Sam Storms on Faith and healing

Here is a brilliant article by Sam Storms on the relationship between faith and healing. The following is a small excerpt to wet your appetite:

we must recognize that the “belief” or “faith” here is not a case of a Christian forcing himself to believe what he does not really believe. It is not a wrenching of one’s brain, a coercing of one’s will, a contorting of one’s expectations to embrace as real and true something that one’s heartfelt conviction says otherwise. Jesus is not telling us that when doubts start to creep in you should put your hands over your ears, close your eyes, and say to those doubts, over and over again: “Lalalalala, I can’t hear you. Lalalalala I can’t hear you!” That’s not faith. That’s “make believe.” That’s spiritual pretending.

First Things: Being Present

This week, as we return to my series of thoughts and reflections which arose during the course of my sabbatical, I would like to talk about the importance of being present.

‘Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “what do you seek?” or “Why are you talking with her?”.’ (John 4:27)

This verse comes at the end of the tremendously poignant encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well in Samaria. The short version of the story is that Jews did whatever they could to avoid these‘half-breeds’ (as they were often referred to by the Jews). Furthermore, religious leaders would often take extensive detours to avoid the possibility of bumping into a Samaritan. Oh, and then there is the cultural no-no of Jesus being alone with a woman, and not just any woman, but one with a very dubious moral past. In the midst of these stormy cultural waters, Jesus brings salvation and restoration to this woman (and her village!), but notice how he does it. Jesus takes the opportunity to be present. We see him sitting down, engaging in conversation, showing concern and slowly unfolding God’s plan for the Samaritan woman. Jesus chose to be present.

It would have been so much easier for Jesus to have sat at a distance, distracted by the frustration of how long his disciples were taking to return from their errand, or playing out in his mind how this would look if someone were to suddenly stumble across them in conversation. Then there were all the other distractions which could so easily have stolen this precious moment. For example, perhaps Jesus needed to review the personal development plan for each of his disciples, to update his strategy for the next phase of his earthly ministry, or to transform some sermon ideas into fully formed notes. Flip this conversation into the 21st century and there are a whole host of additional distractions to overcome: Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Snapchat, plus SMS and emails piling up on your phone or smartwatch, crying out for an instant response.

Learning how to be present with people is one of the greatest gifts we can give to others. Let me say that again. Learning how to actually be present with another person, even if just for a few minutes, is one of the greatest gifts that you can give them. Being present with someon is a proactive activity whereby you give to that person your full attention (that can be so hard at times!), and so the gift of valuing them as a human being, acknowledging their emotions (joy, fear, excitement, worry, anticipation, boredom), choosing to give them eye contact (a sign of personal vulnerability) and allowing their lives to have an impact upon your world.

Genesis 1:8 tells us that before the fall, God chose to be present in the lives of Adam and Eve, by walking with them in the cool of the day. This was God modelling for us being present for his people.

So how are you doing when it comes to being present? Here are some questions that I’ve spent time considering whilst on sabbatical:

  • When people are with me do they feel valued or an inconvenience?
  • What does it mean to be really present for people on a Sunday, midweek, on the phone, in am meeting?
  • What are some of the areas of my life where I struggle being present with/for people?
  • How can I learn to be present more effective for other people?

Next week I’ll be looking at how this idea has spilled over into my family life…

Help! I don’t play a guitar and I can’t sing: How can I worship God? (part 2)

Last week we started to look at how can we cultivate worship in the day-to-day reality of our lives. We looked at Psalm 105, and especially verse 4 which says ‘Seek his face always’. This week I’d like us to explore what it means to seek his face.

His face

First, and probably easiest to communicate, is what this verse doesn’t say. It does not say seek after his hands. That would be communicating worship as some kind of deal or spiritual negotiation, whereby we give God what he wants and in return, from his hands, we get what we want. That’s not what this verse says. It says we seek after the Lord for his face. This is a beautifully constructed way of saying we seek after God because he is enough for us! Psalm 27:4 says this:

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

Here we see the psalmist expressing the same idea, but he loads the front of this verse with the phrase ‘one thing‘. In a world filled with many things, many voice and many demands upon us, the psalmist shows us that personal worship flows from a place of recognising the unique nature of God, and that then turns into an insatiable desire to know and gaze on and long for him.

The full image

Seeking God’s face is also about choosing to do everything possible to look upon the full image of God, and not just some flattened out, one dimensional cartoon cut-out of God. AW Tozer once said,

‘What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.’

This provocative quotation highlights two really important aspects for us to grapple with, when considering what it means to seek the face of the Lord.

First, thinking is a vital aspect of personal worship. The mind is no less spiritual than the emotions. The mind is not separate from the heart (at least in biblical language). The mind plays a vital role in our worship. What and how we think about God has massive implications for us as we seek the face of God.

Second, all too often what comes into our minds is far less than the breadth and depth of the character and nature of God. To truly seek the face of the Lord in worship requires our minds to reach, stretch and strain to know more and more of the character and nature of God. My observation is that “God is love” is the dominant motif this generation reaches for. Now, whilst this is clearly true, God is also full of wisdom and righteousness; he is sovereign, holy, faithful, all-knowing, all-powerful; he is both merciful and wrathful. When we seek the face of the Lord, how comfortable are we reaching for and thinking about these other characteristics? Let me put this another way. Last year at WordPlus we were talking around a similar issue and I asked the question, Should we sing songs about the wrath of God? You could sense the discomfort in the room! Yet, the reality is that there must be ways to express in worship God’s righteous wrath towards sin, in a way that brings glory and honour to his name, because it’s completely consistent with who he is. If we feel uncomfortable with this, perhaps we need to ask ourselves whether we are actually seeking God’s face, or rather, an image of God more to our own liking.

Living in the grace of God

To seek the face of the Lord speaks of vulnerability and intimacy. Someone once said the eyes are gateway to the soul. I’m not sure I totally agree with this, yet looking into someone’s eyes requires a degree of vulnerability. This is one of the reasons why we often look down when walking down the street, rather than into people’s faces. Seeking the face of the Lord in worship is also about allowing him to look back into your own life and to know you. This will never truly happen if you are not living daily in the grace of God. The grace of God speaks of a divine exchange that took place, whereby your sinfulness was exchanged for Christ’s righteousness. Too often we live as if we are still robed in our old rags. Yet we are totally changed – forever different! We stand purified by the grace of God. Our identity is completely transformed. In light of this, vulnerability is not something to be scared of, but something to be enjoyed. Drawing close to God is not something to be avoided but enjoyed and cherished!

A lifestyle of worship

Here are some things to characterise a life seeking God’s face:

  • Think – read, study, cherish
  • Feel – meditate on the greatness and goodness of God
  • Write – prayers, songs, words to and about God
  • Shape – your life, days, seasons around worship
  • Old and new – allow the beauty and richness of some of the old hymns and poems to saturate your heart and, at the same time, allow the freshness of new songs to thrill you.
  • Spontaneity and structure – give space for the spontaneous but at the same time create rhythms and habits that will point you towards him.

So, let me encourage you this week to take time to ‘seek his face always. As you do so, take time to think, feel, ponder, write, rejoice, celebrate, and allow everything in you to flow towards enjoying and delighting in God for who he is!