The Fragility Factor in Faith
(Fragile: easily broken or destroyed; tenuous, slight; delicate, lacking in vigor)
Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” Lk 18:8 NKJV
The above Scripture capped off a story Jesus told and which many refer to as the parable of the unjust judge. However, the judge is not the focus of the tale. Jesus shared this parable to encourage fervency, constancy, and perseverance in prayer all of which would translate out as faithfulness. The intimation in this passage is that Jesus is not going to find overwhelming faith on earth when he comes. Since this is Jesus’ assessment, it ought to concern all believers. This should at least be a wakeup call to examine ourselves and not just presume that our faith is or always will be adequate.
We should understand what constitutes faith and what it takes to ensure that our faith will always withstand the inevitable tests and assaults in life. If we believe our faith to be unassailable, we need to remember Peter’s convictions as well as those of the other disciples. These men were seemingly adamant in their faith until death stared them in the eye.
My definition of faith is simply this—believing God! The Greek word for faith is pistis. The Greek word for believe is pisteuo, the base of which is pistis. Both faith and believe share the same root. Therefore, the greatest demonstration of faith is actions, attitudes, responses and behaviors reflecting the truth of what God says. We see an example of this in Matt 9 which gives an account of Jesus healing two blind men:
After Jesus left the girl’s home, two blind men followed along behind him, shouting, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” They went right into the house where he was staying, and Jesus asked them, “Do you believe I can make you see?” “Yes, Lord,” they told him, “we do.” Then he touched their eyes and said, “Because of your faith, it will happen.” Then their eyes were opened, and they could see! Matt 9:27-30 NLT
Faith is basically nothing less than the working out of what we profess to believe. If our lives do not reflect what we say we believe, we are not in faith. Abraham is called the father of our faith precisely because he believed God.
Peter’s message regarding our faith is not popular sermon material in most churches. Peter says there is wonderful joy ahead for believers but that it is necessary to endure various trials for a while. This is for the purpose of proving, or testing the genuineness, of one’s faith. Over the years these tests come to us through myriad circumstances and the wellness of our faith is directly proportional to our faithful responses to these life trials.
There is a theological flavor in many churches which encourages congregants that the highest end in facing trials is to extricate oneself from the situation with all expediency. However, this would necessarily risk forfeiting the life lesson God was endeavoring to build into one’s life. I once heard a teacher offer this bit of wisdom: If you fix the fix God fixed to fix you, he will just have to fix another fix to fix you. Jean Pierre de Caussade, an 18th century Jesuit priest, wrote about the sacrament of the present moment in which you sought to discover the eternal lessons God was sponsoring through the trials and circumstances of life. It is interesting that most Christians do not have difficulty understanding, accepting and appreciating the testing for genuineness and integrity of skills, talents, abilities and knowledge in every other discipline or endeavor in life. But when it comes to one’s faith, somehow that area is sacrosanct and off limits as if it were always completely intact and secure.
I have been in pastoral ministry for nearly 50 years and have been saddened more times than I can remember by the knowledge of persons giving up their faith and ministers forsaking their calling. The accounts that I was privy to were stories of broken and lost faith. Yet, there was a time in every one of their lives when any thought of abdicating their faith was absolute anathema.
How does one know just how fragile their faith really is? What steps can be taken to consistently build up one’s faith?
I believe we can fairly accurately assess our faith by analyzing our responses and attitudes toward the day-to-day challenges in life. Basically, any negative response is a red flag that there is something spiritually amiss in my life. Responses such as anger, frustration, intolerance, impatience, resentment, etc. are major signs of a fragile faith. Left unresolved biblically, these faith killers will ultimately destroy one’s relationship with Christ.
Like many other things in life, faith requires regular maintenance to grow and remain healthy. I would like to suggest three key disciplines that address this very thing.
The first, and what should be most obvious, is one’s relationship with God. Unless we move beyond a remote, ritualistic knowing of the Lord, we are destined to fail at some juncture in our walk of faith. Knowing someone requires relating. The more you relate with someone the better you will know them. In ongoing intentional relationships, there is a process wherein transparency increases while demythologization deepens. In other words, relating persons see ever more clearly into one another’s unguarded, unpretentious, authentic lives. Out of a relationship like this comes such fruit as respect, trust, care, thoughtfulness and love.
Now all of these mentioned qualities are already perfected in God. What happens as we pursue the Lord is discovery. The more earnestly we seek him, the more he will allow himself to be known. This is the meaning of apocalypse, revelation. It is what John experienced on Patmos. We may never have such an extravagant experience but we have prayer. We have aloneness with God whenever we want it.
As we consistently weave this discipline intricately into our lives and schedules, our knowing God and his awesome presence will never stop developing. We will come to inculcate the truth of the Lord’s prescient knowledge of us.
Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” Eph 1:4,5 NLT
Because our high priest, the Lord Jesus, has prepared the way for us, we can come boldly to the throne of grace to receive mercy and grace in our need. We don’t come with our heads hanging low and filled with shame. We come boldly because Jesus, our advocate before the Father, has covered us with his righteousness. With all openness, honesty and sincerity we can commune with our heavenly Father. As our knowing him grows day-by-day, our faith, our ability to believe truth, to believe God, against all appearances to the contrary will also grow exponentially.
The second key in developing an ever increasingly unfaltering faith, is committing to a disciplined Word life. Most Christians read the Bible more or less haphazardly. In other words, they have no standardized plan for daily devotions that they stick with. I encourage everyone to establish a time, a place and a duration for daily meeting the Lord in his Word. If you will do this, what starts as a duty will become a discipline gravitating to a desire and end in a delight. You will come to a place where you are so enriched by your experience that you wouldn’t consider giving it up.
I would like you to think about reading the Bible from what may be a new perspective for you. Most of our lives we have been taught to read informationally, to gain knowledge, to learn things. Not that there is anything wrong with reading in this manner, but reading the Bible only in this vein deprives us of something far deeper and richer spiritually. We can also read the Bible transformationally. That is, we can read in such a manner so as to hear the voice of God to our hearts in a way that transforms our lives to be more conformed to the image of Christ.
After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.” John 10:4 NLT
The best way to develop a discipline of daily devotions is to have a plan and stick with it. We have been using what I believe to be the best devotional tool bar none. It is called Life Journal and can be purchased from enewhope.org. With this plan you average reading 4 chapters of Scripture each day. You pray before reading asking the Lord for revelation in his Word and additionally asking the question: How will I be different today by what I just read. As you read the passages for the day, expect God to bring a word or sentence or complete passage to your attention. Meditate on whatever the Lord gives you and then journal on that passage. Choose to incorporate in your life the lesson God has shown you.
If you follow the life journal readings you will end up reading through the entire Bible (New Testament twice) in a year. But remember, the goal in this particular plan isn’t about reading through the Bible in a year. The goal is learning to hear the voice of God to your heart leading to being conformed to the image of Christ. The Life Journal program is fully explained in the journal itself. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you an explanatory article.
When we consistently read, study and meditate on the Word of God, we will be fortifying ourselves with truth. The principal strategy of the arch enemy of our souls is deception. Remember, Satan was a liar from the beginning and the father of lies. The best way one can recognize the counterfeit is to be totally familiar with that which is genuine.
Remember also, faith is believing God. Scripture tells us that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. It also tells us that if we continue in the Word, we will know truth and the truth will set us free.
The third discipline in our trilogy of faith is connecting with the authentic body of Christ. No one is going to come into completion in Christ on their own. It’s the way God designed us; we need one another. But not in off-and-on, loosey-goosey, , non-committal relationships. Have you ever watched a campfire and seen a coal suddenly pop out of the embers and lie there separate from the other coals? While the other coals continued to burn the lone coal soon went out!
Biblically, the church is defined as the company of the committed. Authentic church is comprised of sold-out followers of Jesus Christ. The church is the gathering of Jesus’ disciples for the purpose of edifying one another, building each other up in Christ. They are less interested in perfect doctrine than in living out the new life in Christ. If you cannot find this relationship in institutionalized religion, then find others of like mindedness and hold your own meetings. For more help in understanding how to accomplish this, find my book on Amazon: The Last Church Standing: Becoming the Church Jesus is Coming for.
The Bible tells us that we must live in the world without being of the world. This means that much of our waking moments are spent in interaction with people whose goals, ambitions, interests, conversation, actions and values are for the most part antithetical to the kingdom of God. Most of the people we are around day-by-day have been lied to, misled, propagandized, misinformed and deceived, and their life choices, attitudes and behaviors reflect the degree of deception they have inculcated. It is like being asked to work in the coal mine and come out of the mine at the end of the day as clean as you went in. It is like the dust on the sandaled feet of the disciples, the feet that Jesus washed and then said, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. Without a countering godly influence in our lives, it is nearly impossible to not be worn down by the destructive values of this world.
In nature, anything left to itself without care and nurturing will enter a process of deterioration. Our faith is no different. Without constant care and cultivation, it will gradually wither. Exposed all alone to the godless mindset of the world which professes the antithesis of everything the kingdom of God stands for, we would find it harder and harder to believe God, to have faith. From the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, we find this:
A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” Ecc 4:12 NLT
The fragility of faith is not a myth or something that occurs only in the lives of the half-committed. Vulnerable faith is in the sanctuary every Sunday; it is standing next to you and possibly even within you. At-risk faith lurks wherever relationship with God is remote and impersonal, where a devotional life is haphazard and undisciplined and where the encouragement of a fellow pilgrim is absent.
When the circumstances of life seem like a shipwreck, remember Paul’s words…
So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said.”