For the month of December, I will be focusing on Advent, the four weeks preceding Christmas Day. During Advent, Christians all over the world remember the arrival of the Incarnation, God’s presence with us in the flesh-and-blood of a newborn baby—Jesus. Whereas Lent focuses on fasting and repentance, Advent centers around prayers of waiting, a desperate people living in darkness who pray in hopeful expectation for the coming of the Light. Each week I will share a focus scripture as well as an excerpt of my new book Relentless: The Unshakeable Presence of a God Who Never Leaves (2019, Zondervan).  After all, He is the One we’ve always been waiting for. May your Advent experience this year be rich with His Presence and Light.

We are so infatuated with miracles. We pray for them, buy books about them, search far and near for one of our own. We even entice God to respond by making sweeping promises and attempting to manipulate His affection.

I imagine we think a miracle will solidify our faith, provide proof that what we believe isn’t unfounded. Besides, there is certainly nothing wrong with praying for a miracle, believing in a miracle, and then celebrating it if and when it comes. Our God is the God of the impossible.

The Bible is filled with examples of these kinds of praying-believing-receiving miracles. I’ve experienced a few inexplicable moments myself. And although His deliverance rarely happens like I expect, it takes my breath away.

But we mustn’t forget: The disciples saw three years of back-to-back miracles. The sick healed. The dead revived. Jesus silenced storms, fed thousands, cast out demons, touched outcasts, and res- cued the rebellious. But when the bottom fell out in a late-night garden arrest, every single one of those who claimed to love Him left Him. Applause and adoration turned to running shoes and doubt. As pastor Leonard Sweet said recently, “Jesus is mystery, not equation. Add him up, you still don’t have it. Jesus didn’t come to earth so we could use him as ‘proof’ or to prove a point. He is the point, and the church has often missed the point when it forgets this.”

Miracles don’t always make faith. Tangible proofs don’t guarantee trust. Suffering, loss, difficulty, questions, wrestling, and the oceanic grace and unflinching presence of God do. And, perhaps, the fact that grace and nearness show up in those kinds of places is, in spite of us, the real miracle. Then, as St. Augustine said, “if we but turn to God, that itself is a gift of God.”37

Blessed is the one who is not ruined by Me but who trusts Me, even there …

Perhaps our greatest prison isn’t the pain we suffer in our incarcerations but our lagging ability to trust while sitting in them. The way we cling to our control rather than surrender to the not-knowing, not-understanding, not-resolving. We are—I am—so very desperate for explanations, reasons, something or someone to tell us how we ended up where we are. We think the answers will bring light to our darkness, set us free of our prisons.

Perhaps they might, temporarily. But sooner or later, we will once again land in a circumstance outside the reach of our lamps. Then all the reasons that felt bright enough in the first crisis won’t light up the second.

What we need is not more proof of Him but more trust in Him.

“Where there is true faith, yet there may be a mixture of unbelief,” a seventeenth-century Welsh minister, Matthew Henry, said. “The Old-Testament prophets were sent mostly to kings and princes, but Christ preached to the congregations of the poor.”

This is good news for the likes of you and me. We, the shabby, worn-down company of the poor. Those of us who believe and yet doubt. Those whose stomachs growl for a feast of faith and yet can scrounge up only a couple of pennies of trust.

Perhaps it’s time to revisit the miracles and evidences we’ve already seen. He has doggedly pursued us in spite of our every attempt to push Him out. His presence is big enough to enter into the dark places, confusing places, ugly and beyond-understanding places and, by the sheer magnitude of His mystery, shine a light far too bright to be eclipsed by our doubt.

If I dare trust Him even here, doubt turns out to be a gift. A strange, hard gift, to be sure. But the means of a deeper faith. And if faith grows in a darkness with every sinister attempt to ruin it, then perhaps that is the real miracle after all.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for … These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. —Hebrews 11:1, 39-40

 

QUESTION: This week’s advent theme is HOPE. Although hope is a positive, life-giving word, it is also a waiting word. Waiting is hard. But hope realized is not hope at all. Thus, this week I want you to sit in the waiting space. Consider the hopes you have that have not yet become reality. Allow yourself to feel the ache of waiting. Like the shepherds who sat in the dark waiting for the coming Messiah, turn your eyes to the sky. What is your heart longing for? What is your yet-unrealized hope?

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Yay! Thank you! I am excited to have you on board.