Written by Julia Bracewell
One year ago I found myself in a place I hoped never to be.
I was standing in front of my community, guitar in hand, leading them in worship and in prayer. Yet, internally, I was completely absent of belief in God. I sang and led with words that professed faith of depth and eloquence, but mine was in ruins. I played dearly loved hymns of joy and delight while fighting back tears behind the mic.
What led me to that place is unclear. Maybe it was hearing the angry cries of a dear atheist friend, directed at a God he didn’t believe in. Maybe it was the irreconcilable reality of gospel-preaching sitting side by side with injustice at a ministry job I had just left — I don’t know. Nonetheless, for the first time in my 20 years, I found myself unable to believe in God. Thus, worship leading, one of my life’s greatest delights, became a task I feared.
I had always prided myself in my faithfulness to God. I judged those who doubted or wandered, and I lacked empathy when friends came to me to share their struggles. I thought I had been responsible for my faithfulness, and because of this I fell deep into a prideful cycle — you know, the one where we think we’re too good to struggle with pride? No wonder God hates it so much. I am thankful to Him for my rude awakening.
Over the following few months I felt like I was walking in the dark. The light I had always looked to for guidance had gone out. I constantly felt weak, guilty, and afraid, and I hid my struggle from many people I had always been open with.
During that dark season, my mentor reminded me that my relationship with God is supposed to be covenantal. Covenants are special because they are never meant to be broken. There is no condition or fine print or special exception to opt-out. The love covenant between God and man is meant to be a forever thing.
But when your brain can no longer justify belief in God, it seems ludicrous to remain committed to a covenant with Him. But something really beautiful happens when we decide to take steps of faith forward into the unknown and walk deeper into the love covenant.
We live in a culture that doesn’t value covenants at all. The minute we no longer can make sense of something or don’t feel like sticking with it, we are told to let go and find something better, whether it be clothing, friendships, marriages, or worldviews.
There are essentially no covenants celebrated by culture today — except for maybe our covenant with our own comfort. We pretend we’re free, able to choose what we want, never having to suppress or deny any feeling, but we aren’t free at all. We’re faithful slaves to our desires, we’re trapped in a broken covenant.
On the other hand, relearning faithfulness to God frees us up. Spirit-filled faithfulness is a tool that keeps us in a love covenant with our good Father, the one who knows what’s best for us. Though our feelings and circumstances may change, faithful commitment to the covenant comes with the promise God’s good will is being done and that we are no longer slaves to our fickle feelings. We are free now! When we fail, as I so often do, we can rest in the covenantal comfort that our good Father is faithful, His Spirit enabling us to be so as well.
Choosing to stay faithful to the covenant was one of the most uncomfortable things I have ever done. It was painful and scary to say “Yes, Lord, I’ll keep following you” when my brain was unable to see any reason He could be real.
But, little by little, belief returned and the covenant grew stronger. And now that I look back, I can see that my faithfulness to our covenant had nothing to do with me at all. Faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit. It only comes to fruition because the Holy Spirit lives inside of me. I can only be faithful because Jesus was faithful first, and Jesus chose to be faithful because God’s mercy is all-encompassing.
I am so glad God loved me through the ugliness of my pride when I thought I knew a thing or two about faithfulness. The truth is, He had been honouring our love covenant all along by being faithful to me when I wasn’t. And He loved me enough to make life hard for a while so that I could shake off some more of my ugliness, and delight in our covenant more abundantly.
The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us about a new kind of faithfulness, one that is enabled by the Spirit, modelled by Jesus and delighted in by God. It’s a faithfulness that sticks it out forever, even if it means death.
I want to keep learning about this faithfulness, because Jesus showed it to me first, and through it everything was changed.