I read a fascinating story recently about a man named Ed. Ed’s parents were religious, but felt that faith should be confined to yourself and your immediate faith community. In high school, Ed met some teenagers who were on fire for their faith and concerned about its global advancement. He joined their youth group and soon was on fire for his faith too.
Then Ed met a group that was even more radical, and he joined them. These guys were bold enough to stand up in public places and preach, challenge atheists to debates, and organize events to protest the government’s ungodly actions. Ed became a leader in this group, and started cell groups in several universities. He loved their organized approach to how they systematically targeted groups of people with their message, discipled them in their core beliefs, and believed their message would one day change the whole world.
Ed considered himself a “born-again” follower of the truth, one of the real disciples of the faith. But then a series of events exposed chinks in his spiritual armor.
First, he noticed that he and his leaders were so busy mobilizing, recruiting and preaching that they rarely had time to pray. He began to wonder which God wanted more—all the world to hear this message, or his heart?
Second, he met a girl. She shared his faith, but not his intensity. He realized that while he was always serious, she was happy. Not only that, she was kind and compassionate to others. She asked him how his radicalness could be good if it drove a wedge between him and his parents?
The last straw came when an argument broke out between someone from his cell group and a college student from another religion. The argument turned into a fight, and the other guy was killed.
Ed realized he had often preached on the superiority of his religion and God’s hatred against those that rejected it. He had never imagined his message could be interpreted that it was okay to kill another human being.
Ed left the radical group and began an intensely personal pursuit of God for his own heart. Along the way he met other charismatic leaders who spoke of God’s love for him and for the whole world. Ed realized that he had lived a life of religious fervor, but not one born out of love.
As his heart changed, he began to find himself able to love and accept those from different backgrounds and religions, and Ed became a peacemaker.
Reading this story reminded me in ways of my own spiritual journey, as well as many of my friends. We grew up in Christian homes. Ed grew up in a Muslim home. Yet our paths have remarkable similarities.
In any religion, there is a danger of being so consumed with our religion’s progress and advancement that we lose touch with God’s wooing of our hearts. Jesus put it this way: “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Matthew 16:26 New Living Translation)
I also love the litmus test for true spirituality the Bible gives us in I Corinthians 13:1-3 (the Message translation):
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
2 If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
In every human heart, no matter what ethnic, religious, or social background people come from, there is a longing to be loved and to love. God created that longing in us, because it’s how He wants to relate to us. As Jesus’ disciple John wrote, “The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love.” (I John 4:8 the Message translation)
I recommend Ed Husain’s book The Islamist (http://www.amazon.com/The-Islamist-Became-Islamic-Fundamentalist/dp/0143115987 ) to all my Christian friends, to help you understand some of the different faces of Islam, how ordinary people get caught up in the radical groups, and how many also find a way out. I recommend it to my Muslim friends for the same reason.
And for all my friends, I bless you on your spiritual journeys to encounter the God of love who is wooing your heart today.