All Christians are supposed to understand the centrality of faith in the life of the disciple. Hebrews 11:6 puts it simply, “without faith it is impossible to please him [God].” That pretty much begins and ends the discussion on the priority of faith doesn’t it?
The ironic thing about the known preeminence of faith in Christianity is the seeming predilection among Christians for despising it. Need to look at that sentence again? That’s right, for all we tout the absolute necessity of faith we spend just as much time and effort seeking to circumvent it.
Consider for a moment the amount of time we devote in our prayers for the removal of the very thing(s) that God wants to use to build and strengthen our faith. Every single thing that comes into our lives bringing hardship or discomfort we inevitably rush to the heavenly throne room beseeching God to “Take it away!”
Faith is produced as we wrestle with life’s difficulties while standing on the word of God. It results when we trust in God’s provision and protection in the face of want and loss. Instead of asking God for strength to withstand our enemies darts we seem to continually beg God to remove us from the presence of our enemies.
Whatever happened to being “strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10)? When the body of Christ is threatened with pain, hardship, and even persecution, why is the last thing we want to hear “my grace is sufficient for you…” (2 Corinthians 12:9)? It is the trial that defines and strengthens our faith. Without the trial, faith languishes and ultimately perishes. As James says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3). This, then, is the hard, uncomfortable, and often bitter reality: hardship finds the faithful…by design.
It seems to me that faith is the engine of Christianity and yet we’re all desperately trying to make sure we starve the engine of gasoline. Please do not think I’m looking down on those who routinely ask God for deliverance (because I am one of them). I am, however, speaking to our perspective. Even the Apostle Paul stormed God’s throne room asking for the removal of his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7).
Without trials our faith cannot grow and we remain unpleasing in the sight of God. Success in the Kingdom of God is not measured by how many trials we have averted or caused to end due to our powerful prayers. Rather, it is revealed by how we continue to walk through “the valley of the shadow of death” with nothing to go on but a trust in “thy rod and thy staff” for both comfort and sustenance. Sooner or later it will begin to dawn on the average Christian that faithfulness is not defined by how little it is needed!
Take a good look around you churchgoer. Our world, nation, society, and culture are in a horrendous mess. Sins are now being touted as “choice” and “rights.” We seem to be leaderless in both government and religion. And so we pray and pray and pray for one thorn after another to be removed. This, despite the fact that in the model prayer, Jesus devoted only one statement to all the thorns His followers face: “deliver us from evil.”
Faith? It’s not the power of a prayer to remove one of life’s thorns. No, faith is probably best summed up in this powerful statement from Paul: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). I can endure in the face of withering opposition. I can prosper in the midst of economic crisis. I can be true and loyal in the midst of incessant temptation. I can be strong in the midst of sickness. I can produce joy in the midst of sorrow. I can shine a light in the physically and spiritually darkest times and places. I can believe and trust God while surrounded by contempt and scorn in His existence.
Do you want to hear the voice of God? Then consider these words from C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Faith cannot exist outside the sphere of uncertainty. Be careful what you pray for. You just might be praying yourself out of God’s presence.