What is faith? Is it a one time belief that grants us access to God’s kingdom? Is it a magic formula to save us from certain calamity. Or is it a seed that has to be watered, tended to, acted upon?
For decades I heard the word and equated faith with a belief that Jesus was God’s Son and would save us from all of the bad things in our lives. But, as life goes on, you start to realize that bad things continue to happen. Suffering is a very real and present part of our daily lives. Try as you might, you can’t escape it.
What is faith?
We want this journey of life to be easy. Like other areas of life, we fall for the lie that with just 3 simple steps you can have the life you’ve dreamed about. You can close your eyes and say a prayer, and suddenly life is easy.
But easy is a myth.
We’ve relegated our faith to pastors, teachers, and those on church staff in exchange for the hard work required of tending to our souls.
Even Jesus himself said “In this life you will have troubles…” It’s guaranteed, it’s a fact. But the good news, he continued, is “take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
In Philippians, we read a peculiar verse that goes against this concept of easy, where the author admonishes us to work out our faith “with fear and trembling.”
That doesn’t sound very “easy.”
In churches, we often hear nice sermons that leave us inspired. We sing songs that excite us, hear words that tell us we just need to pray one simple prayer. Follow these 3 steps to live the life God wants for you. But then our week starts, and we’re surprised that our lives remain unchanged.
In the writings of Luke (8:5-18), he recounts a story Jesus told about a farmer who went out to plant some seeds. As he threw them across the ground, some landed on the road where they were crushed by horses and people walking or eaten by birds. Others landed among the rocks, where they began to grow, but eventually withered away because the rocks couldn’t contain enough moisture. Still others landed among thorns and weeds, where as they grew, but eventually were taken over by the weeds. Finally, some seeds landed on good, rich soil where they took root, grew up, and produced a crop one hundred times more than the seed.
But how does this translate to our lives?
The seeds represent the faith created by the words of God that we hear. Some people hear the words as they fall on the road of our heart, but the enemy steals the words before they can take root. Those on the rocks, receive God’s words with joy, but because they lack roots, fall away when the inevitable trials of life come. Others that fell among the thorns and weeds are those who hear the words but are eventually choked out by the fear and worry, riches, and the pleasures of life. Finally, the seeds that fell among the good soil are those who hear God’s word with a good heart, retain it and as they endure life, bear fruit that lasts for a lifetime.
As these seeds of faith that land on the soil of our heart they begin to sprout rather quickly. We see an immediate change through the joy of that event. But what matters the most is whether or not this faith develops roots.
What produces roots? Quite simply, going through the experiences of life. There’s no way around it.
“The art of awareness of God, the art of sensing his presence in our daily lives cannot be learned offhand.”
Just like a tree, as it grows has to withstand the force of the wind, which in turn helps it grow roots that sustain it over its lifetime, we too have to go through challenges in life. We often shrink away from these moments, blame God, or ask the never ending question of “why is this happening?” What if these circumstances are required to develop the faith we’ll need for what God is preparing for us?
This leads us to the inevitable question: Do we trust him?
Do we ultimately believe that he’s working things out for our good and his glory and never one without the other? Do we trust this God as the King of the universe that he has permission to use our lives in whatever way desires?
As Heschel describes it, “faith is staking an entire life on this invisible reality.”
I believe that throughout our lives, God brings these experiences to slowly get us to the end of ourselves so that He can begin to fill us with an utter dependence on Himself. It’s when we recognize our inability to grasp him that we come the closest to him.
In Genesis 15, we read a pivotal moment in Abraham’s journey. Yahweh reveals himself to Abraham and declares that He will bless him and make Abraham the father of a multitude, and that from his son, all nations of the world would be blessed.
But there’s one small problem–Abraham doesn’t have any kids.
And he’s 75. (Translation: he’s OLD.)
If this were me, I would have laughed at God, just like Abraham’s wife, Sarai did.
But what does Abraham do with this promise from this singular God? Verse 15:6 tells us that he believed in Adonai and this belief was counted to him as righteousness.
This seed of faith was planted in Abraham’s heart and it began to take root.
Do you know how long it took before Abraham’s son Isaac was born? 25 years. Over two decades passed before he began to see the fruit of God’s promise.
During this time, Abraham took steps of faith, to leave his homeland and go towards the land God had promised. After 10 years of waiting, he tried to make God’s promise happen by sleeping with Hagar (not a good idea!) After a long 25 years of trusting God, Sarah conceives a son, Isaac–the fulfillment of one of God’s promises.
It was in this wilderness that Abraham learned to put his faith into practice and actually learn what it meant to trust God with his entire life.
And here lies the issue. If faith is just a belief we ascribe to in our heads, but doesn’t begin to affect the daily aspects of our lives and actions, then we don’t really have faith.
In his book “Man is Not Alone.” Abraham Joshua Heschel beautifully describes faith in a way that really struck me—“Faith is a seed planted in the depths of a lifetime.”
Faith is a small seed we plant in our lives. It’s a belief, but can also be translated as “trust.” And this belief, just like every seed, has to go through the hard work of being buried and dying in order that something new and beautiful will begin to emerge. It has to be watered daily, to pick out the weeds, to protect it from animals and harsh weather.
Like Abraham, our lives are the soil of this seed of faith. Leave it to itself and it might decay or grow. Or we can cultivate it and watch good fruit begin to emerge.
Now, for clarity, I’m not saying that our works are what save us. Jesus is the Messiah, and the only through whom we come to for salvation (Acts 4:8-12). We can come to a belief and trust in Him in an instant. But if our lives don’t begin to reflect this belief, did we actually believe to begin with?
The way that our lives change through God’s spirit working within us has to be the response to this belief. How we cultivate this seed of faith will determine what fruit eventually grows.
Faith isn’t a one time event. It’s a lifetime of learning to trust God, time after time. To get to the end of ourselves and come to fully rely on this King of the universe who promises to be with us.
“Faith is not an insurance, but a constant effort, constant listening to the eternal voice.”
And it’s through the everyday experience of life that we have a choice to let go of our dogmas and religion. We have a choice to trust God in the mundane wilderness of life. A choice and stake our lives on what God’s spirit has promised us. Even if we don’t see all of those promises come to pass in our lifetime.
As you go through seasons of life, my prayer for you is that like Abraham, you will allow that seed of faith to develop and grow–not decay. That you will till the soil of your heart to keep it soft, where your faith will grow and produce good fruit. So that at the end of your lifetime, that faith will have become an unshakable tree, deeply rooted, whose legacy lives on for generations.
January 11, 2022