White Hot Faith
Canon Jim Hobby prayed such a radical prayer on our recent clergy day. Referring to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego facing the furnace to which obedience in Babylon took them, Jim prayed, "Lord, would you give us that white hot faith that, without calculation and without hesitation, we would be bound and thrown into the furnace rather than displease You?"
My friends know that this Bible story is close to my heart. In my experience, there is always a 'furnace' aspect to obedience, a fire to be faced, but with joy waiting on the other side of the scary furnace door. Too often I am tempted to shrink from the door of obedience and so miss the celebration with Jesus on the other side.
We have had some 'vigorous fellowship' (euphemistic for heated conversations!) as our family has gathered this summer... about what makes people willing to follow Jesus "without calculation and without hesitation". I suppose some calculation is appropriate in the sense that Jesus told us to "count the cost" of following Him before we commit to it. (Luke 14:28-30) But we agree with Jim that we are hungry to see... to be... a Church that is passionate and radical, ready to follow wherever Jesus leads, whatever the cost.
So how do we get there? Increasingly the Church in the West looks just like the surrounding culture. Statistically, our lifestyles, conversations, habits, spending patterns, even our divorce rates, mirror those of our unbelieving friends. Why isn't knowing Jesus making us braver... clearer... more radically loving?
One answer seems to be that we haven't really believed what we claim to believe. We haven't deeply understood the shattering, heartbreaking love of God - for each of us. We don't take it personally - that the love expressed on the cross was just that - deep, personal, individual, forgiving love for us. We don't take the power of the empty tomb personally either. What if we were willing to take that personally - to lean on the reality of the power that raised Jesus from the dead as we go about our days? How would our lives change... how would the world change... if we cried out for a deeper vision of his love and power?
When Israel was similarly chameleon-like, reflecting the idolatrous cultures of surrounding nations instead of reflecting their God, Isaiah promised that God was waiting "to show you his love and compassion". (30:18a) "He will be gracious if you ask for help. He will surely respond to the sound of your cries."(30:19b)
What if we each cried out to God for a deeper understanding of his love and compassion?
King David is a good example of someone who got it. He had such a deep confidence in the character of God that he seemed not to hesitate in the slightest to face the giant Goliath. We can ask for that kind of confidence.
But now here's the other side of our family's vigorous fellowship: (In the Jewish context of Jesus' day, and into the present, one doesn't so much seek to resolve seemingly opposing truths as to hold them in tension!) Often we come to an understanding of God's love... to a greater vision of who he is... by simply obeying him.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego met the Lord, gloriously and profoundly, on the other side of the door obedience took them to. (Daniel 3:25)
Gideon had to be willing to drag his meager strength out of hiding and take some risks before he saw the God of Israel act in power for his people. (Judges 6:14)
When Jesus sent out his disciples on a ministry tour, they left in straightforward obedience, but came home elated! (Luke 10:17, 21)
For these saints, their vision of God's love and glory followed their obedience.
In John 4:34, Jesus says, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me..." If the Church in the West is often listless, conflicted and bewildered, could it be that we are starving for lack of the food of obedience? Through neglect of 'taking up our cross' in practical ways, have we starved ourselves of God's intended food?
What if we each committed to asking, and then simply doing, whatever God told us to do?
Where will we find that "white hot faith" Jim spoke of? Will it be in crying out for a deeper understanding of the love and power of Jesus? Or will it be in first obeying whatever he says to us and then discovering his love and power in response? Jesus' words to the Ephesians in Revelation 2 seem to say... both! While he commends the church for their stand for the truth and their patient endurance of suffering, he charges them with losing their first love. The antidote? 'Turn back to me and do the works you did at first.' (Rev. 2:4-5)
I learned a quirky fact this summer in a passing conversation... that when Europe was gripped with the plague in the 14th century, while multitudes were rushing out of the cities where disease was spreading, some Christians were streaming in to care for the sick in the name of Jesus. I want that same 'white hot faith' with which to meet the cost of discipleship, a faith that has deeply understood the love of Jesus and is willing to put myself at his disposal without reserve. They go together! May we 'spur each other on to love and good deeds'! (Heb. 10:24)
(PS May I commend to you the link below? My friend, Jonathan Miles, is an American Christian who years ago moved, responding to God's direction, first to Gaza, and then to Iraq and to other Muslim lands. In each place people began to seek him out to take their sick babies to Israel, where he arranged for Israeli doctors treat them at cost. His ministry is called Shevet Achim, Hebrew for the brothers 'sitting together' in Psalm 133. It is a remarkable demonstration of the Gospel and of true reconciliation. He and those who work with him do so with great love and at great cost to themselves. His reflections on the Sermon on the Mount are right on...)