In faith, Noah built an ark in the midst of a draught. Because of his faith, Daniel stood firm in the face of death. Jesus tells a Roman officer, "I haven't seen faith like this before." "Your faith has healed you," he told the sick. This list of those with exemplary faith is in no way exhaustive. Hebrews 11, known as the 'Faith Hall of Fame' tells of countless others whose faith is worth emulating. And this is the kind of faith many of us are striving for. Faith that instills confidence. Faith that moves mountains. Faith that heals. Faith that makes a difference.
What, then, is faith? According to Random House dictionary, faith is "confidence or trust in a person or thing; belief that is not based on proof; a system of religious belief." According to Scripture, Hebrews 11:1 to be exact, faith is "The confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see." Let me summarize all of this into a clear, concise, workable definition. Faith is not believing that God can; it is knowing that He will! The Bible set the standard pretty high. And, I would contest, anything short of that standard isn't a lesser degree of faith; simply put, it isn't faith--period! And that, sadly, is right where I find myself more than I care to admit.
Several months I go, I embarked on a journey that would give me a much different understanding of faith. During a week long mission trip to Juarez, it was made abundantly clear that I am just like the disciples. They walked, talked and lived with Jesus for three years. Every single day they witnessed the miraculous that can only be explained by the divine. And yet these 12 men continued to question and doubt God in the flesh. I, like the disciples, have been given an extraordinary gift. I grew up in the church and, from the time I was young, heard the accounts of Jesus' life. On a regular basis I have seen the power of God at work. Lives have been transformed right before my eyes. My mother has been cured of cancer. Inexplicably finances have come through. Broken relationships have been restored. Hearts have been mended. My life has been given purpose. I have single-handedly witnessed miracle after miracle, yet I, just like the disciples, still find myself doubting.
Allow me to explain my dilemma in a little more detail. I have a steady job. While I may not make exorbitant amounts of money, there is always enough to pay my bills, put food on the table and have fun. I have a roof over my head. This means I don't have to worry about where I am going to sleep at night, because under that roof is a king size bed. There is food in my refrigerator--well, mostly condiments, but in the cupboards there is an array of food choices. So, wondering where my next meal will come from doesn't disrupt my day--unless I'm having difficulty choosing between Arby's, Qdoba or Jimmy John's. I have a reliable vehicle--most of the time. I have two different bank accounts, both of which have at least some money in them. You see, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to say that I can go through an entire day without having to acknowledge God's provision at all. To make it through most days doesn't really require faith on my part.
The family we helped in Juarez was living in a shack (that term doesn't even do it justice) about the size of the shed in my back yard. This was home to 6 individuals--mom and dad, along with their 3 children and granddaughter. Mud bricks, scraps of drywall, rocks, corrugated tin, pieces of wood and anything else lying around fashioned the roof and four walls. Dirt covered the 8' x 8' floor; partly due to the fact that the door was just a hole in the wall covered by a sheet. I guess the fact that the floor was made from dirt had something to do with it as well. The only window was, as you might guess, another hole in the wall. Just inside the door and to the left was a mattress supported by several 5 gallon buckets to keep it off the floor. On the adjacent wall sat a love-seat which was the only other piece of furniture they owned. Dinner, when they could afford it, was made out back using a small wood burning stove. The bathroom was located just off the side of the house, enclosed by two blankets hanging on some twine. Their only water source was a garden hose down the hill on the edge of the street. Even in the midst of dire circumstances, this family had enough faith to sit on a waiting list for 4 years in order that they might receive a home.
In the midst of all of this, I find myself standing at a crossroad. And faintly I hear Jesus utter, "Jordan, why so little faith?" All things considered, it's a reasonable question. If that family can have enough faith for God to provide their basic necessities, what is wrong with me? It's not like Jesus is asking for a lot. All it takes to move a mountain is a faith the size of a mustard seed. And if I'm honest, most of my problems are less like mountains and more like ant hills. Yet, on any given day, I can't seem to muster up enough faith to even budge them. To be quite honest, I don't have an answer. So, the following is my best attempt to explain how I'm working it out.
First things first. Faith is not a feeling. It is not an emotion. Faith is not even just a choice. Faith is a deliberate way of life! Faith is not passive but active. Every morning requires waking up and acknowledge everything around me is a gift I do not deserve. When I wake up and choose to disregard this reality, it's easy to write things off as merely luck or coincidence.
Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes from hearing God’s Word. Notice it did not say that faith comes by praying, going to church, denouncing all worldly things, or anything of the sort. Faith comes by hearing the word of God. That's the bottom line! If I don't know how this unseen God has been faithful in the past, it will make it difficult for me to see how he is providing and what he is even capable of in the present. As I have shared before, diving into the Bible and consistently reading it is a struggle of mine. Is it a wonder why my faith is so anemic at times? The solution? Establish a routine. Schedule a regular time every day to get into the Word. Lay out a reading schedule; even if it's just a few minutes. Personally, I have a time in the evenings when I attempt to read one chapter from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament and either some Psalms or Proverbs. The key here is not to let other things crowd out or spill over into that time. That time is sacred! Part of this time is spent finding scriptures in the Bible which contain specific promises for specific life circumstances. These scriptures then become a part of daily confession and prayer.
Believe it or not, the Red Hot Chili Peppers speak to another way of working out our faith. Just "Give it away!" Sometimes, the best thing for our faith is to simply give things away--our money, our time, our energy, our emotions. To purposefully place ourselves in need of God's provision will do immeasurable things for our faith. You see, the things we hold onto and value the most control us. The moment we relinquish control of these things is the moment God begins to do his best work. If you are at all like me, the two things I have a tendency to hold onto the tightest are time and money. When we are subservient to things like this, it doesn't leave much room for faith. I was at a point in my life where I had to choose to make more room for faith. In order to make room, I needed to give something away.
I signed up to take the trip to Juarez knowing two things: money was tight and the number of vacations days I had left was minimal. That is why the trip to Juarez was absolutely essential for my faith. For weeks I went back and forth on whether or not to go. On numerous occasions I argued myself into believing taking this trip was the most irresponsible and irrational thing I could do. But for some reason irresponsibility and irrationality won. When I committed to just go for it and offer up my time and what little money I had, God's provision came through. My boss was more than willing to give me the time off and let me borrow a few days of vacation from next year. And for some odd reason he even gave me a raise. On top of that, friends and family responded by donating just about enough money to not only cover the cost of my trip, but to buy my passport as well. In the end, the trip didn't really cost me much. But I discovered that God leveraged my generosity (even as minimal as it was) to grow my confidence in him.
Lastly, I have come to the realization that having faith doesn't necessarily mean I no longer experience doubt. In my opinion, this is one of the biggest hang-ups for many of us. Reality is, life is full of surprises--some good, some not so good and some just plain terrible. But each surprise we encounter is actually a divine opportunity to trust God--even in the midst of our unbelief. When doubt creeps in and all else fails, I resort to the tactic of the desperate father we find in Mark 9:24. Like him, I simply cry out to God, "I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!" Sometimes, in and of itself, that may be the biggest act of faith of all.