In my first congregation, I would often arrive at church consistently at about 9:00 am. I would follow my patterns, and after awhile I noticed that I began to run into the same guy standing on the sidewalk right where the sidewalk and the walk to the church entrance was. I always said “Hi,” and he was friendly back, and I would make my way to work, and he would continue on his path. After a few weeks, I stopped and said “Wow! We always seem to meet at this time.” He smiled and said “I know” and continued to walk.
When you don’t know you need to be looking for something you often miss it. And in this case I had. This persistent man wanted to talk with a pastor, but he did not know how to go about it. As I talked about it with my staff they let me know a little of the backstory, so the next morning I was ready to take our relationship to the next level and have a conversation. Turns out he had wanted to talk for a long time, but he felt he was so bad of a person he could not even step inside a church. When I told him that everyone who asks for grace will receive it, his body relaxed, and I invited him to my office. We talked for hours.
Interestingly, the “sins” he was so ashamed of were really not that bad, but the inner turmoil of stress, self worth, and perceived evil, kept him from having any relationship with God. Moreover, this inner conflict made him feel like he was not even worthy to talk to someone who could help. He needed me to initiate the conversation.
I often say that the biggest hurdle of having a faithful life is the inner conflict; this includes guilt, questions of worthiness, and so on. The hopeful thing about the message of Christ is that none of that really matters, because the Christ who came to save us knows our hearts, and what every worry or inadequacy we feel is really bound to this world and not His.
This is why when Christ says, “you cannot truly live unless you live through me,” He means that what we often think is important (the things, problems, concerns of this world) hold us back and create within us turmoil and inner conflict. In fact, often when we have our doubts or question our faith, it is the voices that come from the inner conflict that hold us back.
So the problem that most people face is getting beyond that conflict within. Interestingly, for most people the first step is to admit to the struggle. We often say in counseling that you can never help someone with a problem unless they first admit that they have one!
This bears true to faith as well. You will never be able to find your faith until you can identify the barriers that you put on your own faith, the stumbling blocks that are there. But once you know them, your world can open because they are no longer your driving force, God will be.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen