The small brightenings of faith

During my teenage years I spent many summers at our church-run summer camp.  The camp was nestled in the woods of Thetis Island, more run-down than rustic.  But it boasted fabulous scenery, lovely people, and grace-filled experiences.

On one occasion, a friend and I decided to wake early to watch the sunrise. In the early hours of the morning, we made our way down to the dock. We sat, looking over the water, waiting for that moment with the sun cracked the mountain ridge. For the next few hours, we sat there. We talked about God, our faith, hopes, and dreams; all the while waiting for the sunrise.

But the sunrise never came. 

Don’t get me wrong, the sun rose. It always does. But as we sat on that dock, the sky slowly turning from black to grey, and the night starts silently replaced by morning mist, we witnessed no sunrise.  Eventually, as the third hour crept into the fourth, we realized that the dock was on the west side of the island; we were facing the wrong direction! Instead of a glorious and majestic sunrise, we witnessed only a gradual brightening.

My faith is like that. I would love to tell you that I have had a plethora of ecstatic experiences, where God broke through my defenses with the force of a sunrise. I would love to detail a list of powerful and illuminating events where all the darkness and uncertainty of life became clear.  But my faith life has been gradual. Over time, my faith has come clearer and more defined, but it has been a slow process of small brightenings.

A popular study in 2004 states that roughly one quarter of all Christian people feel stalled or dissatisfied with their faith. Over 25 percent of regular churchgoing, hand-raising, pew-kneeling folk, question why their spiritual life doesn’t match what they see revealed in scripture. I wonder if part of this is because we become too busy looking for our grand experiences. We long for Damascus Road and Burning Bush experiences; we want our faith lives to be filled with signs and wonders, miracles, and majesties.

After all, this is what see in scripture. We open our bibles and read story after story of God’s miraculous intervention in people’s lives. We hear of the sick being healed, the dead being raised, and storms being stilled.  And then we look at our lives and think “Why can’t such things happen to me?”

We often highlight the grand and miraculous moments in scripture, as we should. They inspire us, they give us hope. Yet faith isn’t lived from the miraculous to the miraculous. Sure, Moses’ had an experience of the Burning Bush, but his faith in God only grew in the 40-year slog of an everyday journey. More often than not, our faith is couched in the ordinary.  Our faith grows amid a life where nothing miraculous seemingly take place. Why, then, do we make such miraculous experiences the definitive mark of faith?

Are you discouraged because your spiritual life isn’t filled with miracles and majesties? Don’t be. I suspect that the true nature of faith is like watching for the sunrise in the wrong direction. While we look for the miracle, the epic moment of divine activity, Christ’s love and grace slowly works around us. God simply, and slowly, brightens our lives and illuminates our days.

Faith is never lived out in one miraculous moment; it occurs in the slow-moving course of our lives. Ultimately, this is an act of audacious grace. If each moment of our lives was steeped in miracle, if every moment brought an experience so wondrous that we were rendered blind, or mute, or knocked of our horses, we would quickly become spiritually overwhelmed. The perpetual onslaught of the miraculous and glorious would be far too much for us. What is more, such a faith would be disconnected from the ordinary places of life. It would speak nothing of what we go through in the day-to-day. God would remain apart from earthly life, never once dwelling within it.

So perhaps the sense of ordinariness, the gradualness, the slow burning brightening of our faith is proof of God’s robust love for you. Perhaps it signals, not the absence of God, but of God’s closeness. Because if everything around you is getting brighter, slowly and gradually, it means that you are enfolded by the Son. And that’s a good thing.

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