Rules and Faith

At the end of “The Three Chickadees” I stated I wished I had rules so that if you were a chickadee, every time you went to my feeder, you’d be guaranteed to get seed. In this case, however, the chickadees are believers and the feeder is God. Let’s consider the difference between living by rules and living by abiding in our Lord Jesus Christ. Rules are easier, I think, because then you can check off the boxes and be assured you’ve done all you need to. The Pharisees of the New Testament kept all the outward rules but didn’t have compassion for anyone and were the ones Jesus rebuked most because of that. They liked to be highly praised by men but that was all they gained from their religion. They didn’t have a clue about what God wanted from them. And they had no joy.

Living a life of faith, on the other hand, isn’t really following a religion but rather it’s a relationship with God the Father, Jesus Christ our Savior and the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. We study the Word of God and listen to His Spirit speaking within us and follow that course. Unfortunately, we sometimes misunderstand and get our instructions wrong. However, our gracious God gives us more than one opportunity to get things right.

When I first set up a blog site, I often had to redo posts several times before they displayed correctly on the site. Our spiritual life is often the same way. When I was a teen, I prayed very earnestly for a friend to come to know Jesus as their personal Savior. I prayed much and could repeat Bible verses about believing and receiving what you ask for. I don’t know why but I never talked to that friend about Jesus, yet I had to others. In that case, I needed to put feet to my prayers. Unfortunately, I never learned that my friend knew Jesus. One thing I didn’t understand at that time is that God will never force people to believe Him.

In the long time since then, I’ve also learned that sometimes we think we have faith for an answer but if we seriously question ourselves, we may find out differently. We might realize we’ve had a generalized belief but not a certain, specific faith for whatever it is we’re seeking. When my children were growing up and got sick, I’d pray for them to be well the next day so they could go to school. After a while, I realized that sometimes I knew as soon as I’d prayed that they would be healed, but at other times I didn’t have that assurance and they weren’t healed. I came to the conclusion that my faith wasn’t really active at those times.

Sometimes I feel like the father whose child had a deaf and dumb spirit that tormented him terribly. He asked the disciples to heal him but they couldn’t. Then Jesus came and asked what was going on, so the father asked Him to heal the child. We read the next exchange in Mark 9:23-24 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” The Message Bible* has the father saying, “Then I believe. Help me with my doubts!”

At one point or another, probably all of us have identified with this idea: Yes, Lord, I believe, but I’m hindered. Please help me to believe fully, as I desire to do. My faith is inconsistent and weak. I know that you are the Giver of all good gifts and that there’s no inconsistency with you (James 1:17). Therefore, you desire to give good things to those who trust in you, so please help me overcome my doubts and fully believe that you are able to do what you have promised.

Let me try to explain what I mean: We may not really know our Father well enough to believe that He desires to do good for us, but listen to what Jeremiah 29:11-14a (MSG)* tells us: “I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out — plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. 12 When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. 13 When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, 14 I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.”

Perhaps we’re afraid God won’t answer our prayer because we don’t deserve the answer. I felt that way once about an issue I needed. I saw other people who seemed to be better people who had worse situations than mine and thought, well if they’re not getting their prayer answered, how do I deserve God to answer mine? To my surprise, God asked me a similar question, “Did I deserve my salvation?” Of course, I didn’t deserve for Jesus to die for me! None of us does. So that settled whether or not I deserved that prayer to be answered. It was the grace and mercy of our loving heavenly Father Who gives us all things good.

Ephesians 3:20-21 exclaims: Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Do we take our loving heavenly Father at His word? The simplicity of the question doesn’t make it easier to answer. Our faith must leap up and grab hold of what we don’t see on earth to bring it from heaven into our realm.

Some reasons this seems so hard to us is first of all that our great enemy Satan does all he can to put those doubts into our minds. Another reason may be that we simply have never been taught to really believe that what God says in the Bible that He can do, He truly can do. Also, we often hear that we need to be logical, but faith itself isn’t logical. Salvation isn’t logical but extremely real. Of course, another reason we may not have a prayer answered is that we aren’t asking for something that will glorify God but will rather bring us some kind of praise. We often like to quote the first part of those verses but we must remember that God does great things for His glory, not ours.

What is faith? Hebrews 11:1 (MSG) states: The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. Verse 6 goes on to tell us, It’s impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him (emphasis mine). This goes back to the verses from Jeremiah and Ephesians above.

We see then that we can have two kinds of faith: faith mixed with hope that possibly what we pray for will happen or faith that is expectation and substance. I think most believers in Jesus Christ are confident that when they die they will go to heaven. That’s the faith that is expectation and substance; we can bank on it. Now we have no proof of that in this life, yet we hold onto it dearly. It gives us great comfort when a loved one dies. This is the kind of faith we need when we pray. Do I struggle with this? Definitely. But I’m seeing it happen more often. It’s a goal we can all reach if we persevere.

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All scriptures are from the New King James Version unless otherwise stated.

* THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved.

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