My Grandpa has been known to say incredibly profound things like “If it doesn’t make your flesh nervous, it doesn’t require much faith.” He is a deeply humble man, an author, and an evangelist with a doctorate of theology who still has a tendency to school me in normal conversation. I have always loved him for it. His favorite phrase when I would ask him a question or request a definition of a big word was “Go look it up!” He knew that if I did, I would remember the answer because I had worked for it. As someone who has grown up knowing Jesus Christ and serving Him consistently from an early age, I spent a lot of time “looking up” answers to questions in my Bible. I thought faith and prayer were two areas where I had pretty solid understanding and discipline. I could not have been more wrong.
Like my Grandpa, God is still schooling me in normal conversation with Him. While I was reading in Matthew 8 this week, I was struck by God’s desire for greater faith from me. As a single, college graduate without debt, I have felt a lot of freedom to accomplish whatever it is that God would give me an opportunity to do, including ministry and missions. If I am being honest with myself, this has not actually required much faith from me. I grew up in a ministry lifestyle. It’s like being in the military in a lot of ways. Your life does not belong to you and you follow orders. It’s a driving passion but it becomes your ‘normal.’ In keeping with this fact, my prayer life has been rather “mild” until recently. Sometimes God enjoys instigating adventures that spice up our relationship with Him.
In terms of relationships with other people, ministry, and work, I have been a communicator of the Gospel (a soldier) first and, then, who I am as a friend, a reporter for the newspaper, a leader, a daughter, and a sister have all seamlessly intersected that role. Even writing for the newspaper has offered unprecedented opportunities to serve the community and pray with people or share my faith every week. It’s a life consistent with everything I value. Straightforward. Real. It is amazing, however, when God knocks on your heart and sets you on a journey that goes far beyond anything you would expect to accomplish on your own. The commencement of a masters program, the many thousands of dollars it requires, and the dedication of my time to the pursuit of personal spiritual development has almost frightened me (just the word “seminary” gives me the heebie jeebies – when I was a child, I remember my pastor calling it “cemetery” because of how it can kill your passion and turn it into an “ology”). I guess you could say I am accustomed to putting ministry first and the idea of putting time and money toward a degree was not a plan I in any way conceived on my own. I thought I was skilled in putting my flesh to death until a couple months ago when I registered for my first classes in a Masters of Divinity. My dedication to prayer has gone from mild to intense in a matter of weeks.
I read the account in Matthew 8 of the centurion who approached Jesus on behalf of his sick servant. Although I have read these passages in Matthew numerous times, the centurion’s story gripped me this week like never before. I was in his shoes (or sandals) this time, looking to Jesus to help me as I disciple and teach precious believers, several of whom are struggling with so much sickness in their spirits. I want it to be said of my faith, like it was said of the centurion, “Jesus was amazed.” (Matthew 8:10) God gave me clear direction in pursuing a deeper understanding of His word through a Masters of Divinity program. I’ve stepped out in obedience but it has shaken me to the core. The confident faith of the centurion has yet to rise up in me.
In an older translation of Psalm 3:6 I read this week, it said, “I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn against me on every side.” The author was speaking of physical assailants but, in the moment I read it, I understood that I should not fear the “tens of thousands drawn against me” financially. This is not a pursuit of the flesh; it is a pursuit of the Spirit. In that, 1 Corinthians 4:16-18 applies when it says, “Therefore, we do not lose heart; though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day, for our light and momentary struggles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix out eyes not on what is seen but what is unseen because what is seen is temporary. What is unseen is eternal.”
When I was a 3-year-old child, I recorded an album with various Sunday school songs and hymns on it. My father had gotten the recording out this week and was playing it for my infant nephew. One of the songs on that album is based off 2 Chronicles 20:15 and repeated the refrain to me in my 3-year-old voice, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid for the battle is not yours but it’s God’s.” That child-like confidence in God is something I have needed to rediscover. When Jesus said in Matthew 18:4 “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” He was talking about innocent trust and dependency. Although it seems counter-intuitive to find child-like trust in the pursuit of a Masters degree, God loves to take his children on surprising field trips to help them understand that He is completely in control. Yes, I’m still being schooled in my faith but I’m okay with that.