A few weeks ago I wrote about when I told my kids I was going to jump to the moon. I jumped up in the air, but ended up right where I started. When I did this demonstration, none of my kids thought I could really jump to the moon. Before I even jumped they knew what would happen. When I wrote about the illustration, I didn’t try to claim that “I really did jump to the moon! I jumped, and soared off into space, and it took a long time but eventually I arrived on the moon.” Nobody would believe it was true. People would assume I was making stuff up–maybe to make a point, maybe to tell a good story, maybe because I’m delusional. But nobody would think that when I jump up in the air I might really soar off into space.
Why is that? Because we all believe in gravity. That’s almost a silly thing to say. Of course we believe in gravity! Gravity has held us to the surface of Earth from the moment we were conceived. Every moment of our lives from beginning to end is impacted by gravity. Its a fact of life. Its a part of our existence. Only the delusional or insane would not believe in gravity.
What’s more, we live our lives assuming that gravity will continue to work just like it always has. When you take a step, you don’t worry about how much bounce will be in the next step, or whether you’ll go leaping up into the air on accident, or fly off into orbit. You know how much gravity effects your steps. You can weigh a ball in your hand and judge how hard to throw it to get it a certain distance. You know that if you drop a heavy thing on your foot it will hurt, and so you take that into account when you hold things.
You have complete faith in gravity. You’d be crazy not to. How does your faith in God compare?
God is more reliable than gravity. Gravity was created by God, and some day the rules will change. Gravity is not eternal. God is eternal. God is faithful. God’s is good, and all that he does is good. God is more trustworthy than gravity. Do we trust him like we believe in gravity?
The Bible passage that keeps coming to my mind this week as I’ve thought about this is the story in Matthew 21 where Jesus causes the fig tree to whither:
Now early in the morning, as he returned to the city, he was hungry. After noticing a fig tree by the road he went to it, but found nothing on it except leaves. He said to it, “Never again will there be fruit from you!” And the fig tree withered at once. When the disciples saw it they were amazed, saying, “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” Jesus answered them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, if you believe, you will receive.” (Matthew 21: 18-22 NET Bible)
It seems to me that the faith he’s talking about is true belief, the kind of absolute belief we have in gravity. Jesus is talking about a level of faith that I think few of us achieve. We spend more time explaining away passages like this than we do embracing them.
I believe God as a matter of choice. I don’t think I’m there yet in the same way that I believe in gravity, like its absolute and ingrained. I think maybe the difference is like Peter when he walked on water. When he stepped out of the boat it was a choice to believe Jesus. He made the choice, he took the step. But when the waves came, he didn’t have time to choose. His instinct took over, and he was afraid. At a gut level, he didn’t believe yet. As a result, when the waves came his faith faltered and he started to sink.
George Muller believed as a matter of choice. He talked about this extensively. In his Narrative entry for October 15, 1835 he talks about the reasons for starting the first Orphan House. The purposes were primarily to show others that God is faithful still, and hears prayers still. And so he embarked on an extensive ministry without asking for support so that he could publicly show that God is faithful. This was a great act of faith itself. And yet, Muller continued to struggle with faith. God was shown faithful in amazing ways in Muller’s work, so much so that we use him as an example of amazing faith and God’s amazing faithfulness. Even so, when it came to establishing the second Orphan House, Muller went through the same struggles of faith again. His May 2, 1836 entry says this: “And feeling my own weakness, and knowing that it is not in my power to give faith to myself, I ask the brethren to help me with their prayers, that my faith may not fail.” By the end of his life the Orphan Houses that Muller had founded had sheltered and raised thousands of children. Large numbers of Bibles had been distributed. He pastored several congregations, and traveled extensively to speak. He had supported many missionaries around the world, and done a variety of other activities as he felt the Lord leading. All of that he did, often through great difficulty, without asking for support from anybody other than prayer.
Some books and articles about Muller suggest that his faith was ingrained, implying that it was easy for him. It wasn’t easy for Muller, and he didn’t claim that faith is easy. He believed in God, that God would keep his word and fulfill his promises. He believe that God is trustworthy as a matter of deliberate choice. From reading his Narratives, it seems to have never reached the point for Muller that he just believed God without thinking about it, that his faith in God was like we have faith in gravity when we walk. He continues to talk about trials of faith even in the later writings. Faith continued to be a deliberate choice against the current in Muller’s life.
What I want is to have huge muscles without having to exercise. As far as I know it never happens that way. If you want to be physically strong you have to exercise. Some people are genetically wired for strength, and it seems that for them it is easier. For them perhaps exercising is a joy. I don’t know. It certainly isn’t that way for me. But I have known people who got significant satisfaction and joy from lots of exercise. Maybe faith is the same. Maybe for some great faith is prewired, or rather that God gives it in greater abundance from the start. But I think for all of us it takes exercise to grow our faith. For all of us that exercise continues to stretch us and take effort and involves pain. God continued to stretch and test Muller’s faith throughout his years of ministry.
I think that, unlike gravity, faith is supposed to continue to be a choice through all of this life. I would like to have such confidence in God that my default mode is to believe him. We all know from life that habits, both good and bad, can be learned. With exercise, with habit, some things do get easier. But for the most part, each life event raises the choice: do we believe God, or not? I choose to believe, and in believing I choose to act.
When we face new challenges in life, I think it is worth following a practice something like this: First, pray. Ask God for guidance, and for faith. James tells us that if we ask God for wisdom he gives it to us. Sometimes when we ask him God gives us clear guidance. If he does, follow it. Second, study his word to see if he has already made promises that apply to the situation, or if there is guidance in the Bible that applies. If there are, we know from that what God will do. God always keeps his promises. God always blesses (if not always as we expect) when we obey. Third, act. Act as if you know that God will keep his word. He will. He always does. Faith is a choice to trust.
This is a deliberate process. It can become habit, but for most of us we aren’t there yet. When it is a struggle to trust God, he is still trustworthy. When we lack faith, he is still faithful. So even if you aren’t there yet, you can still depend on God to already be trustworthy and faithful. He’s just like that.