As some of you know, one of my Lenten disciplines is to go to a Buddhist meditation group once a week. This week, after meditation, we had a discussion about the Buddhist understanding of patience. One person brought up that she often sets goals for her life, and she gets attached to those goals. And when she doesn’t reach those goals, or when she doesn’t reach them quickly enough, she loses patience. This resonated with people, and some people started thinking we shouldn’t set goals at all. Or that we just need to have patience and faith that we will one day reach the goals.
I think we sometimes have this same question in Christianity. But in our Christian lingo, I think it’s linked to prayer. Jesus says this thing in Matthew that has always bothered me. It’s right after he heals a little boy having epileptic seizures. The disciples had tried before and couldn’t help the child. The scripture reads,
Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there, “ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’
This passage has always troubled me. It brings up all sorts of hard questions like, If I pray for something and it doesn’t happen just as I prayed for, is it because I don’t have enough faith? Did my friend have two miscarriages because she didn’t have enough faith? And what if someone prays for something that’s not so good—like that something bad would happen to someone else? If they have enough faith, will God do it?
And what about those moments at the hospital bed with someone who is clearly dying? Should we encourage a family to pray for God to save this life against all odds and all nature? Or should we pray for the seemingly impossible acceptance of mortality?
It all comes down to this question: What is our relationship to the future for which we hope and pray? And, even more importantly, what is God’s relationship to the future for which we hope and pray? If things aren’t working out the way we want—which happens all the time—should we always just keep the faith, keep pushing toward the goal, no matter what?
A few years ago, I heard a speaker talking about setting a vision and goals for your church. And he told this story about his son. In high school, all his son talked about was becoming an engineer. It was his highest ambition and goal in life to be an engineer. And so he worked really hard in school so he could reach his goal of being an engineer. Well, it turned out that in college, he changed his mind and became passionate about another career. But, because he had that vision and goal of being an engineer, he worked really hard and put himself in a position to go into this other direction very easily. That’s how vision and goals can work for us in our churches and in our lives. God gives us these glimpses into what could be, we work and pray and hope for that future, and we are better because of it. Things may not turn out exactly as we had pictured. The mountain may look different after it’s been moved—It may be surrounded by different scenery, capped with a different climate, different flora and fauna, and you may be exhausted because you realized God needed you to get you friends together to push that mountain across the valley yourselves. But the faith we need is not in knowing things will turn out just as you imagined, but the faith is in knowing God will do something great in you.
(This was originally shared as a devotion on one of Church of the Village’s Wednesday morning prayer calls. Join us any Wednesday morning at 7am for 20 minutes of devotion and prayer. Ph: (559)546-1200, Code: 533-689-191#)