Putting our faith in God into practice: if the church does not exist to help us do that, what in the world is it doing?
It is easy to find stories about people who are leaving the church because they do not find within its culture a hospitable place to deepen faith, or grow in relationship with God, or engage in meaningful service. Where not so long ago we heard a great deal about the “Nones” (individuals who choose not to define themselves with any religious affiliation), we are now hearing about the “Dones” (people who used to be deeply active in their communities of faith but who leave them because they no longer provide ways of deepening the faith).
In his book, Growing in the Life of Faith, Craig Dykstra says this about the importance of modeling and encouraging the basic practices of faith:
“In my view an essential task of education in faith is to teach all the basic practices of the Christian faith. The fundamental aim of Christian education in all its forms, varieties, and settings should be that individuals-and indeed whole communities-learn these practices, be drawn into participation in them, learn to do them with increasingly deepened understanding and skill, learn to extend them more broadly and fully in their own lives, and into their world, and learn to correct them, strengthen them, and improve them.”
What are these practices? They are the actions by which Christian people of faith have deepened their relationship with God for the past twenty centuries: prayer, confession and forgiveness, making peace, hospitality, and worship, to name a few. They are for the most part the things we do each day and throughout our lives but when done with the awareness of God’s accompaniment and the assurance of God’s empowerment, they become ways of growing faith and redeeming the world.
How do we deepen those practices? With all humility and boldness. There are so many practices that can bring more aliveness into our lives. But it’s best to start with one, and to start small, and to be as receptive as possible to the energy that the Spirit can make possible in our lives wherever we feel led to begin. To imagine a few possibilities I would recommend Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People by Dorothy Bass and Craig Dykstra. There is a version of this book developed for children and youth entitled, Way to Live. There are good resources available on the website, practicingourfaith.org. And here is a prayer while you’re on the way:
O God of life, we give thanks for the journey of faith and those with whom we share that journey. And as our life becomes steeped in your grace and filled with your peace, inspire us to share that love at all times and in all places and with all people. In Jesus’ name. Amen.