First, I loved his honesty. To admit to being ready to throw in the towel showed me that other people struggle with the same issues as me. But God is not impressed with me? It hit me very hard. We have become a species so self-centered, so prideful that we actually believe our actions can somehow astonish God, the creator of all things.
I've heard the "faith, not works" spiel a hundred times, but not in this way. I have a tendency to be proud of myself when I figure out something philosophical or when I think I "get" something others don't. Oh how sad the rest of humanity is that they don't understand things the way I do. I recycle, I walk my dogs the Cesar Milan way; I dress pretty modestly, I am open-minded about most things in life. I've come to believe that somehow these things I do well or the things I don't do, all the things I can look down my nose to other people about – they really don't mean a hill of beans to God.
God's response to all my good works: "And…?"
The "and" that I'm missing is faith. Faith is a buzzword to me. I have no idea what it means. I have no idea how to apply it or how to figure it out. And then I heard this sermon, putting Abraham into a new light.
Abraham is one of the pillars of faith in Hebrews 11.
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.
I've also heard this story many times before, but what I never got before was that Abraham believed God in a confusing, unthinkable situation. God had promised to make him the father of many nations and how could that happen if he killed Isaac? He believed in that promise so much that he thought God would bring Isaac back from the dead if he wanted to. That's faith.
Pastor Pettit gave another example: When he was meeting before the board of the Nazarene church before being ordained (at least I think that's how it goes!) an old man asked him if he was up against a wall and threatened with death, would he still say he believed in God? (Something like that anyway.) His response was he didn’t know. That’s honesty. And I think they made him go through school again because of it. The man on that Nazarene board, many people I've encountered in life, they would have said no matter what I would never denounce my faith. And for some reason we put these people on pedestals. If only I could be that strong, we think. The truth is that none of us really knows what we would do in a desperate situation.
He continued to say he didn't know what he would do, but he knew that God would be with him. And there's the key.
What a miserable existence, as Pastor Pettit put it, to live in fear. I confess I live in very fearful places sometimes. Death, tragedy, illness, accidents, crime, natural disasters, what will happen to our planet if we don't focus on renewable resources, how can I get my cholesterol down when I want to eat cookies all the time? (All joking aside, that last fear is very real.) I fear so many things and what good has it done me? I definitely don't eat fewer cookies.
I'm tired of a miserable existence. I'm tired of fear. From Abraham and Pastor Pettit's examples, I know that no matter what unimaginable circumstance I find myself in, one thing is true.
God will be there.
I find so much comfort in that. And maybe instead of focusing so much on what "great" things I do, I could spend a little more time trusting God with the over-arching purpose, direction and flow of my life.
I've needed to see honesty from people at this point in my life. I can't accept generic answers anymore and I so appreciated this sermon. I can't live in a society that pretends it can react perfectly to every ill and has the answers to every question. It's just not possible. But if we open ourselves up, stop focusing on works, admit we are all a bit self-centered, don't have all the answers to life and might curse when we stub our toes, we might just show the world what faith is. And we'd all feel a little less alone.
Now back to life, I've got a cookie staring me down and dogs to walk perfectly on their leashes.