The Faith That Isn’t

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You can’t be a Christian very long before you must come to grips with the meaning of faith. And in America that faith will come down to either a naïve faith or a mature one.

Maturity, at least if the brochures are right, is the true hallmark of Christian enlightenment. It’s easy to spot someone with a mature faith. They have that knowing, philosophical smile whenever they spot some brand spankin’ new believer anxious to be about God’s work, that person with a naïve faith that hasn’t been around the block a time or two.

The person with a mature faith understands that very few people ever see real results in prayer. That mature person knows that it’s one thing to believe something and altogether a different thing to make it happen. Supplementing one’s wishes with a little elbow grease never hurt anyone. The mature person of faith knows that backup plans are needed when idealism falls through. Sure, God is ready to say yes to the faithful, but it’s smart to hedge one’s bets against failure.

When Joe Sixpack loses his job during the recession, the counselor with the mature faith readily advises Joe to immediately find another job, any job. “God can’t drive a parked car,” the counselor says—with a wink. Because there’s always a wink or a reassuring pat on the back when mature faith is involved.

No, the American Christian of mature faith comprehends what the person with the naïve faith doesn’t. And his church makes him an elder or a committee supervisor for his discernment. Because we need his common sense wisdom and leadership. We don’t want to make the mistakes of blindly following some starry-eyed dreamer with a naïve faith who wants to change the world for Christ.

So we hold up the person of mature faith. He’s the model. And his common sense faith is an example for us all.

Except, as I see it, that mature “faith” isn’t really faith at all.

The Lord makes it clear:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven….”
—Matthew 18:1-3

You see, it’s the person with the naïve faith, the one who believes there stands no impediment to the God of the Universe, who is the real warrior in the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the one who believes that nothing is impossible with God. This is the person who takes God’s word at…well, His word. This is the one who sends the devil scurrying back to hell.

I’d like to find a real Christian today who believes the following:

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
—Psalms 127:1

Instead, we of “mature” faith like to force God’s hand. When we feel we’ve waited long enough, we build the house, we watch over the city. Because faith in God is nice, but if you’re going to build houses and protect cities, nothing beats the sweat of the brow. Yes, Jesus, I believe you...So leave the waiting in the prayer closet to the naïve, and let’s get the real men out there to do the job pronto. And for all our sakes, make sure we have a Plan B.

This is what passes for maturity today.

No, man’s common sense is just that, common. It takes a real naïf, a true fool, to think otherwise, to see with uncommon vision, to have God’s perspective.

Frankly, I’m a bit sick of all the people with supposedly mature faith who sit around saying, “Yes, but….” Those “buts” have a knack for getting in the way, stymieing the work of the Lord. Whenever those mature people bless us with their smarts, you can almost hear someone muttering along with them: “Isn’t that just Jesus, the carpenter’s son?”

You’ve got poor, uneducated nobodies in India leading thousands to Christ, laying their hands on the sick and watching them get healed. Meanwhile, you’ve got hyper-rationalists masquerading as the mature people in the church who raise their objections and quote from their science and philosophy books all the reasons why none of that can be happening.

Me? I’ll stick with Isaiah on this one:

…and a little child shall lead them.
—Isaiah 11:6b

31 thoughts on “The Faith That Isn’t

  1. Dan, you leave me in tears today… you don’t understand the timing of that… I left bible school a few months back… having spent so much time studying theology, and the history of the church… when Jesus was just telling me… “just believe ME.”

    I argued… I have to know this stuff if I’m ever going to be used in the body. I have to have that sheepskin. I have to be “someone” to reach out, and be okay in the eyes of men. My “maturity” almost killed me.

    He keeps speaking the same thing… become nothing so I can be.

    All these somebodies… push Him out of the glory of the spotlight… oh if we could only just BELIEVE HIM. PURELY HIM.

    Our wisdom is nothing but waste. His wisdom is greater than anything we can wrap our piddly minds around. May we be nothing so HE can be EVERYTHING….

    I Corinthians 1:27,28
    But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.

    • Ronni,

      I went back to college after dropping out because it was something I needed to finish. I rationalized why I left and had good spiritual reasons for dropping out that first time.

      But in the end, I needed the discipline. So I went back and finished. I can’t say that my degree has opened a million doors, but I can also say that I worked hard and got my degree under difficult circumstances. And no one can take that away from me.

      • I know it was time for me to leave… maybe someday I’ll go back… but I too had my reasons… number one it was a school based from the church movement I was formerly a part of (part of your history too, if I remember correctly). I’m not a part of that and I don’t agree with the entirety of what they are teaching… I needed to fully shut the door.

        I think it is fantastic you did finish, and no… nobody can take that away.

    • Pastor Allen

      Ronni,

      I couldn’t help but respond. I am in complete agreement with Dan in the substance of his post. However, your reply seems to imply that scholarly pursuit and study of biblical theology is a waste of time and has no value. At 51 years old I am finally fulfilling a dream of completing my academic career, and I am genuinely convinced that by increasing my understanding of scripture, the original languages, and church history, I will become a better pastor and teacher. All I do I desire to do with excellence (very scriptural). Biblical education should not be viewed as something to replace an active and vibrant faith, and it can become an idol in itself. But so can an immature over-dependence on the “speaking” of the Spirit so one does not even need to bother to read or study God’s Word. I spend hours studying and preparing every message I preach, but still admit that I always listen for the voice of God and ask for his anointing while expounding on his Word. (I am, by the way, a solidly Reformed believer with a firm acceptance of the present activity of the Holy Spirit). I certainly want to know HIM, and ONE of the ways (not the only way) that I grow in my relationship with him is by the deep and passionate study of his Word. I feel so strongly that it is a balance and a tension, not a “one or the other” scenario.

      • Allen, I do ask that you please not read into my words any implications that I have not stated outright. If you knew me, you’d know that I have studied Hebrew, Hermeneutics, reformed theology, have a very good grasp of church history, and current sociological movements within the church. I’m also a spirit filled believer learning to walk in the spirit 24/7 and being fed by a minister with does NOT have a degree, but is one of the most learned men biblically I’ve come across in a long time. Weekly he stuns me (seriously). Thing is, you can know how to study and apply the word and never gain a sheepskin. I have issues with the church at large and how anymore, going to seminary and getting that diploma is more important than knowing the voice of the Holy Spirit.

        I agree that leaning too far in either direction can be problematic, I know people who feel as though the HS is directing them as to which socks to wear today. Sometimes people run after the signs instead of what they point to, and that alarms me. Then there are those who live so legalistic…

        Thing is, I want to know the word, but more importantly… I want to know… THE WORD (logos)… Christ.

        There IS a tension… the what is, and the what is to come, the now, and the not yet… the here (earth), and our other home…

  2. Brian

    Dan, your observation on the very common “mature” christian is right on. But I wonder if there can be a polar opposite to the Mature christian whose faith is low that looks like this: A middle aged man, hes been in the church for 20+ years, but never seems to change. Instead he offers up lots of prayers at the church meetings, and sounds very faithful. When he meets people he shares his faith, and when he has a decision in life he aks God to tell him what to do. At stoplights he says “God if the light is still green when I drive under then Ill take that as your will that I should do this”.

    Is there such thing as being overly naive in faith? Can you do too much “fleecing”, as in asking God for something and expecting a sign like Gideon did?

    Iv’e seen a certain number of people who go through life doing the same thing regardless of the results and calling it perseverence. Or they do what they want and rationalize, or spiritualize their actions with whatever scripture comes to mind.

    I mention this to ask what should a faithful person look like?

    • Brian,

      I think that if you scratch that middle-aged man you discuss, you’ll find that he crawled onto a shelf a long time ago and simply stopped growing.

      Now he won’t admit that. And to press him on it will only make him defensive. But in 9 times out of 10, he simply gave up and got comfortable. That’s not the same as having a naive faith. In fact, that kind of faith you mention is the one that long ago cashed in hope and wisdom for complacency. And it’s also the next step on the road to “Yes, but….”

    • David Riggins

      Anyone who is not growning in their spiritual walk is like a disabled child who is not learning from one day to the next. We should see measurable changes in our understanding of God, Scripture, our Faith, the nature of Grace, and in our relationship with Christ. If we don’t see those changes, then there is a problem.

      Unfortunately that is the state of most of the Church in America.

      There are two causes: The teachers, and the pupils. We can’t blame the curriculum, and the Master Teacher is without fault in this.

  3. Dan wrote:
    The person with a mature faith understands that very few people ever see real results in prayer.

    I want results from prayer. Otherwise, I feel like I am wasting my time. Whenever good results follow prayer, I tell those involved, “If we would pray more and do less, more would get done.”

  4. Michael,

    I hope you’re catching the sarcasm in what you quoted!

    And I agree with your last sentence. In most Evangelical circles today, you’ll get an hour of advice and two minutes of prayer. That’s totally flipped from what it should be. Our self-help society is too quick to advise and far too slow to pray.

  5. Diane Roberts

    Wow! Fantastic message today Dan! Sadly, the Word of Faith teachers IMO were raised up to bring information on true faith to us but most of them got bogged down in too many aberrant theologies as well as having a narrow presentation that was culturally very narrow (in other words, for the rural south, leaving blue state Christians like me utterly confused as to what pig farmer do).

    I have written at my blog about the need for what I call a “New Kind of Faith Teacher.” If calamity comes to our country, and I believe it is due soon, the Christians here won’t be able to stand one minute without their health insurance, governmental help, credit cards, jobs and so forth. And where will the church be during this time? Probably saying the same old thing -“We cannot help you because we spent our last penny on a new sound system. So you will have to go to the government, Salvation Army, etc.”

    Heaven help the Christians here in the west when those calamities come. I do hope they learn what real faith is. It’s simply standing on the Word of God and what was accomplished at the cross with everything you have.

    • Diane: “Heaven help the Christians here in the west when those calamities come.”

      Go here to find out a little more on why most of those calamities will have had nothing to do with us xtians. But I admit it will be tough going trying to understand how trillions of dollars in wealth just suddenly evaporated. But that’s how the world actually works.

      Yeah. We xtians worked hard, paid our bills, kept up the mortgage, tithed, taught our children, and we still ended up getting screwed.

      So there are two points I’d like to make: (1) let’s stop blaming ourselves for everything. There’s plenty of stuff going on in this world that we have absolutely no say about. (2) Pray for heaven’s help because we are going to need miracles more than ever.

      And finally, it doesn’t matter whom you vote for; the Punishment of America will continue.

      • David Riggins

        Oengus-
        Reading that bit about “supporting the economy” on the link you gave, I am repeatedly drawn to the difference between the 1940’s and today…Then the focus was on savings bonds, reducing consumption, recycling and sacrifice. Today it’s about spending more than we earn in order to “save the economy.” Just to juxtapose that onto the discussion about faith…(the segue of the century, right here!) Jesus calls us to give up everything, pick up our cross and follow Him. (To “buy bonds” in Heaven, as it were… ) But all too often modern Christianity calls us to take out a loan on Grace and live for the present, forsaking the cross and following the world “for now.”

        If our faith is based on that indebtedness to the world, then it is weak and flabby, untested and unable to withstand a strong breeze, much less the storms of the spiritual war going on around us. Like the smiling man on TV “in debt up to my eyeballs” the fire is coming that will burn away the useless and act as a crucible for the real wealth we’ve accumulated. Perhaps it’s in the feared economic collapse, perhaps it’s just a personal disaster. But our faith, in one way or another, will be tested, and I don’t want to have to take my faith off a shelf and dust it off when the trial comes.

        • David,

          I’m personally staring square in the face everything you’re talking about. I’m finding that way too much of the faith I had stored away in the cookie jar for that stormy day…well, the mice ate it.

          🙁

        • Oh, and one last thing.

          I don’t know how others are going to spend their “economic stimulus,” but I can tell you exactly where mine is going: to pay taxes.

          Now ask me how that little circular path accomplishes anything. 🙁

      • Oengus,

        I love the line about “Start your own business” considering that 85 percent of new businesses fail in the first five years—and that’s during cash-flush economic times!

        Two weeks ago, I was talking to a group of independent business owners and to a man they called January their worst month ever. Ever. And some of these guys have been in business for decades. I will agree with them, too. January was bad and February is proving even worse.

        Even though I would like to see people and companies open their collective wallets, David is right: somehow we went from “Strength Through Savings!” to “Strength Through Spending!” While there is little limit to the former, the latter mentality runs into obvious roadblocks pretty darned fast.

        Five years ago, I sat in the middle of a church service with more than 2,500 others, and the pastor of that church asked how many people had at least six months salary saved up in case of job loss or other hardship. Less than ten people raised their hands—and my wife and I were two of them. That’s astonishing.

        It’s even more astonishing that we’ve had a negative savings rate for about three years now. People are spending more money than they are bringing in. Yes, some have made money in the stock market and have cashed in to buy luxuries, but that doesn’t change the fact that people are financing their lifestyles by mortgaging their futures.

        What kills me is that even though I’ve been a saver, I’m finding it nearly impossible to save anymore, either. Huge increases in energy costs, taxes, and subsequent cost trickle downs have demanded too much of me. I’m at my wit’s end trying to figure out what to do.

  6. Elizabeth Anne

    He brought Lazarus back from the dead! I think he could, in fact, drive a parked car.

    But it does raise an interesting dilemma. How do we mediate between that childlike belief and love and submission to god with a lion-like faith?

    • Elizabeth Anne,

      Jesus doesn’t so much drive the parked car as He loads it onto His car carrier and takes it to the final destination, a destination whose location only He knows. Everyone who is driving on his or her own will become lost—and, sadly, will stay that way forever.

  7. Heidi

    I’m a little slow to catch on to sarcasm throug the computer, and as I was reading your post my brain was thinking “Wow…I guess I have a whole lot more growing up to do, because I’m way off the mark.” Good thing I read the post all the way through! 😀

  8. Normandie

    Let me give just a tad of encouragement to all of us as we try to hold on to that naive faith. In the miasma permeating our economy, God still reigns. My husband and I are about to sail off to do whatever it is the Lord has in mind for our ministry. And this is what God just did.

    We were looking at depleted savings as we prepared the boat, along with other economic uncertainties that could seriously affect our income. Believing that the time to leave had come, Michael was ready to resign from his job (we called it retiring without a pension), but at the last minute felt a check to wait. Two days later he was called in to the GM’s office to find that he was being terminated as of that afternoon. A moment of stillness, then the news came: they were sweetening the pot with a lovely severance package. Enough to keep us solvent while we finish our work here. Enough to pay our medical bills.

    God is ever faithful. He ALWAYS comes through, though it may not be until the last minute. I’ve lived most of my adult life trusting in His faithful provision without which life would have been very hard. I’ve had a few years of plenty where I saved. I’ve tithed and watched my ability to tithe grow exponentially–oh, how true that test is! I’ve seen God raise from the dead, heal me and others, deliver and provide. I’ve been a failure and lost much. There have been times when I’ve held on by a thread, but it turned out to be the same scarlet thread that delivered Rahab. These days, I often sit in wonder at God’s mercy. At His loving kindness to us, who deserve none of it. What talents I have, He gave me. What riches we have had or will have are from Him alone. (And riches are relative,aren’t they?)

    How do we face the darkness that’s coming? With our heads lifted up, our eyes looking through the clouds to the light beyond. With our lips giving praise. Reminding each other of the Lord’s goodness. Remembering what He has done for us and for our forebears in the scriptures. Holding fast. Trusting.

    Being as little children whose daddy will always carry us, even if it’s through a storm.

  9. I admit that as I was reading the first few paragraphs of this post, I was thinking that Dan was missing the point.

    Mature faith like that is nothing I want, I thought.

    Then, as I read further, I finally saw his point.

    Good post, Dan. I’ll be linking it soon.

  10. Dan wrote:
    What kills me is that even though I’ve been a saver, I’m finding it nearly impossible to save anymore, either. Huge increases in energy costs, taxes, and subsequent cost trickle downs have demanded too much of me. I’m at my wit’s end trying to figure out what to do.

    You are a freelance writer by profession, right? Now, let’s be serious. You can lament the soul-crushing nature of the American economy all you want, but “you” must put food on your table. I don’t want to sound pedantic or condescending, but the Word of God is clear: “Give us this day our daily bread….But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:11, 33 KJV). The time has come for you to show results. Will you miraculously land more contracts? Will your expenses miraculously go down? Will what you need show up when you need it?

    If you believe the Lord has called you to a scaled-back lifestyle so you can spend more time with your family and in the ministry, then you should get what you need, because you are seeking first the kingdom and His righteousness. If you are not getting what you need, then you may need to reconsider what you think the Lord wants you to do.

    A friend went to live on the mission field with wife and child through “non-traditional” channels. I encouraged him, but I had a wait-and-see attitude, because my friend always had wild ideas about what he wanted to do with his life. He sent out an email about the decision, and quoted: “…let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4 KJV). I believe he quoted this verse to shut us up who had misgivings about his plans. But I should have replied to him: “You also are a man. You may be a liar.” He is back from the mission field. He has a regular job now.

    Dan, I want you to succeed. I want to be a professional writer, too, so I may want you to succeed even more than some, just so I can be of good courage! “Yes, but…” This is the only “Yes, but…” that I think matters: Yes, you may believe this is God’s will for your life, but if “you” cannot support yourself, then is it His will?

    • Michael,

      When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
      —Psalms 34:17-19

      It’s either true or it’s not. I choose to believe it’s true.

      I realize the answer isn’t in me, though it’s sometimes hard even for the strongest believers to accept that. I realize it’s a battle and that I’m not always strong.

      But He is.

    • Normandie

      Michael,

      Bad things happen to folk who are doing the Lord’s work just as they happen to those who aren’t. Was the fact that Peter landed in jail a statement that Peter wasn’t doing what God wanted? No, it was an opportunity for God to show Himself strong on Peter’s behalf. But WHILE Peter was in jail, someone might have said that perhaps Peter ought to quit the work he was doing because where was his God? The Bible is filled with testing times of the saints. I spent a LONG time in the wilderness–I mean years–seeking deliverance from or a change in my circumstances. But God let me walk that path for His purpose, to bring me to a place where my faith rests with Job’s–“Yet though He slay me, still will I trust Him.”

      God has healed me instantaneously. He has healed me over years. And He has withheld that healing a few times. Did the times of instantaneous healing indicate that I was closer to God than when He waited seven years or even when He said “No”? Not at all.

      You’re correct in that sometimes we walk out of His will, listening to our own voice instead of His, and He has to correct us by closing doors. But often He allows us to venture down a certain path because it will ultimately be the best for us. In the times of very straightened circumstances in which I lived, God showed up at the last minute time after time after time, sometimes with bags of groceries, sometimes with meat from someone’s broken freezer. When I barely had enough to pay a bill, He would supply the means–though often at the last minute.

      So, let’s not be quick to assume what He might be doing in someone else’s life. Even the fellow who came off the mission field may have needed to go there for a season. Who can say? Not I.

      Blessings,
      Normandie

  11. Oxysmoron

    I think your message was a good one… ” the Faith that isn’t”.

    I heard an elder woman tell a mid age woman… “if you really had faith you would have the rain stop while you go to the grocery store.”

    I thought this was said in a mean spirit; due to the elder woman wanting the mid age woman to believe the elder woman was of much more faith and highly favored of God.

    I kept quiet tho and began to smile. There was a really strong wind that came up quickly and I had opened my window to talk to God. I then said giggling ” Lord, the wind is so strong maybe I should stick my head back in and just talk to you inside”. Suddenly it hit me… Be still, Be calm, Peace is the Word of the Lord… Be still, Be calm, Peace… for Jesus is the Word. I began to sing this and the wind stopped. I began to talk to the Lord with my head hanging out the window and then began to sing the song again. Once done the wind stirred up again.

    Of course I believe those words were of the Lord and I believe the Lord can control the wind just as He put it here. Of course I don’t believe He just can’t wait to come running to do as I ask or say, nor do I believe I can control what He can or cannot do. And I do not believe the elder woman talking to the mid age woman should have measured her faith and compared it to hers; especially in the manner she did.

    Isn’t it truly a Heart of Just Believing God; for after-all the Word is of the Lord, because the Word is the Lord/Jesus. Our word must become His Words and it is through His Words which bring Life and such too can be said of our own words which bring death.

    Enhancing my education never taught me the Spiritual things of God… it was through and is still through the teaching of the Lord/Holy Ghost/Jesus. Both educated and uneducated desciples who continue in His Word and are being led through and in the Holy Ghost will become Knowledgeable and with patience gain Wisdom and through much more patience gain even more Understanding; always with the Knowledge that our True Wisdom is the Beginning of the Knowledge of the Fear of God. Thus, for those who Fear Him will also Understand that NOT all things will be fully Understood and with this Limitation I have come to Trust in God that which He chooses not to share.

    Sure He can move a parked car in the literal sense, yet it seems to be His pattern if someone willingly gets in first… He could have built an ark by Himself too, yet He chose not to.

    You know one of the many things I love about the Lord is this…

    Jesus never took advantage of His ability in power to do that which was not required by His Father.

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