One of the most powerful prayers we can utter as Christians is as follows: “Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief.”
That’s straight from the Bible. Mark’s Gospel describes a moment in Jesus’ ministry when a father wanted healing for his son who was being attacked by a spirit. Jesus told the desperate dad, “All things are possible for one who believes.” The dad’s reply? “I believe; help my unbelief!” And then Jesus healed his son.
Those words from that father should be encouraging to us. They demonstrate that belief is God can be hard! And, in fact, God wants more from us than merely belief; he wants faith. And we should want faith, too.
What does it look like to strengthen and grow in our faith? The passage we studied Sunday in the first five verses of 1 Thessalonians 3 gives us a glimpse of what real faith is. The Greek word Paul uses here for “faith” is “pistis” — and it implies something deeper than just agreeing with a concept or philosophy. And as we will discover, faith — real faith — is about truth and trust and action.
One of the big errors people make when thinking about belief and God and circumstances is that when we believe something is fair and just and reasonable — and it doesn’t come to fruition — then we tend to assume God isn’t real or has left us. But the sticking point is this: Fair and just and reasonable to us. It’s much easier to believe when circumstances line up with what we deem as part of the best plan.
But God doesn’t base his plan for the world and what happens to people day to day on what we believe should be done! No. It’s about what God decrees should be done — and we need to have the faith that he will carry it out.
There are three components to faith we will look at: Truth, trust, and action.
Let’s look at truth. When we study the Scriptures and truths it heralds, that increases our faith. The Bible’s teachings keep us grounded in the facts about God. And while truth certainly is crucial to faith, it’s not everything that encompasses faith.
The next component is trust. And it actually builds on the truth about God we already know. It’s about taking what we know and applying it to the unknowns of our lives. And there are sure a lot of unknowns, aren’t there? None of us know what’s going to happen from day to day. For a lot of us, simply waking up and getting out of bed is an act of trust. Trust is way more than agreeing with a concept; it’s admitting we don’t know what the day holds and moving forward with God’s strength anyway! It’s a state of being, not of belief alone.
The third aspect of faith is action. In James’ epistle, he discusses faith and works. And James drives it home for us: Mere belief isn’t enough to make faith complete! We actually need to “do something about our belief.” It means asking God every day, “How can I serve you?”
And let’s not forget our 5 takeaways from our Sunday study on how our faith can be strengthened — or in the Greek, “sterizo,” which suggests the idea of placing stakes in the ground in order to strengthen and hold up a young tree.
The first takeaway is to share with others what we’ve learned from our own failures. Ouch! No one wants to be that vulnerable and lay bare his or her weakest moments. But consider this: Peter did it! One of his lowest moments was denying Jesus three times before his crucifixion, yet Jesus foresaw Peter’s fall and told him to make sure that when he gets back on the road of faith to help his brothers.
Isn’t that amazing? Some may dismiss Peter as a screw-up. But perhaps more than anyone in the Bible, his life and ministry are open for us to examine and learn from. In truth, we are Peter! We falter just like he did. But Peter was willing to let others learn from his failures, and most definitely Peter did. Late in his life, the fisherman who once sank in the lake because he couldn’t maintain faith that Jesus was right there with him and of course denied his master three times managed to face down the Roman empire and led the young church there while penning two books of the Bible. You are Peter. I am Peter. We all are Peter.
The second takeaway: Interact with others while using our gifts. God has given each one of us talents and abilities and strengths. It’s our responsibility as believers to find out what those strengths are and to share them so that all of us can be mutually encouraged.
The third takeaway is recognizing that faith comes from God and allowing him to strengthen us. There’s a reason why Jesus is called the “author and perfecter” of our faith — it’s because he’s ultimately in charge of it. Sure, we have roles to play, but remember this: Faith isn’t something we whip up on our own power; rather it’s something we open our hearts to!
The fourth takeaway is living out our faith daily and being patient and relying on God in the process. There are a lot of benefits to waiting on the Lord — and often it means him doing something deeper in our hearts.
And finally, takeaway number five: Allow suffering to build your faith. That may seem strange to say, but for any of us who’ve been through hard times, we all know that it’s during those seasons of difficulty that God does his deepest work in us. Count on it.
Finally, remember this over the remainder of the week: We must all grow in our faith, for if we don’t, our faith can get left behind and replaced by other structures, idols, and falsehoods. Instead, let us all agree together to believe with every fiber of our beings that God has things in mind for us that far exceed what we can possibly imagine. So let us, again, turn to the Lord and cry: “I believe! Help me in my unbelief”