Chapter 14 – The Conversation of Faith
My #2 Pencil Faith illustration grew out of a need to calm the nerves of people I met whose walk with the Lord had come to an impasse. Some feared their faith was slipping away, and even more that God was angry with them for their failure to stand up under their circumstances.
When I talk with people going through a trial, I am amazed by how quickly they digress to a work-based faith. I am not talking about the more familiar error of salvation by works, but rather the idea that faith itself is a work. I watch this notion emerge when people try to discern why God hasn’t answered their prayers as they had hoped. They suppose it is because they lack enough faith, which leads them to wonder how much more faith they might need to gain God’s favor. Exactly how more faith can be acquired is a mystery to them. Perhaps if they worship more, pray with greater fervor, or do some good deed God will answer. While these are not bad activities, they do not necessarily produce more faith. As a matter of fact, they might produce the exact opposite.
If life is a journey and faith a learning experience, then our conversation of faith must be seen as a novel, not a cliché slapped on a bumper sticker or trinket we purchase at our local Christian bookstore. As well, faith itself must be linked to our relationship with Jesus, and never seen as a badge of individual achievement.
How do we grow in faith? What did the disciples lack in their fishing boat that caused Jesus to be critical, and how were they supposed to fix the problem? If they needed to do some good thing in their lives, surely Jesus would have told them. But He actually gave them very little in the way of instruction, except to confront their faith. How then does faith grow?
Faith is trust. Therefore, for faith to grow, we must be more open to God’s leading, and more willing to accept His will in our lives. This means the sign of a maturing faith is not the quick resolution of our circumstances, but rather God’s growing influence in our lives as we trust Him to use us for His glory. The problem with the disciples in the boat wasn’t that they hadn’t done enough for God, but rather that they forgot what God was willing and able to do for them.
Faith is nurtured when we fill our minds with God’s Word, and walk without pretense. Heroes of faith learn to care less about the earthly outcome of their own lives, but focus more on God’s kingdom and the working out of His eternal plan.
I hurt for people who agonize over perceived deficiencies in their faith which they believed to be responsible for the death of a loved one, or some other tragedy. I tell them trials are not necessarily a sign that one lacks faith, but rather an opportunity to exercise greater faith. I also remind them the greatest servants of faith throughout history are those God challenged to take big steps of faith, often resulting in pain, or death.
This means our conversation of faith should not be about what God has done for us because of our faith, but rather what we are learning about God, and whether or not we are willing to go where He leads us. This approach changes everything. We are finally able to release ourselves of unwarranted guilt and move forward with a childlike trust, discovering the unique path God has set before us. We are less likely to evaluate ourselves by the story God is writing in others’ lives, and we are not so easily shaken by fear and doubt. We simply choose to follow, no matter what, and to wait and watch as God reveals His infinite wisdom.
Once we break our obsession with works-based faith, we are free to grow in trust, even in the midst of the most difficult circumstances. Instead of holding a grudge against God because He didn’t reward our faith, we crack the door to our hearts and let his love and grace pour in. We still want to know the answer to the question “why?” but are willing to learn as we wait. We can also accept the fact we may never have all of the answers we seek. God grants us the freedom to cry out, to grieve and to take our time. He puts the pieces of our lives back together in new and beautiful ways.
As Jesus lay in the tomb, the disciples huddled together, fearing for their lives. Although they had walked with Jesus for three years and had been told He would die and rise again, the truth of the resurrection was still cloudy in their minds. They were afraid, and one of them, Thomas was filled with doubt. Even Peter, the one who confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16) was crushed by Jesus death and personal failure. The reality of Peter’s confession had not changed, but the delusion of defeat left the disciples in limbo.
Mary Magdalene wanted to know where the gardener had hid her Savior’s body. She saw Him, but she didn’t see. The other women delivered the angels’ message to the disciples, but they didn’t believe. Then the two on the road to Emmaus spoke to a traveler about the events that had just taken place in Jerusalem. They saw, but only for a moment. And it was these two who told the traveler, “Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” (Luke 24:24)
“But him they did not see”. The very ones who had followed Jesus as the Son of God struggled to embrace the resurrection. Perhaps they still viewed his mission through the prism of politics. Or maybe they speculated, “Can the dead raise the dead?” What they needed most was a burst of growth in faith; an infusion of new possibilities! Later, they saw the Lord with their own eyes and the resurrection took its place among the foundational truths of their gospel.
It is hard to believe anything we have yet to discover will equal or rise above Jesus crucified, buried and raised. We do, however, have many things to learn, and every new lesson deepens our faith. A growing faith is more likely to consider unseen possibilities than be shaken by unresolved circumstances. Trust expands our vision of what God might do, and teaches us patience as He works out the details of our lives. While we still ask many things of God, our prayers are more focused on learning His will than imposing ours. As we align our hearts with His, we see His hand more. We still face disappointments and frustrations, but our maturing faith gives us a broader context within which to navigate. What we once thought was a contractual arrangement of works and reward becomes instead a journey.