“We have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place… –II Peter 1:19
There is a world of difference between the strict, monastic life of Thomas a Kempis, a monk in the Middle Ages, and the careless and wild life of Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevski; between the beer-drinking intellectual giant Martin Luther and the simple tetotaler Billy Sunday; between the godly and loyal churchman Thomas More and the godly and radical reformer William Tyndale who opposed More. But all of these, in their differing ways, paid attention to God.
This paying attention to God is not what saves you, but it is a minimum response to so great a God who offers so great a salvation. And God has promised to bless such attention. We might struggle with sin, doubt, disappointment, and despair, but if we turn our attention to God, he will be there for us. ‘Lord, I believe,’ said the father to Jesus as he was seeking a miracle for his son, ‘I believe, help thou my unbelief.’
Simone Weil was a French intellectual whose path to faith was anything but simple or normal or moral, but she did in many and various ways keep paying attention to God. In Gateway to God (p. 119), she talks about ‘spirituality’ as simply ‘paying attention.’ She says that belief is not always possible. Some find it impossible to overcome their unbelief. But we can, Weil says, choose to pay attention in prayer and in worship. We can do that. “Attention is voluntary,” she said. It is then still all God’s grace, she goes on to say, and nothing for us to become proud about.
We cannot ‘create’ faith, just as the farmer cannot ‘create’ ears of corn. The farmer can only prepare the fields and plant the seeds and then wait for God’s creative work. Even that work the farmer does do is done with the strength gained from previous crops that he has eaten, earlier gifts from God. It is the same as we pay attention to God– the mind which we turn to God is the mind which he gave us in the first place. It is all from God. We can only resist, and, sad to say, that is what we all too often do. But we must resist that resistance, and pay attention. As St. Peter said, “you will do well to pay attention to this.”
There is always this puzzling blend between what God does for us, which is everything, and that which we do in response to God, which must still be a part of it. All we need to do is receive what God has done for us. His love and grace is given to us freely. But we are given the freedom to turn away and to reject it all; and there is a big part of our heart and mind and soul that, because of sin, is all too prone to do that. So there is always this division is our hearts and minds, that division so well expressed by that father to Jesus, “Lord, I do believe, but help me in my unbelief.” He believed, but still he struggled with unbelief and doubt. But he brought even that to Jesus.
We are often conflicted in our own minds. Don’t worry, we tell ourselves, it does no good. But still we worry. When we are depressed we tell ourselves, don’t be so sad, you have so much to be thankful for. But the sadness does not immediately go away. And we may have the same divided mind when it comes to faith. We want to believe, but still the doubts the creep in. The Bible says, have faith, but how much faith do we need? How much is enough? And how do we muster up more?
Well, the Bible doesn’t just say, ‘Have faith!’ and leave it at that. Here in II Peter is a word of hope for those who find faith difficult. Just pay attention, Peter says, just find ways to pay attention to God, and the Holy Spirit will take care of the rest. God will use His word to create and sustain saving faith in your heart. So just keep paying attention. You will do well to do so, says Peter.
Jeremiah 11:7-8 — (The Lord says), “From the time I brought your ancestors up from Egypt until today, I warned them again and again, saying, ‘Obey me.’ But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubbornness of their evil hearts. So I brought on them all the curses of the covenant I had commanded them to follow but that they did not keep.”
Mark 9:24 — Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
II Peter 1:19 — We have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place…
FOR GREATER FAITH; A PRAYER BY MARTIN LUTHER
Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it. I am weak in the faith; strengthen me. I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent that my love may go out to my neighbor. I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you at all. O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in you. In you I have sealed all the treasures I have. I am poor, you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor. I am a sinner, you are upright. With me there is an abundance of sin, in you is the fullness of righteousness. Therefore, I will remain with you from whom I can receive, but to whom I can not give. Amen.