In my last post, entitled “Give God a Chance!”, I encouraged readers to simply choose faith – to believe God is real. Consider this: The fact that Jesus rebuked people for their lack of faith tells us it’s a decision! On the other hand, here are some choices to make if we want to strengthen our faith:
- Believe that God loves each of us: And from far away the LORD appeared to his people and said, “I love you people with a love that will last forever. That is why I have continued showing you kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3 NCV).
- Believe that God wants us to rely on him: We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:8b-9 NLT).
- Believe that God wants to bless us: Read the beatitudes of Christ (Matthew 5:3-10). These are the first words of his first sermon in the first book of the New Testament – and they’re all about how God can bless us! (Jesus could have chosen a very different message, but the fact that he told the people how they could be blessed tells us how important that is to God!)
- Believe that the answers we need for a fulfilling life are in the bible: What delight comes to those who follow God’s ways! They won’t walk in step with the wicked, nor share the sinner’s way, nor be found sitting in the scorner’s seat. Their pleasure and passion is remaining true to the Word of “I Am,” meditating day and night in his true revelation of light (Psalm 1:1-2 TPT).
- Believe that God has a wonderful plan for our lives, and that this plan can be ours if we continue to wholeheartedly seek his way: “For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:11-13).
Faith is essential to have the power of God in our lives. When we pray faithful, believing prayers, God moves! Jesus said, Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours (Mark 11:24). The size of our faith also determines the size of our prayers. In his book, The Circle Maker, Mark Batterson writes, “It is absolutely imperative at the outset that you come to terms with this simple yet life-changing truth: God is for you. If you don’t believe that, then you’ll pray small timid prayers; if you do believe it, then you’ll pray big audacious prayers. And one way or another, your small timid prayers or big audacious prayers will change the trajectory of your life and turn you into two totally different people. Prayers are prophecies. They are the best predictors of your spiritual future. Who you become is determined by how you pray. Ultimately, the transcript of your prayers becomes the script of your life.”
But what of people who lack faith? Throughout the gospels we see their helplessness (for example, read Mark 9:14-29). Jesus said, I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5). When we acknowledge our own weakness and join the ranks of the “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3), God moves to strengthen and empower us, and we begin to see results that are miraculous.
I personally experienced one of these miracles in 1993. My mother was a smoker her entire adult life, and I would often borrow her cigarettes so we could smoke together. I remember feeling especially close to her at these times. Eventually I began borrowing cigarettes from other women, and eventually began buying my own pack of cigarettes. During the years between 1969 and 1993 I successfully “stopped” smoking at least three times, and then returned to it by borrowing other people’s cigarettes! I wasn’t particularly alarmed by my behavior because I simply told myself that “I can stop anytime I choose”. I finally decided to quit smoking once and for all, but after several months discovered to my horror that no matter what I did I couldn’t seem to stop! Fortunately, I finally humbled out. Although I had prayed about my smoking before, that day was different: I admitted to God (and myself) that I was addicted to cigarettes, and, with great passion and sincerity, begged him to do whatever it took to remove that awful habit.
The next day I awoke with a sore throat. Believing I’d probably caught a “bug”, I refrained from smoking for a day or two. Then, when my throat felt better I tried smoking again, but my throat still felt sore. I didn’t give up easily: Over the next three months I repeatedly tried to smoke, and each time I would light up, I would get an instant sore throat and I was not sick! There was no other explanation except that God heard my desperate prayer and intervened. Since that day I have never smoked, and although the temptation to smoke would come and go for several months, I didn’t succumb. Before this experience I had faith in God, but as James says, Faith that doesn’t show itself by good works is no faith at all – it is dead and useless! (James 2:17 TLB).
Now consider a person who is struggling to believe that God is real, that he’s good, and that he knows and loves each of us individually. How can this person just choose faith?
Greg was never especially “religious”. Growing up, he attended church with his parents since he knew it mattered to them, and although he never rebelled against this, he also didn’t view it as personally important, and he didn’t think much about “spiritual things” like the existence of God or whether God cared about him in a personal way.
In 1990 when he left home to begin graduate school he was prepared to focus, first and foremost, on his studies! But Greg had always enjoyed having close friends, and he found himself feeling a little lonely. Soccer had also been an integral part of his life so it was natural that soccer would be a welcome source of exercise and diversion from the academic rigors of his program. One day, while playing a pick-up game on campus, Greg met another talented player, Paul, who invited Greg to join him at a “bible talk”. Paul explained that there would be food (and girls) at the event, both of which interested Greg! He attended the bible talk and felt warmly welcomed by the group.
He soon agreed to visit church with his new friends and one of the guys asked Greg if he’d be interested in doing some personal bible study. Curious, Greg agreed. As his bible studies progressed, Greg became fascinated by what he was learning. The scriptures were so much about relationship-building and not about rule-following or breaking. Greg’s earlier misconceptions about the bible were being shattered, but he still wasn’t 100% sure he believed the verses were completely true! After longing for some sort of “scientific proof”, he finally decided to simply live as if he fully believed – to really give the scriptures a chance to show themselves as “truth” in his life. Within a short time, things began to happen that were difficult to chalk up to “coincidence”. Greg’s faith continued to grow, and since being baptized he has never looked back. After beginning in the ministry with his wife Kristi, he now works a hybrid ministry/administrative role running special events as well as leading a local ministry. God has even used Greg’s passion for soccer to build an international, inclusive sports program for typical and special needs children!
Here are a few tips for making these ideas practical:
- Create a little notebook of favorite scriptures to guide you to when your bible isn’t handy or you need help fast (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).
- Pray for greater faith (Luke 17:5).
- Find a faithful “partner” who is willing to provide you spiritual help and encouragement (Romans 15:14).
- Look for a church family where you find fellowship and inspiration to live the bible message (Micah 4:2).
- Live as if you fully believe God’s Word and his promises (Mark 11:24).