Do you have a physical faith? Acting out may be worth the effort.
My brother and I joined Carry the Light choir when I was a gangly, self-conscious 16 year old. The choir was legendary in our circles. Susan, the high school music teacher who directed CTL, handpicked Christian teens from all over Washington State and brought them together once a month to rehearse and give a concert at a church. Surprisingly, the arrangement worked — mostly because of Susan's passion for teens and music.
Our concert included 10 high-powered songs, interspersed with Scripture readings and testimonies. The lyrics of those songs resonated with my fragile teen heart.
I have decided to follow Jesus.
If I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your love will find me.
Let there be praise!
One song — the one we sang to close each concert — impacted me more than the rest.
In a world full of broken dreams
Where the truth is hard to find
For every promise that is kept
There are many left behind.
Though it seems that nobody cares
It still matters what you do
Cause there's a difference you can make
But the choice is up to you.
As a teenager, I needed to hear those words: It still matters what you do. But the moment that made the song so meaningful came during the second chorus.
There are still some battles
You must fight from day to day
But the Lord provides the power
To stand and say:
I will be the one ...
On the word I, 30 teenagers stepped forward. An impassioned army for God. This usually evoked tears from the audience, but the moment electrified us. Each time I took that step, I committed anew to follow Jesus and step forward at his calling. When we crescendoed into the final, I will be the one, I'll be the one! Susan's hand sliced the air and her eyes charged us: You will be the ones. And I absolutely believed it.
Step of Faith
I've often thought about the value of singing those messages of commitment over and over again. Like the Psalmist who repeats again and again, "Your love endures forever" or "Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise," the repetition of these truths increased my love and desire for God.
But when my brother and I reminisce about our years in that choir, the memory we cherish most is that step. The unity we felt with the other teens in that moment was powerful. The vision for what was possible so clear. The physical step enforced what God was speaking to our hearts. The simple movement spoke of our resolve to step out for God.
Such spiritual motions can be seen throughout Scripture. Lift up your hands (Psalm 134:2). Bow down and kneel (Psalm 95:6). Clap (Psalm 47:1). These motions affirm the truths we believe. Many of my most memorable spiritual moments involved such an act. This shouldn't be surprising when I consider that God established actions to go with two of the most sacred sacraments: baptism and communion.
Sometimes an action captures a truth in a way nothing else can. Several years ago, I was at a retreat where the speaker discussed the importance of confessing sin and trusting that Christ's sacrifice was sufficient. Without accepting Christ's forgiveness, he said, we could never live victorious lives. He asked us to write our most grievous sins on a piece of paper. As we sang, we walked forward and nailed our "sins" to the cross. The visual was stunning. As nails were hammered into the rough wood, the truth of forgiveness was pounded into our hearts.
As meaningful as such actions have been in my spiritual life, I have a tendency to downplay them. I suppose I don't view raising a hand in worship or kneeling to pray as crucial to my spirituality. I even fear that I might draw attention to myself. Of course, my relationship with Christ is not dependent on such motions, but do I miss something important when I do not engage physically in my faith?
Faith in Motion
There's a well-loved story here at Focus on the Family about Dr. James Dobson's father. Throughout his life, the elder Dobson knelt so often to pray that the toes of his shoes would wear out before the heels.
While it's impossible for me not to admire this man's devotion, it's tempting to find his habit of kneeling to pray quaint and outdated. But who's to say that part of the power of this man's prayers was his commitment to kneel before God each day? The act of kneeling represented a humble heart before the Lord. And his prayers were the foundation of a worldwide ministry to families.
Going though the motions has the potential to lead to great things in a believer's life. Here are several ways to have a physical faith.
Praise. Some actions express honor for God. These actions are mentioned repeatedly in the Psalms and seem to be a natural part of worship. At my church, the pastor asks us to stand whenever he reads a passage of Scripture. I appreciate this act of reverence for God's Word. Lifting my hands in worship or bowing down helps me recognize my smallness in the presence of an omnipotent God.
In Ephesians, Paul expresses the wonderful truth that believers may approach God freely with confidence. He then writes: "For this reason I kneel before the Father." Actions that show respect for a great God are a natural response to His character and a believer's relationship to Him.
Remember. There is an improv game my team plays where we must act out a scene forward and then backward. As the moderator stops the motion and makes it go forward or back, we must repeat our words verbatim. A trick to the game is to include an action, such as a handshake or a step, with each sentence. This helps us to recall our words.
It seems that our God is intentional in designating actions that will help us remember truths about Him. Bowing reminds us that God is far above us. Taking communion reminds us of Christ's sacrifice. Being immersed in water in baptism reminds us that salvation bids we die to ourselves and live a new life for Christ. Every spiritual motion should jog your memory of God's greatness.
Affirm. Seek out affirming actions. The step I took dozens of times as a member of Carry the Light youth choir activated my faith. In the weeks between concerts, I was more attuned to commitment I had made to Christ — more alert to opportunities. When temptations arose, I would remember the step and overcome.
A friend of mine worked at a skate church in Portland, Ore., where the Gospel was presented at every meeting. The speaker would issue an invitation, but he would ask anyone who wanted to follow Christ to stand. Standing required a greater commitment than simply repeating a silent prayer. And the motion of rising from the crowd for the sake of Christ set a tone of boldness for the new believer's life.
It's been 12 years since I left CTL, but I still think about that step and the passion it instilled in me. I left the choir supremely more confident in my faith than when I started. Last month Susan passed away suddenly after a rapid battle with cancer. She had planned to have a reunion concert this summer.
While that concert will never be, many young adults walk devotedly with Christ because of Susan. And perhaps that is the most fitting tribute to a woman who helped us take our first steps.
Copyright 2007 Suzanne Hadley. All rights reserved.