Sleepwalking Through Your Faith

8:52 PMHeather

There's been a question burning in my heart for the last week or so. It's been rolling around in my head and I've been seeking to answer it authentically and genuinely, truly pondering it for all of the ramifications of the answer.

And that question has just skyrocketed with importance and significance and urgency. With the news of the martyred Coptic Christians. 

The question now no longer dares to be answered.  It begs to be.

Am I...are you...truly awake in your faith? Or are you dead in it?

It's a question first raised to me through the transparent honesty of Lynne Hybels as she and her daughter Shauna Niequist spoke at the IF Gathering. Lynne is the wife of Pastor Bill Hybels, founder of Willow Creek Church in Chicago. She spoke of a dark time in her life when she was all but dead. Dead in her faith. And dead in a suffocating depression that was stealing her ability to function and to live.  

She was full of questions and lacked answers. Eventually, she sought counseling, which led her to put to death the "toxic God of her childhood." She recognized that she must kill the idea of a taskmaster God and the unforgiving and demanding God that she had served her whole life up until then.  And then she would see what happened. Where she landed on the question of God.

It sounds like a scary endeavor.  A leap of faith.  To recognize that your concept of God is so off course that you actually must put it to death and start over. Rebuild your understanding of God in light of the truth of who he really is, sacrificing all misconceptions in the process.

Her daughter, Shauna, described that season as watching her mom come to life from a place of being dead.  She spoke of watching her mom doing the brave and difficult thing of wrestling through who God really is and what that truly means. Lynne described the tiny green shoots of hope that began to grow.  Because for the first time, she was able to think and know the truest things about God and faith and God's word. She began to discover her own giftedness and her own callings, aside from her husband. She came to realize her own talents and passions and she says that as she did, she did indeed come to life.

I was challenged by the way she spoke so candidly about the toxicity of her faith when she believed God to be a God of demands and laws and performance. And the way it literally was killing her. Stealing her very ability to function. But with the bold support of her family, she was allowed to jump off the cliff of rediscovery and face some huge questions, demolishing the falsehoods that she thought may very well kill any semblance of faith.

The end result was a resurrection and a rebuilding and a life of such abundance and a faith of such certainty and passion that she was unrecognizable to whom she had been.

The question is this.  Am I dead in my faith? Are you? What do you really think about God--how do you really view him?  And how is that shaping how you live out your life?  How you live out your faith, and also how you live out every part of your life and relationships and daily tasks?

As I considered Lynne's story and her descriptions of the struggle and the new birth, I realized something.

I've spent most of my life sleepwalking through my faith.  I wouldn't say I was dead in my faith, although I completely relate to Lynne's forthright description of a toxic God.  It felt like a description of my long held view of God as someone I must perform for and impress and please and jump through hoops for in order to gain the slightest advantage or favor. 

For the last seven or so years, I've been wrestling through the harsh reality of my unbelief that God is really FOR me. Without having to be convinced or coerced. That God truly delights in me, not just when I perform for him. That God's grace is real and deep and his love is boundless. And his gospel is GRACE, not law or ritual.

Oh, yes, as I've mulled over the words of Lynne Hybels, I've come to grips that I've been sleepwalking through this lifelong faith of mine. 

I have been lulled into a numbness and indifference by a view of God as a legalistic, judgmental and toxic God who demanded my performance in order to earn favor.

And the end result of that sleepwalking is a faith that lacked vibrancy and passion and vitality and breadth.  It's a faith that is bound by ritual and rote and laws and must-do's or should have's. It's also somehow a comfortable faith, requiring little challenge and allowing one to live-on-the-surface. As long as you live out the rules and the letter of the law, then the demands of the spirit of the law can be ignored. 

As long as you do the right things then the thought life and the attitudes beneath the actions can go untouched. Look pretty on the outside. Say the right Christianese terms and learn the vocab. Help others by offering to say a prayer for them, even if no such prayer is ever said. Meld this sleepwalking faith with the culture and it's perfectly acceptable to look out for number one and put yourself first.  Wear your plastic smile and keep up your facade and we can all ignore the mess underneath.  

The trick is how to keep the sleepwalking going.  When something confronts it head on that might just demand more of you. 

Something like someone's real traumatic experience that requires you to do more than pray for them with a quick little prayer at meal time. But you see the need to enter their mess and stand with them in the trenches.

When you hit the wall of feeling like this type of half-faith just isn't fulfilling. There must be more to it than this?

When you hear a story behind a statistic and you realize the real suffering going on in the world. Suffering that demands your attention. That makes you realize just how comfortable your brand of First World Christianity really is.

It demands more of you when you hear someone tell of putting their false ideas of faith to death and coming to LIFE to do huge things because the Truth has indeed set them free.

When you catch the tiniest glimpse of God's glory and you realize how off track you really have been as you've been stealing that glory for yourself.

It demands more of you when you see the news. And people are dying for their faith. Actual people in this day and time are being asked to renounce the gospel of Jesus or die.

And they choose death.

And it haunts you. Because it highlights the burning question.

Are you dead in your faith? Or are you sleepwalking in your faith? 

Or might you be coming alive to realize the grace and the love of Jesus that is scandalous? Are you coming alive to realize that the glory of God is so incredible that it puts the highlights of this life to shame? Are you coming alive to realize that the applause of heaven are far more desirable than the applause of man? Are you coming alive to realize that there is indeed a hunger and a thirst for Jesus that can make you feel as though you cannot get enough of him?

And it's not the God perhaps of your youth.  It's not tidy and neat and for Sundays only. It's not one dimensional like the Jesus on the feltboard of your Sunday School room. 

And it has nothing to do with religion and the traditions of man. Instead, it has everything to do with a relationship that changes everything. 

It's not about you and your gain. It's all about seeing the value of every man, all of whom are made in the image of God. And their worth requires you to pay a price to help them. It might even require some losses to you. 

And you'll think it's so worth it. To reach into the life of the hurting. In your neighborhood or even your house. At the grocery store. And globally, in the persecuted Church and the orphans and the starving and the victims of human trafficking and the refugees. 

Oh, yes. Once the alarm sounds and you decide to quit hitting snooze, then your eyes are open. And your heart is broken. And the wrecking is beautiful and necessary. And you welcome it on some strange level. Because it makes you feel alive as never before. To recognize that you are invited to be part of how God is moving all around the world. 

And it's not a dead religion. It's not a crippled faith. It's not sleepwalking or being chained to a toxic God.

It's a loving exchange of being freed and fed by the Word of God. And desiring to give it all back to him--all of who you are and all of what you want and all of what you have. All of it surrendered. 

As the chains break and you see him for who he really is, you want to be changed. You actually welcome the breaking of your heart for what breaks his. You long to be part of kingdom work and world change. And your vision somehow becomes more clear.  You see the temporal as fleeting and the eternal as so worth it. And you begin to see God more and more.  

And you begin to look at stories like those martyed Coptic Christian, and you feel a twinge of jealousy.

Because they lived until their dying breath with such passion for the Jesus who welcomed them into his arms and said, "Well done, good and faithful servant." And you know they felt no regret at all that they offered their very lives for the One who did the same for them.

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