Stumbling Blocks to Our Faith

Morning at Pueblo del Arroyo, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico
Morning at Pueblo del Arroyo, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico

There are a few things that seem to be consistent stumbling blocks for Christians who are growing in their faith.  I’m not necessarily talking about young Christians – though these can apply to them too – but about mature Christians who are simply growing deeper in love with God.  The devil seems to have tactics that he likes to use against us, and sadly, they can prove quite effective if we don’t overcome them with the power of God.

Sunrise at the East Wildlife Overlook in Lava Beds National Monument, California
Sunrise at the East Wildlife Overlook in Lava Beds National Monument, California

Most of these stumbling blocks can’t be overcome with our physical minds or bodies.  Nor can they be overpowered with a single prayer, often.  These are things that war against us and can only be overcome by the Holy Spirit in us and our intentional cooperation with His work.

Table Mountain, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington
Table Mountain, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington

This flies in the face of what we’re often told in church: “God takes care of it all, so all we have to do is rest in what He’s done.”  There’s a lot of truth in that, and striving won’t get us very far.  We have access to all things in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:21).  But there’s a maturity that comes with understanding how to co-labor with Christ (1 Corinthians 3:9) so that it’s not by our own works (lest we should boast; Ephesians 2:9) but also that we’re participants with God in His work in our lives.

Waterfall along the trail to Ibantik Lake, Uinta Wilderness, Utah
Waterfall along the trail to Ibantik Lake, Uinta Mountains, Utah

Below I’ve outlined a few of the things that seem to be consistent stumbling blocks for maturing believers:

  1. Fear.  There’s a true epidemic of fear and anxiety rampant in our world today, and specifically in our churches.  We smile, we read our Bibles, we worship at church – but at home, we’re driven by fear of man, fear of the future, fear of failure, fear of “what if.”  Some of it is self-inflicted through our own choices in news sources, entertainment, social media contacts, etc.  It can begin with trying to cure boredom, unforgiveness or bitterness, hopelessness, or simply allowing fearful thoughts into our minds.
    The problem with fearful patterns of thought is that they’re very difficult to break, especially if they’re based on a deeper issue such as bitterness.  (Let me give you a quick example – If you’re unforgiving of a politician who made your life more difficult with an official mandate, this opens you up to the fear of, “What will the government do next?  They’re going to take away everything I stand for!  There’s nothing I can do about it!”  And hopelessness, fear, and unforgiveness ensues.)
    Working with God through fear means surrendering entirely to Him and His will for your life.  It means letting go of control, releasing your grip on the people you love, and learning to trust God with everything – and I mean 100% everything.  It also means dealing with the underlying issues, such as unforgiveness – no matter how wrong the person was, you’re still not strong enough to carry the unforgiveness on your own (see number 3, below).
  2. Shame.  There are very few people in the world who can actually look shame in the face and deal with it in their own lives.  Shame puts its tendrils into every part of your being and can be difficult to root out, in part because there’s always something to be ashamed of: Times when you failed, places you wish you’d done something differently, even reminders of past sin.
    The unfortunate outcome of shame is that people turn away from God – their sins/mistakes are “too big” for Him to deal with (not true!)  They begin acting in ungodly ways to show just how much they don’t care about their own shame – for example, by excessive swearing or rejecting authority, etc.
    Walking out of shame with God is again about trust (fear and shame are related); it’s also creating thought patterns that remember that all of your shame is under the blood of Christ and therefore paid for and forgiven.  To quote God speaking to me one day, “Why do you think I can completely cover your sin but you still have to carry your own shame?”
  3. Righteous Indignation.  This is really just a pretty title for unforgiveness, bitterness, and offense.  It usually manifests as the growing Christian picking up on a righteous cause, often some kind of injustice.  That’s a good thing.  But if you allow the offense of the situation to overcome love for the oppressor, you’ll end up bitter and angry, and anger, “does not bring about the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:20).
    Overcoming righteous indignation is all about forgiveness.  I’m not saying that the person deserves to be forgiven.  But you simply aren’t strong enough to carry that offence by yourself, and it will affect your relationship with Christ.
The Big Balancing Rock in Big Bend National Park, Texas
The Big Balancing Rock in Big Bend National Park, Texas

All three of these stumbling blocks are things that can be dealt with by working with God – co-laboring with Him on your thought patterns, your perceptions, and how to love the people around you.  This may mean some serious work on your part to change thought patterns, give up your right to be angry/fearful, and do the things God is leading you to do.  They’re also easier to deal with as you submit more and more to God and His care in your life.  You simply can’t be around God and His presence in a major way and walk away with hopelessness, fear, unforgiveness, or a keen sense of shame.  Those are the antithesis of Who He is, and the closer you are to Him, the more hope, trust, and love will manifest in your life.

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