But he did not answer her a word . . . (Matt. 15:23).
My crisis of faith, if you can call it that, was a quiet one. An inward and well-behaved rebellion.
I am the son of a Baptist preacher. Better said, I am the son of a Baptist preacher-evangelist. He began preaching early in his life, learning his craft in tent revivals. Even as a pastor in carpeted sanctuaries the evangelist was present. He preached to call people to decision, to bring people to Jesus.
I heard such sermons of his from the first weeks of my life. Early in my eighth year, the call to
decision came to me in a direct and compelling kind of way. Not long after, my Dad placed one strong hand on my back and gently held a handkerchief over my face as he lowered me into the waters of baptism. “Buried with him in his death . . . raised to walk in newness of life.”
My crisis of faith had to do with that newness of life part. About ten years or so after my baptism, that newness of life didn’t feel so new. I wasn’t sure if such a thing had ever been true of me at all.
A Nagging Suspicion
A nagging suspicion was growing in the shadowed corners of my heart and mind. I knew the story of Jesus like I knew the freckles on my arms. I knew the church world just as well. And as I grew a bit bored with all of these familiarities it occurred to me that the only reason any of it meant anything to me at all was simply an accident of birth.
My first birth, landing me in a Baptist parsonage, had shaped my life far more than the new birth and the newness of life that I stepped into when I walked out of the baptistery. That’s what I thought. I had real questions as to whether I was or ever had been a Christian at all. Such was the quiet crisis of faith.
There’s no space to tell about what came after that. That was more than 30 years ago. I’m still hanging around the church, teaching, writing stuff like this, being a pastor. I love it. Let’s just say that by the grace of God I muddled through.
But I’m convinced that there’s nothing special or unique about my story. I’m equally convinced that there are plenty of others who don’t muddle through.
Hold Your Ground
Plenty of people grow up in a church with devout parents. They go to Sunday school and VBS. They do the youth group thing complete with summer camps and spiritual mountain top moments. And then something happens.
Maybe they just go to college. Maybe they take a class in Bible from someone with a Ph.D in religion but little regard for faith. Or maybe it’s more serious than that. They get into the world. They lose a job or can’t find one to begin with. Their marriage ends badly. They get sick. Still worse, their child gets sick.
Whatever it is, the Sunday school faith of cute songs and crayons proves inadequate. The faith of their childhood looks childish. They may not despise it, but they drop it. They walk away.
A woman came to Jesus with a sick daughter. She came pleading for mercy, pleading for her child. And Jesus was silent. He didn’t answer. He didn’t act. He did nothing to encourage her. In fact, he made things difficult. And she stayed. She held her ground. She pressed her case.
The silence of Jesus is often an invitation, an invitation to discover more of who he is and what he is like, an invitation to more grace or possibly a miracle. Why not trade your childhood faith for a mature resolve to follow Jesus?
Stay put. Press your case. Hold your ground. Don’t walk away.
For the very first gift of your grace that drew us close to you, O God, we give you thanks. For those through whom it came to us, we praise you. Now grant us grace to persevere, to grow to maturity, to hold our ground in your silences trusting that you will our good. We ask this in Jesus’s name. Amen.