A pastime I enjoyed as a child was working connect-the-dots puzzles–the greater the difficulty the better. Back then, I found the process of locating the starting place and carefully following the numbered sequence to reveal the image inwardly satisfying. Often the picture that was revealed was, at best, a rough skeletal image. What gave me the greatest pleasure was going back over the image exposed by my pencil, to soften the lines and make the picture a more realistic likeness. If I really got into it, I used my colored pencils to enhance it even further.
Until recently, I never thought about how strongly my approach to living and problem-solving relate back to that simple pleasure. When counseling I listen for the essentials, many that at first glance appear unrelated. I ask questions to clarify and better understand how my Client perceives their problem(s). What I find most helpful, in connecting-the-dots as I work with Clients, is in paying attention to how they respond to the Scripture we read during the session.
It is our response to what God says, that determines
how accurately we “connect-the-dots”
to learn life lessons as God intends.
Several months ago I received one of those rare connect-the-dot gifts that has blessed me in countless ways. It was a book containing a collection of letters about faith, written in the 1700’s by John Newton*. Newton, who prior to his conversion was involved in the slave trade, wrote of his relationship with the God he came to love and serve with these words:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home . . . .
The wisdom of Newton’s Amazing Grace has continued to resonate from generation to generation. What I have discovered in reading his letters, is the timeless beauty of a faith fully invested in trusting God. It is Newton’s insights, written to encourage others so long ago, that have broadened and deepened my own understanding of what he referred to as, a simplicity of faith:
“Our hearts are very dark and narrow, and the very root of apostasy is a proud disposition to question the necessity or propriety of divine appointments. But the child-like simplicity of faith is to follow God without reasoning; taking it for granted a thing must be right if He directs it, and charging all seeming inconsistencies to the account of our own ignorance.“ (p.116)
Although “grace” is not mentioned, it certainly is implied. It is fully by God’s Grace that we are able to connect-the-dots to embrace a humble faith. These are the “dots” that helped to deepen my understanding of Newton’s “simplicity of faith”,
- “Our hearts are very dark and narrow . . . a proud disposition (that) questions (doubts)” God’s Authoritative Goodness. Apart from the transforming work of God’s Grace in the human heart, we remain condemned and without Hope.
- “But the child-like simplicity of faith is to follow God without reasoning; taking it for granted a thing must be right if He directs it . . . .” I am struck by how often my mind goes to Isaiah 1:18, where God says, “Come now, let us reason together . . . .” I must confess that I am quite comfortable with the notion of a “reasonable faith.” However, Newton’s assertion denies the veracity of a faith built on reason. Such a faith is not faith at all, having lost sight of our great need for forgiveness and mercy before a Holy God.
- The last “dot” points to the necessity of humility as being essential to maintaining a simple faith: ” . . . and charging all seeming inconsistencies to the account of our own ignorance.” When we forget the corrupt state we were saved out of, arrogance assumes equality with God. There is no room for a meaningful faith apart from a humble, grateful heart.
The Apostle Paul affirms all of this in Ephesians 2: 1-10 where he wrote:
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air . . . . Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions . . . . For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
It is the final verse that brightens and lightens our vision, to appreciate the way God works in the hearts and lives of His people:
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
A dear friend once told me that Paul’s reference to “God’s workmanship” actually means that we are “God’s poem.” As we continue to walk in simple faith we discover rest in God’s Sovereign Goodness. I love the notion of being part of His Divine Poetry as He connects-the-dots toward the light and hope of our future with Him.
All to His Glory!
*Letters of John Newton, With Biographical Sketches and Notes by Josiah Bull, first published 1869, First Banner of Truth Edition 2007.