12.29.2007

A Bigger Faith for a Bigger God

In his bestselling Christian book, The Prayer of Jabez, Bruce
Wilkinson exposits from a tiny passage amidst a sea of genealogies in
1 Chronicles. His interpretation of the phrase, "Oh, that You would
bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory," has been taken by
Christians to mean anything from asking God for a bigger house to a
bigger ministry.

I have no theological training to determine whether it is true to the
text or not, but I'd like to propose an alternative point of view.
Would that we Christians ask God to enlarge our understanding of His
lordship in our lives and in our world. Too often in 21st century
American Christianity, to believe in Jesus has been to draw a faith
boundary that includes only our Easter sunrise breakfasts, our worship
jams, and maybe our willingness to call on Him for help and patience
when our cars break down or our kids are fighting.

This is a boiling down - of the expansive, multi-generational,
structural, and communal story that is described in the Bible - to an
individualistic, self-centered, and short-term perspective; one that I
do not believe adequately represents the true God and the true faith.
Perhaps we need to stop praying for bigger turf, to the extent that
turf means physical possessions or vocational responsibilities or even
spiritual service, and start praying for bigger turf, to the extent
that turf means whatever we understand God to be God of.

Easier said than done. There have been many days when I wished I
could contain my faith to a more manageable circle. My life may
shrink as a result, but then I don't have to be burdened with the
kinds of questions God's existence deserves.

For example, this year I've been fortunate to explore client work that
has intersected with some very interesting issues, like affordable
housing and transportation financing and economic development. As a
Christian, I view such topics from a faith lens; only my deeper
exploration has left me more wanting rather than more satisfied, in
terms of seeing God in the midst of these issues. I know God would
want the poorest among us to not get shafted by society, but I now
understand the mechanisms for alleviating that burden to be much more
complicated and fuzzy than I first assumed. What does it mean to
believe God enough to do something about social injustice, when that
injustice is so entrenched and nuanced and multi-layered? God has
enlarged my understanding, but I am all too often left less hopeful as
a result.

Or take this week's assassination of Pakistan's former prime minister,
Benazir Bhutto. It's one thing for us Christians to pray in our
pulpits and around our dinner tables for peace in this and other parts
of the world. But what does it mean that God really is Lord of human
events, and can and does use faithful (and sometimes, not so faithful)
people to implement peace and reconciliation? What does it look like
for Pakistani Christians to incarnate that peace, and for Christians
around the world to lobby their leaders to act in ways that move
towards that peace? A smaller faith prays for peace and then moves on
to listening to the sermon or commencing dinner; a bigger faith
puzzles over what can be done to take part in that peace.

Being open to God pushing the boundaries of our faith outward can be
incredibly mind-spinning, even if one considers more personal and
intimate issues. Does God care if I drive a SUV? (Yes, but He also
cares that the batteries that power Priuses are likely just as if not
more toxic to the environment.) Are there ways I have not completely
ceded to God's lordship my career aspirations and professional
trajectory? (In my case, most certainly yes.) Have I thoughtfully
considered what God would have me to do with the money I give to
church and charity? (And, bigger question, even if we tithe: there's
the other 90 percent that God is owner of, that we may or may not be
spending according to His will.) Do I speak and act differently with
my Christian circles than with my non-Christian circles? (A dead
giveaway, at least in my life, that I've shunted God to certain
compartments of my life, disbelieving His relevance in other
compartments.)

To be sure, there is a time for unplugging from the grid, so to speak.
Satan can use our busyness and worry just as much as our laziness and
apathy to divert us from heavenly purposes. There is nothing wrong,
inherently, with leisure: with rough-housing with your kids or playing
Scrabulous or, gasp, blogging. I would just hope for myself and for
other Christians who are alive today, that we would strive for a
bigger faith, knowing we have a far bigger God than what our current
faith indicates. O God, bless this generation in this way, enlarging
our territory in terms of our understanding of Your lordship over the
totality of our lives and our world.

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