The Challenge of Authentic Private Faith
I went to a funeral a few weeks ago. I didn’t know the gentleman well, and it has been many years since I have seen him, but there was something in me that wanted to be at the service celebrating his life. I go to funerals regularly for work. I don’t like them, and it’s rare for me to choose to go out of my way to attend the funeral of someone I barely know, but this was different.
Lloyd Nicholas was a missionary with Operation Mobilisation for all of his adult life. He was a ship director, a leader of change, an international ambassador for the Gospel, and a gifted Bible teacher. Lloyd literally rubbed shoulders with some of the most powerful men and women in the world in countries that were, and still are, closed to missionaries, negotiating the passage for ships carrying the good news into these countries. He was a risk taker. He was a man of incredible faith. He was also one of the most humble, kind, softly spoken men I have every known.
As I spent those few short hours listening to tributes to Lloyd’s life, one thing struck me, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. At one point, one of Lloyd’s colleagues read from his diary from a period of time that was extremely difficult. It was high stakes and high stress, as a lot of money was involved in negotiating the purchase of a new ship. But as the diary was read, the words were not high stress pleas to God. The words were not full of worry and concern, they were full of faith.
You see, I have a secret life when it comes to faith. If you ask me to pray for you (which I would always love to do) my words are full of faith. Faith in a mighty and gracious God to work a miracle in your life circumstances, faith in a God who heals, who restores, who deeply cares. My faith is entirely genuine in that moment, and I believe every word that I pray.
But if you were to read out the pages in my diary, especially during the times when circumstances are difficult for me personally, you would find words of worry and concern, words of confusion and question, words of anxiety. I had always felt that my private diary was a safe place to be the worried part of myself, that is was a good idea to let it out and write it down. But I am recognising now, after pondering Lloyd's example, that perhaps I am feeding my worries more than conquering them. I can make my worries into mighty mountains to climb when I eloquently put words to them in line after line of heartfelt fear and concern. I’m not always sleighing my giant, sometimes I am feeding him.
I feel convicted to bring faith into the secret inner world expressed in the pages of my diary. The faith that prays big bold prayers. Faith that believes in a God that is bigger than my circumstances. Faith in a God who loves my family more than I do, who has a plan for each of us, and who pursues me with His love every day.
So in the coming weeks when I sit with God and bring out my diary to debrief my day and tell Him the concerns of my heart, I will not embellish the worry and dwell on the difficulties. I will write about the mercy and grace of God. Rather than write out my frustrations, I will write out the promises of God. Rather than writing prayers about my hurt, I will write prayers of God’s power to heal, and power to save.
I will bring faith into my diary, and in doing so, I am expecting faith to fill up my heart and mind. I will take all those reminders into my worry-filled days and recognise God’s presence there, working in all things for my good.
There was a song printed on the last page of the funeral order of service booklet. It was a song that was a comfort to Lloyd, a song called My Lighthouse, about navigating the storms of life without fear when we follow the lighthouse safe to shore. A perfect favourite song for a man who spent many years living on a ship. As it happens, I know this song really well, but I had never really thought about what it meant before. Every Sunday before our 6pm service we all gather on The Terrace to chat and drink coffee, and at precisely 4 minutes before 6 this song is played, the doors are opened, and we all go inside and take our seats for the service. The song is catchy, it has a folky feel that cuts through the usual background music, and it has a great ending which makes it perfect to start church out of.
Now every time that I hear the song I can think of Lloyd. I will be reminded of his faith in a great God that was so genuine that it wasn’t just his public self, but it was his private self as well. I hope I have enough years left to learn how to have a private faith just as strong.