Over the past few months, and especially within the last week, a specific theme has been driving the undercurrent of my thoughts, woven in songs and books and class discussions and dialogues with friends… revealing a greater depth through each new medium, yet pulsing with the same beat. Perhaps Sara Groves (to no surprise) sums it up best…
Dress down your pretty faith,
give me something real…
Something I crave for The Church is authenticity, and under that framework, I must confess that I have seriously struggled with doubts in my faith over the last few months in an unprecedented way. I absolutely still believe, but a piece of me has been unable to accept easy answers – and I think it has been a gift to send me to the heart of God – yet as a leader of The Church in any capacity, there is almost shame associated with revealing a struggle with doubts. And for the first time in my life, a few days have also seen the attempt of depression to woo me into its distorted dance of “truth.”
While inhaling a deep breath of freedom as I type, I must admit that I am a follower of Christ and a leader, and I struggle.
This is not a place to vent about the things that should instead be contained in my prayers and conversations with mentors and words spilled upon the pages of my journal – but I am also understanding the beauty of inviting you to journey with me as I share my story, and yet I am realizing that there will rarely be a pretty ribbon to neatly tie it all together. Yet what is contained in these stumbling words is perhaps my own journey of Matthew 9:20 – pushing through the crowds and stopping at nothing to get to Jesus for healing and life to the full. (And yet He is with us the whole time)
One of my seminary classes held the requirement of a book report, and I chose Worshiping with the Church Fathers by Christopher A. Hall, which offered timely challenges as I digested its contents last week. Although I could reveal endless revelations from those pages, the desert fathers of early monasticism have been particularly intriguing to me – and especially striking was a prayer of the desert fathers, recited in an effort to attain unceasing prayer and fight temptations, distractions, etc. – the honest cry held in Psalm 70:1…
Make haste O God to deliver me.
O Lord, come quick to help me.
As I was at church on Sunday and battling with truly being engaged as opposed to simply being a spectator, I kept praying that psalm over and over – and somehow my thoughts began to be focus and rested on Joel 2:13, which my mentor in high school often quoted,
Rend your hearts and not your garments.
The heart and the garments. The powerful context in Joel is primarily focused on repentance, but I could not stop thinking about the heart and garments of worship and our Christian walk. I like the garments – I like what I can see – I trust what I can see – and yet some of the most harsh rebukes contained in the Bible had to do with worship that looked good in its masquerade, but the heart and garments were dancing to drastically different tunes.
But then the honest and penetrating question hit me – “Do I seek the heart of God or His garments?” Do I pursue God for His blessings and hopes of favor – for inspiration and success that will allow others to see me – for the highs of the gifts of the Spirit and experiences with God… or do I seek God knowing that He alone is enough??
Sometimes I allow myself to be satisfied with the garments rather than the heart.
Just before Easter, I was talking with my good friend and fellow lead-worshiper, Shant from Damascus, Syria – we were sharing our church’s plans for celebrating Easter – and just before I was going to complain of fatigue from a very busy week preparing for our Easter production on top of school and work and (blah, blah, blah), he beamed as he told me about a man in his church who offered to buy a few coloring books and pencils to hand out to the children on Easter – that was their big Easter event – and he was thrilled as he understood that God entrusted those coloring books to him, which could reveal the Truth of Jesus to those children and change their lives forever.
Needless to say, a holy conviction swept over me in an instant.
And yet garments are not inherently bad – however they cannot become the thing itself – both the big Easter production in Nashville and the coloring books in Damascus were entrusted to us by God to be used in such a way that revealed the heart of God – to be used in such a way that the people would not get stuck solely on the garment – Shant understood that, and I almost missed it.
Perhaps this is a part of the reason the desert fathers have been so intriguing to me – their outlook almost completely contradicts the “American dream” that far too easily seeps into our Western faith expression. But as I continued to study, I was struck by the awareness of the desert fathers that their time in the desert was not for themselves but for others, to prepare them to purely serve The Church. Jesus Himself was their model, as even the Son of God would withdraw to quiet places to pray. In our culture of immediate gratification and never-ending noise, this is a difficult and yet vital principle to grasp.
Yet somehow, my struggle with doubts have led me into the desert – dressing down my pretty faith on a pursuit for something real – my counselor has described it as an “opportunity to descend to the cross” – and so I pray Psalm 70:1 for strength as I attempt to quiet the noise in my life and offer my heart first and foremost while seeking His heart above all else – and gently, slowly, quitely, I can feel a newness being birthed – and whatever this deepening is, I assume, will only continue as I find the strength to venture down this narrow way.
And as I wrestle with all of this, my prayer is that we, as The Church, would be brave enough to be known for our hearts above our garments as we seek Him for His heart and not just the garments of what we could gain from a relationship with Christ. Although make no mistake – we gain much!! But sometimes what is most important can be distorted until our hearts are purified first. So may we be brave enough to dress down our faith to its very core – and then when He refines and strengthens our hearts, perhaps we can look at every garment He begins placing back on us with the eyes of my brother Shant – amazed that God would entrust us with something so precious – but never letting the garment get in the way of the heart.
And as I continue to press on in this season of deepening with the Lord, the words penned by Mira Bai are becoming my story…
I went to the root of all things
and found nothing but Him alone.