Little Faith

By

Suddenly there was an angel at his side and light flooding the room. The angel shook Peter and got him up: “Hurry!” The handcuffs fell off his wrists. The angel said, “Get dressed. Put on your shoes.” Peter did it. Then, “Grab your coat and let’s get out of here.” Peter followed him, but didn’t believe it was really an angel, he thought he was dreaming.
— Acts 12:7-9

 

When I was in the third grade I remember boldly throwing my glasses in the garbage before going to bed one night. I was at my grandparents house and after hearing a faith preacher on T.V., I believed this act of faith would certainly get God’s attention and move him to give me 20/20 vision. Imagine my disappointment when I had to go digging through the garbage the next morning to retrieve my glasses for school. The fact that I could barely see as I scoured through the rubbish only added insult to injury. It was my first attempt at faith healing, but not my last.

As a guy with a speech impediment (I’m a stutterer), I was told countless times that if I believed hard enough, if I had enough faith, I would be healed. And so from time to time throughout my life I determined to do my best to muster up the requisite amount of faith to get the job done and finally be delivered of my ridiculous stammering tongue. But it never happened, most likely on account of the sin in my life. Yeah, that’s the other thing they always told me. Faithless sinner that I was, what hope did I have of getting God’s attention let alone earning his favor?

I was under a lot of pressure to say the least. I mean, the ball was clearly in my court as I believed my healing was up to me. The fact that it never came was disappointing on multiple levels – I was letting both God and myself down by my lack of faith. The verse where Jesus says to Peter, “O ye of little faith” stung me every time I heard it.

As I got older, the revelation of God’s grace was a life-giving gift that slowly disabused me of a lot of what I now understand as a destructive theology that undermined a loving and transformational relationship with Jesus. Still, those old ideas die hard, and there are plenty of scriptures that could be quoted in defense of having more faith.

But there are other stories, too, that reveal a loving and powerful God who acts according to his own will rather than waiting for us to get our act together. One of my favorites is the story of Peter, he of oh so little faith, sitting in a jail cell in Acts 12. With Peter in custody, Herod will most likely lynch him in the morning. The church, still reeling from the execution of James, organizes a prayer meeting. And then God saves the day – the angel comes and leads Peter out past the guards and he goes on to crash the prayer meeting held in his honor. It is, without a doubt, a rousing and amazing story of God’s faithfulness.

But what is most amazing to me is that perhaps no one was more surprised than Peter and those who prayed for him. The text says that Peter assumed he was dreaming the whole time and it wasn’t until he was well past the guards that the reality of his situation occurred to him. In other words, this is not the story of an expectant believer waiting to be delivered. And those who were praying for him were not much better – when Peter shows up at their door, they don’t believe it’s him! In fact, they assume it’s his ghost. In other words, they were unwilling to believe their own prayers had been answered.

This isn’t the simple arithmetic of “believe it to receive it” that so many would have had me believe, the cause and effect of the faithful. God’s goodness in this story isn’t earned or wrangled from him, but instead is a most unexpected gift. Which suggests, at least, that maybe perfect faith isn’t always a pre-requisite for God to act.

It may be a little uncharitable, however, to speak this way about Peter and his friends. The fact that they were gathered there on that cold night to pray so soon after the terrible blow of James’s execution is evidence of at least a modest faith – a quiet faith without bravado; a faith that isn’t dependent on favorable outcomes; a faith that trusts to the loving kindness of a merciful God even in the face of the worst this world can deal us including death and injustice (and maybe even speech impediments); a faith that is faithful to pray even when it is too fragile to hope for that prayer to be answered. It is an obedient faith if not expectant.

There are still those who will maintain that faith is less a gift than it is a discipline, who will tell the rest of us that we need to believe harder to get the job done. But take heart. The good news is that if there is indeed faith that we are asked to muster, it need be no bigger than a mustard seed. Jesus said this, and I have in faith in him. But in times when my hoping is hobbled by fear and doubt, when belief is less a choice than it is a last resort, a desperate grab in the dark for something to hold on to, I remember one of the most profound prayers uttered in scripture by a man who longed to see God’s healing hand. It is a prayer for the Peters among us:

“Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”


32 Comments

  1. Jenny & tyler

    I really appreciate this post. I have epilepsy and have often been told that if I have enough faith and pray a prayer of belief that I will be healed. When it hasn’t happened, I’ve been told that I must have bitterness in my heart. Thank you for reminding me that the lord is merciful. Looking forward to playing with you tomorrow. – Jenny

  2. Zoe

    Thanks so much for this post — very timely for me. Reminds me of that line from Ron Block’s “A Living Prayer” . . . “in your love I find relief, a haven from my unbelief.”

  3. Leanore

    Jason – If words don’t come to the tongue readily, perhaps they come to the page more profoundly.

    Having been through the death of a family member who prayed for healing but hedged the bets with the faith-giving-healing lies, I think these words give a refreshing and true-to-the-Word perspective. I’d like to add that many of God’s gifts come as a result of our own weakness or illness or long trials of suffering, and it may require walking a weary road to see them. God’s goodness is never “earned or wrangled from him.” If he bends his ear to our simple prayers and stoops to our weakness, that is out of his own heart and purpose, not because we have puffed ourselves up with invincible faith. What kind of god do we have if we can manipulate him for our good? It might as well be a voodoo doll that we could stick pins into for someone else’s bad.

    I wrote about mustard-seed faith here, if anyone would care to read it. God moved some of those mountains I was writing about.
    http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=42958074320

  4. Val

    This post just curled up inside my heart and spoke truth to met hat I desperately needed to hear–and didn’t even know I did. THANK YOU for this.

  5. Claire

    Thank you Jason. I’ve heard this before, but I finally get it now. When I was in a season of doubt I tried so hard to believe, and often shamed myself for not believing hard enough. It wasn’t until I prayed “Help my unbelief” and realized that God is almighty and powerful and that he will help me was when I began to have more faith.

  6. Amy

    Today is my son’s 15th birthday, except my family will gratefully remember his life in his absence because he went to glory at the tender age of five. He had a rare genetic illness that caused his bone marrow to fail and oh how we prayed for his healing. And God answered with an achingly, severe mercy. And my faith in Christ has sustained me, not my faith in faith. I have tried to wrap my brain around the Believers need to see evidence (as in healing) when faith is believing when we do not see. We saw the Lord’s miraculous hand in so many other ways than the way we hoped and asked for. Will I then trust that all things work together for good –by faith? Will I persevere in faith? Does this not bring God equal glory as the times that He chooses to heal (and I do believe He does). Jason, your voice here is so necessary and true! Thank you for articulating it so beautifully. On this day, I am blessed.

  7. sandra

    Very good read 🙂 …Faith that isn’t dependent on favorable outcomes…Love that line.
    Thank you for sharing.

  8. Elizabeth of the Kirk in the Woods

    Well said, Jason. I must say, you grabbed me with that first sentence. I’m “legally blind” (-81/2 or so) and I would sometimes go to sleep hoping I’d wake up and I could see. Didn’t happen, so I’m glad I didn’t throw my glasses away.

    A quote from The Monster in the Hollows comes to mind in the words of everyone’s favorite Sock Man: “Behold the Maker’s great pleasure! … Gnag bends things for breaking, and the Maker makes a flourish! Evil digs a pit, and the Maker makes a well! That is his way.” Amen.

  9. Loren

    Oh so true!

    A couple years ago, well-meaning extended family who firmly hold to “faith healing” sent us a piece that stated that once we believe Christ then God has removed the curse–that is, the curse from the Fall. And by “remove the curse” the author included all physical issues, etc. In other words, if you truly believed, then you wouldn’t suffer in any way, such as miscarriages (something this couple had just experienced) and your children would have no special needs (our severely multiply impaired daughter had passed away earlier that year). My husband and I were boggled at the burden this could put on people and were concerned for our family. If we believed that the Fall’s curse was removed with faith in Christ, then the six-and-a-half amazing, faith-building, love-filled years we had with our daughter were a horrible waste; a complete misuse of God’s work in our lives. To say the least, we didn’t agree with the concept. We hold to the “little faith” principle!

  10. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jason,

    What is amazing is that we don’t even operate on our own faith. Faith is a fruit of the Spirit. All we do is throw the littlest switch of our human assent, which God counts as righteousness.

    Loren: God’s people are often trying to get out of suffering. But Hebrews says we are sheep for the slaughter. We are bread to be broken for others to find Christ. We are to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. Suffering is part and parcel of the Christian life; the sooner we accept that, the quicker we’re going to grow and be who we’re meant to be.

  11. Donna

    Thank you Jason Gray for this timely reminder.

    My belief is not dependent in results. At least results I cannot understand. When I take the long view of my life sometimes I catch a hint of the unfolding of “why”– but instead I just trust.

    “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

  12. Loren

    Ron, I couldn’t agree more. One of the most powerful things I read soon after we lost our daughter was an article by Steve Saint, “God’s Purpose in Our Suffering” (http://www.billygraham.org/articlepage.asp?articleid=1067). It hurt to hear but was the one thing my heart could wholly grasp, and as a result, rejoice. I’ll also never forget a message I heard that spoke of how suffering helps us know and love Christ better, because we understand better what he went through for us on earth. The message spoke to the truth of Christ as our bridegroom, and that when we get to heaven, we will know him that much better for our suffering on earth, and how great a union that will be.

  13. Nikole Hahn

    My family was once in danger of having everything swept up by a tornado. My husband text me about it. I was at work. I sent a text to their daughter, my cousin, to tell my family I was praying for them. We had a three way going. A little prayer from me and other little prayers from others at the same time as sending a text to her. The moment my cousin sent that message to my family the tornado lifted just as it reached their house.

    My jaw still drops at hearing from them how quickly God answered my prayer.

  14. Marsha Panola

    Thanks, Jason, for this reminder to trust the goodness of God’s great, tender heart with “a faith that is faithful to pray even when it is too fragile to hope for that prayer to be answered.” I needed that encouragement tonight. You speak well, from the heart, whether your message is written, spoken or sung.

  15. Marcie

    Hello Jason. I just had a quick question about this topic. How do you know when you need to have more faith and when you know that God tells you that the state or condition that you are in is how it is? For example, you could have gotten speech therapy (unless you did. I’m not saying you didn’t) or you could have overcome any fear that you had. Some people do make excuses and use the easy way out instead of having more faith. I’m not trying to attack you at all, and I apologize if it is. I was just wondering where the line is drawn between the need to have greater faith and knowing that the way God decides to use someone isn’t the way they think it is.

  16. Marcie

    I’ve reread my post and see that it comes across as detrimental to what you have been through. I was just trying to play devil’s advocate. I’m truly sorry.

  17. Brad Griffith

    Marcie, I think you might be missing Jason’s point. Pardon me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you’re saying that having faith and being in some “imperfect” condition/situation are mutually exclusive, as if one would necessarily eliminate the other. I would disagree with that notion. I think of Moses, obviously a man of great faith, who was used by God in spite of his weaknesses (one of which involved speech). He possessed both faith and frailty.

    What I gathered from Jason’s post is not that we shouldn’t have faith and exercise the faith that God gives us (even faith is a gift of God). Rather, it is that faith is not something with which we can use to bargain with or manipulate God into doing what we think is best. Instead, true faith is trusting God in all things, even our weaknesses, whether or not He chooses to remove them from us or to remove us from a particular situation.

  18. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Hey Marcie! I only have a moment to reply (I’m on the road) and will come back and answer more thoroughly, but I couldn’t wait to just tell you that I think you ask a great question! And I didn’t feel like it was insensitive to me at all – it’s a valid question and there isn’t anything about that is inappropriate or anything like that. Quite the opposite, actually! I didn’t want you to think a second thought about it or worry about that.

    Brad’s answer is really thoughtful – I agree that I think whether we’re healed or not, both require faith in a God is watching over us and cares for us. I’ll try to respond more later, but thanks for asking a good question (and Brad for such a thoughtful answer).

  19. Matthew Benefiel

    Thanks Jason, I love coming to rabbitroom on any given day to shed the world of selfishness (which I dwell in all too often) and instead think upon the Lord and how he gives us so much, despite our weaknesses. I recommend the book “What is Faith” by J.G. Machen. I’m not the avid reader I should be and it is actually the only book I’ve read by Machen but I was amazed at how it took a whole book to define faith.

  20. Dan R.

    I don’t want to disrupt any currently ongoing conversations on this topic, but there is another aspect to this idea that has been working its way through me for a while. I am currently on my way to being a med. student, and someday a doctor, and I’ve often tried, in my imagination, to work out the way this sort of thing might occur in the context of caring for someone who is your patient. If you pray for their supernatural healing and it doesn’t occur, then maybe you didn’t have enough faith. If you do your best to help enable their natural healing, and that doesn’t occur either, maybe you didn’t have enough faith, and (thanks to Yoda for this) “that is why you fail.” I realize these are two different applications of faith, and that only the first is very identical to the type of case under discussion here, but I half wonder if it might not be worth looking into the commonalities of these two situations.

    I wouldn’t claim to have found much resembling a complete answer to this situation from my perspective. I was never able to find a rational argument to silence the question of whether the world needs more faith healers or faithful doctors. At this point I think the best kind of faith I can imagine is one that is completely ready for God’s miraculous healing to manifest itself, and that is also completely ready to use every resource under its control to virtuously bring about healing, but that continues, through the whole process, to completely trust, for my life and every other, in the one who knows the number of hairs on each head, regardless of what we might perceive as a lack of “favorable outcomes.” I really like the idea of living from a such a faith that, when new bodies are given which no longer require healing, will only be afforded limitless opportunity to wonder at all the wholeness, rightness, and integrity of everything.

  21. Matthew Benefiel

    Dan R,
    I think what Jason is saying in the post is that because something doesn’t happen the way we want, doesn’t directly apply to our lack of faith. We can wish something all we want and know God can accomplish it, but it doesn’t mean it will happen. Only God knows His own will. There are times that He answers our prayers where He might seem to be going a different direction (say when Moses pleads with God on Mt. Sinai to spare the Israelites from death), but many times God takes a life we plead for and as Paul so wonderfully states, “to live is Christ, to die is gain!” So because a doctor cannot save a patient is not a direct correlation to his skill or faith, God is ultimately the author and giver of all. Besides faith itself doesn’t determine the outcome, God does, it just shows we know God knows best. Abraham did not necessary know God would save Isaac, but he obeyed because he knew God to be faithful and just.

    This shouldn’t deter us from praying as His command to pray implies He listens and many times grants it (we have examples), but it should give us comfort that God knows what’s best and what is most important is leaning completely on Christ in all things.

    In light of that I would say your two applications require the same faith, the faith in God and that from Him, to Him, and through Him are all things (I think I have that in the right order) to His glory. Also as far as faith healers that is another issue altogether. Looking at the time frame of the Bible and what examples we are given, miraculous healing was not common, and most of what we see occurs during Christs life on this earth to show that indeed He not only has the power to save, but the power to heal as well (which I think we all know the first is more miraculous indeed). I won’t say that rules it out, but God certainly uses the skills of our doctors (and moms) to heal as well, and I might guess more often.

    I will say I don’t trust any of the faith healers I’ve seen on TV.

  22. Dan R.

    It occurs to me now that some of the issues touched upon in this conversation might also be addressed in the Lewis essay “A Problem Without an Answer,” which is all about the two methods of petitionary prayer he sees in the New Testament, and how they seem at many points to be at odds with each other. I read it recently in “The Seeing Eye,” (it is also in “Christian Reflections”) and I guess enough of this conversation feels familiar that I remembered it. Just a thought, and a chance to plug a very compelling essay.

  23. dj

    I used to pray for healing from my bipolar II disorder (the kind that is mostly devastating depression), especially because it often puts me in a dark place where I can no longer hear God. At the time I can’t even pray He will bring me back because my side of the relationship shuts down. Talk about depressing!! (And, yes, I have been told that it is my lack of faith allowing satan to take over.) Now, when I’m the real me, I desperately cling to the knowledge that someday we will all be well – no more pain or sadness! I still don’t understand why so much of my life has to be spent just trying to stay on this earth instead of doing what I was put here to do – seek Him, love Him & share Him – but it doesn’t torment me like it used to. That’s not to say that my faith is strong all of the time or even most of the time. When it comes to the suffering of others, especially children (& even animals), it falters quite a bit. I still pray for the healing of others because I know that He has the power to do that but I mainly pray for their peace & comfort. And for those who have suffered the loss of a child, I pray for you most of all.

  24. Lemme

    Perhaps Faith is not a tool, but a tie…not a responsibility, but a respond-ability….not something we develop, but something that develops/grows in us….not something that we determine, but something that determines us…not something that we define, but something that defines us….not something that we prove to God, but something that God proves to us….not something that we declare, but something that is declared to us. Maybe Faith is that Golden Thread connecting God’s own Heart to our very own….it is neither a puppet string, nor is it a chain we pull. Maybe it is….a connection, a bond, to the One and Only True God….and we either fight against it or hold tight to it….either way He won’t let go….and either way, all things according to His plan….whether we understand or not, whether we agree or not. Yes, I believe Faith is that Golden Thread…. Lemme

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