Two men, one an acquaintance, one a longtime friend, sat with us, our papers in their hands. My words, bare and black on the white paper.
We were interviewing for church membership, but my stomach twisted like it was an interview for a job for which I was horribly unqualified. They were there to ask a few more questions, including a short version of how we came to faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
This was a formality for my husband, a casual conversation about his childhood and what he was learning today.
I hoped he would talk first. I’d wrestled with it for weeks but couldn’t figure out how to answer their question.
I could see the right words projected like a PowerPoint slide in my mind.
I asked Jesus into my heart at age 3, asked to be baptized at age 5, memorized many verses in high school Bible-quizzing, graduated from Christian college, served faithfully in church….
True words. But now, they seemed the stuff of glossy magazine covers. Air-brushed and artificial.
I couldn’t do it. For the first time, I decided to throw out the script. I stumbled awkward through an unrehearsed version of my real story with all its messy ups and downs.
As I stammered along, I wondered if I was sabotaging myself. Who improvises in a membership interview?
I’ve been in Sunday School, sermons, Bible studies, choir, Bible memory programs, camps, and VBS my entire life. In 35 years, I’ve worshiped in community, charismatic, Mennonite, Baptist, and Reformed churches, huge ones with youth groups of over 300 and tiny neighborhood churches with just a handful of the most lovely people you’ve ever met.
So I know what I’m supposed to say when asked the usual “are you a Christian?” questions:
When you die and arrive at the gate of heaven, what will you say when they ask why you should be allowed in?
How do you know that you are part of God’s family, one of his adopted children?
What is the chief end of man?
I know the answers … but are they my answers?
At what point do you step forward from knowing a piece of information to living it because you truly believe it? Once across, can “true” Christians move back and forth across that line, from knowing to living to knowing-but-not-living, over time? If we do, does it mean anything? Should it cause me to doubt my eternal state?
And how do we talk about it in a way that makes much of God, hopes in his grace, and does not gloss over very real struggles and setbacks?
My faith has been made over these last couple years. When we joined our current church, when I went through that unsettling interview, I was in the heat of that reconstruction.
My heart for ministry had been singed numb by the reality of ministry. I was searching for expression for my grief and tearing apart my faith, frantic to find out where it had gone so wrong to leave me so utterly unprepared for hard things: disability, death, depression, broken relationships.
I think growing up immersed in Christianity can blur the line between knowing information and living it. It is very easy to recite the answers taught without thinking, to blend in, to do what everyone expects you to do because they expect it and not because you love God, and assume that because the right answers glide easily and you look the part, that you’re good with God. It’s easy. You play the part when people are watching, then do what you want with the rest of your life.
James 1:22 reads, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
These last verses in the first chapter of James teach us that it is possible to hear and know all the right answers, but not live them. And if we do, that assurance of being good with God is a lie.
James was written to believers, so we also learn that Christians can indeed move back and forth from being knowers only to knowers-and-doers. James teaches us that real, living, genuine faith acts. Real faith lives in light of the facts it knows.
I had been one of those complacent and comfortable, deceived into thinking that if I played by the rules, life would be easy.
Sometimes the right answers aren’t.
I believe God allowed a personal earthquake to shake down my flawed faith house, to open my eyes to this. I needed to wake up and see what He actually does for His children, what He promises, and what He asks in return.
He isn’t a vending machine, dispensing blessings in exchange for coins of “right words” and “great appearances.” He doesn’t protect us from pain. His grace isn’t anesthetic. He doesn’t want my rote memory, my blending in, my fitting into other people’s molds.
He does promise rescue from the law that condemns, and He promises a grace life line. He treasures our tears in midst of pain, and our confession and repentance for our sins. He desires our love, our service, our praise.
He wants my life, and He loves me, not despite of but in middle of all my awkward off-script stumbling.
Moving forward from knowing to living, from airbrushed to real, means throwing out the script.
The She Speaks Conference is about women connecting the hearts of women to the heart of our Father God and that your heart is to serve Him and His daughters.
Would you like to be considered for a scholarship to attend? Visit Ann Voskamp’s blog to learn more.
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