I met Sara several years ago at a mutual friend’s birthday party, and we began talking about spiritual matters almost immediately. As soon as Sara found out I was a minister, she said, “I am so angry with God that I’ve stopped praying.” I asked her what happened to make her feel this way. “Well,” she said, “God never seems to give me what I want.” Sara explained to me that she had been in a turbulent marriage which ended because she wanted to have children and her husband didn’t. She had been divorced for 5 years now, and since then she had been praying for God to bless her with a loving relationship and a family of her own. She had dated a few men, one who broke her heart and the others didn’t amount to much. “I’m so lonely,” she told me, “and I don’t even feel like God cares about my happiness.”
Sadly, Sara’s anger towards God is not uncommon. I have spoken with many people, young and old, male and female, single and married, church-goer and non church-goer, who feel like God doesn’t answer their prayers. Seth is a colleague of mine in his 50’s who is struggling in his relationship with his teenage son. Seth explained to me that he and his son argue all the time and not for any good reason. Seth feels like his son fights with him just to fight. Seth is a faithful man, and so he took his concerns to God, praying that there would be less hostility between him and his son, praying that they might actually get along and enjoy being together.
“This has been going on for three years,” Seth told me, “and nothing has changed.” “Maybe God is powerless to help in this situation because my son doesn’t believe in God,” he said. “I don’t know what to think anymore.”
Sara’s anger and Seth’s disillusionment are feelings I think most of us can relate to in some way. Anyone who has ever had a problem that persists, whether it be health concerns, money issues, relationship difficulties, destructive habits or addictions usually wrestles with their faith in God at some point. We ask questions like: Does God even care? Does prayer really work? We might even start to doubt ourselves, wondering if we are asking for the wrong things and that’s why our prayers are going unanswered. (Isn’t there a scripture that says your prayers aren’t answered because you ask wrongly?)
For many of us, having faith in God means putting our trust and hope in a divine being outside of ourselves. This means that we put ourselves in a powerless situation waiting for God, who is out there, external to us, to enter into our lives and make something happen. It’s no wonder that so many people end up feeling bitter towards God and helpless. In trying to be faithful, we give our power away.
Tonight, we celebrate and rejoice in the incarnation, that God came to earth to be with us in the person of Jesus Christ. But we aren’t just remembering a historical event that took place 2000 years ago halfway around the world. We are celebrating and rejoicing because Jesus is being born again tonight in the hearts of all who believe. On this most sacred of evenings, consider that God has come to dwell in you. Jesus was a human being with the divine inside of him. The miracle of Christmas is that we are human beings with the divine inside of us also.
To have faith in God is to let the Christ child grow inside of you so that as you think, speak and act, it is Christ thinking, speaking and acting in you. Jesus remains present in the world through each of us. As Paul proclaims in Galatians, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
Think what this means then. The power of God is no longer something completely external to yourself, something you are waiting for, something you have no control over. The power of God dwells in you. To believe in God is to believe in yourself. To have faith in God is to have faith in yourself. To have confidence in God is to have confidence in yourself. And to trust in God is to trust in yourself because you and God are one, like Jesus and the Father are one.
Imagine how this understanding will change your relationship with God, the way you feel about yourself and the way you live your life. Instead of being angry and feeling helpless when prayers aren’t answered, instead of crying to the heavens who don’t respond or abandoning faith all together, you can now turn inward and find the strength, the wisdom and the love to be the change that you want. When you have confidence in yourself, you realize that you are capable of accomplishing great things. (And maybe not even such great things, but more than you ever did before.) Fear and doubt and worry no longer rule your life. You are empowered instead of being a victim. You can take chances. You realize that you can be transformed and you help to transform others. You realize that you have the gifts to inspire love in the hearts of others, beauty in the eyes of others and change in the world.
As Christ’s Spirit is born in your heart and as it grows, you become the one who can answer your prayers. This is the same thing as God answering your prayers. God is in you, and he wants you to know it.
The bad habit or addiction you can’t break, with God in you, you will find the power to choose differently, to choose health over destruction. The worry over money that keeps you up at night and on edge during the day, with God in you, you will have a new perspective from which to approach the world. That cycle of blame and regret you have with your loved one, with God in you, you will break that cycle by becoming someone who responds rather than reacts and someone who listens before you speak.
Jesus said, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15: 4, 5). But when we abide in him and he abides in us, we can do anything.
To have faith in God is to have confidence and trust in yourself.
My friend, Sara, she will have a loving relationship and a family of her own, but she needs to take ownership of her life and her decisions first. She needs to learn how to love herself and take care of herself instead of wanting someone else to do it for her. My colleague, Seth, he can stop arguing with his son as soon as he chooses to. But he has to stop reacting to his son’s negativity. He needs to look at the power struggle that is going on between them and acknowledge his son for the person he is without trying to change him.
In saying all of this, I am not trying to take away God’s omnipotence, or the fact that God is wholly other, beyond any single one of us, beyond all of us put together. I just want to emphasize what I don’t believe was ever emphasized to me. I was taught my salvation had to come from a source external to myself. (That put me in a needy position). I thought that God was outside of me, but now I know that God is in me and God is in you. (That empowers us as children of light.)
Inside a pregnant woman’s stomach is a baby, a living human being, a miracle. My friend, Lara, is 8 months pregnant, and I saw her on Sunday. She said that she and her husband, Justin, just keep looking at her stomach and touching her stomach, and they are in awe and wonder. There’s a miracle inside of her. and its ready to be born.
There is a miracle inside of each of us, many miracles in fact, and they want to be born. So if no one ever told you this before, the miracle tonight, the night of Christ’s birth, is you.
Our next hymn is “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and verse four says, “O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.”