Angie Smith, bestselling author and popular speaker, confesses in her new book, Chasing God, that she had been a Christian for more than 10 years when she experienced what she calls a "crisis of faith" — coming to the end of her own exhaustive efforts to understand God.
Instead of getting to know Him for herself, Smith spent those years trying to figure God out, and using what others had to say about Him as her guidepost.
"And maybe you, like me, have been spending your time going after the wrong objectives (without realizing it) and it's left you weary of the whole process," Smith writes in Chasing God. "What was meant to be a gift has become an obligation, a source of guilt or a way to fight fear."
She adds, "We rely on our standards, our rules, our opinions, our agendas, and our measurements of holiness instead of His. And as the books pile, one on top of another, so do the questions. … It's the difference between between following and chasing."
Watch a video preview of Smith's Chasing God, then read her exclusive Q&A with CP below.
CP: What's the difference between chasing God and following God?
Smith: For me, I just realized that I got to a certain point in my walk and felt like I was putting so much effort in my relationship with Him. It took some time, but I just kind of figured out that a lot of that was unnecessary, and looked more like chasing that it did following, so for me "chasing" is the stuff that we add on that's not really necessary.
CP: Please give some examples.
Smith: It's anytime you've got this gap in your faith and so your reaction is to try and fill it with religion. Maybe that's deciding that you're going to pray at a certain time every day, or you're going to join a Bible study, or whatever it is. But where the intention of your heart is really just to be checking something off a list, instead of having relationship.
CP: What's the role of doubt when it comes to faith?
Smith: I [thought] for a long time, if I doubted God, then I must not have any faith. Like, in my mind it was just sort of one or the other. I think when I was writing this book, and praying through it and studying Scripture, I found that that wasn't necessarily the case. Again, a lot of the things that I sort of beat myself up about, weren't things that God was beating me up about. I love studying people in Scripture who struggled with doubt and seeing how the Lord reacted to them. And it was always with such kindness, you know? And when he could tell that someone was really doubting, not because they wanted to be stubborn or resistant, because ultimately they really wanted to have true faith, he always honored that. That just meant a lot to me and it just shifted the way I saw the relationship.
CP: In Chasing God, you use the disciple Thomas as an example of someone who's been given the title "doubter," but who actually showed great loyalty to Jesus.
Smith: I'm kind of a Thomas, I related to him a lot. But again, that's sort of the story that we always know that relates to Thomas (John 19). I just didn't remember the other times that we see Thomas in Scripture. There are only two, but in both of them he's being a really loyal disciple to Christ. He's the one who pipes up and says that he'll go wherever Jesus goes even if he dies in the process (John 11:1-16). And he's the one who asks him to clarify something (John 14:1-7), and I think his heart was that he wanted to be obedient and didn't always know how. I relate to that a lot.
CP: What do you say to people who have a hunger for God and really want to know Him, but have particular hurdles in the way, such as embracing the concept of grace?
Smith: First, I would say, I totally get it. The best thing that I would say is just to make sure that they're really studying what God says about these issues, and not just what they've heard other people saying. I think a lot of times we confuse the two and we become convinced that God holds a certain standard over things or has this gauge that He's using with us, and I don't think that's necessarily the case. If it's something where you're struggling but your heart is earnestly seeking Him, I really believe He will honor that. You just can't let yourself be stopped in your pursuit of Him because you're struggling with understanding everything or believing everything. We're human, and so we are gonna have that reaction sometimes and we have to remember that the Lord knows our hearts.
CP: And the goal isn't necessarily to have everything figured out?
Smith: Yes, thank goodness! That would stink. We'd never get to our goals. That's a good word, that's a good reminder to people, that you can't constantly hold that over your head as the goal, when God Himself doesn't hold that up as the goal. He knows better.
CP: What kind of difference does studying and meditating on Scripture make in this area?
Smith: For me, I was always really intimidated by Scripture. I honestly just felt like I wouldn't understand it if I read it for myself. So I spent a lot of time listening to other people. What I found is that when I opened it and read it for myself, I was amazed at how much God really spoke to me, and the fact that it wasn't over my head the way that I thought it was going to be. I really think that He blesses that searching, so I would just say it is important for you to be reading Scripture for yourself and not to be intimated by the fact that it feels like a lot of big words. I genuinely have had the experience of Him revealing things to me in Scripture that I know came from Him, and I just really believe that He honors the heart that goes there looking for Him.
CP: Do you think some churches and preachers reinforce a kind of performance-based Christianity?
Smith: That's a good. I think a lot of times it isn't done maliciously, but it's just that they want some sort of standard to use as a gauge. So a lot of times there will be sort of that checklist mentality about Christianity, because it's tangible.
So much of our faith is based on the heart and it's not something that our pastors or elders have access to, so I think they do the best they can a lot of times, but unfortunately I do think it can feed that sense of 'I have to be doing this in order to be having relationship with God.'
CP: How can the church or fellow believers come alongside someone who may be struggling as you were?
Smith: I think it's important to be in a church where the atmosphere lends itself to that conversation. We probably all have a sense of when we're in a place where that's a safe conversation, and when we're not. So for me, I attend a church where that is a safe conversation and I don't feel like I have to go in and look a certain way or respond a certain way, and I can have those deeper-heart conversations.
I would just say if you're someone who feels like your church home isn't that way, to just pray about whether or not that's the best place for you to be. Because I feel like that should be a part of our walk. We should be able to go in on Sundays and have authentic relationships and genuine communion with God without feeling the pressure of fitting in with everything around us.
CP: What kind of feedback or responses have you been getting about the book?
Smith: I think it's surprised me how much people relate to the feeling of pursuing God but not always feeling like you're going to catch Him. That there's just so much of our lives that are like, 'Let me do the best I can and try and make a little bit of progress and maybe I'll just catch like, a corner of his hem...' But really in the back of my head, I think I'm fighting with this feeling that maybe I'll never get there. So it's just this overwhelming sense of never enough, and never really knowing Him. I think having the conversation with people and hearing the way they've tried and the way that they've doubted, and the things they've struggled with and ultimately how that led to a stronger faith has just encouraged me so much. I didn't realize that there was that much struggle within the Body. And it's just done my heart good to have those conversations and to feel like I'm not alone in that.
Angie Smith, wife of Todd Smith (lead singer of award-winning group Selah), also has authored Mended, I Will Carry You and What Women Fear. She lives with her husband and daughters in Nashville, Tenn. Follow her online: http://angiesmithonline.com.