayed too and I say that I prayed too.
But I think about my prayer. It was more of a groan. Somewhat of a whine. Something like this:
"Oh no. What are we going to do? This isn't fun. I don't really want to deal with this today. I know you could make the van start, but I don't suppose that will happen."
Pathetic. What sort of prayer is that?
The kids cheered. We all thanked God for His answer to our prayers and we drove away without the chaos and annoyance of tracking down booster cables and helpers.
I had much to think about.
Realist, pessimist or faith filled?
My prayer was pathetic. I know and believe that God can do anything, but I am also fully aware that He does not always answer in the way we desire. So I prayed, but I rather expected that there would be a bit of an ordeal to go through before we could leave the parking lot. I prayed a pessimistic prayer. Is that even really a prayer? Wouldn't 'pessimistic faith' be a complete oxy-moron?
My parents had a little joke between them during my growing up years. My mom would tease my dad that he was a pessimist, always ready to see the flaws and problems with things. He would retort indignantly that he was NOT a pessimist. He was a realist. He understood the reality of things.
I feel a bit like that when it comes to prayer. I want to argue that it isn't that I don't have faith, it's just that I understand the 'reality' of life.
Have I not prayed with tears falling, for the healing of friends and they have died? Have I not pleaded for wisdom and yet I continue to stumble and bumble my way through parenting? It seems the older I get, the more cynical I become. I pray. I bring my requests before God (Phil.4:6) but the joy and expectancy is lacking. Ephesians 3:20,21 says:
"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." (NIV)
I saw excitement in my daugher's eyes. She was literally glowing with confidence. She was bouncing in her seat. She knew Jesus had heard her prayer and she knew He would answer.
How do I reclaim faith and still understand reality?
The reality is that we live in a fallen world. People get sick and they die. Hard times fall upon us and our prayers are not always answered as we desire BUT that does not mean that God has not heard or answered. He does intervene. He does respond and He is always at work.
I would like to pray with confidence. I would like to say "Amen" and raise my head from prayer with eyes shining with hope, peace and confidence, knowing that God may not answer my prayer as I desire, but He WILL answer.
I am not the first person in history to struggle with a desire to reclaim faith. How often did the Isrealites whine and complain and forget the miracles that God had done? Each time a crisis arose, the whimpering and groaning began. Yet, each crisis was met with a solution from an all-powerful God.
Many times throughout the Bible we see a recap of what God did in the history of the Isrealites. Remembering what came before helped to strengthen their faith.
Before the Isrealites marched against Jericho there was remembering. When they crossed the Jordan river God commanded them to set up 'memorial stones'
Joshua 4:20-24 And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. He said to the Israelites, "In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, 'What do these stones mean?' tell them, 'Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.' For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan just what He had done to the Red Sea when He dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD our God." (NIV)
The Isrealites also celebrated the Passover on the plains of Jericho (Joshua 5:10). Surely, it was no accident that they had these times of remembrance before they faced their first challenge in the Promised Land. When our faith needs strengthening, remembering the work of God in the past adds muscle to faith that has become a little weak and flabby.
Our faith cannot remain small and stagnant when we continually remember all God has done in the past. It reminds us that He is indeed present. He is involved in our daily life.
Remembering is important. It keeps us from becoming wise in our own eyes and from being disappointed with God.
Consider Psalm 106: 13 - 15
"They soon forgot His works; They did not wait for His counsel, But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, And tested God in the desert. And He gave them their request, But sent leanness into their soul." (NKJV)
These words have sobered me. When I begin to panic and I think I know better than God and I pray prayers that are 'instructing' God how to act on my behalf and I feel that my faith will flounder if He doesn't answer according to my request, I wonder if He sometimes gives me what I request, but with it comes 'leanness' of my soul. A malnourished faith. A faith that could be made stronger and healthier if I would pray believing prayers that allow God to work as He wills in my life.
In a van with a dead battery I could confidently request His divine intervention and be willing to accept whatever He wills. I too could be hopeful and expectant knowing that God is present, God is able and if the engine doesn't spring to life when I turn the key I do not have to lose heart, I can still wonder and wait to see how God is going to act and answer my prayer.
I do not want to be a pessimist and I do not want to be a realist. God delights in defying reality. He is not bound by the consequences of sin and brokenness. I also do not want to attempt to 'instruct' God in my prayers.
Let me cry out with faith, let me remember His character and His power and His demonstrations of love in my life and then let me be confident and filled with hope that He will answer according to His will.
Let me regain a childlike faith.
My daughter didn't think and analyze and deliberate about how likely it was that the van would start. I don't know exactly what she said in her prayer, but she knew we needed help, she knew who to ask and she was really excited to see what God would do.
Something to do
Consider keeping a faith journal. Record how God has intervened in your life. It will become a wonderful encouragement for you when you are facing a 'Jericho' in your life. Read what has come before and trust God with the future.
We always think we will remember the times that we clearly see God's hand in our life, but we don't. When worry and fear lurk in the corners of our soul, we get amnesia. We cannot seem to dig up any examples of God at work in our life. We feel abandoned, small, unable and weak. We groan out pathetic prayers and we struggle to have faith in the face of stark reality. How wonderful to reach for a faith journal. Recall all God has done in your life. Let the words in your journal be your 'memorial stones' calling you to faith in a living God, the One who is able to do "immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine." Eph. 3:20