(Republished with permission from Press Service International, for Christian Today Australia )
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How do we define our faith and check in on our spiritual health? Do we measure faith by feelings, by interpersonal feedback, life blessings, checklists of spiritual deeds or disciplines? Perhaps faith is more of a journey; a process of believing and becoming.
A journey and a tug
The last year or so has been a questioning time; big life changes, a change of pace, many new people and experiences. I have loved the challenge and adventure of it all but have also felt a great tugging at my heart.
I found myself reflecting on times past. I remembered treasured moments spent with God on walks by the river and at home alone on the piano, things much harder for me to do now. I remembered all the moments God had rescued me, the many times He protected me and encouraged me. I realised that in my current season of life as a parent, quiet time with God looked very different, and was harder to protect in some ways. I discovered that my heart was trying to find some sort of feedback for faith, and that this feedback would come in a much quieter way that I had anticipated.
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I have been listening to series of podcasts by Tim Keller based upon Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. While he unpacks various principles in his messages, Keller emphasises that the underlying foundation must always be relationship with God. Not just knowing about him, or living a “Christian life”, but really knowing God. The way we live, pray and respond to God are all determined by this one thing that is often well hidden, that is the intent and position of our heart before God.
A few questions from Keller’s podcasts and from a recent sermon challenged me to reconsider the foundation of my faith and come back to that simple, yet crucial focus on intimacy with God.
Fan or Follower?
Spiritual gifts or spiritual growth?
Identity from my own abilities, or identity from God?
Outward appearances do not always reflect faith placed in God though it can be so easy to use them as a measure of this. Instead, it is the hidden inspiration of our heart that gives us feedback on where we are truly placing our faith.
What do we spend the most time thinking about?
What are we happy or unhappy to spend money on?
Are we finding it easier or more difficult to forgive people around us?
Questions like this can help us to see where our heart’s focus really is, and the heart is what matters.
“… People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel chapter 16, verse 7)
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Refocusing the heart
So how do we refocus our heart and motivations? Spending time in God word, listening and speaking with Him in prayer are all necessary aspects, but sometimes we find it hard. Here are some practical ways which help me refocus on what matters.
Time – We need time. Busy schedules seem commonplace and as we get older, more demands may be placed on our time; kids with school activities, illness in the family, and the slowing down of our own bodies with age. We need to do all these tasks related to work, life admin, and care for self and others, but we also need to take care of our spiritual health. The Bible reminds us to take a Sabbath to remember God and rest in Him. That is something I know I need to plan into my days, weeks and months. It might be during toddler nap-time, the drive to work, or any other time where I can spend a moment or more uninterrupted with God. We need to dedicate time to be still before God.
Listen and adore – Change takes time. It may occur all at once, but often it comes little by little. Our prayers can easily be consumed by requests; people to pray for, injustices to see righted, situations which need to be changed by God’s grace. God knows all this and while we do need to bring our requests before Him, perhaps we can start by adoring Him. As we read His word and speak back to Him the characteristics and attributes of who He is, we will find ourselves in greater awe of Him, and it becomes easier to declare God over all things.
Speak – Honesty and openness are key aspects of any close relationship. We can bring our doubts, feelings and concerns to God. We can bring our celebrations and our griefs to Him and pour out our hearts to Him. The Psalms are a beautiful example of what it looks like to worship God through the ups and downs of life. They are filled with powerful emotions, but also resonate a strongly-founded faith in God who comforts, protects, brings justice and gives life.
I’m still figuring it out, but God is right beside me. The road seems windy and confusing at times, but His word is there to light my path, one step at a time. There are many voices to hear, but only One that I need to listen to. So I ground my faith securely in Christ, and set my heart before Him.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews chapter 11, verse 1)