Deeper Than My Feet Could Wander

August 20, 2013

“Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders,
let me walk upon the waters,
wherever you may call me.
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
and my faith will be made stronger
in the presence of my Savior.”

(“Oceans” by Hillsong United)

I am currently attending a little church plant that is built upon the missional movement and upon a model that uses their communities (a hybrid small group/house church/missional team) that meet throughout the week as the main mode of being “church.” Because of this, they only gather as a complete church twice a month (though there are rumors of three times a month). At those gathering, it’s very much like a typical worship service. Coffee at the door, music, teaching. I love that amid the casual and contemporary feel and the louder music, this little church plant always does the Collect, the Psalm Reading, and Eucharist.    Every. Time. We. Gather.

Talk about being rooted in a strong theological understanding of the Church and the Sacraments! We love this stuff.

This song appears to be one of their go-to songs for things. I had never heard it before I entered this church,  and almost every time we have gathered, they have sung  in various ways- as a full song, as a response, slower, faster, chorus only, verse only and so on.

Being a pastor, I often wonder why leaders and pastors choose particular songs to sing, especially when we sing them often. I wonder that because I know that sometimes we pastors choose things that speak to what we are experiencing in ministry. So I find myself wondering if this song, the words, the tone, speak to these planters and leaders who are definitely doing something against the grain.

What I didn’t expect was how much the song would begin to speak to me. I have found it in my head day after day after day. And finally I decided I would explore why I seemed to be stuck on this particular piece of music.

I think that when faith gets shaken, it is hard to regain footing. It’s like sliding down a hiking trail on loose gravel, trying to get your feet back under you, only to be moving too fast to stop. When faith starts sliding, it’s difficult to stop too. And once you hit the bottom, it becomes even more difficult to think about trying it again. We humans get burned and it’s hard to get burned again. We don’t want to try again. We just don’t.

I am writing a sermon that involves just this fear. Or any fear really. 1 John tells us that perfect love drives out fear. And I think this is true because I think I’ve experienced it. But it’s hard to believe when smarting from the slide downhill. Fear feels very protective and productive. It feels that way because it can be both protective and productive- which is pretty ironic. Of course, our protective fear can easily become a jail cell very quickly. But when hurt, when faith is shaken (or destroyed as the case may be), fear is a useful tool.

A friend of mine once told me that the Bible says “do not fear,” or some such variation, 366 times. This friend said to me, “one ‘do not fear’ for every day of the year, including leap year.” (To me, it sounds like she got that from a devotional book.) I don’t know if this true- I haven’t taken the time to count. But it is an interesting thought. And it is true that very, very often, God’s words to people started with “Do not be afraid.”

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Especially when you’ve been hurt. When you’ve tried to hike the path and the gravel gives way beneath you. When you’ve done what you believed God was leading you to do and you ended up in a rough spot. When you’ve prayed and sought the Lord and only found silence and emptiness. People often say, “If you feel distant from God, ask who moved.”  The implication is that YOU moved from him. This could be true sometimes, but what about the times when it’s not true? What about the times when you have prayed,  listened, and acted in the way you felt God was leading and the gravel still slides out and you end up hurt and broken at the bottom of the hill? What about those times?

Faith gets shaken.

It is no different for anyone else who has reached out and fallen short. Faith gets shaken.

And with shaken faith comes fear. And with fear comes a closed-offness (I just made that word up). And with being closed off, we begin to doubt the goodness/strength/interest/ability/care/________________ of God. And with that doubt, we start to hedge our boundaries, pulling them in closer and closer so we maintain control- careful, calculated.

But maybe, just maybe, sometimes our shaken faith can be a gift. Rich Mullins used to sing, “When your faith gets shaken, sometimes your heart get stirred.” Yes. Could it be that when the slide downhill happens, it becomes a moment where our hearts are about to encounter something new, something that expands our spirituality? Could it be that instead of condemning ourselves for being so afraid after a fall that  we could embrace whatever God might have for us in the fall? Could it be that a shaken faith yields a deeper faith in time?

I am always encouraged by the man in Mark 9 who, desperate for help for his son, blurts out the cry of my own heart, “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” If he can say that, then I hope I can too… because I do. Regularly.

But what about fear? What about the very real fear that happens to those of us who have been burned by- dare we say it?- by God himself… or so it seems? What do we do about that? It’s not easy for those paralyzed by the fear to even state such a thing.

I think this may be why this song has spoken so powerfully to me. I don’t know that I could have sung it a few years ago. There were many songs I couldn’t sing then. Many statements of faith in hymns and songs that I couldn’t even hum because they just weren’t true for me. At that time I relied on the voices of others to sing what my heart couldn’t. But this song, my soul can sing. Despite the scars from the downhill slide, despite the fragility of shaken faith, I eventually grew tired of fear. And so I am learning to trust in a new way.

I am not naive. I know it could all go wrong again even as I carefully seek God’s will. But to trust in the LOVE that drives out fear, even just a small amount, allows me to sing these words… knowing with absolute realism where those words might take me.

And so in some ways, singing this song is an act of faith that restores faith. For some reason, my spirit connects with the Holy Spirit in it.

So I sing it. And I think I really mean it. Or at the very least, I mostly mean it. As much as my unbelief will let me. Perhaps that’s why we have these experiences of shaken faith- because we eventually come back to faith with a deeper, more intentional, and more aware kind of trust.

It doesn’t get easier, but it gets better.

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