Remember the first time you jumped off the high dive? Almost from the moment you first learned to swim, you’d been jumping from the side of the pool into the water. Usually only you, your parent and maybe a friend knew that you’d even jumped. That jump was known, safe and easy to do on your own.
The high dive is something else altogether. You have to climb a ladder. You walk out to the edge of the board, where everybody can see you—and bunches of people are waiting on you—one every step of the ladder. It’s high and your toes sort of naturally curl over the edge of the board, holding on for dear life. There comes a moment where you have to let go of all that is known, safe and easy—and jump off into the exhilaration of something new.
Growing faith can be like moving from the side of the pool to the high dive. From the time we first come to trust Jesus, we develop our faith. Faith is a trusting relationship with Jesus that is a combination of what we know of Him in His Word, how we process life through that perspective and what we have experienced of His life this far.
The transition from one faith to the next always has a transition point. It might be a unique life challenge, a crisis, a question with no answer, a Scriptural truth that grabs hold of your soul and won’t let go or a thousand other things. Something presses us to climb the ladder, let go and take the jump into a new way of doing faith.
. Here’s the thing: that’s not as easy or as natural as it sounds. It’s very, very easy for faith get stuck. For us to get comfortable with what we already know, what we already think and want we have already experienced of Jesus. It means we begin settling for side-of-the-pool faith—safe, predictable, auto-pilot and easy to do on our own. And I am beginning to think that sort of faith doesn’t just get dull—it may stop being faith altogether.
My thinking has been prompted by two things I read this week that hit that same thought from different perspectives. Internet Monk asserts You Need to Get Rid of Some of Your Theology, He affirms that the Christian faith once revealed is “what my life is founded on…[It] is like a map. It tells me where I am, who I am, where I’ve been, where I’m going and what it’s all about.” For thirty years, he operated by one map, but then a personal crisis challenged a good chunk of that map. It turned out that life and God didn’t quite work the way He always thought they would…or should.
What was the response of his soul? Read this slowly…
I was wrong. My theology was wrong. My collection of Bible verses was wrong.
I hadn’t quite arrived. I didn’t have all the answers.
Part of my misery in the situation I was facing was my collection of theology.
There’s a moment when you realize things aren’t as certain as you thought they were. It’s a scary moment, and you want to blame someone. This collection of verses, statements and opinions was supposed to keep this from happening. The right theology was supposed to keep the sky from falling; it was supposed to keep the trap doors from opening up under my feet.
It makes more than a few people angry to hear that following Jesus is less like math and more like white water rafting. It’s less like writing down the right answers to a test and more like trusting yourself into the hands of a doctor. It’s less like standing on concrete and more like bungee jumping.
It’s less like what you think it is and lot more like something you never thought about.
Does that make you nervous? If you’re honest, it should. I know…I know….when faith doesn’t “work”, it isn’t necessarily wrong. But it is also possible that the faith by which we have been operating has been more rooted in a Jesus of our own creation rather than the Jesus who really is. Some of the stuff we believe may actually be keeping us from the adventure He really wants us to experience. Some of us may need to do a little spiritual stripping—taking away the built up layers– so we can keep walking with Jesus in a fresh, vibrant way.
Within a day of reading this, I was surprised to run across a similar thought in one of my new favorite authors. Adrian Plass writes in an achingly, scathingly authentic way about his life of faith—the struggles and surprises, doubts and triumphs. In Jesus—Safe, Tender, Extreme , he uses the story of the stubborn prophet Jonah to explore the unique calling on each of our lives and the creativity that demands from our God:
“I can see in the vivid adventures of Jonah the creativity and ingenuity with which God prefers to operate in the lives of individuals… Let me tell you something that puzzles and depresses me when I chew over it too much. Despite the Bible being stuffed to the gunnels with evidence of God’s detailed, individual planning in the lives of each of his followers, we still hear preachers and teachers droning on about the business of following Jesus as though it were some item of regulation-issue spiritual machinery that has to be mastered properly before it can be used in the prescribed and identical way.
Of course, there are broad principles involved in our dealings with God, and for much of the time we are not allowed to see exactly what He is doing or planning, but there are certain things I know for sure because I have had four children myself. I love them very much…have tried to love them all consistently, but…it would have been madness to apply some unvarying, formulaic parental response to the ways in which their individual differences were expressed. Apart from anything else, life would have been much less rich and interesting for all of us. God must be just a tad wiser than me, don’t you think?
It’s up to us. We can treat our faith as though it is the equivalent of spending the rest of our loves learning to pick out “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” badly on one string of an out-of-tune, cracked guitar, or we can ask God to let us lose ourselves in the completed symphony of his will for us and resolve to follow that music whenever we are allowed to hear it and to wherever it takes us. Which shall we choose?
We’re back to the same idea. Faith is both to be believed and lived. And it is not lived by some static, rigid formula. It is a dynamic, ever-moving, ever-shifting experience –part art and part adventure– that we engage by trusting the infinitely wise and creative plan of the Father who knows us best and loves us most. It is flexible enough to include the best and worst days of our lives. It is a canvas with brush strokes still wet…white water rafting…a symphony we join in progress…bungee jumping…and more.
That idea terrifies some of us for whom a day with Jesus hasn’t had a surprise ending in years. It makes us nervous because we so want to stay in control. It scares us to think that something we have said or shared or taught about the experience of faith in Jesus might turn out to be wrong. We feel the anxiety in the pit of our stomach from what we might have to change– to get rid of something that has been there a long time or think from a different place.
It’s like standing on the edge of the high dive board, with my toes curled over the edge.
But what if…I get more of Jesus than we dreamed? What if faith pulses again? What if religion fades and faith becomes adventure?
I don’t know…but I think maybe it’s time to let go and take a leap.