16 years ago today, I wrote this in my journal:
I just got back from outreach. There was no one there. I guess the pastor was sick and there were no visitors yesterday, anyway. That’s not right. I fear the people at church don’t have passion for outreach. My brother has a survey that you can use door to door in order to get opportunities to reach the lost. I’m gonna show it to them next week.
My other brother called last night. We were disturbed because he didn’t even mention Y2K, the world situation, or moving here. In fact, we’re pretty sure he’s not interested in moving here anymore. It looks like by the end of the year he’ll be earning a lot more at his job. And now with his new car and everything else, I’m afraid he’s getting caught up in the money. It breaks my heart. I want him to be here and I want to serve the Lord with him.
“Jesus, you’re all I have. You’re my Lord and my God and my Savior, but I’m realizing I can’t draw my spiritual strength from books or other people. It needs to come from you. Oh how I long to be closer to you..”
[Later] You know, my faith is too weak. The greatest problem for Christians today isn’t necessarily a lack of prayer or outreach. It’s a lack of faith. Do we really believe what we say we believe? If Jesus appeared before me and said, “Hey, you need to spend more time in prayer,” would I pray more? Of course I would! But Jesus IS there, I just can’t see him. So whenever I skip prayer time, it’s not a lack of discipline. It’s a lack of faith.
“Jesus, I do believe, I do love you, and I do care for others, but not as much as I should. Help my unbelief and strengthen my faith. Forgive me and reveal yourself to me. Just a whisper would do. Amen.”
— May 10th 1999
Dear Former Self,
It’s not that the people at your church don’t have enough passion for outreach, it’s that there was no one to visit! Like you said, the church didn’t even have any visitors the day before. Despite your attempts to be humble, you’re still pretty quick to judge others. You think the other churchgoers should be going door to door, so why aren’t you going door to door? When you saw no one was at outreach, you went straight home. Where’s your passion?
Moving on, it seems your brother has figured out that the Y2K bug is just another BS doomsday prediction, but he doesn’t have the heart to say so. And once again, you’re very quick to judge. You think getting promoted and buying a car means he’s “caught up in the money”? You don’t know the first thing about his financial situation! Besides, everybody (hopefully) will at some point in their lives get promoted or get a new vehicle. Stop being so self-righteous. And while you’re at it, stop being so selfish. Just because you want him to move to Oklahoma doesn’t mean that’s the best thing for him.
I’m very intrigued by what you wrote about faith. You’re beginning to realize something about average, everyday Christians: They don’t really act like they believe in God. Sure, they go through the motions on Sundays, but if they truly believed they had a relationship with the creator of the universe–and if they truly believed they were in his presence all the time–wouldn’t they be more excited about it? Wouldn’t they witness every chance they got? Wouldn’t they sin a lot less? Someday you will even write a blog post about this.
Not only are you realizing this about other Christians, you’re realizing it about yourself. You know that if you could actually see Jesus standing next to you, you’d behave very differently. And until your behavior changes, you’re going to be frustrated about not having more faith. No matter how many times you ask Jesus to help your unbelief, he’s not going to do it.
Don’t you ever wonder why you’re expected to have faith, yet Jesus’ disciples weren’t? Most people never consider this, but it’s true. Faith is believing that something is true even when there isn’t any evidence. But Jesus’ disciples did have evidence: they saw Jesus perform miracles and come back from the dead. Perhaps they still needed a little faith, but it was certainly a lot easier for them than it is for you. You’ve never seen even a small miracle, much less someone rising from the dead. How can you be expected to believe as strongly as you would if Jesus were standing next to you?
I notice this is the first time you asked Jesus to actually reveal himself to you. If I recall correctly, you’re not expecting a vision like Paul had on the road to Damascus, but you would like something to happen. Something that would strengthen your faith. Even just a whisper in your ear or a vivid dream would do.
You’re truly grateful to Jesus for saving you, and you simply desire the very thing you believe God created you for: a relationship. And yet, Jesus is more absent than a deadbeat dad. No whispers, no dreams, nothing. All you’ve ever gotten were warm feelings while praying or worshiping (feelings you’ve also had during nonreligious experiences). Why do you suppose Jesus is leaving you lonely and frustrated?
Other Christians will tell you you’re being selfish (for wanting a better relationship with Jesus?) or that you shouldn’t ask God to do tricks (even though he did them for the disciples?) or that it’s a test and you should stop complaining. But none of these answers will make the problem go away. Where is Jesus? Why doesn’t he strengthen your faith? Why doesn’t he give you a sign? And why is everything always your fault?
It will be a few more years before you stop believing, but I believe this journal entry is the first sign that it’s going to happen.
— Matt, May 10th, 2015
This is part of an ongoing series called Letters to My Former Self.