The Worthy Struggle

January 30, 2022

A few years ago, a congregant came up to me after worship and shared his struggle: “When we say the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, I can’t say all the words because I struggle to have faith in what those words say.”

Recently, a friend shared that she “wants to have a deep faith, but it’s a struggle; there’s so much conflicting information ‘out there’!”

Two individuals saying aloud what so many of us think about our faith from time to time. We want to be ‘good Christians,’ yet struggle. We don’t admit the struggle because we don’t want to be judged as ‘less than’ others who seem so sure.  

Such thoughts couldn’t be further from the truth!

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Those of us who have given birth know, new life emerges from struggle.   

Yet, we also know, we long for our children to mature even though such maturity will also only come with struggle.

These same truths could be said of our life of faith: ‘childlike faith.’ We are taught ‘the basics;’ nurtured in those basics, and perhaps even participate in the rituals of those basics. 

Unfortunately, that’s where our faith often remains: grounded in immature simplicity.

Equally unfortunate, we are so confident of the basics, we begin interpreting them to fit our personal preferences. 

The consequence? 

  • A faith in a god we fashion for ourselves which accommodates our personal preferences. 
  • A faith grounded much like the builders in Jesus’ parables: built on the sand of simplicity rather than the bedrock of deep understanding (Matthew 7:24-29)
  •  A faith so easily put our faith in our back pockets until we need some magical intervention because all else has failed

This comfortable God, this human devised, simplistic faith, inevitably comes up short.  

There has to be more to faith – more to God!  But what?

Ah, the question that begins the worthy struggle!

For so many of us to question the basics we have been taught is a scary thing!  We feel it would make us apostates in the eyes of the church – so we choose to ‘shut up and color.’  

But here’s the thing…..

Christ welcomes our questions; this is how we grow.

Jesus said we are to come as a child (Mark 10:15). Yet He never assumes we will stay children.  

How do I know?

The Lord took the time to be in dialog with those who questioned; those struggling to believe.

Folks like the rich young man who knew the basics. (Mark 10:17-22). According to the Torah, The man knew he was:

  • To love God above all else. (Deuteronomy 6:5
  • To love his neighbor as much as he loved himself (Leviticus 19:18) 

Yet, he struggled for more; he desired a living, mature faith.

Jesus’ response?  

  • He loved the man as he struggled and questioned.
  • He didn’t disregard the man’s basic faith but pushed him to go deeper. “Let go of what you have and follow Me.”  
  • He didn’t condemn the man, rather let him continue in that holy space of maturing faith: a space filled with questions to be struggled with and answers to be lived into.  

Even the confident, like John the Baptist, struggled:

  • He called out the religious leaders for their hypocrisy. (Matthew 3:7)
  • He called on all – both Gentile and Jew – to repent and be baptized in preparation for the imminence of God’s kingdom.
  • He heard the voice of God pronouncing Jesus to be God’s Son. 

Even when he was on the verge of being beheaded John struggled with questions: was Jesus the real deal or not?  (Matthew 11:2-3).

Jesus’ response? 

  • He honored John’s struggle and sent back words of assurance (Matthew 11:2-5)
  • He affirmed John’s significance during the man’s struggle. (Matthew 11:7-11a)

Even those always in the presence of Jesus, His disciples, struggled:

  • To believe that Jesus is Who He said He is  (Matthew 14:28-32)
  • To ‘let Jesus be Jesus’ and stop ‘regulating on His actions (Mark 8:27-33)

Jesus’ response?

  • All their struggling questions were answered in the resurrection. 
    • The resurrection proves that all Christ had taught ‘while He was still with them’ is true! 
    • The life Jesus led was the life they were to follow and proclaim! 
    • Jesus not just some prophet. He is the Christ, the living Son of God!

The early church struggled.

The entire book of Acts records this struggle to become

  • A deeper, wider, more inclusive community of faith
  •  A community living in such a way that God’s will was done, rather than expecting God to respond to their preferences.

The Holy Response? 

  • The empowerment of God the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2)
  • The abiding presence of the Spirit in their communities
    • As they prayed together 
    • Questioned each other
    • Discerned the answers
    • Held each other accountable for living into those answers. 

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Faith today is STILL a struggle – a necessary struggle.  

It would be so easy to remain complacent and spiritual children who cling to the basics; especially if struggles and questions would challenge the faith we appropriated from others or threaten the faith we have constructed to suit our ‘spiritual preferences.’  

But this is not what God has planned for the humanity the Holy One so deeply loves. (1 Corinthians 14:20; Ephesians 4:14-15; Hebrews 5:11-14)

We are meant to mature in our faith – not by tossing the basics but by building on them as we grow in our understanding and love of God. 

The struggle is uncomfortable. Particularly these days when so many are ‘so sure they know it all.’ Letting go of the familiar, the simple, and the safe is always difficult. We may feel like we are losing our faith, but again, nothing could be further from the truth! 

Do we want to, as the Godspell song goes, “see Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly, follow Thee more nearly” day by day? Maturity in faith, like all maturation, is a process: day by day as we continue to ask questions, prayerfully search for answers that lead to growth. 

How do the answers come?  Through prayer, study of scripture, and the discernment achieved within the Body of Christ as ‘iron sharpens iron’ (Proverbs 27:17) in mutual accountability to God’s truth not what we wish God said.

So, 

  • keep asking the questions – Christ is up to the questions.  
  • Stay strong in the struggle – the Holy Spirit will give you strength.
  • Live into the answers God provides and grow deeper in faith
  • Don’t be discouraged by those who choose not to struggle
  • And – this is crucial – don’t judge those who don’t yet struggle – love them, just as you Christ loved you before your own journey began!

Faith has always been and will continue to be a struggle until we ‘see Him face to face’ (1 Corinthians 13:12).  That truth alone makes the struggle worth it!

And to God be the glory! AMEN.

Published by Pastor Catharine

Retired ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I have a Master's of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry (with an emphasis on Spiritual Transformation of Community) from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

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