I was in junior high when we got the classic Nintendo. My brothers and I would spend hours playing “Super Mario Bros.” To win, you had to conquer eights worlds with four levels each. I remember when my dad would play, he would try to go through all four levels of each eight worlds. We would get so upset at him for taking the long way. We’d say, “But, Dad! If you go down that tunnel, you can skip to the fourth world.” He refused to do it, and thought any other way was an illegitimate way to beat the game.
We couldn’t understand why he did it the hard way when clearly there were shortcuts to win. The problem became that I, like many others, took that same philosophy in my approach to God. Why do it the hard way if there were shortcuts? Why not find the easiest path to walk as a Christian? I can attest that taking shortcuts to God only pushes you further away and back to the beginning. There is no shortcut to Him or to living the life He’s called us to live.
In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus said, “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention” (MSG). He was warning us to stay away from those shortcuts like the tunnels that skipped levels in the game. Just because they’re there, and other people are taking them, it doesn’t mean we should take them.
A life of faith, and trusting God, is not an easy path. We walk by faith and not sight, remember? There’s no shortcut through a life like that. God’s desire for each of us is to mature in our faith through the process of walking it out daily. It is often vigorous and difficult at times. It can be hard to trust His path when we can only see what’s right in front of us. However, if we remain faithful, take each step as He gives it, and trust Him, we will have a faith that is strong and unshakable. We will find true life.
Have you ever purchased something that had to be assembled? How did you put it together? Did you read the instructions first and then try to do it? Did you have someone else read them to you and then you tried to build it? Or did you look at the picture and try to do it from that? I confess that I’ve been the latter more often than not. I’m getting better at looking at the instructions though. I’ve found that it’s quicker. As I age, it’s becoming more important to me to take a little longer and get it right the first time than to have the pride of building it on my own without instructions and having parts left over.
The same way we approach an assembly project can be the same way many approach being a Christian. Some people want to read the directions (Bible) to find out how to do it right while they build their faith. Others prefer to have a pastor read the instructions to them and then they try to figure it out from there. Still there are those who feel they have no need to read the Scriptures. They feel like that they can figure it out as they go. They try and fail over and over again until they get it or until they give up. Either way, they either have missing parts or there are parts left that they don’t know what to do with.
I’ve tried all three approaches to God at different stages of my life. When I was a teen, I tried to get by just by listening to my pastor and teachers. I got a decent understanding of what Christianity was about, but because I didn’t have the instructions in my hands, I didn’t have a clear picture to go by. In college and the years that followed, I tried the “who needs instructions” approach. I failed miserably. Things in my life kept breaking, parts were falling off and I was missing a lot things that I needed in order to be successful. The outside of my life resembled the picture on the box, but the inside infrastructure was missing. When I had weight applied to my life, it fell apart.
I’m a try, try again kind of person. I don’t easily give up. I may not have gotten it right in the first few tries, but I’m on the path to getting it right now. I’m spending more time reading the instructions and less time looking at the picture on the box. If I spend my life trying to create the picture on the box, I’ll never be the picture of who God wants me to be. We all have different gifts and talents which create different pictures, but our infrastructure has to come from God’s Word. We have to build ourselves up in the most holy faith as Jude 1:20 put it. We each are a work in progress guided by the Holy Spirit. If you’ve found your method isn’t working, try the original plan God had for you. Read His Word and follow the instructions He has for living this life of faith. Don’t ignore the instructions that are right in front of you.
“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” is a proverb so many of us were raised with. From our childhood we are taught that we should hold onto what is certain instead of going for the unsure thing. We are taught that risk isn’t worth it through this proverb. I would even say that this proverb teaches against faith. It tells us to hold on to what we have instead of letting go to see what God might give us.
Abraham was a man who walked by faith. In Genesis 12:1, the Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s home, and go to a land that I am going to show you” (NLT). In this verse, God is asking Abram to let go of the bird in the hand. He had security where he was. He had his father’s inheritance coming to him and the protection of family too. God was saying, “Walk away from all of this, and I will give you more than you could ever imagine or think of.”
I believe God still speaks that to us today. I believe He calls each one of us to trust Him on a level beyond where we are so that He can give us more than we have. The promise is only good if we let go of the bird in the hand. Abram was promised descendants, a nation, blessings, and fame if only he would walk away from everything he knew. I wonder how long he wrestled with it. I wonder how long he questioned if he had really heard from God.
Because Abram was human, you know he had to struggle with these questions just like you and I. The difference is that he was willing let go of the temporary for the eternal while so many of us never let go. God called you and I to live by faith and not by site. He called us to let go of the bird in the hand and to trust Him. Abram didn’t know where God was sending him and his wife had already proven to be barren. What God promised didn’t make sense, but he trusted God.
Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” The Lord told Abram to leave his home and He would show him where to go. God tells us the same thing here. If we will trust Him, without over thinking it, He will show us the path to take to receive the blessings of His will for our life.
A phrase that stands out to me, when reading about great men of faith in the Bible, is they “walked in habitual fellowship with God.” Each time I read that phrase, it calls out to me and dares me to do the same. To walk in habitual fellowship with God is to be in constant communication with Him and to live in a manner that is pleasing to Him. The men in the Bible who did this, found great favor with God.
Noah was one such man. The time period he lived in was like no other. There was no one else on earth who feared God or lived righteously. He had no church find shelter in. He had no Christian friends who could encourage him and pray for him. He was the lone believer in a sinful world. Imagine your life without the help from your church or Christian friends. Imagine having no one you could go to for prayer when you needed it. How long would you last?
This was Noah’s situation and instead of throwing in the towel, he doubled down on his relationship with God. Genesis 6:9 says, “Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God”(NLT). If he was the only blameless person and he could walk in habitual fellowship with God, then you and I can too. We can find the strength within ourselves to be in constant communion with God. We can find time to pray and read His Word.
Merriam Webster defines “habitual” as, “Doing something regularly or repeatedly.” These men of faith regularly and repeatedly met with God and He rewarded them with favor and by making covenants with them. The God who made covenants with them still wants to make covenants with us. He’s simply waiting for those of us who will dare to enter into a habitual fellowship with Him. II Chronicles 16:9 says, “The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” If you will fully commit to Him in habitual fellowship, He will give you the strength you need to live for Him.