Any long-distance plane trip seems to have free seat-back entertainment anymore, but I prefer to spend long flights taking advantage of unadulterated reading time. Case in point, last week I finished two books, a rarity for me these days. One of the books, Coming Clean: A Story of Faith, by Seth Haines, is normally something I’d shy away from, but I’m glad I chose to read it. (Thank you Amazon reviews – you make my book purchases so much easier!)
Coming Clean is one Christian man’s diary of sorts, who, in dealing with some issues in his life, found that he was using alcohol to deal with those problems, rather than turning to God instead. He’d never stopped believing in God, yet he couldn’t quite trust and have faith 100% that God would resolve those issues either. Alcohol had become his god of choice rather than a living God.
Throughout the book, the author often makes the point that we all have our own God substitutes, whether it’s alcohol, food, chocolate, exercise, work, staying busy, shopping, politics, too much TV, whatever…; we consume our drug of choice to dull our soul pains. Each of us have a crutch we substitute for Him.
We may think we don’t, but we do. If it’s not “as bad” as drugs, gambling or pornography, we may think we’re a better person. But we aren’t.
Anything that keeps us apart from God… keeps us apart from God.
Definitely good to understand, but that wasn’t the part of the book that took hold of me. Each chapter ended with a variation of one of Christianity’s foundational prayers:
Lord, Have mercy on me, a sinner.
I don’t hear this at my church, and I didn’t hear it at the churches I attended growing up. But I did hear it.
Why I don’t hear it, I don’t know. There’s a reason it’s a foundational prayer – we all are sinners and need God’s mercy.
We all sin every day.
And we all need mercy.
Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner, is a very simple prayer though, and until I read the book, I never gave much thought to the effectiveness of this kind of short, rote prayer. For me, while I often pray throughout the day, my dedicated prayer time is spent in deeper (and much wordier) prayer.
I wonder though, if that’s necessary. While I don’t doubt the need to develop extensive prayer for specific needs for others, for me, the ultimate goal of prayer is merely to strengthen my relationship with God.
And really, what more can I say than, Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner?
Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.
Like the the author of Coming Clean, I too have my doubts about what God can accomplish. What God can repair. What God can provide.
I doubt. Like Thomas, I doubt.
Does that make me any less of a Christian?
Or does it make me a better Christian?
I tend to believe that doubting makes me a better Christian. Hear me out: If I didn’t doubt, then I wouldn’t constantly be going to my Father asking questions of Him. Asking that He show me more of Him. When I see more of Him, I have more evidence of Him, and the works of His Hand in my life.
Like the father of the boy possessed by demons in Mark 9, who says,
“…if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
But then Jesus admonishes,
“If You can?” echoed Jesus. “All things are possible to him who believes!”
Immediately the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”
I don’t know about you, but my life is full of “ifs” and intangibles. God, though, lives in the realm of the absolute.
An absolute which I often doubt.
When I was in San Diego last week, I wanted to get down to the beach. Feel that glorious, chilly, salty Pacific water. Near the sidewalk at the top of the cliff were some steps, where you could see rocks, and then… the beach.
While the steps looked like they went straight down to the sandy part of the beach, in reality, they ended right on these massive rocks that were very difficult to maneuver.
Sometimes I think God is leading me somewhere, and because He’s the one leading me there, it’s all going to be simple and easy to get to the destination. And then I find, like these steps, that to get to that peaceful, calm, protected place He’s calling me toward, the journey is sometimes littered with colossal obstacles.
I know He has a plan for my life, and a good one at that. But I’m human. A stupid, doubting, unbelieving human. Like the father of the demon-possessed boy, I do believe, but I keep having to ask Him in order to commit to my belief.
I’m no theologian, but I think that’s what He wants from me. For me to need Him to the point that I petition Him in everything.
For forgiveness. Faith. Provision. Trust. Belief. Understanding. Mercy.
Like Seth Haines showed me in his very insightful book, it’s often just the smallest of prayers that connect us to relationship with Him the most.