Once a month or every two months I try to field a good question or comment given to me from the congregation I serve. Folks in our congregation place their questions or comments in the offering plate, give me a text or give me an email. After some consideration I pick a submission and build a sermon around it. Last week my sermon was addressing a great question. “Why is it so hard to have a simple believing faith”. The following is what I shared with the congregation.
“The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live. He wants not only us but everyone saved, you know, everyone to get to know the truth we’ve learned: that there’s one God and only one, and one Priest-Mediator between God and us—Jesus, who offered himself in exchange for everyone held captive by sin, to set them all free. Eventually the news is going to get out. This and this only has been my appointed work: getting this news to those who have never heard of God, and explaining how it works by simple faith and plain truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1–7, The Message)
How something is delivered is not exactly the same as how something is received. On one hand the Gospel is easy to understand in a definition sense but the moment it finds residence in an individual’s heart things get a bit more complicated. As my pastoral mentor Patrick Stevens used to tell me “ministry is people”. This as I have come to learn is shorthand for something like “people are not robots waiting for biblical data or computer code to do what’s right”. People are complicated and so is faith when it finds itself growing out of books and into people. So, when I worked from the question “Why is it so hard to have a simple believing faith” I realize that can only share with you my experience with the struggle I have had in my walk with Christ. Definitions of faith will not be all that is needed to answer such a great question. For me It’s only through the ministry of God’s Word, the Spirit, his people, and the trench warfare that make up my own experiences I can address this subject. However, everyone’s story is different. I want to share with you five roads that I have found can take me away from a simple believing faith.
First: The Childish Road. I Can foster a childishness instead of a Childlikeness.
When I read Luke 18:16-17 I see Jesus addressing the childishness of his disciples faith by contrasting it simple trusting dependant faith of Children. The children have no rights, nothing of their own and they live off a simple trusting dependency on those who have charge over them. A childlike faith depends on Jesus alone for entering God’s kingdom while Childish faith depends on Jesus and more for entering God’s Kingdom. I have walked down the childish road once or twice as a Christ follower. When I am on this road life is complicated by the fact that my faith is no longer just dependant on Jesus but more than him as well.
In the book of Galatians Paul is angry with them because of their “additions” to the simplicity of the Gospel. They had complicated grace. They were on the verge of losing everything because the Gospel alone just simply wasn’t enough for them. They were being childish so much so that Paul says to them in Galatians 4:19 “Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives.”
One of the reasons I have found it difficult “to have a simple believing faith” is my propensity to childishly desire control over trust. Childishness wants control where trust should be.
Second: The Emotional Road. I Can Mistake Faith For A Feeling.
Faith is trusting that what God says is true. Faith is not a feeling. While working for a mason as well as roofing I have had to carry heavy things on scaffolding. When I first started I had issues with heights and because of that scaffolding didn’t “feel” safe to me. My feeling had caused me to have weak faith in what was actually very strong. There have been many times in my life when God has called upon my heart to trust him like he did Peter when he called him of the boat and onto the water. I have thought to myself “I don’t have enough faith for this or that. I could never do this or that God.” But I have learned that faith if it is exercised goes beyond what feels right or what is comfortable. Faith is about the strength and power of God and this goes beyond how I feel.
“To have a simple believing faith” is about going beyond how I feel about God and into simply trusting that He is who he says he is.
Third: The Idolatrous Road. I Can Place My Faith In Faith Itself.
At some point in my Christian journey. I swallowed a pill from some odd offshoot of evangelicalism that had said (in not so obvious terms) something like “Its not enough to have faith in Jesus, you need to believe in believing about Jesus” essentially I had made a life out of faith in faith itself and I had lost the pure joy of the simple truth that I need to have faith in Jesus. It’s like falling in love with baseball practice and forgetting that I’m preparing for a game. I was a Christian preparing for preparing. I was working on personal standards of holiness to the point that I had accidentally crafted myself to look something more like a pharisee than a disciple. Faith in and of itself will not save a person in the end. Faith in Jesus will save a person.I can become a person that makes faith a God. I have have gone to church just to go to church, I have played worship music just because I like the way I sound singing or playing a particular song, and I have had more faith in faith itself than I have had in the object of my faith. We are not preparing as disciples just for preparations sake we are God’s workmanship.
“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:8–10, NLT)
When we mistake the means for the end we can find it difficult “to have a simple believing faith”.
Fourth: The Selfish road. I Can live by the false assumption that faith only leads to personal happiness, health wealth and prosperity in this life.
I have read Joyce Meyer say “Getting stress out of your life takes more than prayer alone. You must take action to make changes and stop doing whatever is causing the stress. You can learn to calm down in the way you handle things.” I have read Joel Osteen say “I believe if you keep your faith, you keep your trust, you keep the right attitude, if you’re grateful, you’ll see God open up new doors.”
True faith doesn’t always lead to a stressless life or the “best you that you can be”. Jesus sweated blood in stressful agony. Did he not have enough faith? Often times following the will of God in this life will lead to persecution, peril, imprisonment and death. But I have bought into these selfish “me centered” ways of thinking about faith. I have walked down the selfish road wondering if I was a holy enough person to deserve healthy children. I have wondered if something bad had happened to me because I didn’t have ENOUGH faith.
It is tough to think this way but faith might take me places I don’t want to be. Walking by faith will definitely bring me to places too difficult for me places that I cannot handle. “A simple believing faith” is not about you or me. It is about who God is and what he wants.
Five: The Pragmatic road. I can mistake thinking that “having all the effective answers” will lead to simplicity.
Marriage is not practical, Close friendships are not practical, Children are not practical. But yet I have learned more from these things than I have ever learned in a classroom or from a book. Why? The secret to simplicity is found in love. I have walked down the road of pragmatism thinking bullet points or “four easy steps” will fix everything. I have thought the Bible was basically an instruction manual or rule book in the past. Life isn’t about great answers. It’s about asking better questions. I have found that if I focus on being loved by God and loving him in return practical happens.
God loves you, God likes you and desires to be with you. That is simple. However, God has done some pretty not-simple things to get that message to you. There is nothing simple about 2 Corinthians 5 “God was in Christ reconciling the word unto himself” There is nothing simple about John 3:16 For god so loved the world that he gave his one and only son. I can explain who Jesus is and what he has done for us by simple faith and plain truth without minimizing God or the people and stories he impacts.
I have found that the Gospel is not complicated to explain. I have found it’s more the living it out that with a “simple believing faith” that is tough. I’m Okay with that though as long as Im not the one on the throne.
What roads have you walked down that have lead you away from a simple believing faith?