Misplaced faith

I know a man in his late 30s. He’s not all that unusual. He was raised Christian, then sometime during his teenage years, whether it was in high school or college, he pretty much stopped going to church. He got married young, had a couple of kids, didn’t live as comfortably as they would have liked at first, and he and his wife put their focus on improving their careers and trying to raise two children.

Something happened within the last couple of years, and now he’s extremely interested in going to church. He reads his Bible, listens to Christian radio, and talks about it. None of this is terribly unusual. But he’s been having some health problems, and those are a bit unusual.A few months ago he and I talked about it. We were sitting in a restaurant, waiting for our wives to finish shopping. He told me the things that were going on with him. I hate to say it, but he was precisely the kind of patient Dad used to come home and complain about: No end to his problems, yet medically, there was nothing wrong with him. And he admitted as much.

"People keep telling me it’s all in my head," he said, sadly. "I guess I just don’t have enough faith."

I really think he has two problems. I think the first problem is that he eats too much unhealthy food. I don’t know how he eats all the time, but when I’m around, he eats too much fried food, too much meat, and not enough fresh fruits and vegetables. From my personal experience, one of the fastest ways to put myself into a funk is to eat fast food every day for a week.

But now let’s talk about that lack of faith.

It’s a common problem, and when I hung out with a lot of evangelical-minded people, I saw it a lot. I had it too. People have a tendency to keep score a lot, which is a real problem. Read the Gospels, and you see Jesus pointed out people who had lots of faith, or way too little of it. The problem is, He was able to see it. He could see things that the rest of us can’t.

We do not have the perspective to judge our faith in relation to that of other people, so we just shouldn’t do it. We can see signs, but signs can be deceiving. We can’t see what’s really going on in the other person’s head, nor can we see what the other person is like when we aren’t around.

I see my pastor about an hour and a half a week. I don’t know what he’s like the other 166.5 hours. He says if I did, I wouldn’t trust him during that hour and a half. Yet, by all outward appearances, my pastor is a spiritual superstar. He came to a small, struggling church on the outskirts of the St. Louis metro area, and inside of a decade, turned it into one of the largest Lutheran churches in the St. Louis area. For that matter, it’s one of the fastest-growing Lutheran churches, period.

So if this superstar who lives and works about four miles down the road from me struggles sometimes, the rest of us shouldn’t be surprised if we struggle sometimes. It doesn’t make it right, but it makes us human.

Jesus had something to say about lack of faith. He said if you have faith the size of a mustard seed–at the time, the smallest seed known to his audience–you can move mountains.

When people have problems that their faith can’t overcome, often they come to the conclusion that their faith is smaller than a mustard seed. Unfortunately, many Christian circles perpetuate this. The contemporary Christian hit "Faith Enough," released by Carmen a few years ago, is a good example of this. The song’s lyrics talk about all the things you can do if you have enough faith.

Yet very few Christians are doing the things Carmen says are easy. Why?

The mindset doesn’t work.

The mindset puts the focus on faith, when the focus needs to be on God. Let’s look at what he said again: People keep telling me it’s all in my head. I must not have enough faith.

What are the nouns and pronouns in those two sentences? People. Me. My. Head. I. Faith.

Where’s God?

The amount of faith doesn’t matter. When your faith is in your ability to believe, the focus comes back to you, not to God. In that regard, our faith almost becomes an idol.

It’s easy to say how to get enough of the right kind of faith, but it’s much harder to do. Look back on your life and the lives of others. Read the stories of the Biblical heroes. Look at everything that went wrong with them, and look at what God was doing with those circumstances. Did God ever let any of these people down? Ever? What kinds of things did God carry you through? What kinds of bad situations did God make good things come out of?

And when the situation doesn’t let up, it could be that we aren’t ready, or something else isn’t ready, and God isn’t finished with us yet. Remember that God works for good in all situations and circumstances, and look back at your own past for the proof.

And by all means don’t compare yourself with others. A decade ago, another Christian got very frustrated with me because I wasn’t in the same place in my faith as she was in hers. That shouldn’t surprise anyone, because nobody else is either. Not then, and not now. We all develop a little bit differently. My cousin learned to walk and ride a bicycle at a younger age than I did, but I learned to read and write at a younger age than he did. Why is faith any different?

As long as that faith is in God, and the focus is on God and not on ourselves and our own abilities, God will take care of the rest. It’s exactly like when my son cries out to me. He’s not old enough to understand much of anything except hunger and maybe sleep. He knows that when he cries and I pick him up, he’ll get milk. Depending on where Mom is, sometimes it takes longer than others, but he believes in me.

Sometimes our understanding of things is almost as limited as my son’s. But God can still work with it.

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