Summary: In order to grow in faith you need to have the right concept of 1. God 2. The World 3. Yourself.
There were many dramatic answers to prayer in the recent war with Iraq. The short duration of the conflict, the relatively few lives lost, the recovery of many of our POW’s, and many more things of which we are not even aware. I watched the interview with two helicopter pilots who were shot down in Iraq. Artillery was hitting all of the helicopters. Large caliber bullets were ripping through the aircraft and grazing their feet and head. Miraculously, none of them were wounded. Only one helicopter went down in that fight, and even the pilots who went down were not hit by bullets or killed in the crash. The downed pilots also returned home safely in only twenty-two days. The other pilots and crew were able to return to base in spite of being hit many times by the tremendous bombardment of artillery. These things were not coincidences or luck. It was the result of the people of God praying in faith for protection for our troops. God answered prayer as we prayed in faith.
Every Christian needs faith. In fact, our relationship with God begins with faith, for the Bible says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). Faith is how we come to God and enter into a relationship with him. The Danish theologian Kierkegaard called this act of faith the “leap of faith.” But this is not a jump into the dark, it is a leap into the arms of God. Faith is not only a gift, it is something that must be developed. We are supposed to grow in faith. The Bible says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
There are some people who just have a special gift of faith. They can believe God for big things, unbelievable things, and those things come to pass. They pray and amazing things happen. This is a special gift from God, and we can pray to receive that kind of faith. But even though it may not be your special area of gifting, you can still grow in faith. How do we develop the gift of faith? I would like to talk about three things that will affect your growth in this area. The first is: Your growth in faith is directly related to your concept of God. Lee Strobel, in his book The Case for Faith, says that when he is talking with someone who does not believe in God, he often says, “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in. It may be that I do not believe in that God either.” When we are talking about having faith in God, we have to be sure that we are talking about the right God — the God revealed in the Bible, not one you have been told about or dreamed up in your own mind. If you have a concept of a frightening God who loves to find your faults and load you up with guilt, you will have trouble having faith in him. If your concept of God is one who is arbitrary and vengeful, you will not want to have faith in him; you will run from him. If your idea of God is one who is weak, distant or disinterested, how could you trust that kind of God?
When I arrived at the last church I served, I discovered from some of the staff that the teacher of the Senior High Sunday School Class was actually an atheist. I looked over the senior high classroom and there was a picture of Jesus that had fallen to the floor and was broken. I waited to see how long it would stay there before someone picked it up, or repaired and rehung it. After a couple of months I did it myself. The story behind the young man teaching the class is that he attended one of the most conservative and legalistic “Christian” colleges in the country. There were so many rules that each student was given a large notebook full of them. There were also a corresponding number of punishments. This young man and his wife were both graduates of this institution and had so rebelled against the harsh, ugly god this institution had promoted that they both rejected Christianity entirely. His purpose in teaching the senior high group was to keep them from believing the things he was taught. Needless to say, I did not leave him that position.
Dallas Willard says, “The acid test for any theology is this: Is the God presented one that can be loved, heart, soul, mind, and strength? If the thoughtful, honest answer is: ‘Not really,’ then we need to look elsewhere or deeper. It does not really matter how sophisticated intellectually or doctrinally our approach is. If it fails to set a lovable God — a radiant, happy, friendly, accessible, and totally competent being — before ordinary people, we have gone wrong. We should not keep going in the same direction, but turn around and take another road.”