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Navigating Faith in an Upside-Down World

Updated: May 6

Eugene Peterson's thought-provoking book, "The Jesus Way," takes a deep dive into the powerful narrative of Abraham and the binding of Isaac. Through this story, Peterson offers invaluable insights into the extraordinary faith that drove Abraham to display unwavering obedience.

Today, I pose a question that echoes through the ages: Can we cultivate and practice a faith akin to Abraham's? And if the answer is yes, how do we go about it?

"It is most certainly not a disposition, an inner life, it is an obedient life. A deliberate engagement of the will, a fusion of body and spirit, the visible and invisible fuse, taking us somewhere.

This involves considerable risk. The supposed security of objective certainty recoils from such risks. But for those who take it, it also results in inhabiting a vast previously unperceived reality.

It also involves considerable retraining in virtually everything involved in being a man a woman. The introduction of the word faith into our language produces a radical and total reorientation from a flat-earth existence, plotted along the monotonous lines of a suburban subdivision, to a multi-dimensional earth-as-it-is-in-heaven. in which God's presence is the dominant and defining reality with whom we have to do.

Instead of making the world around us, or the people around us, or our own-selves into the image of what we think is good, we entered the life long process of no longer arranging the world and the people on our terms.

“We embrace what is given to us, people, spouses, children, forests, weather, city, governments - just as they are given to us. And we sit and stare, look and listen, until we begin to see and hear the God dimensions in each gift, and engage with what God has given. With what he is doing. Every time we set out leaving our self-defined or culturally defined state; leaving behind our partial and immature projects, a wider vista opens up before us. A landscape larger with promise."

Eugene Peterson's contemplation has evolved into a beautiful daily practice for us. It involves embracing life's offerings just as they come, without attempting to reshape them to fit our preferences. Instead of trying to mold the world and the people around us to our idea of what's right, we are learning to accept them as they are, and this has become one of the most rewarding additions to our spiritual journey.

It's essential to remember that spiritual maturity is not an acheivement but an ongoing practice, a journey we'll likely continue until the end of our days. One valuable insight we've gained from this practice is that it's becoming easier to face life's challenges with a different perspective. We now find ourselves looking at adversity with a determination to discover God's presence within it. When we unearth God's purpose amidst difficulties, we receive a precious gift that inspires us to repeat this process when the next tough situation arises.

In my journey, I've come to recognize the significance of paying closer attention to my emotions. Emotions are our natural responses when we confront adversity head-on. Take, for instance, the moments when I received the urgent news about my impending bypass surgery, or the unexpected postponement of the surgery on the morning I was supposed to head to the operating room. Emotions came rushing in. They were a blend of fear, a sense of entitlement, profound disappointment, and even unbridled anger.

These emotions played a crucial role in shaping my experience, making me realize that acknowledging and understanding them is a vital aspect of navigating challenging situations. I am realising that this may also be a vital aspect of what we call faith. And faith is much more than a intellectual agreement with a creed. As Eugene Peterson translates Hebrews 6:1, "The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It's our handle on what we can't see."(Heb 11:1)MSG

Faith then becomes an integral part of living a good life - a way to integrate what we can't see into our daily existence. If it is this important, then it may be a worthwhile practice to: "..... sit and stare, look and listen, until we begin to see and hear the God dimensions in each gift, and engage with what God has given. With what he is doing."

Throughout the past year since my sugery, I've undergone a transformative journey where I've come to appreciate the significance of allowing my emotions to surface as I sit, observe, and seek God within my circumstances. I've discovered that emotions can often pose as obstacles to faith, thwarting the early growth of budding belief because they do not allow us to sit and contemplate the presence of God in the adversity.

As a result, I've redirected my attention towards comprehending and effectively handling my emotions, recognizing that this is vital to safeguard the precious seeds of faith dwelling within me. These seeds are gifts bestowed upon me because of the presence of Jesus in the very core of my being and their power is stolen by uncontrolled emotions.

My newfound approach involves acknowledging my emotions by name, and then consciously redirecting my attention to my heart, where I believe Jesus resides. This practice has offered me profound insights, revealing that every emotion, even the most challenging ones, carries a unique gift—a subtle prompt to turn my gaze towards Jesus.

As I turn inward, with each deep breath, I seek to connect with the eternal Presence that resides within me. In doing so, I've found that each emotion becomes a companion, guiding me toward a sense of hope and security.

It's remarkable how willing and capable Jesus is in receiving these emotions. Often, we attempt to conceal them, thinking we can keep them from Him, but He is aware of them all along. When we finally bring them to Him, there's no judgment or criticism, just acceptance. Just as He did on the cross, He takes my brokenness into His own heart and transforms it into the energy I need for my personal growth and transformation. Each emotion offered in this way, becomes the fuel for growth and an increased manifestation of the faith that is already there.

With each exhale, I receive from His loving hand the faith I need to endure while the transformation of my anger, fear, or pain unfolds. This process might take just a moment or span over several days, but I've come to understand that I can and must continually bring these emotions to Him inside me and receive the gifts of faith he is so willing to give me, even if it means doing it countless times throughout the day.

We are all too aware that the brokenness of the world around us won't cease; in fact, it appears to worsen with time. Alongside this brokenness come emotions, which are often merely adrenaline-fueled reactions triggered by our most primal survival instincts.

We are regularly confronted with circumstances that trigger our innate "fight or flight" responses. It's a persistent reality we can't escape. In such a world, cultivating a robust practice to counteract these survival instincts appears to be nothing short of a lifesaver.

Stay tuned - I sense that I'm undeniably making progress in my capacity to engage with my circumstances from a foundation of faith. Gradually, this faith is breaking free from the confines of my fight-or-flight instincts, and produce peace and contentment although the circumstances have not changed.

This practice is straightforward yet profoundly transformative. It entails turning towards the Life within me whenever I'm willing to acknowledge brokenness as an inevitable part of existence and choosing to engage with it rather than evade or battle against it.

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Joe de Swardt
Joe de Swardt

The emotional handle is really helpful. I'm going to put this into conscious practice for a season. Then hope to report back to you. I like the idea of reading the potential immaturity of emotion as a triggering invitation to reach into Jesus and to offer its prime brokenness in exchange for something that endures, grows and even flourishes, in us but not of us.


Janet van Eeden
Janet van Eeden

This is such a challenging post, Stephan. I'm constantly battling my circumstances and trying to escape them whereas this post encourages me to embrace the circumstances. I suppose it's an acceptance of what is, no matter how difficult it is. It's an enormous step for me but I suppose awareness is the first requirement. Thank you for writing this. It's so timely and much needed by me.

Stephan Vosloo
Stephan Vosloo

Thank you so much Janet. The code word for that is “surrender”.

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