Faith is like a muscle – if it is not used, it will atrophy.
Some of us spend time every day exercising certain muscles that we want to develop. You say, “I haven’t run for a week, and I feel the difference.” Similarly, if a week goes by without exercising faith, you will notice the difference. The longer you go without using faith, the greater the danger that you will forget how to use faith altogether.
If you have ever broken a leg and been unable to use it for a time, you will know that you need to work hard to rebuild the muscle that has been weakened by prolonged inactivity. The physical therapist will work with you to rebuild what has been lost through lack of use.
So, faith is like a muscle and needs to be exercised.
Faith is the gift of God. It is not of ourselves; we receive it from Him. It is the special work of the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to who Jesus is and to show us our need of Him and to create within us the capacity to trust Him. He gives you a new heart, the gift of faith.
But Jesus’ question in Luke 8:25 makes it clear that you can have this gift of faith and never use it. “Where is your faith?” He asks the disciples, after a storm blew up as they were rowing across the lake. Jesus had been asleep in the back of the boat, and the disciples panicked! But Jesus awakens, calms the storm, and then asks, “Where is your faith?” In other words, “Why aren’t you exercising the faith I have gifted to you?”
From this account, we learn three ways to exercise faith.
Faith Factors in the Ability of God
The disciples had already seen remarkable demonstrations of the power of Jesus Christ. They had seen His power over disease, demons, and death. The problem was that, although they know the power of God, they were unable to make a connection between the ability of God and the situation they are facing. The looked at the situation in purely secular terms.
Where do you need to factor in the ability of God? Is it loneliness? Spiritual blindness of a member of your family? A health issue? Marriage? The battle of living an authentic Christian life? The fear of being different?
The problem is that you evaluate the problem in purely secular terms. But have you factored in the ability of God?
The living God is the God of the impossible situation. With God all things are possible. Faith factors in the ability of God. Where is your faith?
Faith Submits to the Sovereignty of God
As soon as we talk about the ability of God, we face some serious questions.
We rejoice in stories of God’s miraculous intervention in people’s lives to bring salvation, deliverance, and healing. We know that God is able to do these things. Our question is why, if He has the ability, doesn’t He always do it?
Faith factors in the ability of God, but it does more than that. It also submits to the sovereignty of God. And if you factor in the ability of God without submitting to the sovereignty of God, you will soon find yourself in all kinds of confusion.
God has never promised a storm-free life. Whose idea was it to go to the other side of the lake? “One day Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Let’s go over to the other side of the lake’” (Luke 8:22).
Following Jesus’ command led them right into a storm! It will sometimes be like that. There are many situations where life would be easier if it was not for Jesus. Christ never promised fair weather sailing, only that we would arrive at the destination.
Some people have got into great difficulty here over the whole matter of prayer for healing. They imagine that somehow we have to persuade ourselves that healing will take place. That is the difference between biblical faith and the psychology of positive thinking. Some Christians have gotten these two things completely confused.
Positive thinking is all about mind over matter. The power comes from inside me. I make the change.
Biblical faith is about the power of God over matter. The power comes from God. God makes the change.
That is why biblical faith must submit to the sovereignty of God because no power in the world is going to make God do what He does not want to do!
Biblical faith factors in the ability of God, for whom all things are possible, but at the same time submits to the sovereignty of God, who does whatever He pleases, and there is a place in His plan for storms as well as still waters.
Faith Trusts Intentionally in the Goodness of God
I want to emphasize this word intentionally. Faith is not something that works automatically.
A lot of people have the idea that faith is like a thermostat, that it works automatically. We feel that if we have faith, then when some great crisis comes, our faith should click in automatically.
Now you only need to look at this story to realize that this is a complete fallacy. If faith worked on automatic, then it would have clicked in when the storm blew up on the lake, and the disciples would never have been in difficulty.
But when Jesus asks them, “Where is your faith?” His question makes it very clear that faith works on manual. You have to put it into operation. When that happens, the world will begin to wonder what makes you different.
The Prescription for Faith
What is the prescription for the person whose doubts arise from not exercising faith? There is only one answer to this condition, and that is the spiritual discipline of service.
Some of us have been splashing around in the shallows of faith for too long, and more than anything else you need a man or woman-sized challenge that is going to stretch you beyond your limits, push you outside your comfort zone, and give you something in which you need to trust God like you never did before!
Christ asks, “Where is your faith?” If your answer is, “Not being exercised,” then it is time for you to ask the question, “Lord what do you want me to do?”
I have a letter that I will treasure all my life. It was written by a college tutor, who was giving me counsel when at the age of twenty-two I had been invited to become pastor of the church my wife and I served for sixteen years in London. I had asked him for his advice, and this is what he wrote:
If you take on this task, you will find that you are out of your depth, and you will find that you prove God in ways that you never thought possible.
Christ calls us out of our depth. He invites us to launch out into the deep. The storm may be raging, but if you are where Christ has called you to be, and you are doing what He called you to do, He will bring you through it by faith.
Go deeper on the topic of faith by watching the session “Exercising Faith” in the course Watch Your Life with Pastor Colin Smith.