Recently, I was thumbing through a wonderful and thought-provoking book written by a Gary Haugen who works on behalf of oppressed people who are enslaved in countries around the world. His initiation into this ministry began when he learned of the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s. Back then, he recalled seeing news broadcasts reporting the thousands of people being brutally slaughtered. He said that he had no doubt that the depictions in the news were accurate, but he admitted that it just didn’t seem real to him. That was, until he personally visited the towns and villages of that country. Once he talked to the survivors and saw the horror firsthand, the truth of those reports became vividly real to him.
Since reading his story, I’ve observed that what he discovered isn’t unlike the experience of many believers. There are foundational truths of scripture that we hear reported to us every time we go to church, listen to Christian music, attend a Bible study or read Christian books. We don’t doubt their veracity, but most of times our actions indicate they aren’t genuinely real to us. For example,
-We may believe scripture when it says that God is good, but when bad things happen to us, we question His integrity.
-We may know it’s true that God promises to provide our needs, but when we lack, doubt overwhelms us.
-We may affirm God’s promises to guide us faithfully, but when we encounter difficulty, we trust ourselves more than we trust Him.
In those moments of hesitation and doubt, we can still know the truth, and at the same time our behavior demonstrates that it isn’t real enough to alter the way we think and act.
So how do firm up our faith? The same way the author of my book discovered it. Mr. Haugen had to interact with the truth directly before it could fully make an impact on him. In fact, the rest of his book goes on to reveal how his overseas encounter altered the trajectory of his life forever.
For believers, God’s truth will only become fully impacting when we experience it personally as well. That means that it isn’t enough to just read about God’s character and learn His promises from a popular book or teacher. We have to pay attention to the ways of God revealed in scripture and then connect them with our life events in order to know who He is. So realize that mourning can be a prerequisite to experiencing God as your comforter, lack can be a prerequisite to experiencing Him as provider, and desperation can be a prerequisite to knowing His saving power.
While no one purposefully invites difficulties, they are often the only way to confidently confirm the reality of your faith.