I’m a pastor, and sometimes church members ask me questions about their Christian experience. Recently a church member confided in me that he was having trouble trusting God. He said “I constantly struggle with faith. I pray and seek God’s will and trust that God will make a way. However, at times I find myself not remaining quite so solid. I know that God is near and hears my prayers, but somehow I get so lost. Would you please discuss having faith in one of your upcoming sermons and believing that God will answer your prayers when you pray? I understand the importance of believing, but when you believe, what’s the next step?”
Faith. It’s a bedrock of Christianity. Yet, for many of us, explaining faith is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. Snake handlers believe Mark 16:18 tells them that faith will protect them from the serpent’s deadly venom. Thousands flock to see statues of the virgin Mary shed bloody tears, believing that they will be healed if their faith is strong enough. Many others believe in “faith confession,” in which you“name it and claim it” and get rich, hitched, or healed based on what you say about the promises in God’s Word. Still others rely on supernatural manifestations or ecstatic experiences—such as being“slain in the Spirit”—as proof that their faith is strong.
What is true faith, and how much of it must we have in order to please God? What do you do after you’ve believed and prayed?
1. trust in who God is more than in what your faith can do
Another word for faith is trust. When faith is genuine, it trusts God in all circumstances—even when our prayers aren’t answered the way we thought they would be. Pay close attention to the examples of faith recorded in Hebrews 11. Sure, you have your Josephs and Moseses and Gideons—those who through faith “conquered kingdoms, . . . shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword.” But mentioned right alongside these heroes are others who were tortured, stoned, and sawed in two. Still others “wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground” (Hebrews 11:33–38).
Hebrews says, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised” (verse 39).
Why did some of God’s friends “gain what was promised” while others did not? Was it because of a lack of faith? Absolutely not! The Bible says they were all “commended for their faith.” Faith isn’t something you strain to work up. And hard times or a “no” answer to prayer doesn’t necessarily indicate a lack of faith. The faith described in Hebrews 11 is an unbending trust in who God is. It’s a relationship with God that teaches you to trust Him in all circumstances—even when things don’t work out as you had planned or wished. Just ask the “others” in God’s faith hall of fame.
2. keep praying
Jesus told His disciples a parable about a widow who kept asking a judge for justice. For a while, the judge refused to grant her plea, but the woman kept coming back. Through relentless pressure, she wore him down. In time, the judge said, “Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come back and attack me!” Jesus’ point was that if a wicked judge will grant justice to a persistent petitioner, how much more will a loving God “bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?” (Luke 18:4–7).
After making this point, Jesus asked the following question: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”(verse 8). The context of this parable indicates that Jesus was asking if, when He returns, He will find those who will pray and not give up.
Faith is holding on to God and not letting go! Adopt the acronym PUSH: Pray Until Something Happens! There are times when Satan attempts to intercept the blessings we seek. Other times, our request is on target, but our timing is off. And yet other times, the Lord tests our desire and resolve. The point is that we are to “pray and not give up.” This is the kind of faith Jesus will be looking for when He comes again.
3. obey (act) despite your doubts
Another definition of faith is obeying despite your doubts. Even if your knees are knocking and your teeth are chattering, what you do is always more important than what you feel inside. Look again at Hebrews 11. “By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land” (verse 29). Do you think those newly freed slaves walked with confidence through the walls of water? I think they ran for their lives, terrified that the sea might collapse on them and terrified that Pharaoh’s army might catch up with them. But, scared or not, they went through! They obeyed the command God gave through Moses. They acted, and that act of obedience is commended as “faith” in Hebrews 11.
Have you ever been afraid of following what you believe to be God’s will? Years ago, I lived in Los Angeles, but then Pacific Press (the publisher of this magazine), which is located in Nampa, Idaho, invited me to be an assistant book editor. Moving my wife and daughter from Los Angeles to Nampa scared me to death! I didn’t feel brave or confident or any other of those super-faithful feelings you imagine you’re supposed to have when you’re trusting God. But I believed the move to be God’s will. He had supplied the evidence of His leading. And so, with much fear and trembling, I obeyed. I took action. God says that’s faith!
If you don’t have super-spiritual feelings of confidence, just pray the prayer of the father whose son had an evil spirit: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
4. believe that you receive
Mark 11:24 records Jesus’ instruction: “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24).
How do you do this? Thank God for the answer even before you receive it. But before you start thanking Him for winning the Powerball jackpot or receiving that $70,000 automobile, remember that our prayers need to be consistent with His will. (Isn’t it interesting how often we interpret Jesus’ promises to mean we can have fancy material things when Jesus’ whole life was one of simplicity, humility, and service?)
The apostle James explained, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3; emphasis added). Apparently, it is possible to pray with incorrect motives—to ask for things that are outside of God’s will for your life.
But the Bible is full of things we can pray for with assurance that they are within God’s will for us. These would include forgiveness, eternal life, reconciliation, the new birth, peace with God, and the Holy Spirit. Christian author Ellen White wrote the following words about faith: “We need look for no outward evidence of the blessing. The gift is in the promise, and we may go about our work assured that what God has promised He is able to perform, and that the gift, which we already possess, will be realized when we need it most.”
5 “weight” on the Lord
No, I’m not simply trying to be cute or clever. I believe that when God tells us to “wait,” He has more in mind than our sitting in a corner with our Bibles, wringing our hands. I believe God wants us to w-e-i-g-h-t on Him—to place the full weight of our burden, whatever it is, totally on Him and thereby receive a fresh supply of strength to carry on. Isn’t that what the apostle Peter means by these words: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7)?
If you truly let go of your troubles and give them to God, He will renew your strength (see Isaiah 40:31), and you, in turn, will learn to trust Him more. And that’s the bottom line to faith.
Randy Maxwell is a former book editor for Pacific Press® Publishing Association in Nampa, Idaho. He currently serves as the pastor of the Renton Seventh-day Adventist Church in Renton, Washington, where he lives with his wife, Suzette.