I’ve been noticing the emergence of a new definition of faith for me. It’s a personal definition, I’m not offering it as any kind of radically new, catch-all, snazzy, jazzy definition. But it might help someone which is why I offer it.
(I’m very aware that the Bible gives a very adequate definition of faith, which I’ll come to in a moment.)
So here it is: (prepare to be underwhelmed, maybe?)
“YOU NEVER KNOW…”
It has been this hopeful and gently optimistic colloquial phrase which has got me along to church for the last three Sundays. It’s not that going to church is a drag, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that August is usually a bit of a dead month, people are often away so I was expecting dwindling numbers, a family service with no families and a fair dose of summer holiday lethargy.
But each week as I prepared the Holy Spirit breathed these three words gently into my consciousness: “you never know”.
The first Sunday in August we had a family service with no baptism – and a baptismal group frequently accounts for a higher number in the congregation. To my great surprise that week we had FIVE sets of visitors, several of them with small children and families. “Phew!” I thought, as I stood up to lead, “good thing I prepared”.
The following Sunday I was sure the August lull would kick in, but again an unexpected and large group of visitors joined us. “Phew!” I thought…. and again I thought… “Just as well I’d prepared!”
Last Sunday, I thought we were definitely overdue for a low service (in terms of numbers) where nothing very exciting was going on. And again, I was surprised. “You never know” said the Holy Spirit, smiling.
“You never know, how when or where I might be working. What’s more even if you don’t see anything going on, even if there are only a handful of people, you can be sure that I am still active: that prayers are heard and lives are changed, decisions are made and hope is constantly reborn”.
I think it was Annie Lamott who said something along the lines that ‘we should not come to church thinking that it is a ‘safe’ activity, we are meeting with Almighty God, anything could happen! We should all be wearing hard hats’ and certainly if we are leading we should definitely be prepared.
As definitions of faith go, I don’t think these three words are so very far from that biblical gold standard I mentioned at the beginning. Hebrews 11:1 says “now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”. Both my definition and the biblical writer’s definition have a sense of hopeful optimism that something good IS going to happen but both definitions lack any presumptive clarity about what exactly that good thing might be or how it might look. And surely that lack of clarity is a good thing for it gives God elbow room to do whatever it is he is intending which may, after all, be far better than anything we could dream up. The certainty therefore lies not in ‘what will happen’ nor in ‘how it will happen nor ‘when it will happen’ but only in ‘who it is who will cause something good to happen’. And that confidence in the ‘Who’ ie in the character of God is enough
So what about this Sunday?.. well, ‘You never know’…
(This image reminds me of a poster I used to have, similar image but the words ‘Faith isn’t faith, until it’s all you’re hanging onto”)