When I counsel with people suffering through a difficult trial, I find their confusion over matters of faith often produces their greatest anxiety. I know it sounds strange, but people can accept physical pain and personal loss as a part of the human experience, even as they agonize over their expectations of God. And when they have questions of God that can’t be quickly answered they panic, just as I panicked on Glacier Lake and Peter panicked as he fled the courtyard.
This is why my #2 Pencil Faith illustration became a part of my faith conversation in the first place. While I am all too aware our relationship with God cannot be confined to a neatly framed metaphor, the notion that trials warp our perspective on spiritual reality seems to calm people’s nerves. If nothing else, it gives them a trace of control by providing a template for managing their thoughts and emotions.
I sense this is one of the reasons Jesus spoke through parables and teachable moments. The pictures and experiences His followers committed to memory helped them organize the truths He was sharing. For example, Jesus said those of “little faith” should consider the grass of the field which God uses to clothe the ground, even though it is eventually thrown into the fire. If He cares this way about temporary ground cover won’t He care even more for us? (Matthew 6:30). When the disciples were perishing in a storm on the sea Jesus rebuked them for their “little faith”, then calmed the waves to make His point (Matthew 8:26). After Peter’s famous walk on water Jesus questioned His impulsive friend as he stood wringing wet in the boat, “You of little faith. Why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31). In a discussion with His disciples about their need for bread Jesus reminded them of His miraculous feeding of the five thousand and confronted them collectively for their “little faith” (Matthew 16:8). And Jesus used the example of a growing mustard seed as a contrast to those of “little faith” (Matthew 17:20).
Was Jesus accusing His disciples of having no faith? Absolutely not! But their faith was at times too small. They had not learned the complexities of God’s providence and the scope of His divine option. Therefore, their fears and doubts pushed into the certainties of their faith on a regular basis. The sliding pencil in their #2 Pencil Faith was tossing about like a toy boat in a hurricane. They were unstable in their faith, but not without.
No, a test of faith is not an absence of faith. Instead, it is an opportunity to grow in our faith, if we are aware of the ways Satan may use our circumstances to destroy us and how God might use them to create perseverance. For this reason, instead of falling into despair when we face a fresh onslaught of spiritual quandaries, we should rejoice. James, the brother of Jesus has told us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2-3 NIV)
You may not be at the point yet where you are ready to rejoice in the testing of your faith, but maybe you can take comfort in knowing the things you are feeling are normal. You should also know you are not that far from shore. So take a deep breath and row slow.
Are you more anxious about your circumstances or how you feel about your relationship with God in the midst of your circumstances? What do you do when your faith seems small?
Dear God, enlarge my faith. In Jesus’ name, Amen.