Let me start by asking you a question.
Can you tell me the story of how God has been at work in your life?
If I pressed you to tell me the story, could you do it? Some of you reading this may be wondering what I even mean with that question. Well, let me tell you. Then let’s see if you can answer the question.
One of the lessons that I learned growing up was that a faith that is not lived is not a faith to rejoice in. I can be so easy to say that we have faith, but if that faith does not manifest itself in our lives there is something wrong. James, Jesus’ own brother, said that same thing. He challenged his readers to “prove” their faith with their words, while he demonstrated his faith by his actions (James 2:18). Essentially, James was saying that talk is cheap.
I have said this on a number of occasions over the course of my life. I am a follower Jesus Christ because of the stories my parents told me about how God was working and moving and forming them. It was not a sermon or Sunday school lesson that convinced me of my parents’ faith. It was their constant and consistent demonstration of trust and dependence on God. I am an eyewitness to the living out of the faith they professed.
I do not remember them all, but I remember enough of them to know that my parents were not talking about something abstract. Their faith was and is a real and tangible reality. It is what continues to sustain them.
Having witnessed my parents example, I was on the look out for God all the time. I wanted to have stories to tell like they had. Stories of God’s miraculous intervention. Stories of seeing God answer prayer. Stories where God did the seemingly impossible.
I will admit that I had a difficult time for a long time. I began to feel that maybe I wasn’t good enough. That maybe there was something wrong with my faith. That maybe God saved these kinds of visitations for a special group or class of people.
There was a period in my life where I was silently wondering if my parents had made up their stories. That I may have put my hope and invested my life in something that was more fantasy than faith. That was a terribly disheartening thought.
And then it happened.
I was talking to my father, and as we talked he was telling me about all he had seen God doing in my life. He began to outline this picture of God’s work in my life. A picture that I simply had not seen.
From moving back to Georgia to going to Statesboro (the town I went to college) to the first church I served. On and on he went, knitting together the various threads of my life and shedding light on the pattern that was forming of the work of God in my life.
I was shocked. I frankly had not seen it. I could not see. I had missed my stories. I was so busy looking for God’s future activity that I was not looking at God’s past activity. This is an important detail. When we focus in the wrong direction we miss the mosaic God had been putting together.
We can be in such denial of our own limitations. We simply do not have the ability to see what God is going to do. It does not matter how much we pretend to know. Even when we put on this faux confidence about the future realities beyond our grasp.
The future belongs to God. He alone is able to make sense of all the variables that are in play in each of our lives. We have to stop trying to look into the future. Until we accept that looking into the future is not how we know that God is working in our lives, we will struggle to recognize God’s activity.
The way that we know, the way that we become aware of God’s care and presence in our lives is by looking back. By remembering how we thought things were going to go and then realizing that they did not go that way at all. As a matter of fact, we look back and see that our lives could have actually been worse. Especially if our fears had won out. But, somehow they were not. What we thought was going to kill us didn’t. And what we thought was going to make us, didn’t turn out the way we planned.
This is what it means to connect the dots of our faith story. When we start out on this journey of faith, the picture looks like a bunch of random events. All we see are the individual circumstances. Seemingly random and disjointed by time and place. It’s not until we begin to link these moments and decisions together that the image begins to take shape.
I remember one time during the time my oldest daughter started learning her numbers, we were eating at a Cracker Barrel. The kid’s menu had several different games for children to entertain themselves. One of them was the “Connect the Dots” game. She did not understand the purpose of the dots, but she recognized the numbers. I explained that she had to draw a line between the dots based on the numbers they had next to them. I could see the focus on her little face as she worked to draw those lines following the order of the numbers. She was intent on getting the numbers in the right order, which she did.
The funny part was that she had not realized that the purpose of the dots was ultimate goal. The purpose of drawing those lines was the picture that appeared. The look of surprise on her face was precious. She was not anticipating that result. She could not have imagined that outcome.
Whether you realize it our not, we all are going through essentially the same process with God that my daughter experienced. The greatest difference is that the dots we should be striving to connect are the moments of decision and the moments where we had to exercise faith in God.
The dots in our lives are not imaginary. They are real. And too often we can’t see past the confusion, the pain, the regret, the sadness, the surprise, the elation, the joy, the relief or whatever other emotion we had of each individual moment. We cannot see clearly how they should be connected. Sometimes we need the help of someone else to remind us. To remind us that God is drawing a picture in and with our lives.
And, if we want to see that picture developing, if we want to know that God is present, if we want to tell others about our faith we have to connect the dots of our faith story. We have to practice connecting the dots of our faith story. It is not something that comes easily to most of us. At least not for me.
When we learn to do this we will be able to see for ourselves what God has been doing. And then, we will have a story to share. A story that not only reminds us but encourages others to believe as well. Just like my parents did for me. All of us can do this for someone else. As a matter of fact, that has been God’s plan from the beginning. Just read Jesus’ example on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).
So, let me ask you again: Can you tell me the story of how God has been at work in your life?
If you can, do it in the comments below. I would love to read it! As I am sure others would as well.