Restrictions are easing! Woohooo! At one level, this is a crucial development for us all. If there is one thing I know, it is that we are needing a break from these significant restrictions we've been under, and need to be around people. I saw my mum for the first time in person in 4 months yesterday. I've never ever gone so long without seeing my own mother before in my life!!!
At another level, restrictions easing introduces new and fresh complexities that we could get caught up in being very anxious about. What will happen to COVID case numbers in the coming weeks? How do we manage return to normal in all it's various iterations?
We have been focussed on God's exhortation to us to not "shrink back" as His people no matter what the circumstances. The people of God keep moving forward, because God keeps moving forward towards His glorious promises being fully realised in both time and eternity. "By faith" we're calling this blog series, and the way we are moving out of lockdown as a church.
Keep it simple
This week we build our sense of biblical faith with this simple (perhaps painfully so) exhortation - "believe what you hear" truthfully proclaimed. In other words, moving forward in the will of God, fully committed to God, grounded in His promises, we access the reality of God by believing what we hear truthfully proclaimed.
Distractions come thick and fast
I don't know about you, but I have this frustrating ability to make simple things distractingly complex. Especially when it comes to my faith. I tend to like solving problems with innovative solutions; I bring all sorts of devotional solutions, systems, and plans into play for myself, only to find that I'm distracted from the main thing of encountering and knowing God Himself. And as is my want regarding my walk with God, so it can be in lots of other parts of my life.
In short, I can tend to create distractions to genuine faith in the living God, thick and fast.
It seems this is a perennial issue for us humans. Paul was addressing just this tendency in the fledgling Galatian church. To be sure, the distractions were coming from parties interested in dividing and conquering the young church, rather than building it up. But it is interesting to see how quickly, in Pauls own words, the Galatian believers were becoming enamoured and distracted with new, fandangled teaching and ideas which Paul knew would end up destroying their faith and their church.
Let's hear Paul say it straight
"You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? 4 Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? 5 So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? 6 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” [Galatians 3:1–6]
What is Paul saying? The background was that some fresh teaching regarding extra "works of the law" was being introduced to the Galatian church community and they were getting rather interested in diverting their simple faith in this new direction. Paul called them back to simplicity:
"...Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?"
"...So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?"
Keep it simple, Galatians. God turned up in your midst as you believed what you heard truthfully proclaimed. You received the Holy Spirit, and God worked powerful miracles in your midst as you believed what you heard truthfully proclaimed.
In short, as the Galatians believed Paul was declaring the truth about God in Jesus Christ, they experienced God Himself turn up in their midst.
Faith accesses God Himself
It is this simple faith act - believing what you hear truthfully proclaimed - that God has graciously and magnificently loaded up with the power to make contact with Himself. It will happen no other way for any of us.
How, you might be asking, does this help us right now, in coming out of lockdown? Profoundly, I would reply. Profoundly, because you and I don't need anything more right now than to make contact with God Himself. We don't need anything more keenly right now than the active presence, and power, of God at work in us, and through us.
And faith - believing what you have heard truthfully proclaimed - is the way God has given us to experience just this.
I think part of the reason I tend to overcomplicate things - with God and in other areas as well for that matter - is because I am, even subconsciously, avoiding the real heart of the matter I seek to encounter. If I shroud what I aiming to do in so much complication, I will show I've tried but in the end won't have to deal with the real consequences of actually succeeding. I mean, what happens when we actually make contact with the living God!!!
And that's just the thing - God Himself only knows. For God Himself will respond to us as He chooses. And that is a profoundly vulnerable space for us to inhabit. But so it is in this Universe of His making. And what a wonderful, exciting, challenging, but needed encounter for us all to hold out faith for.
A quote I'm reminded of sums up the simplicity of faith for us well:
"The object of faith is God, not ideas about God. It is essential to know things about God, but it is more essential to know God. Saint Thomas Aquinas, that most rational (not the same as rationalistic) of theologians, insists that 'the primary object of the act of faith is not a proposition but a reality,' God himself." [Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue, p.73]
Know that you sit 2000 years on from real human historical records of God encountering everyday people in an ancient city of Galatia. And the same way is available to you that was available to them, to make contact with the living God. It is the way of faith - believing what you have heard truthfully proclaimed.
In the faithful teaching and preaching of God's word in church, life groups, godly Christian teachers the world around - you have the opportunity to believe what you hear, and by so doing make contact with no other than God Himself.
This week, don't be afraid ask yourself the question - am I erecting a whole lot of unnecessary clutter between myself and my living God? Do I need to ask myself the question, "how can I simplify my ways with you, Lord?" Know that if you do, the honest self-awareness you choose to facilitate will, I have no doubt, lead to a fresh openness to the promised encounter we lay hold of - encounter with none less than the living God of All Creation.
Keeping it simple, by faith, this week ahead!
Written by Ps Rob.