Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Formulas and Faith

I don't enjoy math. In high school I memorized formulas long enough to pass the test and promptly forgot them. But I've found myself looking for formulas in my walk with God.When I approach a problem or have a question I want God to give me steps A + B + C that will equal a calculated result.

For example: as a teenager I craved an abiding, constant relationship with the Lord. And in my mind, the way to get that was this:
read bible + pray more - sin = ABIDE
But the reality of an abiding relationship with the Father is so much simpler than that. Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that we shouldn't read God's word, pray and resist temptation to sin. But those works alone do not achieve the end I desired. For years I tried to turn my faith into works and it got me nowhere. I thought, "If I only do these things more I will be the kind of Christian I want to be." I do... I will... I want... My motivation was myself. My trust, and ultimate disappointment, was in my own ability.

There is no formula for abiding in Christ. The relationship I have with Him now is not the result of anything I have done. I can't point to a certain time when a switch flipped and I "got it". All I know is that I grew desperate for Him. I stopped trying to figure out with my head how to walk with Him, and I just started seeking - unscripted. I cried out from the depths of me, humbling myself and coming to Him broken. And somewhere in that He met me. I can't point to one thing I said or did. I didn't "pray enough", "read enough", or "stop sinning" before He met me. It was all Him. I can't take any credit.. and now.. my desire to read the word, pray and resist temptation flows out of my relationship with Him.

If you've been a Christian for any length of time you know the agony of trying to "figure out Gods will" through formulas and plans. We want to make the decisions that please Him, so we pray, we fast, we wait, we lay out the fleece for His clear direction. There have been times in my life this process has paralyzed me with fear of stepping out of His will. We want the "audible voice" or the "handwriting on the wall". And sometimes He is gracious. He gives it. Sometimes "the formula" works (think of Gideon). But sometimes I think the Lord lets us have what we want and redeems it, for the glory of His name.

I've been reading in 1 Samuel lately where the nation of Israel asked the prophet Samuel for a king. They were tired of being ruled by judges and through prophets. This grieved the heart of Samuel but the Lord told him to give the people what they wanted. And we all know the end of the story. The people got Saul (who was good when he obeyed God), then they got David - the man after Gods heart. And eventually Solomon - the wisest king the earth has ever known. Gods name was made famous through the reign of these kings, and many after them. As long as a king submitted himself to the Lord, God got the glory due Him.

Gods "ideal plan" was to rule Israel himself through judges and prophets. But He gave the nation their king. And He redeemed them. During that time He made the nation of Israel a banner of His faithfulness. His Son came from the lineage of kings that were established then. I don't think anyone could say that this plan was "bad". If there was a "formula" in this situation for "the perfect will of God" the nation of Israel didn't follow it. But still God was glorified as long as the nation and its king submitted to Him. Does He ask any more of us?

I think I can say the same thing about my life. There have been times that I moved ahead and made decisions that may not have been "Gods perfect will" but they were not "bad" inherently. I cannot say I regret these things because He has so beautifully redeemed me. So I'm going to stop looking for formulas. I need to remember that His ways are not my ways. Despite my disdain for math, "my way" is to find the formula, to lay out the plan, to make lists and stay organized. But His ways are higher. I'm learning to trust Him. Sometimes that will mean He lays out His plan clearly. And sometimes it means I step out blindly, with only His light to illuminate each step of faith as I take it. I know the voice of my Shepherd and I can trust Him to guide me, even when I have no idea where I'm going. I don't have to know every step before I take it. And I've come to find that's okay.

I know I'm not the only one. Do you look for formulas?


  1. amen! probably one of my biggest downfalls is believing that there is a formula and that i must work to earn God's love. i love this reminder that i don't have to strive so hard to find the right combination of things to make Him love me more :)

  2. No, you're not. Having a perfectionist personality I have also struggled with this. I am so thankful the Lord showed me (and continues to) how to stop striving and rest in my knowledge of Him and our relationship...and definitely how to "step out" without knowing what is ahead. It is a beautiful thing.
    love, Christina

  3. Wow, that's scary. You have totally described me. I've also been obsessed with finding "God's will" for situations in my life. The problem is God doesn't give me the master plan (believe me, I've asked).

    But that's OK. I've found that life is easier and better when I let of the need to know everything. It truly is freeing to lay it all down and trust that I don't have to know everything. :)

  4. It's wonderful when we begin to realize that the motivation for holy living is an effect of our intimacy with the Holy One, and not a result of our deeds. He apprehended us first, and we have been given the ministry of reconciliation by His grace. So why would our effort be of any worth, short of responding to the magnificent love He has showered upon us? I had to know a love beyond comprehension to abide in Him. I love that Ephesians 3:19 wordplay :)

  5. Thank you, just thank you. I have been reading the Bible and praying more waiting for this transcendent moment of having a closer relationship with God. I have been putting way too much trust and emphasis on myself and my ability to "get" God. I need to submit to Him humbly and broken like you said. I now feel much less anxiety over this. You are in my prayers. ~Danielle