Faith and Unbelief
(excerpt from Relentless Faith: Trust in a God who moves mountains)
It came as a startling realization. I was sitting in the fourth row of my small-town church with my Bible open on my lap, a kid on each side, and listening attentively to our pastor. Looking back, I can’t remember what he was saying when a thought came to me out of left field: I don’t believe God.
Sure, I believe in God. I know He exists. I believe He created me and all I see, and that all of history is steadily marching toward the culmination of His grand plan. I believe Jesus will break through the clouds one day and lift us to a glorious eternity. I believe that the Bible is His inspired word and that the Holy Spirit is active in our day.
Yes, I believed in God. But I didn’t believe God.
I didn’t believe that His promises—marked permanently on the page—were for me. I didn’t believe He would care to interrupt my day with His glory. I didn’t believe that His plan for my life was better than the one I struggle to manufacture on my own. I didn’t believe that He could free me from destructive patterns of behaviour and change me into an image of Christ. I didn’t really believe that my life could ever be different than the way it was.
Over the next weeks, as this sobering realization took root, I began to notice people around me who seemed to have great faith. There was the woman across the aisle who served so tirelessly, believing that God directed her each moment, as the hands and feet of Christ, to people to care for. Then there was the lady who sat on the far side of the sanctuary who prayed like she knew that God was not only listening, but that He was ready to jump up and answer her every request. And even when it looked like she wouldn’t get what she wanted, she knew that God had a better plan. And there was my dear friend who I shared breakfast with several months ago, who wore out her knees praying for her family, believing God would work a miracle one day—and He did. There was also the popular female Bible teacher whose relationship with Jesus seemed so tangible that I was left desperate to love Him as she did, believe Him as she did, and see Him work in my life as He did in hers.
This is how my journey began: in God’s grace, He showed me that I didn’t quite believe Him as I should.
Perhaps that’s too gentle and polished. They say that you can’t get to where you want to go if you don’t first acknowledge where you are. Perhaps it’s closer to the truth to say it this way: my life was wrought with the sin of unbelief, but—while standing on the edge of unbelief—I could see across the river into the Promised Land. I can see where I want to go and how I want my life to be.
With every fibre of my being, I want to believe that God is who He says He is, and that He can do what He says He can do. (And yes, I’ve worked through Beth Moore’s Believing God study—twice.) I want to believe that His promises are for me and that He is working continuously in my life and in the lives of those I love. I want His word to jump off the page and into my life. I want to believe that His plans for my life are far greater, far better than I could ask for or imagine and incomparable to the life I could create on my own. I want to cling to faith when I’m in the valley and when I can’t see or understand what He is doing. And one day, when my faith becomes sight, I want Him to smile and say, “I’m so proud of you, sweet daughter. You never stopped believing Me.”
I don’t imagine that my story is unique. You probably have also struggled with unbelief at one time or another, and I would wager that if you really stopped to think about it, you too want to be a person of great faith. You too want to believe that God does extraordinary work in and through you. But how do we get there? How do we become people who effortlessly choose to trust God instead of the host of alternatives that the world offers on a silver platter? These are the questions my Bible study called Relentless Faith explores.
Hebrews 11:1 gives us the biblical definition of faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is having the confidence that what we hope for will happen. Just as our eyes give us a sense of what is around us in the physical world, faith is the spiritual sense that gives us proof of the unseen spiritual world. Faith is not needed for what we can see, just as hope is not needed for what is already ours. Great faith is required for the things we cannot see.
God is not pleased with our reluctant reliance on Him, which is often a wilful dependence on ourselves. He does not approve of our tentative trust. He is not thrilled with our half-hearted obedience. He does not take delight in our wimpy requests and small prayers. They are an offense to His very nature. Perhaps He’s waiting for us to really start to believe so that He may mightily show Himself to us. I, for one, want to give Him the opportunity.
THE SIN OF UNBELIEF
There are some people who seem to find it easy to believe God. They believe that there will be better things tomorrow, that God has a good plan for their lives, despite the difficulty and disappointment of today. They believe that He will show up—on His own time and in His way—and work wonders, so they look to the future expectantly. To them, the fulfillment of God’s promises is not a matter of if it will happen, but when it will happen. When I think about these people, I find myself a little green with envy. I wish I had faith like that...but with a shrug of my shoulders I have to admit that I don’t, so why keep dwelling on it? God simply didn’t give me great faith.
But this is unbiblical thinking. Faith is not a quality that some believers have and while others don’t. Ever-increasing faith is an expectation of all those who claim to follow Christ. Our lack of faith should not be met with indifference because, as we’ve already learned, it is impossible to please God without faith. More than that, our unbelief is an affront to Him.
When we refuse to believe God, He takes it personally. Psalm 78 recounts the unbelief of God’s people when they refused to walk in His law and rebelled against Him. God continually showed Himself to be faithful to them in the wilderness. They had seen His power and goodness, which made their unbelief all the more infuriating. According to Psalm 78:32 unbelief is sin.
Unbelief is not a teeny mistake on our record or a slight defect in our character. Instead, the Bible deems it a very serious weakness.
We can believe Jesus for salvation but fail to find Him trustworthy day-to-day. When this happens, we live a much smaller life than God intends.
Disappointment, pain, and fear keeps us from moving forward in faith. Instead, we become stuck in a quagmire of unbelief, stuck in the same place for weeks, months, and even years. Unbelief can have such a damaging effect in our lives: so much is lost because of a lack of faith, so much is missed because of a failure to believe. God won’t perform miracles in our lives if we don’t have faith (Matthew13:58).
God wants us to repent of our unbelief, dare to trust Him, and then step forward with Him into the unknown. He wants our confidence in Him to be so strong that it can never be shaken, even when life turns upside down. Let’s repent of the sin of unbelief and dare to believe God.
Will you join me on a journey towards Relentless Faith? Download my Bible Study Relentless Faith: Trust in a God who moves mountains
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