Lord I Believe
by Byrne, Brian L
Out of the Shadows
The shadows of life stole up behind me like an unwelcome visitor who was not going to announce his presence. In the beginning there was joy and then slowly like a fire turning to ash, the joy faded. The sunlight that followed that first trust had disappeared, and I was left in the dark shadows. Even serving as a teacher on an Aboriginal mission trip soon after my conversion, and then working in India did not seem to make a difference. The truth was that joy had gone, but the real tragedy was that I did not know it was missing.
There were many long years like that. Even though my life was filled with different challenges I would have called “spiritual” the joy could not be reinstated. The song that had first sung in my heart when I read the Psalms, following my conversion sitting by the side of a stream in the hills above Perth, was silent. It sang no more, like a long lost loved one who could not find a place in my heart to sing.
My wife, Marie, and I served in the Baptist church we had joined immediately after our return from India. There we lead out in worship, taught church school, and were elected for leadership positions in the church. We were probably admired as a young married couple with a commitment to the Lord and to the church. However, still the song refused to sing in my heart. There were many other voices in my spirit, all of them admirable in terms of our church culture, but the song of the Spirit of the Lord singing in worship to the Father was silent.
Discontentment about our spiritual journey filled much of our conversation at home. We asked each other, “What was missing?” We went in search of answers. I remember how Marie came home one evening after attending a meeting at a local church and reported how the minister had prayed for her. However, there was no miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit.
The Lord was obviously following our search with His compassionate eye and knew exactly how dissatisfied we were with our form of established religion. He decided to send another person into our company. Marie happened to meet this woman first and brought her home for an evening meal. I remember her name and the fact that she was a missionary back in Australia for a brief time on furlough from Thailand. That night we talked together about faith, spirit, gifts, religion, and what the Lord had for those who would follow Him. After the meal, when the children were safely asleep we sat together on the carpet in the lounge room and prayed. There, on my knees in my living room floor, the old part of my life that was so used to shadows came to an abrupt end. Light had erupted all through my soul.
I remember asking the Lord for something special and across the back of my brain the Holy Spirit imprinted the words, “It is by faith.” Looking back, I now know I had been given the key that would unlock all the doors of life and would make the mysteries of being His disciple plain to me. I did not understand then the extraordinary value of the gift I had been given; only the long and careful search into living by faith and being His disciple would make everything plain to me. Even though I could dedicate every waking hour to that search for the rest of my life, I would never be able to fathom the depths of what He had designed for me.
The morning after my prayer and after His answer I woke again to a grey world. The joy was gone but a new understanding had been born and the Lord had launched me on another part of my search to be His disciple. What was faith? How could I turn a static doctrine into an active operation? How could I release the divine energies of the Spirit into this mundane, frustrating, and confusing world of people, schedules, work, and pleasures? How could I work the divine energies into the most complex and puzzling thing of all, my relationships? I had to find out.
I do not recall when I first made the commitment to engage in the search to understand and live by faith that would radically change my life. I found the warrant for my search in the Scriptures I had come to love and revere. The Lord spoke often about faith and its place in the relationship between Himself and His people (see Matt. 8:10; Mark 5:34; Luke17:6, 22:32). Paul makes the Lord’s instructions plain, “The righteous will live by faith” (Rom. 1:17; see also Gal. 3:11) and the writer to the Hebrews adds that divine dimension. If I want to please my Father and my Lord then faith is the only way into His affirmation and blessing (Heb. 11:6). Not diligent church attendance, nor submission to authority. Not even the careful study of the Scriptures or prayer. These are admirable, but not withstanding of the real relationship I desired. The primary focus in my life as His disciple had to be faith.
However, what is faith? How could I define it in such a way that I could live it, apply it, make faith operational? In human terms I cannot tell where the first insights came from, but clearly the Spirit of Truth was intimately involved in my instruction. I soon decided that faith was like a knife edge that I had to live. On one side of the knife edge was my past. I had been told by my pastor that last week’s sausages are no longer any use and are best discarded. That particular image stuck in my mind. Everything I had tasted in the past, all pleasurable experiences, every achievement and success were no longer of any use. I had to walk away from them and make new beginnings every day. Paul gave words to my new understanding. “Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13, 14). I took Paul’s example to heart and held it as the standard for my life.
If I had applied Paul’s teaching only to achievements then I would have missed the point. Clearly, the past was also full of unenlightened decisions, failures, and relationships I had mismanaged. Those foolish decisions led me to the wrong side of righteousness. In all these things I had missed the mark and knew that everyone of them qualified as a sin. In fact the word “sin” can be defined as missing the mark. Sin is like an archer forever shooting arrows at a target with the arrows always falling short.
I had been taught that sin, when confessed, was forgiven. I found great comfort in the words of the Psalmist, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12). That scripture took care of my sinful past. No achievements and no sins were to be held on to. I had to let them all go and bring myself continually into the present. Again the Scriptures spoke to me, “Now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). The key word? Now! This moment! This immediate tick on the clock! But what about the future? How should I regard tomorrow?
Jesus taught His disciples many of the principles of the Kingdom of God. We all know the passage of the Sermon on the Mount (see Matt. 5–7). Towards the end of His teaching Jesus addressed the question of anxiety which is such a natural part of every Christian’s experience. He concluded this passage with the words, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34). I decided that I could trust my Lord’s instruction for He would not have given it unless He wanted it obeyed.
I teetered on my knife’s edge. Nothing in the past to hold on to and nothing in the future I should grasp for. And that left only the present. Unfortunately I had missed something, but the Lord graciously permitted me to apply this simple definition of faith and did not withhold His joy. It flooded back in full measure as I learned to trust Him both with my unwanted past and with my undecided future. Trust Him unequivocally and without reservation, but what had I missed?
What I missed soon became clear to me. The present was full of decisions that had to be made and of relationships that had to be managed. There were daily choices about relationships, money, purchases, pleasures, places to go to, and things to do. There were desires that always threatened to overpower my will, and occasions where it seemed I had dug a pit of despair and buried myself.
I was learning from the Holy Spirit that I had to manage my present with the same diligence that I had learned to manage my past and future. I soon realized that the present was potentially full of so many wrong-headed decisions that would always sideline my joy. I found that out when joy refused to sing His customary love song. Joy was the measure of how effective my definition of faith was in day to day practice. However, my first operational definition of faith was defective. I needed a new one, or rather I needed to expand my learning about the operation of faith and include in my definition the present as well as the past and future.
Little by little He began to put the pieces together. I had been taught the truth of Christ living in me and found that I could represent this truth in a diagram. I took a clean page and in its center, I had drawn a circle. Within that circle I wrote my own name and the name of the Holy Trinity who lived there inside of me: the Father, the Son, and The Holy Spirit (see John 14:17, 23). That circle represented my present-time. It was the very small space I sat on and the equally tiny tick on the clock. I taught myself that within that small allotment of space and time I could depend utterly on the Ones who inhabited that place with me. However what was I to do with all the other experiences that surrounded my small circle?
Around the central circle in my diagram I drew a number of other circles. In one I wrote, “my past” and in another I wrote, “my future.” In each of the other circles, I wrote words that described many of the present experiences I had to manage and cope with. Money I had to earn, my debts, repairs to our house, a car breaking down, concerns about my sons’ friends, challenges at work. Each of these “cares” were individually named. The page was soon filled with circles that represented potential threats to my peace and to the joy that was His gift to me. Every circle was a potential disaster area if I failed to address each one with faith.
However, then I found another answer in my search. It felt as though the Spirit of Truth, my personal Counsellor and Teacher, was anticipating my questions. The Scriptures taught me that the Lord who lives within me has a number of significant names, and surprisingly each name as well as aspects of His character applies to each of my circles. Jehovah, the Lord is my strength (Isa. 12:2). Jehovah Jireh, the Lord will provide (Gen. 22:14). Jehovah Shammah, the Lord is there (Ezek. 48:35). Jehovah Shalom, the Lord sends peace (Judges 6:24). The Lord is my Shepherd. He will lead me (Ps. 23). He is my high tower. I always have a secure resting place (Ps. 61:3). His banner over me is love and love always stands opposed to fear (Song of Sol. 2:4; 1 John 4:18). God is light. He will expose every dark thing no matter how well I try to hide it (1 John 1:5).
As I grew in understanding of faith I found that nothing outside my central circle was outside His love, authority, grace, and forgiveness. I found that I could underwrite each circle with the words, “I trust Him in this challenge or that adversity, in that demand on my limited resources and regarding that inner emotion.” As I applied these simple principles His joy would re-emerge from His hiding place and I would be filled again with all the fullness of God (see Eph. 3:19).
I found that His Love is like a garden planted with all manner of delights in which the Lord dwells. The garden is my own heart, my reborn spirit, born again by His Holy Spirit and baptized, rather immersed all over in His Spirit. There in my heart He expresses Himself daily and I feast at the table of His bounty. The Psalmist expressed this truth when he wrote, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Ps. 23:5).
There are not meant to be any disfigurements in that garden of my heart. The only One who should be allowed to live in its secret precincts is He whose wisdom, grace, and love surpasses anything the world can offer. Furthermore, He and I are opposed to all that the adversary can design and inflict on my sacred inner man as he seeks to seduce me away from my joy that is my strength (see Neh. 8:10). In the garden of my heart I find consolation, authority, wisdom, and insights, but only as I trust the One who carries my heart in His hands.
Faith is the key to that relationship with Jesus. Not faith defined as some sort of mental construct, but faith that is the essence of this most personal of all relationships. It is better defined as, “trust in Jesus of Nazareth, unreserved, without conditions and involving the surrender of myself to His Lordship with all my heart and soul and mind and strength.”
So I come to another beginning in my search as I set myself to understand what it means to be His disciple. In that new search also, faith in my Lord is its essential ingredient. In these pages I want to set before the reader this most personal aspect of my search; how the Lord’s disciples in these years before His return are to live by faith.