Beyond Belief

“Reason can help you better understand what you see, but it will have a hard time convincing you that you never saw it. So too, emunah endures even when reason can’t catch up… the greatest vitamin you can provide emunah is plain exercise.” – Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

“the basic, root meaning of emunah is trust and reliance, not intellectual acquiescence in the truth of certain propositions… If one disobeys a command and is therefore accused of lack of emunah, it makes much more sense to say that one is being accused of lack of trust in the commander than of quibbling over the accuracy of statements made by or about the commander… loyal behavior, not systematic theology” – Dr. Menachem Kellner

“So you’re impressed with yourselves that with your emunah you can recite the kri’at Shema, nu? O you do so well…why, even the shedim have your da’as and emunah! But they shudder!” – Yaakov 2:19 (Orthodox Jewish Bible)

“The twice daily mitzva of kri’at shema is defined as a declaration of basic tenets of belief…” – Rav Moshe Taragin

Not to be just in our mouth, but more importantly on our hearts. What is inside will come out. Not only in our speech, but also, and more telling, in our actions.

“Therefore, let us approach the Holiest Place with a sincere heart, in the full assurance that comes from trusting — with our hearts sprinkled clean from a bad conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us continue holding fast to the hope we acknowledge, without wavering; for the One who made the promise is trustworthy.” – Hebrews 10:22-23 (Complete Jewish Bible)

Some say flying, but right now it feels like falling. And yet…

“Why do you say, O Jacob,
And speak, O Israel:
‘My way is hidden from the Lord,
And my just claim is passed over by my God’?
Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.”
(Isaiah 40:27-31 New King James Version)

“Ani maamin! Help my lack of emunah!” No longer claiming perfect faith. Our heart cries echo his prayer.

Jesus waited until the crowd gathered. They witnessed the blessing of a man who had renounced his independence.

“Peter said to Him, ‘You shall never wash my feet!’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’ Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!'”

And yet there must be something in Jesus telling the father of the sick child that prayer (and fasting) were the keys to deliverance. Is it a greater statement about how His prayer and fasting delivered us?

“And having been made shalem, to all those with mishma’at toward Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach, he became the source of Yeshu’at Eloheinu Olamim” (Hebrews 5:9 OJB)

“The feminine noun משמעת (mishma’at), meaning subjects, or literally group of guys who listen.” (Abarim Publications’ online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary)

“Mishma’at refers to the group of people who hearken to the king and are particularly close to him…” – Rav Amnon Bazak

My experience has been that prayer and fasting do not work like sorcery to make things happen. Rather, they realign my mind to hear and see more clearly, spiritually and otherwise.

A study in prayer is desired. But it’s too late and my heart needs time to process just the slightest taste of the glimpse of this magnificence.

“God, the Master, The Holy of Israel, has this solemn counsel: ‘Your salvation requires you to turn back to me and stop your silly efforts to save yourselves. Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on me— The very thing you’ve been unwilling to do.'” – Isaiah 30:15 MSG

 

Control

Maybe the whole point is that we can’t manipulate God and there is no formula for ensuring that we get what we want.

For many, it is terrifying to accept that we have no control of God. The alternative is to take responsibility for our choices and trust Him for everything. Probably an easier task for the unchurched – those who have escaped years of religious doctrines and dogmas.

I’m a champion for the real Truth, but a lot of what I’ve encountered has been more akin to witchcraft. I.e. if you do x, y, and z then God will do a, b, and c. That is witchcraft. You’re just replacing spells and potions with behavior modification and superstitions. It is much more personal and scary to be in relationship.

I always thought the point of the book of Job was to say that God can do whatever He wants to do and we shouldn’t question Him. But now I wonder if maybe the point was to show that we cannot manipulate God.

Job was righteous. Even God said so. But it seems to me that Job and all his friends freaked out when the “formula” that seemed to work before was no longer working. They sat around thinking, “Where did we go wrong? It must have been something we did. Or didn’t do. If only we could figure it out. Maybe we just didn’t try hard enough.” Just like we do in modern times.

We call it grace but forget that means unmerited favor. Unmerited.

Some might say that we have the propensity to want to believe we can control and manipulate God so that we can feel better about ourselves compared to others we see doing worse. I disagree with that being the entire reason.

I rather think it comes down to fear. We see bad things happening to other people and we want to avoid that pain in our own lives. So we try to figure out a formula to escape bad things happening to us.

For some that looks similar to what many call OCD. For others it looks like agoraphobia. For others it looks like benign routines, never taking risks. For others it looks like religion. For others it looks like proving we “trust” God by presuming on His grace – in the pratical sense, being super risky.

But I think God was telling Job that there is not a formula. All and anything we have is a gift. Being alive is a gift.

He works with us where we are. He lets us get to the end of ourselves if we insist on trying to do all the heavy lifting without Him. Rules just show us that we aren’t as independent as we’d like to believe we are.

If we knew how much we were loved, we would trust. That is why I write. To share the hope that I have been given. Hoping it will resonate in a seeker’s spirit and encourage.

He says to come boldly to the throne of grace. Like children.

I notice there is a theme in the American culture that I’ve witnessed. The theme is that parents refrain from sharing wealth with the children. They say it’s good that the child struggles and suffers. They basically say the child needs to know that they shouldn’t depend on anyone.

Some spread their wings and soar. Others fall on the ground and then we call their value and character into question.

But I was thinking: why would it be such a bad thing to prepare your children for the best possible success? Why make it more difficult for them to succeed in a world that is already dog-eat-dog?

Why not give them clothes, education, transportation, housing, and healthcare so they can focus on their work and have the best possible chances of success? Wouldn’t that make sense for the family as a whole?

I think that’s the key: family. I see the super successful put this into action. It isn’t all about me, me, me. There isn’t a poverty mentality. Their actions speak that the children are wanted, desired, included, accepted, loved, provided for, etc. The focus is less on the individual and more on the group.

We are as successful as our weakest member.

I say all that to make note that I think we project the way we treat each other, and the way we’ve been treated, onto God and then incorrectly conclude that we aren’t welcome in His home or in His heart. Jesus came to show us that it is God’s great joy and longing to gather us under His wings.

Perfect love casts out fear. I thank God that He doesn’t treat us like we treat each other. He doesn’t leave anyone behind.

At the same, His passionate wrath will not let us settle comfortably into a wrong view of Him. He resists our blind, valiant attempts to appease the gods we have misrepresented Him to be. Only for our highest good, not His ego.

It would do us so well to truly understand who we are in Him and who He is for us. It would change everything if we only knew and believed how much we are loved.

It would mean we could not continue to hide behind the litany of excuses we employ to attempt to shield ourselves from the consequences of our poor decisions. But the good news is that we would see that the fear of failure, death, and so many other temporary states do not carry anywhere near the same paralyzing, terminal power we attributed to them in the past.

We are truly free to live. To love. To create. To participate.

Amen? Are you willing? Enter His rest. Ask Him to help you see.

Shelter

Story time. I have so many other words to share but I think they are better saved for another day. Just a few stories today.

There was a time in my life where I didn’t have ANY money. I had already scoured my car and house for change. I needed food, gas, and money to do laundry. I was in my car and the song on the radio had the lyrics, “I am counting every blessing… You are good to me.” I looked on the ground and saw a $20 bill. Just sitting there. I felt rich! Everything I needed at that moment.

Another time a few years before that I didn’t have a place to live. I went to a park. I was walking around close to tears. Trying to figure out what to do. All of a sudden I hear my name. A friend “just happened” to be in the park that day and saw me. Somehow the conversation came around to where I was living and she offered for me to come and stay at her house.

Another time I didn’t have a place to live. I was at the library this time. Sitting on a chair. Thinking about what to do and where to stay. And another friend called me as I was sitting there and she said, “I just wanted to ask you if you needed a place to stay?” I was blown away! And her house was the Taj Majal compared to anywhere I had ever stayed. Complete with delicious meals and an entire floor all to myself.

Another time I was going to move to a place where I needed a car and I didn’t have a car. I didn’t know what to do. I was super stressed about the situation. The day before I was supposed to move, a friend approached me at church and said, “It’s been on our hearts to let you use one of our cars.” For free. Indefinitely. I think I used the car for around six months.

Another time I needed to go to a meeting and I wasn’t sure if I had the gas money to get back home. I decided to trust God and just go to the meeting. I arrived and after being there a bit, a friend approached me and said she felt like she was supposed to give me some money. She handed me a $20 bill and then apologized that she didn’t have more money to give me. She had no idea my situation. Nobody did. I hadn’t even hinted at what I was going through. Blew my mind! When was the last time you had someone apologize that they didn’t have more free money to give you?!

God provides. He is my shelter.

Lucky

I was thinking this evening about how it probably wasn’t just luck or coincidence that Ruth ended up in her Redeemer’s field. How do we then balance the tension between recognizing Divine coordination and reading too much into things?

I have had many instances in my life where my paths crossed with someone else with such specificity to my situation that I just cannot accept it as purely random, a manifestation of positive thinking, or related to attraction theories. There seems to be something much bigger happening.

And yet we know God is not a puppet master. He Created us to create. To make our own decisions. I don’t feel like I have the space I need in my mind to fully appreciate or understand the dance between His omnipotence and our free will. I can spend hours analyzing the nuances of my every step as they pertain to this question. Or I can live. And trust. Like a child. That kind of knowing settles in where it needs to go only through experience. Not endless education.

We are invited into relationship. I feel confident that we are also invited to participate in this Divine Dance, as some refer to it.

There used to be a country song that I heard but cannot recall right now. It had a lyric that basically was: she wants to know how the song ends before she starts to dance. We can get stuck there. I’ll say it as long as I live: perfect love casts out fear.

Here I’ve been trying to know as much as possible all my life. Endless preparations and rehearsals. Over the years more and more of what I was so sure I knew feels like best guesses for the most part.

Now it is becoming clearer to me that the only thing I really need to know and can know for sure is God. That’s it.

Weak

The tagline for my blog used to be: never give up! I changed it because the last year or so has been a journey of releasing my need to be self-sufficient. In a way, I didn’t need God as much before. I didn’t need Him to be God. I just needed Him as fire insurance or my backup plan.

At least, that was my false perception. I thought He expected me to be stronger. And need Him less?

I’m finding the exact opposite. It is in my independence that I feel farthest from Him. Our American culture does not encourage this dependence. We applaud the loner who climbs and fights his way to the top.

I like to do my best, but this independence isn’t about being a good steward. This self-sufficiency borders on being my own god. Even though I can go to church, sing all the songs, and recite all the verses, when push comes to shove, I’ve found that the weakest parts of me don’t trust God. Don’t know His love and provision. Because I never allowed Him to be my God. I always jumped in and took matters into my own hands before I let Him catch me.

Part fear, part slave to comfort. We cry “take me into deeper waters”, but lose our minds when the waters get choppy, the boat is taking on water, and we’re sinking. We don’t want to wait until we’re underwater for Him to send a big whale to ferry us safely onward. Jonah reference if I lost you there.

And you might say I’m being dramatic. But I think this is maybe the most important part of our spiritual journey. Think of Jesus. It was His faith in The Father that enabled Him to do what none of us ever have: complete and perfect trust in God.

I think that’s what His experience with the devil in the wilderness during His 40-day fast was about: will Jesus trust God or give into the temptation to judge the situation in the physical?

Same with being betrayed and abandoned. Same with being whipped, beaten, and murdered on The Cross. Always the same problem being conquered on our behalf: to believe that no matter how bad it got, He was always safe in The Father’s heart and hands. As we also were, are, and will be in Jesus. God does not do abandonment – even in our unfaithfulness. He is always faithful! He always loves us!

In my need to know is where my biggest battles are fought. My sense of safety being misplaced in my need for certainty. He’s teaching me to let go of the false sense of security in “knowing” anything other than I am in God and He has me for all eternity. False because we don’t even know what we don’t know.

His thoughts are higher. His ways are greater. His love is big enough. Great enough. His grace is sufficient. This life is only the beginning.