Ephesians 3:7-19, Hebrews 4:14-16
June 27, 2010
There is a trend in religion today for people to want to feel the presence of God. And that’s a good thing! I often say that from this very pulpit, that it’s our hope that you feel the presence of God as you worship here. That indeed is the purpose for worship. We feel the presence of God, we grow closer to him and each other, we go forth inspired, and spiritually equipped to live joyously in the kingdom of God, no matter what the circumstances of our lives.
That’s a big reason we do what we do here! But we have to be careful. Because our faith isn’t just about our feelings! Yes, it’s wonderful when we experience that inner glow, that peace, that “en-thus-iasm” of faith – a word that literally means “God inside.” That’s wonderful! But, what about all those other times? What about the times we don’t feel that? Are we to assume at such times that our faith is diminished or that we’re spiritually weak?
That’s a big question. And many people make that assumption. They don’t feel God and they think that means God is not with them. And we all feel that way sometimes, don’t we? Either that or we feel like God is sort of “watching over us,” like a parent at the playground, who’s sitting off to one side, talking to other parents, but “keeping an eye out” for us. It’s like that popular song a few years ago. “God is watching us… from a distance.” But that’s not true. He’s not at a distance. (Unless we put ourselves at a distance from him!) We need to remember that God has promised to be with us always, not just when we “feel” like he is.
My thought for today is that we need to be wary of our feelings, and we need to be careful what our feelings might be making us think. Because the fact is that there are times we don’t feel very spiritual – all of us! But scripture tells us over and over again that we are to be people who are “confident in our faith.” Paul told the Hebrews, “Let us then with confidence draw near the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) Wouldn’t you like to do that? Wouldn’t you like to “draw near the throne of grace, with confidence?” Paul liked that word “confidence.” (So did the Psalmist!) He also liked the words “courage,” “hope,” and “assurance.” And of course, “Faith.” He also told the Hebrews that “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for…” (Hebrews 11:1) And that hope and assurance has always been important for the Church. For centuries we have symbolized those things using images like the anchor, and the rock.
The problem is that many believers are not very “confident” in their faith. They’re “believers” more in their inability to be faithful to God. They focus on their shortcomings, their weaknesses, and their lack of knowledge. Is that you? If someone asks you to be a church officer, if someone asks you to be on a committee, if someone asks you to pray for someone, or to be a better steward, how do you react? Do you say, “I don’t feel worthy.” “I don’t feel faithful.” “I don’t feel as gifted, or as spiritual, as someone else”? Well, the truth is you might not be those things. But the problem with our confidence is not about whether we are those things or not. It’s about the feelings about those things. We don’t feel like we are worthy, or faithful, or gifted, or knowledgeable! This is another way our world betrays us when it tells us we should live by what we feel.
The contemporary group Casting Crowns has a lyric I love. In their song “East to West” they sing this. “I can’t live by what I feel, but by the truth your Word reveals.” “I’m not holding on to you, but your holding on to me!” (Darn, I wish I could write that stuff!) That’s the key to our confidence in faith! The key is not living by feelings. We have feelings, of course. And feelings can be wonderful! Don’t get me wrong here! But they can also betray us! We need to choose to live by the truth. And we need to choose to have that confidence in faith Paul was talking about.
When I was a Karate student, our teacher would often say to us, “Show your confidence!” But what did that mean? Did it mean we had confidence? We were pretty shaky in our techniques? Some we were just learning. Some we weren’t very good at! But if we focused on that – our shortcomings – imagine how that would play out? If, on the other hand, we showed confidence, rather than the timidness we were feeling, that would make all the difference. And that makes a lot of sense!
There is a story of a woman who was approached by a mugger. She was not a Karate student, but her son was. And she remembered a Korean word spoken in one of his classes. So in that moment of danger, she decided to act, despite her fear. She took a strong stance, and shouted that word! And the mugger turned and fled! Only later did she discover that the word she shouted was “I surrender!” But that didn’t matter, did it?
After 911, a lot of people said a lot of things. But one of the best things I heard came from David Letterman, of all people. He said, “At times like these you need to be courageous. And if you’re not courageous, then just act that way, because no one will know the difference.”
Think about that! Think about the courageous people in our world. Are they people who have no fears? Probably not! In many cases, they have the same fears as everyone else. But they are thought of as being courageous because they have chosen to act in spite of their fear. They acted courageous. And perhaps Letterman was right. We couldn’t tell the difference! And we may even have erroneously believed they didn’t have any fear in the first place! But that’s not necessarily the case! Remember in all of this that fear is a feeling. Confidence is a choice! Fear is an emotion. Courage is an act! (Maybe we should have that one on our refrigerators!)
Now, the reason I tell you all this is that one of the biggest enemies to our faith is our feelings. We don’t feel faithful, we don’t feel spiritual, we don’t feel close to God, and we think that’s the truth of the situation. Our feelings should follow our faith, not the other way around! Our feelings should be at the back of the train, not up front driving it forward! Having confidence in Faith is about the choice to make “feelings follow facts.” That’s a great way of remembering it! But don’t let it get reversed! Don’t let “facts follow feelings!” When we step out in faith, when we do what Jesus would do, we act on our faith, and the feelings then follow. If we start from the standpoint of “how we feel,” we will do none of those things.
I hope you see this! Over and over in the scriptures – and I had a long list of them – we’re told to have this confidence and assurance. God wants us to be people who are confident in our faith! And it’s then that we receive the mercy and grace we need. It is then then we have the boldness Paul told the Ephesians about. And because of that, “we do not lose heart.” (Ephesians 3:12-13)
Now when I say all this, I don’t mean “wishful thinking.” I don’t mean convincing ourselves of something we aren’t really sure of. I don’t mean that we are just to tell ourselves these things and psych ourselves up to have confidence. Hand in hand with this hope and assurance is the relationship we share with God. I think you’ll agree that we cannot have nothing to do with God, and then act confidently about our faith. We need to make a consistent effort to grow closer to him, to approach the throne of Grace, not just to have confidence. I hope you see that.
And I also hope you see that we have a lot in which to be confident! The “facts” in our version of “feelings follow facts,” are that we have so great a high priest, that we have such a loving and gracious God, and that he has promised us that we are part of his kingdom. Those are the facts on which we base our faith. Then when we approach his throne, and we feel his presence, it is all that more amazing! If we start from the other direction, if we rely only on how we’re feeling at any given time, our faith will seem sporadic, it will be ineffective, and it will not be of much use to us.
So today I ask you to consider what your “train” looks like. Does your locomotive have a big sign on it that says “feelings?” Or does it say “facts?” or even “Promises.” Do feel good about your faith only when you feel “spiritual?” Or do you act spiritually, growing in the confidence of your faith, rejoicing in your relationship with God, and trusting in him? I hope you do. And I hope the feeling of God’s presence and peace in your hearts will follow your actions!
I’m confident of it!
Eternal God, you have loved us with an everlasting love, and you have lavished your grace upon us. Help us to approach you having confidence and assurance in our faith. Help us to live more and more in the joy of your kingdom. Teach us to trust in you with our lives. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.