authentic faith spiritual

The Ugliness of a Fake Faith

12:15 PMHeather

I have the most beautiful yard. It's truly breathtaking. Impeccably manicured. The envy of the neighborhood, really.

Or at least, I can pretend this is so. In my mind's eye, I can pretend that is the truth. As I look out from the window, in the dark of night, and everything is but a shadow of reality. 

Here's the thing. I'm in a pruning season of my walk with Jesus. He is wrecking me with hard truths and baby steps that leave me feeling depressed, to be honest. At some moments, even on the verge of tears. 

Raw. Tender. Fragile. 

Because he is showing me that I've lived this life as a Jesus follower, looking out the window to my life in the dark. Full of illusions of a beautiful, perfect, well performed faith. Well manicured shrubs, cut with works and legalism. Flower beds full of gorgeous blooms of right choices and good things. Trees with lush foliage of self-righteousness.

In the darkness of an inch deep faith, my yard--if you will--is indeed the envy of other believers. The pride of the neighborhood. To be applauded by all.

Except for this season of revelation. This season of epiphany. Where new insight into grace and relationship over rules and works are breaking like the dawn to reveal the ugly truth.

My yard is full of weeds. Big ugly dandelions whose roots are far deeper than I want to admit. Shrubs that are turning brown and dying, rather than lush and full. Trees full of disease and decay. In the light of fresh truth, I can see the reality. I can see the ugly that I'd like to pretend doesn't exist. 

God is tenderly but firmly spreading his light to reveal the ugly. To shine all around it. Not to shame me, but to prune me. Not to defeat me, which I often feel is the case, but rather to demonstrate the victory to be won. If I can only see the ugly for what it is and be willing to do the work.

He is calling me to this work. This work of pruning. This work of exposing the dark corners of my faith that have long deceived me and blinded me to the glorious truth. The misconceptions that have entangled me. Impeded me. Imprisoned me.

And it is hard, hard work. As I've tried to make sense of it all, I've felt as though I'm grasping at straws in a vain effort to build a new faith, a true faith, a most real walk with Jesus. As if the revelations are only the clues to a crossword puzzle and I simply cannot come up with the right answer. The truest thing. The breakthrough.

I taste only the bitter tears of regret and questioning and confusion.

During the IF Gathering, I listened to Angie Smith talk about how Abraham walked up the mountain, in complete and quick obedience, to answer God's call to seemingly sacrifice his only son. BOOM. A break through. A sudden word picture to act as a frame and foundation for this brutiful season of learning and growing and harsh realizations.

I've felt that gentle nudge in my spirit. God saying, "Yes. I'm asking you to climb a mountain. To go. To walk. And to keep walking up the mountain. As my bright, radiant light shines into your yard to reveal the ugly that you've convinced yourself was beauty."

He's asking me to take the next step. And the next. To be willing to surrender. To be willing to give up whatever he's asking of me. 

Really, he's asking me to see the weeds that I've long ignored and to be willing to dig them up, to the very root if necessary. He's asking me to let him prune the dead branches and cut them off completely.

The weed of bitterness. Growing and festering. From long ago wounds that still taunt me. They make me hypersensitive and cause me to over analyze things. They still haunt me and chase me, telling me I'm not good enough. I'm only tolerated by others. I'm not accepted or acceptable. I haven't done enough to earn the love and belonging. I can try to be a flower all the live-long day, but the truth is I'm only a dandelion. 

The weed of criticism and grumbling. The unique ability to see the worst before I embrace the best. As I've been ruled by a life of self-evaluation and striving and trying to check off all the right boxes, I use the same rubric on others. In a casual conversation, I walk away obsessing about one little phrase. What did they mean? Was that disapproval? Are they upset with me? 

Trying to earn the love and approval of others is exhausting.

So is trying to live a life that is social media worthy. An envious life that is picture perfect. Living up to the hype of a culture of nothing but happiness and sunshine and roses. Fueled by teases of discontent from all around us.

The weed of expectation. Every experience must be thrilling and fulfilling and totally satisfying. Every task must be performed well. True faith is living on an emotional high, devoid of all doubt or struggle. Every day must be awesome and go exactly as planned. No room for flat tires or grumpy sales people or unyielding traffic.

The weed of appearances. Looking a certain way. Dressing a certain way. Driving a certain car. Living in a magazine worthy house. Children who are high achievers and never fail or talk back or struggle. Marriages that are lived out just like in the movies. Never a cross word or a fight or disagreement. Mad passionate perfection and devotion until death due us part.

Beyond all the weeds is the landscape of dying shrubs and trees full of disease. The disease to please. The shriveling fruit of self-glory. Being noticed. Being applauded and celebrated. Being well liked and approved of by others. Making our name known. Doing what it takes to get ahead. Looking out for number one. The dying pursuit of comfort and ease and our own agenda, which is somehow just out of reach. A momentary bud that quickly falls off the branch before it has a chance to become fruit.

And so the light shines brighter and brighter as the sun reaches its mid-day height. Because the Son shines his truth into the crevices and every nook and cranny of the yard of my life. Revealing the actual state of my heart, causing me to realize the deception of what I thought was a genuine faith. Bringing me to a broken acceptance of a need for a total overhaul. Calling me to lean in to the pruning and to be willing to do the weeding. 

Climbing higher on the mountain of obedience. Surrendering my need for man's approval. My desire for acceptance and renown. My tendency to steal God's glory. Realizing my complete apathy to the miracle of the gospel story, calloused by years of familiarity. The exposure of my pursuit of comfort and ease instead of sacrifice and service. My habit of chasing my own pursuits and inviting God into them, asking him to bless them. 

It's all been a fleeting shadow at best. A yard that can be considered perfect only in the darkness of pretending. Framed in my own pride and deceit. Built with self-righteousness and shallow faith.

And so, here I am. The Light is dawning and revealing all the hard work that needs to be done, with obedience and determination. Requiring surrender. Requiring demolition before fresh seeds of genuine faith can be planted. Embracing a season where fruit may not be seen for quite some time. Because the weeds have to go first. The trees have to be cut back. The brutal phase of revelation requires me to yield to the tedious tasks at hand. Trusting that it is all for a harvest to come -- much later. Leaning into the labor of it and taking a leap of faith that the One who walked in the garden with Adam and Eve is the One who is designing a better garden of faith for me. And he is beckoning me to walk closely with him. 

But first... the hard work. First, the sweat and tears and blisters and sore muscles. The heavy lifting and aching back. The willingness to walk up the mountain of surrender, being assured that at the top, he desires to meet with me. He intends to provide for me. He will be pleased with my willingness to lean into the grunt work for the sake of an authentic faith, living out the gospel. 

He is calling me deeper still. 

His intention at the end of it all is that I would experience freedom. The freedom of grace. An awe and proper perspective on a perfect Savior whose true glory is worth every ounce of sacrifice and surrender. A right picture of myself as a wretch undeserving. A greater affection for Jesus as I learn to properly order the loves of my life. A journey toward understanding that he is the most real thing in life, and all else is but a shadow of the eternal. A blessed assurance of salvation that instills a confidence that it is all worth it. Every weed pulled and yanked and rooted out. Every branch pruned and cut. Every dead shrub removed. Every back breaking effort to plant new seeds of faith and then patiently waiting for them to bear much fruit, for the glory of God alone.

But first, the humbling light of revelation. The hard walk up the mountain. The obedience required. Fixing my eyes not the wreck of the current state, but on the One who says run your race for me. Fix your eyes not on your own woeful sin nature and sin habits, but on the One who is the author of your faith. The One who perfects your faith. Because writing a strong faith story is not on me. Becoming a "perfect" follower of Jesus is not my job to do. 

I am to be training my eyes to the extravagant love of a Father. Who paid too high a price for me to settle for an ugly yard. Who loves me too much to let me admire my garden through the lens of pretension and deception.  

A Father who sees all the ugly. Who knows all the shortcomings. Who knows my own wretched state no matter how beautiful a facade I build.

And he says-- enough. 

He says lean in to the brutiful work. For I have loved you with an everlasting love. Press on to take hold of that for which I took hold of you. 

Thistles and thorns and weeds are not the fruit he desires. He calls us to more.

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful...Remain in me and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me." 
John 15:1-4

And so I cling to the Vine. I'm climbing the mountain of surrender. I'm asking for my desire for Jesus to outshine all other fruitless efforts. That my life may bear much fruit. 

All for his glory.

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