“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” (Romans 5:1 NLT)
When you think about it, we start at ground zero in the faith department as a new believer in Christ. How do I know that? Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8: “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.”
Our salvation isn’t dependent upon us, but on grace alone, by faith alone. But even the faith of which Paul speaks, when we first yield our lives to Christ, is not our own – “it is a gift from God.” Think of faith as the activation of belief. It’s as if the Holy Spirit “jump starts” whatever measure of belief we had as we came to Christ, then begins to build on that.
Couple that with Hebrews 11:6: “And it is impossible to please God without faith.” The Bible is clear that we must allow the Lord to grow our faith if we’re going to please God, but how? Jesus used parables that give us insight into how our faith grows. The story of the seed planted on different kinds of surfaces helps us to see that faith that isn’t given a healthy and open heart can get choked out before it has opportunity to grow at all. However, an open and submissive spirit can become very fruitful over time.
Jesus said very clearly in John 16:33 that in this world we will have troubles. These trials can take many shapes, but they all have at least two things in common: they create pressure in our hearts and minds, squeezing us, causing us distress, and, secondly, they are the greatest means through which our faith can grow. How so?
Like temptation, trials put us at a crossroad. The Lord working in and through us will either defeat Satan, overcome the temptation and help us grow, or we will yield to the temptation and experience a setback. The same is true with trials, but trials often come in relatively benign disguises. You get caught in traffic when you’re running late for an appointment. You see a gift on the table when you come home from work and realize it’s your anniversary. A loved one is in an accident or is diagnosed with an illness.
In any of these scenarios and a thousand more the issue isn’t the trial, trouble, or tribulation, it’s how we respond. Our faith grows through taking whatever it is immediately to the Lord; otherwise, it becomes “our” problem, which, as a believer, we were never equipped to handle alone.
Some of the toughest things with which we wrestle in our faith journey are chronic issues – physical, mental, emotional, financial, relational, even spiritual. On the one hand, the trial just doesn’t go away, it compounds and grows. Or, on the other hand, it develops over time and ends, but it doesn’t have the outcome we expected and for which we prayed.
How we learn to deal with the loss of a loved one, especially a child, takes grace beyond my comprehension. I’ve experienced a lot of loss in my lifetime, but one thing with which I wrestle is why my dad had to suffer so long. He had Parkinson’s Disease, and he slowly drifted, over years, from the loving, hard working man I’d so admired, to someone who didn’t recognize anyone and was dependent on someone else for even the slightest need. I have to conclude that his suffering wasn’t solely for him – i.e. for his faith to grow – but for mine.
Does anyone want to die that way? When I think of lingering in a vegetative state, I say to myself: “I don’t want to be a burden to anyone.” But is that the heart of the issue? Might it be, if we’re totally honest, “I don’t want anyone to be a burden to me?” God alone knows our heart, and God alone gives us trials to teach us faith in specific and personal ways.
The truth is, if we want to be like Jesus, which is our goal, we’re going to suffer at some point, and very likely, repeatedly as our lives draw closer to our faith finish line. How can faith most effectively be grown in those circumstances? In community! In literal families that are in it for the long haul, who, through thick and thin, stand by one another and do whatever it takes to get through the crisis together.
The same is true of our spiritual families. The family of God, our eternal family, is designed to create friendships that are as close or closer than our biological families. Families with whom we’d walk through fire and lay down our lives for their sake. I’ve found brothers and sisters in Christ like that. I pray you have also. That’s the only way to thrive in God’s School of faith.
Blessings, Ed 😊