The structure of faith

The structure of faith – Podcast #1

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, an asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

— Luke 5:1-7

Deep water is dark, murky, and out of reach, yet that’s where the power lies.

Have you ever felt a calling or inspiration to do something that defies common sense? That when you analyze it using all your knowledge and ingenuity, you come up dry? You can’t possibly see how things will work out. From where you’re standing, you’d just as well try walking through a brick wall. Jesus’ command defies everything Simon (Peter) knows. “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” The proposition doesn’t add up; it seems foolish and futile.

“But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” What made Simon decide to do it? Jesus had been speaking “the word of God”—inspired words having a sense of power and authority. These had a big enough impact on him that he thought it worth taking a small risk—looking ridiculous—to follow the instruction. His little step of faith was rewarded in frightening abundance. “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!'” (v. 8) But Jesus assuaged his fears, drawing him even further. “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” (v. 10) Thus began Peter’s walk with Jesus, a life filled with steps of faith as well as stumbles.

This is the sequence of a faith-filled life:

  1. Receive inspiration.
  2. Act on it.
  3. [See step 1.]

Mathematicians and computer programmers will recognize this as an infinitely recursive function. You could also picture it as an upward spiral, where each successive level represents both a bigger risk and a bigger reward. We are prone to get stuck on step 2 (acting on the inspiration we’ve received). That’s because we tend not to see the reward but only the risk. Even when we have an idea of the reward, it almost always turns out differently than we had envisioned. But the risk? It’s always crystal clear…which is why it tends to dwarf our perception of the potential reward. Paradoxically, the biggest steps of faith are those where no reward has been calculated or expected.

Of course if we were to draw pictures of our own lives, none of them would look like perfect spirals. We’d see fits and starts, backtracks, and blotches of bleeding ink where we got stuck on step 2. Later on in the book of Luke, Peter failed dramatically when, full of fear, he denied that he knew Jesus. But then we read that “he went outside and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22:62) The pain of failure and of inaction is a beautiful thing—a gift even. Pain signals misalignment with our calling, failure to act on our inspiration. Moreover, it never gives up. Keep suppressing your instinct, your knowing sense of direction, and pain will faithfully befriend you—sometimes in the form of disease. You don’t have to worry about it; it will always be there for you.

So how do you know what you’re being called to do, whether at the small scale (greeting a stranger) or at the large scale (changing careers)? This is where our minds play tricks on us. Confusion quickly sets in as we get bogged down in questions of authority and whose mental map is better. At the end of the day, you must take responsibility for what inspires you. Whether you conceive of it as the voice of God, the promptings of the Holy Spirit, or the call of your heart—whatever words you use, you can trust that the call and the pain of not following the call are real.

Today, consider how you can “put out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch.” Keep your eyes wide open to your surroundings. What’s happening now? Who is making an appearance in your world? What are your opportunities for little magic moments? Seize one, then another. See what opens up for you. Let inspiration become a way of life. And enjoy the upward spiral.