Christian faith is often brittle. It’s often punctuated with moments of doubt. Persecution. Isolation. Fear.
We can sometimes spend entire nights staring at the ceiling or pacing the floor praying, “God, I cannot do this unless I know you are with me. Where are you? Don’t hide. Please. I need you.”
It’s as if God’s gone AWOL.
Michael Patton confessed he felt God first went AWOL when his sister died.
It was a devastating buzz kill to a man who was a seminary superstar on a spiritual high, always optimistic when everyone else was in the dumps…
Always seeing the good in the evil.
However, this tragedy caused enormous confusion.
And he couldn’t shake it.
Spiritual Loneliness and Our Circumstances
Since that time he’s had his ups and downs. Exhausted from ministry and struggling to provide for his family, you could easily say that when he wrote that post he’d spent an extended period in the downs.
But don’t count him out.
In the midst of his painful post he writes:
Those of you atheists and former Christians who suspect that they are about to have another Christian cross over to the dark side, put up your party hats, blowouts, and (ahem) cake. I am not close. One thing that I have learned, believe, and teach with great conviction is that my circumstances do not have a vote in truth. Nothing that I go through can alter or affect the cardinal issues of my faith. Jesus Christ either died and rose from the grave or he did not. It is upon this that the entirety of my faith rests.
Here’s the deal: Our faith will be assaulted…and then weakened. But true saving faith will always prevail because it’s not dependent upon our circumstances.
It’s dependent on something more concrete.
What Does Spiritual Growth REALLY Look Like?
The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints doesn’t mean our Christian life is one of steady upward growth without failure.
Yes, it’s upward. But it looks more like a saw-tooth than a gentle slope toward the sky.
Any Christian can relate: We can go from an acute sense of holiness and the presence of God to very bad sin and feelings of isolation all the way back to a so-called intimacy–within weeks…or even days.
Being born again doesn’t mean we won’t sin or experience despair. Nor does it mean we won’t sin or despair GRIEVOUSLY. Truly regenerate Christians can commit murder, adultery and even publicly reject Christ.
They even can live in depression. But NEVER persistently. The Bible is clear: A Christian can fall. And fall hard. But not fully or finally.
Spiritual Growth Involves War
Our faith is weak. And we will naturally be bruised as we fight the good fight of faith. The Bible promises us a war.
Thing is, we’ll never be abandoned during that war. Even when it feels like God has gone AWOL.
Martin Luther stood alone at the Diet of Worms against the most powerful men of his time. He spent the prior night praying in agony. He knew he could not do what he was going to do unless God was behind him.
My persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
In the same letter Paul uncovers his own despondency when he declares: “No one came to stand by me. All deserted me…. But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me. …The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.”
We are in good company when we experience despair and pain. Furthermore, we also know that we will be victorious. God will rescue us because Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of our faith.
And what is our faith? Hebrews says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for.” Our hope in Christ is the anchor of our soul.
What Faith Is and Isn’t
This is not faith AGAINST the evidence. But a faith of substance. Nor is it a faith in skimpy evidence…and we’re told to believe anyway.
It is not ephemeral and wishful, but rooted in the historical life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s based upon the manifold evidence that Christ is God’s son.
And that he came to redeem the world.
Faith is a gift from God. He is the author of that faith. He’s also responsible through the Holy Spirit to nourish that faith. And we have God’s promise that he will not abandon that work–but finish it.
And that’s why in the midst of doubt or trials Michael Patton, Martin Luther, the Apostle Paul and even Demian Farnworth can say, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.”