Jan 6, 2013
Giants of faith do not always act like giants – usually they don’t, not showy – and sometimes don’t look like giants. Pete was a guy in a Saturday morning Bible study, a men’s group I belonged to a couple decades ago in suburban Connecticut. There was not one, but two astonishing aspects of faith he quietly manifested, that have stuck with me through the years.
The group was a mixed lot, as such gatherings probably should be. We had a vice president of a major international corporation. We had a “new Christian” who, bless his heart, in spiritual fervor responded to every comment with “Y’see…” believing he had been graced with all answers to all things. Some of us were hungry for the Word; some felt the need to be hungry all over again.
Pete was the quietest of us all. He was not nervous, nor was he shy. He was just quiet. Short guy, kind of a leprechaun beard. But when he did talk, his faith – the logic of his faith – was memorable.
Once we all shared the moment we came to faith – the new faith, or stronger belief, or committed Christianity, that born-again folks experience. With some of us it had been a gradual process, although the season in our lives, or the year, could be specified. With many there was a “road to Damascus” moment: a crisis, the death of a family member, a career predicament, serious illness, that leads people to look toward Heaven for help, answers, ultimately that new relationship with God.
Pete’s conversion came as no other I have ever heard. At an earlier point in his life everything was “going right.” Unexpected promotions in his job, a windfall salary, affirmation of his professional community, family harmony. He said, one day he stopped to wonder about all his good fortune. “It must be God,” he thought, “who the Bible calls the Author of all good things.” And he decided then, in gratitude and with the light of realization, to dedicate himself to a closer walk with Jesus.
This is NOT the usual path of committed Christians. It should be. It is not.
I have another astonishing memory of Pete. During the course of our Bible studies, things “went south” for him. He lost his job, he had family problems, he was in danger of losing his house, and a passel of other distress. Every week would be grimmer reports as we prayed for him. He set up interviews aplenty, and we prayed with him over every one. And even the “sure shots” came back as disappointments. I would say that many of us wept with him… except that Pete never wept.
He was disappointed, yes; but not discouraged. The high-powered commuter’s enclave outside New York City was more of a pressure-cooker than the average area, and his problems seemed magnified. However, after a while, when he received another rejection letter, or was passed over for a job, we would ask him about discouragement.
Time after time he responded: “No, actually, I feel blessed.” Huh? He said that for a few days there, or a week, whatever, while he waited to hear about a job application, he was able “to experience feelings of hope – and that hope was so sweet, just what I needed in those moments.”
Pete savored the hope, he dismissed the disappointment. That seemed to me supernatural. Our natural spirits do not work that way.
Our natural spirits, even after we come to that level of closer fellowship with God, too often persuade us that we have achieved the level where our faith is sufficient in all situations; that we cannot admit to spiritual inadequacies. Faith IS sufficient, but not always OUR faith. If it were not so, the Holy Spirit would not be the agent of “Gifts of Faith” as promised in I Corinthians. Obviously, the Lord knows that sometimes we need those gifts, and extra spiritual supplies – “I believe; help Thou my unbelief.” God knows all. We should, therefore, admit all.
There is a gospel song, a contemporary classic, that paints this very well. It illustrates Pete’s ability to summon a faith few of us do:
You talk of faith when you’re up on the mountain,
But the talk comes so easy when life’s at its best.
It’s down in the valley of trials and temptations,
That’s where faith is really put to the test.
And, forgive me, but the writer in me wants to point out the songwriter Tracy Dartt’s inspired use of prepositions in the chorus of “God On the Mountain”:
For the God on the mountain is still God in the valley!
When things go wrong, He’ll make them right.
And the God of the good times is still God in the bad times,
And the God of the day is still God in the night.
The lesson of the careful wording is this: all of us, even in darkest moments, will acknowledge that God is God of mountaintops and valleys, good times and bad times – I almost want to say, yada yada. God is God. But this song’s words make a distinction that is exceedingly reassuring during crises: He is God ON the mountain, but we need to embrace the truth that he is also God IN the valley. That is, He is with us.
He is God OF the good times. Many churches these days have replaced the creeds and traditional prayers with the mantra: “God is good – all the time! All the time – God is good!” Which is fine, but this song reminds us of the other side of that spiritual coin: He is not only God OF the good times, but IN the bad times.
Faith, among other things, is acting like you know what you know. Have faith. The faith of a mustard seed, even the faith of Pete, might do you just fine.
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Songwriter Tracy Dartt brought us the classic “God On the Mountain.” A little over a year ago, he walked through his own valleys as he needed a kidney transplant, which came in God’s timing and providence. This song – performed here by the great Lynda Randle, whose brother Michael Tait has been a member of both DC Talk and Newsboys – has touched thousands of people .
Click: God On the Mountain