Daily Prayer :: Water

Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

January 24, 2020 – Belief and faith

We’re praying through Pete Enns’ Sin of Certainty (HarperCollins, 2016). It is a book that considers “certainty” for the faithful Christian an idol. Pete shares his story and tries to relate it to his readers, who he hopes can mature and hold onto their faith as they grow older. It is a great book for the Water Daily Prayer reader. I will mainly offer you excerpts of the text and reflections thereafter.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt       

Read James 1:1-8

But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.

More thoughts for meditation

“I’ve known people suffering from terminal illness who say they’ve been preparing for this moment their whole lives without knowing it. They’ve been in all sorts of situations and seasons of life where they needed to let go of control and trust God. And now, facing the biggest letting-go moment, as we all will, their training is paying off. Trusting God has been a habit, which is now ready and able to strengthen them in their hour of need. They are ready to give to those around them ‘an account of the hope’ they have…

Belief and faith always have content—a what. But a faith that looks like what the Bible describes is rooted deeply in trust in God (rather than ourselves) and in faithfulness to God by being humbly faithful to others (as the Father and Son have been faithful to us). That’s basically it—though it’s anything but easy.

A life of faith that accepts this biblical challenge is much more demanding than being preoccupied with correct thinking—because that deeper faith is self-denying.

That is the kind of faith we are all called to, and I am glad the Bible models it for us—a faith where our first impulse in the face of life’s challenges is to trust God rather than figure out what God is doing so we can get a handle on life.

Ah yes. Life. Ready and waiting to deliver those challenges right to our front door with no warning and when we least expect it.

Life’s challenges mock and then destroy a faith that rests on correct thinking and the preoccupation with defending it. And that is a good thing. Life’s challenges clear the clutter so we can see more clearly that faith calls for trust instead” (Pete Enns, Sin of Certainty, HarperCollins, 2016, p. 115-116).

Suggestions for action

Enns argues that faith and belief beyond our certainty is deeper. Trusting God when our certainty is clouded or when the mystery of God isn’t clear is the mark of deeper faith. If you begin to doubt, you might be on your way to a deeper life. Sometimes all we need to do is want to trust God. Pray this famous prayer from Thomas Merton (that Enns also quotes on page 111):

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

January 23, 2020 – Trusting God in the Absurd

We’re praying through Pete Enns’ Sin of Certainty (HarperCollins, 2016). It is a book that considers “certainty” for the faithful Christian an idol. Pete shares his story and tries to relate it to his readers, who he hopes can mature and hold onto their faith as they grow older. It is a great book for the Water Daily Prayer reader. I will mainly offer you excerpts of the text and reflections thereafter.

Today’s Bible reading  and an excerpt     

Read Ecclesiastes 3

For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better than that all should enjoy their work, for that is their lot; who can bring them to see what will be after them?

More thoughts for meditation

“Qohelet[1] looked at life square in the eye and refused to play the religion game, where everything is working out and God makes sense. I’m drawn to his honesty and the fact that he is saying what we all feel, at least now and then.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we dive in with Qohelet and try to live lives of despair, glorifying our doubt. I’m not even suggesting that he has the last word. But I am suggesting we pay attention to what this book is saying through Qohelet’s despair… there we see a startling lesson of faith, a faith that has let go of needing to know” (Pete Enns, Sin of Certainty, HarperCollins, 2016, p.77).

“When we reach that point where things simply make no sense, when our thinking about God and life no longer line up, when any sense of certainty is gone, and when we can find no reason to trust God but we still do, well, that is what trust looks like at its brightest—when all else is dark.

The book of Ecclesiastes isn’t a drawn-out and sorry tale of weak faith and poor thinking that the truth faithful need to avoid. It is an honest reflection of what people of true faith experience. The author drags his readers through one discouraging scenario after another, where reasonable people might give up…

Ecclesiastes is one of the true gems of the Bible. It paints for us a picture of what faith looks like when all you thought you knew about God and how the world works is ripped from you, when certainty vanishes like a vapor…

When we have stared into the pit of despair over God and his world, and our thoughts about God don’t line up at all, and then we trust God anyway, enough to continue living in the hope that trusting God is worth it… Ecclesiastes never says “You gotta know what you belief,” but rather “Trust God even when you don’t know what you believe, even when all before you is absurd” (Pete Enns, Sin of Certainty, HarperCollins, 2016, p. 79-80).

Suggestions for action

Ecclesiastes is an important book of the Bible because it teaches us that doubt and despair aren’t enemies of faith, but they can lead to maturation if they aren’t the last word. We don’t need to avoid our despair or doubt to keep our faith, but we need to move through them to deepen it. Certainty doesn’t save us, we are saved by grace through faith. See if you can be open about the despair you feel and even if you aren’t comforted immediately by God, pray that you can trust God anyway.

[1] The “narrator” of Ecclesiastes.

Today is Thomas Dorsey Day! Get to know the father of gospel music at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

January 22, 2020 – Dialogue With God

We’re praying through Pete Enns’ Sin of Certainty (HarperCollins, 2016). It is a book that considers “certainty” for the faithful Christian an idol. Pete shares his story and tries to relate it to his readers, who he hopes can mature and hold onto their faith as they grow older. It is a great book for the Water Daily Prayer reader. I will mainly offer you excerpts of the text and reflections thereafter.

Today’s Bible reading   and an excerpt    

Read Psalm 73

If I had said, “I will talk on in this way,”
I would have been untrue to the circle of your children.
But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I perceived their end.

More thoughts for meditation

“The thought of God not coming through, of God not being worthy of our trust, is so distressing that the psalmist is about to explode.

He can’t talk out loud about what he sees. If he did, he would have ruined other people’s faith—sort of like pastors who have a crisis of faith but can’t tell anyone about it. So they keep it inside, that becomes a ‘wearisome task’—like carrying around a dead weight in their stomachs.

The world isn’t working the way God said it does. ‘Good things happen to good people’ is nice idea to have in the Bible, but the real world tends to get in the way of our thinking that we are certain what God will do.

Parents know this by the time their child is two years old. You can read the right books and have a really good plan of attack for raising them to turn out ‘right,’ but then life happens; their own DNA comes to the surface, they interact with their environment, make friends, eventually go to day care, and then school. Soon they start thinking and acting for themselves, and comparing your original ideal version with the actual offspring in front of you can be shocking.

Like parenting, faith in God doesn’t follow a script—even if, as Psalm 73 shows us, that script is the Bible. The disconnect between how the psalmist thinks things should work and how his life actually turns out produces a crisis of faith. What he thought he knew, what he was so certain of, turns out not to work.

How does the psalmist’s crisis play out at the end? He realizes that brooding isn’t doing him any good, and so he enters the ‘sanctuary of God’ (verse 17; to worship, maybe offer a sacrifice)…

Even when all the evidence showed that God doesn’t follow through on the rules, the psalmist enters the sanctuary; he moves toward God, not away from God—a movement of trust when all the evidence is against it. That was the only option open to him…

Our psalmists wouldn’t make very good Christian fundamentalists who see the Bible as a source of certain knowledge about God, the world, and our place in it. Rather these Psalmists are laying it all in front of us, that the Bible is less an instructional manual and more of an internal dialogue, even a debate, among people of faith about just who this God is they are dealing with” (Pete Enns, Sin of Certainty, HarperCollins, 2016, p.68-70).

Suggestions for action

The psalmists have no problem having a dialogue with God or one another. They don’t think of God as unapproachable, and can lament or doubt or fight when they need to, Can you try that out today? Try praying out loud. Maybe use the Psalm.  Air your grievances if you have to. Lament. But find assurance in God’s faithfulness, like the psalmist.

Enns is trying to help people who feel like their faith might have a lot of “evidence” against it. One reaction is to pile up evidence for faith and fight. But another reaction could be to give up on “evidence” as a way to meet God. The Bible compiles centuries of stories about how people meet God beyond their normal sense of reality. We have piled up a lot more stories, just in our church. What is your story?

January 21, 2020 – How We Got Into This Mess

We’re praying through Pete Enns’ Sin of Certainty (HarperCollins, 2016). It is a book that considers “certainty” for the faithful Christian an idol. Pete shares his story and tries to relate it to his readers, who he hopes can mature and hold onto their faith as they grow older. It is a great book for the Water Daily Prayer reader. I will mainly offer you excerpts of the text and reflections thereafter.

Today’s Bible reading

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory. — 1 Timothy 3:16

More thoughts for meditation

“The long Protestant quest to get the Bible right has not led to greater and greater certainty about what the Bible means. Quite the contrary. It has led to a staggering number of different denominations and sub denominations that disagree sharply about how significant portions of the Bible should be understood. I mean, if the Bible is our source of sure knowledge about God, how do we explain all this diversity? Isn’t the Bible supposed to unify us rather than divide us?

In a sense, the fact that churches continue being preoccupied with correct thinking is perfectly understanding; holding to what you know is part of the Protestant DNA, passed down to contemporary evangelicalism and fundamentalism via the Fundamentalist Modernist Controversy. But the preoccupation is also inexcusable, because we only need to google ‘churches in my area’ to see that this road of getting the Bible right has led, if not to a complete dead end, then at least to an endless traffic circle.

This struggle between fundamentalists and modernists over the Bible has revealed an odd fact lying down just below the surface. Even though these two groups see the Bible in polar opposite ways, they share the same starting point: any book worthy of being called God’s word would need to talk about the past accurately. The modernists, looking at things like the problems with Genesis[1], concluded that the Bible wasn’t, after all, a supernatural book that told  us reliable facts about the past.

Fundamentalists fought back. They said modernists showed lack of faith in God by doubting that the Bible gives an accurate record of history. The Bible, because it is God’s word, must get the past right. Otherwise the whole Christian faith collapses. This attitude spawned a long history of fundamentalist crusades to defend the Bible against modernist ‘attacks’ by amassing their own arguments about why the Bible can be fully trusted as a historical document despite what mainstream academics say.

These crusades are still very much part of Christian culture, at least in America. But the question many are asking today, as I am in this book, is whether the Bible is really set up in the first place to give the kind of certainty that both of these groups expected. Is the Bible’s role really to give us certainty about what happened in the past (and to be judged thumbs up or down)? Perhaps the endless back-and-forth were rooted in the wrong question.

I believe the Bible does not model a faith that depends on certainty for the simple fact that the Bible does not provide that kind of certainty. Rather, in all its messy diversity, the Bible models trust in God that does not rest on whether we are able to be clear and certain about what to believe” (Pete Enns, Sin of Certainty, HarperCollins, 2016, p. 52-53).

Suggestions for action

Maybe you are familiar enough with the modernist-fundamentalist controversy to find yourself leaning one way or the other; or perhaps your expectations of the Bible are similar to what Enns warns against. Consider the idea that our need for certainty is one that lessens our need for faith. Can you see that fatal flaws in the binary way of thinking about the Bible? Imagine another way.

Enns is talking about a kind of certainty based on a world view one that believes the material of the universe works in predictable, measurable ways. A commitment to that certainty sins against our love for God, who is beyond our full measuring, but who fills our need for assurance to overflowing. Imagine a love that is beyond your sense of reality.

In Circle of Hope, it is not certainty that holds us together, but a dialogue in love. In that spirit, as you consider today’s passage, talk about it with your cell leader or spiritual friend.

[1] For instance, the fact that Moses, himself, probably didn’t write the Torah, since it contains documentation of his death.

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