This is a modified, shortened version of last Sunday's sermon.
Being the pastor of a church with fewer than ten people has been a real test of faith for me (and it’s only been three months now). I wasn’t expecting this, perhaps because I’ve dealt in the past with doubts of a more intellectual sort—“Is faith consistent with a rational worldview? Is ‘God’ nothing more than fantasy born of a habit of psychological dependence?” and that sort of thing. This is a different kind of doubt.
I’ve been thinking of Moses lately, in the desert—when the Israelites were dying of thirst—and God told him, just talk to that rock over there and that’ll fix it. And Moses goes ahead and gathers everyone together, but when the moment comes, he chokes, and instead of talking to the rock, he says to the people, “What am I supposed to do, squeeze water out of this stone?” And he hits it a couple times with his staff and sure enough, it turns into a gushing fountain.
I know that other people know it’s not reasonable to expect that I can just instantly turn my church around, make it grow by leaps and bounds, and bring in enough income to put all our financial concerns to rest. But I also know certain people are really, really hoping that will happen. Some people really, really want it to happen and have faith it can happen—and just like Moses, I have my doubts—and unlike Moses, I have not had a word directly from the mouth of God telling me exactly what to do or what kind of provision God is going to make.
It’s been said that doubt is not the opposite of faith—indifference is. Because if the potential existence of God really makes no difference in your life, there’s no particular reason either to believe or to doubt. But the more you’ve risked on the possibility of God actually doing something to intervene in your life, the more you’re probably going to struggle with doubt. It’s scary to entrust your career (for example), or your reputation, finances, your life’s work, etc. to someone you have never literally seen or heard from. The more you entrust to God, the more anxiety you can expect to feel—i.e. the more faith you have, the more you will have to struggle with doubt.
It’s possible that by the end of 2013 we could have twenty new members. It’s also possible we could have even fewer than are here now. No one knows what’s going to happen. And that’s what causes me anxiety, when I see how much faith other people have that the church is going to grow and I want to shield them from disappointment—or when I imagine that other people think this venture is crazy and I wish God would prove them wrong.
But deeper than all that, I have no doubt that whether the church grows numerically or even shrinks (hah ha, talk about a test of faith), it’s going to grow spiritually.
I’ve also been thinking about how Jesus said the kingdom of God is like seeds that some guy scattered in a field. He doesn’t know how or why it happens and he doesn’t make it happen, but all by itself the seeds sprout and grow and eventually the kernels of wheat are ripe for harvesting.
Sometimes the reassurance God gives us is “too deep for words” and sometimes an image—a seed that sprouts and grows, naturally, at first invisibly, beneath the soil, mysteriously, wondrously grows—an image may be all that we need to remember and keep in mind. Something is growing, whether we can see it or not, whether it’s the type of plant we imagined or something unexpected. I know my doubts are only superficial, some worry about how this is going to end up looking to other people—but the truth that is written on my heart—how could I doubt—that God is, as always, causing something beautiful to grow …