Andy Stanley once said that we can't make ourselves believe anything.
I think we can only put ourselves into environments that cultivate belief, but at any given time our belief in something is either there.... or it's not.
I've discovered something else about belief. A belief creates a feeling or imprint in our heart that grows deeper over time. It becomes part of our self-image.
"I'm a guy who believes that _______".
That belief becomes part of how we see ourselves.
Eventually we stop thinking about the substance of the belief, assuming it's still .... well, "in there". We feel like the belief is there, but we're actually just feeling the shape of that belief that's been there for so long. We rarely stop to examine the belief itself.
Over the past 10 years I've explored my collection of beliefs, a collection that's been growing since childhood. For most of my life this collection only grew in size. New beliefs came in, but nothing left or changed.
So I visited the dusty corners of my heart, experiencing a strange fear as I did so. This sort of inventory taking was discouraged (in so many words) when I was a kid. Good Christians weren't supposed to question their beliefs, to do so implied doubt, and doubt was bad.
Yet, there I was. Nervously digging into the corners of my heart, examining beliefs I had not questioned since childhood. I began to carefully poke, prod, and shake.
It's Already Gone
Some of my oldest beliefs crumbled immediately. It was as if they had evaporated long before, leaving behind only a fragile shell and a feeling. From a distance these empty shells looked and felt like true belief. But with the slightest poke, they crumbled.
My heart, once crowded with belief and certainty, suddenly had much more space than I was used to — or comfortable with.
Lori and I started actively following Andy Stanley (and North Point Community Church) in 2012. For whatever reason, we seem to be on the same wavelength as that church. Andy's approach doesn't resonate with everyone, and that's ok. But his teaching, and the teaching of the other pastors at North Point has had a very direct, tangible effect on my faith.
When I first discovered Andy, I was experiencing some of the deepest disillusionment of my life. All of it revolved around church, Christianity, and the people that had influenced my life for over a decade. The beliefs that kept me energized in church were evaporating. Without them I was just going through the motions. I was hungry for something more substantial than the superficial spiritual-sounding fluff I had been trying to find happiness in.
Andy talks about Jesus a LOT. I've been in church my entire life and I've never heard someone preach about Jesus the same way that he does. He also talks about the early church more than anyone I've ever listened to. His teaching about the life of Jesus, and the significance of Jesus' message today captivated my heart.
Although I've been a Christian most of my life, the origins of Christianity were never a fascinating topic for me. Although I accepted it as truth, I didn't see myself in those stories. I was much more interested in what God was doing "now", and what the Holy Spirit was doing "today".
But the problem with focusing on "now" and "today" is that you're left with a very shaky foundation when disillusionment rocks your world — especially if you don't understand or appreciate what happened "back then". That's how I encountered Andy's teaching — disillusioned, hungry for substance, and somewhat bitter.
As the weeks and months turned to years, the weight of these stories began to sink in. My heart became tied up in them. After 30+ years of being a Christian, it felt like I was getting to know my Savior for the first time. I understood the beauty of the Gospel message with a clarity and passion that I had never experienced before.
Discovering the empty shell of a belief long since vanished.... that was a strange feeling. But in the emptiness they left behind, I found clarity. There was less clutter, and I found it easier to focus on what hadn't vanished.
I discovered a very old belief hiding in plain sight. It had been in front of me the entire time, but it had always been lumped in with a bunch of other beliefs that were in my "ok, I got it" collection. This particular belief had never been challenged, and was most certainly taken for granted. During my 20's and early 30's, it got pushed to the back, obscured by layers of sophisticated beliefs rooted in spiritual mumbo-jumbo. It was still there, but I had moved on to more.... grown up beliefs.
But there it was. Other beliefs had vanished, but this one was still in there.
So I poked at it, but it didn't crumble.
I pushed on it, but it didn't move — not even an inch.
It was as if this belief had grown roots and become part of me. Of course, that's what all our Christian beliefs are supposed to do, but obviously some of them had not. This one though.... this one was attached.
By now, you've probably figured what my clever story is about. For decades I professed this belief without really understanding what I was saying. But today, professing it publicly means a whole lot more. When I say it now, it's personal.
I honestly and sincerely believe that Jesus was exactly who He claimed to be. I believe that He actually died a real death He didn't deserve, and that He was literally resurrected from the grave. Most importantly, I am completely and thoroughly convinced that all of this was done to pay for my own sins, and that His sacrifice was accepted by God as payment for me.
I've been a Christian professing that for as long as I can remember, but it sounds crazier today than it ever has. I can barely admit it without grinning, thinking of how crazy it sounds. I'm too smart to believe something like this, too cynical, too disillusioned with church and other Christians. I've known too many smart people who didn't believe it, and I've seen too many good people suffer. I've been too successful to need it, and been educated too much to accept it.
This belief shouldn't still be there. But it just..... is.