Preach (or practice) Faith Until You Have It

June 27, 2010


Yesterday, I wrote about some issues I’m dealing with, not the least of which is some anger at and doubt about God.  It wasn’t a good night.  I was tired and feeling the weight of everything that’s going on in my life and it came out in my writing.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not apologizing for anything.  I’m still pissed at God and the doubt that’s always simmering on the back burner has come to a hard boil.  I stand by everything I said last night, even if it was a little raw.  I’m just explaining why it was so raw.  Between some soul-searching and two conversations, things are quite as bad as they seemed last night.  The first was a reminder of a conversation John Wesley had with a man named Peter Boehler.  The second, conversations with my brother and a close friend.

The Wesley story comes first.  In 1738, John Wesley visited his brother, Charles, and found him recovering from a bout of pleurisy.  He found Charles attended by a mutual friend, the Moravian missionary Peter Boehler.  John, recently returned from a disastrous mission to the province of Georgia (U.S.), was suffering a crisis of faith.  Wesley had gone to Georgia hoping to take the Word of God to the Native Americans.  Instead, after backing out of an engagement to Sophia Hopkey, he skipped out of the country just ahead of a second attempt to hold him for breach of promise.  To say that Wesley’s faith was at low ebb is putting it mildly.  As far as he was concerned, he didn’t possess the requisite faith for salvation.  He was even considering giving up preaching.  In his journal, he said “Leave of preaching. How can you preach to others, who have not faith yourself?” I asked Bohler, whether he thought I should leave it or not. He answered, “By no mean.” I asked, “But what can I preach?” He said, “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”  This morning, I was going through my morning internet routine (yes, I know that’s kind of geeky), something reminded me of this story.  Unable to recall the exact details, I started looking for it.  A Google search turned it up on one of the blogs I read regularly, The Wesley Report by Shane Raynor.  Now, Shane and I don’t agree on much, what with his more conservative approach to faith.  But, he does make me think and that’s always a good thing.  In an entry from last year, he posted an excerpt from Wesley journal.  Which I just stole for my own purposes.  Over the course of the morning, I decided if that approach was good enough for Wesley, I’d give it a go.  Except, I don’t preach.  So, I’m going to keep following the practices that I’ve been using and wait.  For what, I’m not exactly sure.  Gotta leave the Boss (no, not Springsteen) room to work.

The first conversation of the two mentioned was with my brother, who I’ve numerous theological conversations with.  In it, he talked about a book by Madeline L’Engle he’d read where she called free will “a terrible gift”.  I don’t remember everything he said about it, but some things stuck.  When God gave us free will, he made us completely and totally free.  Free to do it right and free to do it wrong.  That’s a very liberating idea, while at the same time being a little scary.  Liberating, because we’re not bound by anything; scary, because when we screw it up, there’s no one else to blame.  Lately, I’ve been experiencing the good side of free will.  Now, I’m on the receiving end of the not-so-good part.  The part where other’s actions affect me and I really can’t do a damn thing but accept it.  Then, we started talking about what I can take away from this.  What message God is trying to get across to me in this FUBARed mess.  Patience was one.  Why is it the way you always get to learn and practice patience is by enduring some s–tty situation?  I also came to the realization that maybe some of this is being used to test my commitment to answering the call I mentioned yesterday.  Both ideas suck just enough to be plausible.  The second conversation was with my friend and fellow youth leader, Sean.  Nothing new came up in this one, it was more about putting disjointed thoughts together and getting a coherent picture of things.  He’s good for that, letting me talk it out and pointing me in the right direction when I need it and gentle (or not-so-gentle, if need be) when called for.  He and my brother are just two of the people I’ve been able to call on to work out ideas.  I’m a lucky guy that way.

The final thing I figured out was that, while this situation sucks the big one, I’m really not that bad off.  I have dry place to sleep, food to eat, a job to keep those things coming and plenty of family and friends to back me up when I need it.  So, I’ll practice faith until I feel it again.  However long it takes.

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