from Mike Cope by Mike
They sit in every congregation. They listen to all the confident language. They squirm. And they hide.
They (we) are those who love God, who believe (most of the time) in the story of Jesus, but who struggle with doubt. And they listen to those who narrate God’s divine moments almost as if it’s a foreign language. In some ways, that confident play-by-play makes them feel second class. “What’s wrong with me?”
I’m reading Jason Boyett’s O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling, and I’m welcoming it as a gift for all those doubters.
After describing his embarrassment as a twelve year old at how little he could lift in gym (just the barbell with no weights!), he writes:
“Now a couple of decades later, I wonder if that weakness transferred from the outside to the inside. Some days, when it comes to faith, I can’t bench press much more than the bar. I’m spiritually scrawny. I don’t measure up to the power-lifters in the weight room.
“When you live and work within the American Christian subculture — especially the less liturgical, more conservative, evangelical, megachurch sub-subculture — you hear a lot of people talking casually about the intimacy of their relationship with God. The way they tell it, they get frequent, distinct impressions from the Holy Spirit. They get personal promptings from Jesus. They get very specific answers to prayer and detailed directions about even the most trivial aspects of their lives.
“I’ve heard someone tell a friend, ‘I woke up in the middle of the night and thought of you, and it was definitely the Holy Spirit wanting me to pray for you right then and there.’ I’ve overheard a middle-aged woman say, ‘It was totally a God thing that my flight got cancelled, because I got to share my faith with the lady next to me. Talk about a divine appointment!’
“I’ve heard musicians credit God with having written their song lyrics. I’ve heard businessmen give God credit for finally coming through with the promotions for which they’d been praying. I know a few people who don’t hesitate to reveal that God told them to quit their jobs and go into full-time ministry.
“One Sunday I overheard someone give this breathless recap of a worship service: ‘The Lord totally showed up in church this morning. When we got to that key change in “Breathe,” you just knew God was moving.’
“You’ve heard this kind of talk too, maybe coming out of your own mouth. Please understand me: I’m not telling you — or them — to stop. I’m pretty sure most of those kinds of statements express a sincere and real faith in a personal God who is intimately involved in our lives. That people talk this way is not what bothers me.
“The problem is that I can’t describe my own faith that way. It doesn’t feel right. It makes me uncomfortable. When I’ma round people who do talk that way, it’s seventh grade all over again.”
At this point, I pause to remember Randy Harris saying, “I’m not upset at them. I’m just upset that I can’t get in on any of that.” Boyett is trying to be generous, but it’s clear that this whole “I’m plotting God’s course” language feels unattainable and foreign.
“But the God-whispering-in-my-ear thing doesn’t seem to happen for me. If I hear my conscience, I’m pretty sure that’s because I’m familiar enough with the teachings of Jesus that I feel guilty when I’ve failed in some way. If I wake up in the night, I’m more likely to believe it’s because my dog made a noise than to assume God wants me to pray for someone. (And why does God need me to pray for something so badly that he has to wake me up, anyway? Can’t he just wait until morning? Or, you know, answer the prayer without me? Am I a soulless twit to even ask?)
“If my flight gets canceled, perhaps it’s just the result of a backlog of delayed flights thanks to a major storm somewhere. I’m seriously hesitant to assume a master evangelistic plan behind flight delays, but many well-meaning Christians really do place so much value on a single soul that they have no problem believing that God whipped up a thunderstorm over the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, piled stress on airline employees, and inconvenienced hundreds of travelers for the purpose of engineering a conversation of eternal significance. My honest assessment of most ‘divine appointment’ language is that it is self-centered. Especially if your divinely appointed evangelism is at the expense of a bunch of other people who just want to get home in time to tuck in their kids. (Right: I’m a soulless twit.)”
But there’s more in this rant:
“If I feel an optimistic swell of ‘the Spirit’ during a specific song at church, maybe it’s just that music has a powerful pull on my emotion — a well-timed minor 7th tends to have that effect. Or maybe it’s the sound of hundreds of voices singing in unison that gives me chills. Is there any chance that I’ve been conditioned, in the subtle Pavlovian anticipation of what happens at church, to view this feeling as the presence of God — as God ’showing up’? (Anyway, isn’t God omnipresent? Can an omnipresent deity ever really ’show up’ anywhere?)”
If this quote is making you angry, then the book probably isn’t for you.
But if you’re smiling, nodding, and feeling like someone has recorded your most secret thoughts . . . if you have grown weary with play-by-play narrations of God’s healings and promptings and with language of “God put it on my heart” and “God showed up” . . . well, you might want to check it out.