I was fourteen when God taught me a thing or two about real faith.
It was a few months after I’d been baptised; my relationship with Him was growing and I was regularly aware of his presence in my life. I felt close to him.
The change was so gradual I didn’t notice it at first. But one day I realised: I do devotions daily, but I don’t get much out of it anymore. And I can’t feel the Lord near me.
It was as if a wall had come between us; like my prayers were bouncing off the ceiling and back into my tear-stained face. The subscriber you have dialled is not available at present – that kind of thing.
I went to my mom and unloaded. Talking with her made me realise the Lord was busy purifying and toughening my faith. In the ensuing months, he taught me a whole lot.
1. Feelings are irrelevant.
It certainly felt as if God had left me – that was what my emotions were saying, at any rate. But his Word begged to differ: “for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5)
I had to learn to “grow up” spiritually; to fight my sulky tendencies and the lies of my feelings with the truth of God’s Word.
2. Faith involves mountains and valleys
I had grown used to spiritual highs and mountaintops, when I felt very close to the Lord. It was awesome – but I had to get to know the other side of the Christian life as well. Because, really, most of the time we’re in a valley where it’s just the same old, same old every day.
Valleys require much more work than mountaintops (where everything is always wonderful), precisely because it gets boring down there. But it is here – in the normal, the everyday, the predictable – that you learn to hold on and persevere. It is here that your faith is tested.
3. Tested faith is real faith
If you just walk away when things get tricky – like the seed in Luke 8:7 that was quickly crushed by the thorn bushes – your faith isn’t really faith at all.
Gold has to be purified in a fire, and our faith is no different.
4. God wasn’t through with me, even though he felt far
It sounds paradoxical, but the hard times are a gift from God’s hand, because that’s when we grow. When I’m tempted, I pray more. When I need wisdom, I pray more. When I hurt, I pray more.
If the Lord puts you through a difficult season, it means he’s working in you. View it as a gift and seize it with gratitude. And remember, a calm sea never made a skillful sailor.
5. My valley made me more genuine
I was fifteen when my grandpa died, and after that there was a difference in how I sympathised with friends who experienced death and grief. But I had to hurt before I could really identify with others.
It’s the same in our spiritual journey. If we never struggle – with faith, temptation, whatever – we can’t identify with others. If we float through life on a pink cloud of happiness, we’ll never be able to really say, “I understand” when one of our Christian brothers or sisters is hurting.
About a year after my intense course in true faith, a good friend of mine had a similar experience. I had no answers or advice; we live so far apart I couldn’t even hug her. But I could listen, and I could tell her I really understood. And sometimes that’s all you need to hear.
So, if you’re in a valley – hold on. It won’t last forever. And you are growing spiritually, otherwise things would still be “easy”.
Don’t give up.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)