This morning as I was getting ready for church I had the TV on to some preacher talking about Elijah. I don’t know who the preacher was, but he talked about how when Elijah was burned out and depressed and at the end of his rope God first sent an angel to minister to Elijah’s needs. Before God came and spoke to Elijah, he sent someone to give Elijah some food. God cared about Elijah’s hunger, his physical condition, and he took care of that before he started on the spiritual need. And then, when God did speak to Elijah, he spoke in an unexpected way. It wasn’t in the dramatic, the obviously supernatural. Instead, God spoke in a quiet whisper.
At church the pastor spoke about Ephesians 4. He talked about when English speakers learn Spanish, first they learn a bunch of words, and rules of grammar. They think in English, then they try to think of the Spanish words that go with the English words, then they try to remember how to conjugate the verbs. My Spanish is still at that stage. You can’t talk that way. To truly be able to converse in Spanish, you have to think in Spanish.
We steep ourselves in the world’s culture and the American lifestyle, and we think we can learn some facts about the Bible and be Christ followers. We are living our lives in our native tongue, and trying to translate as we go and be Christians. It doesn’t work that way. If we wish to follow Christ, we need to come to the point where our true selves, our hearts, are about Christ and his word. We have to think from his word, not translate as we go. Then he talked about the importance of knowing God’s word, really well, about hungering for the things of God.
This afternoon as I was taking my Sunday afternoon rest I listened to a podcast from the church we attended in California. The pastor there was talking about James 2. He talked about American views of religion, that religion tends to be a million miles wide and three inches deep. It can’t work that way, if we wish to have an authentic faith. Faith without action that comes out of that faith is not faith at all. The faith of a Christ follower is a faith that is put into action. There is such a thing as a false faith, a faith of knowledge but not commitment and trust. Demons know more about God than we will know in this life time, and they believe and shudder. The faith of a Christ follower isn’t that type of belief. It is rather the faith demonstrated by action, of love and obedience. The faith that shows love not by spouting theology, not by telling people who are hurting some spiritual gimmick, or that they should pray, or that we hope God will take care of them. Rather, love is shown by caring for their needs. God cared for Elijah by having the angel bring him bread first.
I don’t want my Christian walk to be like my Spanish, the kind that drapes Christian quotes over a standard American life that is otherwise indistinguishable from nice people who don’t know God. I want to be the kind of Christ follower who’s thoughts are centered in Christ, and out of that flows naturally a love for the people around me that is obvious, and clear, and ministers to them where they are at. When someone needs a glass of water, I want to give them a glass of water, and not an empty blessing. I want to be kind under duress, forgiving even when it still hurts, patient under pressure. I want a love that meets people where they are at and ministers to their real needs, not one that comes from translating a script. I want my faith to come from a heart that has been transformed, and not one that is three inches deep.
Pastor Robert this morning said that comes from steeping ourselves in God’s word. The best way to learn Spanish is immersion. It makes sense. He said that it starts where we live, in our habits, and in our homes, and in our families. We can build up hardened hearts and callousness through our actions. Similarly, we can build our walk through practice. We can’t transform ourselves, but we can immerse ourselves in his word, and we can start to respond to the things in front of us. We can start with the little things where we live. We can form habits of compassion and love.
I want a faith that moves mountains, that faces armies unafraid, that steps out of the boat and walks to Jesus. That starts where I live, in accepting the lessons, trials, and training God brings me today. It comes in recognizing that the American dream is not my dream, that this is not my home, and that the language of this world is not truly my native tongue. True faith is practical. It meets us where we are. It meets the people around us where they are. I want a faith like that.