Category Archives: Seasons of doubt

Here’s Your Sign

I asked God for a sign yesterday; a confirmation on a choice I was considering. You see, after 40+ years, I think I finally know what I want to do with my life. All I needed was to find out if my envisioned purpose fit into God’s plan and His intended use of my talents (whatever they may be).

So I asked.

Yeah, that was a mistake.

I was praying on the way home last night and somewhere in the conversation I said, “You know, if I could just see that XX amount of people have read my post today, I’ll know that this is what I should be doing and I’ll know that my ideas for the direction of this website and my writing is where You want me to go.”

Can you guess how many readers I had when I got home?

Nope . . . lower.

Nope, lower than that too.

I went to sleep deflated, depressed and a few other de- adjectives. I woke up questioning (something I’m really, really good at.) and I asked my wife what she thought of the whole situation. Li’l Miss Pragmatic’s answer was, of course, “What does the bible say about ‘signs’?” So I looked . . .

Matthew Chpt. 12:38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” 39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.

Luke Chpt. 1:18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” 19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

Or to put it more bluntly, Jesus tells the Pharisees, ‘I’ve been giving you miraculous signs all along and you still don’t believe.’ Gabriel tells Zechariah, ‘There’s a freakin’ angel standing in front of you and you still don’t believe.’ To me, they both say pretty much the same thing; the same thing that God is perhaps telling me by pointing these passages up: “I’ve been showing you signs, what good is one more going to do?” Then, when I look back over the road I’ve taken to get to this point, yeah, I can see signs that have probably been there all along . . .

First of all, regardless of the number of readers I have, I enjoy writing. I get a certain satisfaction in putting the final period, the final edit, onto a potential post.

Second, it didn’t take long for the direction of my writing to become clear. The original intent of Full Retail Christianity (my original blog), was basically going to be glorified bitching about my job. Who cares! But when I started writing more from my heart, writing from a perspective of questions I had or observations I saw, (starting essentially with D.Faults and Freaks and on since) it got easier. It got more satisfying. And, it started to resonate.

Third, I can see the direction for the future and a conclusion to the purpose of undertaking this in the first place. In other words, I know where I want to go, and I have ideas on how to get there.

And God sits up there and goes, “See??!!”

So, do I think asking for a sign was a mistake? Yeah, I do. All it did was ruin a night’s sleep and cause me undo stress and worry. Worry that, had I fffaaaaaiiiittttthhhhh (over-emphasis on the obvious!), I never would have had to endure in the first place. What good would one more sign do anyway? If I’ve asked God to lead in my life, what right do I have to continually ask, in essence, “Are you still there, God? Can you show me? Are you still leading me? Are you sure? God??”

Maybe, the takeaway of all this is, if you’re looking for a sign, don’t look up, look around. If you’re looking back through faith in the One who you’ve asked to lead in your life, the road’s most likely littered with them. If it’s not, well, that’s probably a sign.

“See??!!”

Our Spiritual Drifts

Ah, the gifts of the Spirit. You know what I’m talking about; wisdom, faith, healing, prophecy, speaking in tongues, interpretation of speaking in tongues, etc. Everyone’s supposed to have them: lying dormant in those yet to cross the line of faith; itching to bubble to the surface if not already on full, glorious display in those who have.

I think I’ve finally figured out mine . . .

. . . Mine is being in awe of those who have spiritual gifts.

It truly floors me when I’m able to connect with a song from Third Day, MercyMe or Casting Crowns (and their brilliant lyricist, Mark Hall) or a book by Francis Chan or C.S. Lewis. To be moved by inspirational speakers like James McDonald (Walk in the Word) or Mark Gungor (Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage). Those guys have got it. To me, they are very obviously being led by the Holy Spirit. And I think . . .

What’s wrong with me?

Why aren’t I able to inspire like that? Why aren’t I able to discern life around me through the lens of spiritual wisdom? Why can’t I speak in tongues? (Well, if you listen to me get into playing fits with the kids you might think otherwise, but I digress.) Maybe I’m not doing it right. Maybe I don’t have the Holy Spirit in me. Maybe God isn’t listening and I am just praying to the empty air around me.

Sound familiar?

Yeah, I thought so. I think we’ve all been there. If we’re totally honest with ourselves, I think we continue to visit that particular exit on the road to spiritual fulfillment more often than we’re comfortable with. Furthermore, I think that’s one of the biggest ongoing problems with those seeking answers, those new to Christian faith, and pretty much anyone else, including many who’d call themselves “mature” Christians.

Doubt.

Not a lack of Spiritual Gifts but an overabundance of Spiritual Drift.

Once you cross the line of faith you expect to be different. Choirs should sing, beams of light should shoot out of the sky and hosts of heavenly angels should alight all around you giving high fives and doing end-zone style victory dances.

Doesn’t happen does it? (But, in their defense, maybe my angels were off that day.)

How about when you pray? Don’t you expect to be heard? Don’t you expect to be answered—your way? You expect your problem to be solved, your worry to abate, your friend or relative to be miraculously healed.

Doesn’t always happen does it? That addiction remains a maddening temptation. That problem is still nagging. That friend or relative still dies.

And what about spiritual gifts? Gifts of the Spirit are a big thing at our church. We’re constantly told that, know it or not, we all have them. That if we ask, we will be shown.  Or if not, we can always take one of the ready-made tests available—both in church and on-line—to be able to figure out what our particular gift is.

I don’t know about you, but every time I take that test I get a different gift. And it’s never one of the really cool ones like speaking in tongues. That would be great!

Doubt creeps in.

I must not be doing it right.

Maybe I’m not really “saved” after all.

Maybe, because I’m still such a screw-up that God really doesn’t want me on the home team; even as a bench-warmer.

Or worse, maybe God doesn’t care.

I will say this; atheists are right on one account. We, who believe in a God, have a lot riding on faith. We put our hope out into the ethereal nothingness in promise that it sticks to something, to Someone. The hope is that He is indeed there, and He is faithful to answer. The faith is in the confidence that, if He says “no” or “wait” there is more, or better, or at least understanding, awaiting us at the end of whatever trial we’re currently going through. The doubt is in being human: An incurable, terminal condition that we’re all born with.

And honestly, I don’t have all the answers either. I’m still waiting for some of my answers just as you are. I’ve been told “no” on a few, just as I’m sure you have. But I rest in my faith. I rely in my hope. And, I get mad in my occasional doubt. Just as I’m sure you have. I don’t think I’m too unusual in my spiritual journey. But I do think that any believer who says they’ve figured it all out, all their prayers have been answered, and their lives have been nothing but blue skies and rainbows is probably lying; to themselves and to others.

Or they’re just weird.

Especially if they’re speaking in tongues.

What am I missing?

I woke up in a horrible mood today.

Last night we went to our local county fair.  It should have been a fun time for all; especially as I’ve got two children who love rides, animals, vegetable displays and all the free stuff the vendors hand out to entice a conversation with weary (and wary) adults.  And don’t get me wrong, the kids had a great time overall.  In between bouts of dad constantly yelling, “Get down”, “Get back”, “Come here” (or as Bill Cosby puts it, “Come here!…  comeherecomeherecomeherecomeherecomehere . . . come HERE!!”)

I felt like I was herding cats all night and I came home exhausted and strung out.

Oh, then I didn’t sleep well ‘cuz I felt like crap all night over the way I acted.  Which, when I finally crawled out of bed this morning, got me thinking about how I too often act at work towards surly customers and needy employees.  (Well, not all of them, but those are the ones that usually elicit a reaction out of me . . . usually negative.)  Which spiralled me further into my funk.  Which got me thinking about how hard it is to be attempting to live out the fruits of the spirit within the parameters of “retail customer service.”

Like a dog chasing its tail, my thoughts spiralled around the, “it shouldn’t be this hard.  Well, if God were truly in your life it wouldn’t be this hard.  Well, I’ve asked him to lead in my life and I just have to have faith he is.  Well, maybe you didn’t do it right.  It shouldn’t be this hard!  Well, maybe I shouldn’t even be in this line of work if it’s this hard.  Well, maybe you’re in this line of work for a reason.  Well, this line of work is driving me, and my family, crazy!  Well, maybe you’re doing it wrong.  IT SHOULDN’T BE THIS HARD!!”

Yet it is.

And all this leads me to wonder, in my morning funk and depressing stupor, what am I missing?

I’m currently reading Francis Chan’s book “Forgotten God” for the second time.  Yet, this time it’s incredibly hard to get through.  I feel as though I’m just going through the motions; slogging listlessly, page by page, reading out of some sense of “duty” rather than for the joy and experience I should be feeling.  And again, I can’t help feeling I’m missing something.  I’ve been at this a long time now.  Time and time again, I’ve come before God with my faults and foibles, sins and shortcomings, laying them at the foot of the cross; earnestly praying for the forgiveness I so desperately need and the guidance and wisdom I so desperately crave.  And I rise from my prayers feeling . . . .

. . . . no different.

As Chan puts it in his introduction to Forgotten God, “It doesn’t make sense that Almighty God would have children characterized by fear and insecurity. He put His Spirit in us so we could be known for our power (Acts 1:8; 2 Tim. 1:7).”

What am I missing?

Or, maybe I’m just having a bad day.  The weather is gorgeous this morning.  The kids are quiet.  The coffee’s good.  Maybe in my quest for the answers to the “big things” in life, I’m missing all the little things that are supposed to give me pause, give me a slight centering or at least cause me to just stop and take a breath.  Could that be a “still, small voice” I hear?

Naw, just my six-year-old wanting “purpa grape joos”.

But still . . .

A Long Walk on a Winding Path

My walk along the spiritual path has been long, winding, often diverted and on occasion, totally washed-out. I sometimes get those feelings of cynicism or self-doubt; that I’m a rather poor example of what one would consider a “person of faith”; especially by others that consider themselves “persons of faith”. Not necessarily one to be placed on the lofty wall of the great spiritually enlightened or held in reverence when speaking of those in the pantheon of righteousness.

“Yes, there was Moses of course, and Abraham, Joseph and that fellow Paul was quite smashing as well, but have you seen THIS gentleman! What flawless grace! What profound wisdom! What boundless patience! And such restraint and self-control!”

Mmmm, no.

But, as Lily Burana put it, as written in a 2010 blog post:

 “After all, the self-satisfied and self-righteous have come for me, too: YOU, a Christian? With those politics? With that past? . . . I knew they’d show up, those stingy, uncharitable moral goalkeepers, with their underlined passages in Leviticus and their pointy-finger God. It just ain’t a Jesus party without this particular turd in the spiritual punchbowl. Maybe it’s the believer’s rite of passage — until you’ve encountered this type and had them declare a fundamental component of your identity an “abomination,” you kind of haven’t lived. The challenge is to have your faith tested this way and not blink.”

Or, as Stacie Orrico sings:

“Don’t look at me, look at Him.”

I’m what you would call . . . human. Look around. On the street, in your neighborhood, on the pew next to you; we’re everywhere. There’s a lot more of us than you’d think. 
As many of you know, I’ve left the wild jungles of retail customer service, having been called on the carpet by Francis Chan in his excellent book, “Crazy Love” then seeming to have every single passage in the Bible that I read in some way relate to my life circumstances at the time. (Funny how that works!)  Recently, I was told by someone in our home group what an inspiration my wife and I were to all of them by stepping out on faith like we have.  After all, when I decided to give my notice at work, I had nothing to go to, no back up plan, nothing but the hope and faith that the steps we were taking were the steps God was asking us to take.  We had no idea where we were going just that we were being asked (told) to go.

I don’t feel like an inspiration!  I think my response was, “I don’t know about that, ‘cuz I have no idea what the hell I’m doing!”

Maybe though, that’s the point.  Maybe God is sitting up there going, “Yeah, but I do!”

I hope so.  After all, that’s what faith is all about.  And if that’s an inspiration, that’s okay with me . . . because it certainly isn’t me that’s drivin’ this bus!

“You ‘n me, God! You ‘n me!”