Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.” So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God.”Mark 11:20-22 NKJV
Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.Oswald Chambers
“Have faith in God.” When Peter excitedly pointed out that the fig tree Jesus had cursed was now withered, Jesus replied with that simple phrase. He then proceeded to teach how faith works. When talking about faith, Jesus clearly thought that the first question should be, “Whom do I believe?” As humans, we usually want to start with the “How?” or the “What?” We tend to look for the formula; Jesus directs us to the Father. We want results, God wants relationship. In learning about faith, our real need is to know who the object of our faith is. Who do you trust?
One of the most widely repeated Christan catchphrases is “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.” Without diving into the definition of “religion.” let’s just agree that for most of us this phrase means that rituals and recited prayers, special robes or organizational memberships do not give us access to God. We have access to Him because of the work of Jesus Christ, and we can know Him personally and intimately. When we say “relationship” we mean that we can communicate with God without the intervention of other parties or institutions. Generally, the idea of relationship includes some form of communication or interaction. If we have a relationship, we know each other.
One of the pitfalls of learning how to “do” faith is that we begin to trust the formula instead of the Formulator. Our faith is in our faith, how we pray or what we say, or in how many times we say it. That is ritual, not relationship. I would go so far as to say that if you have faith in something without relationship to someone, you have dead religion. As “faith” people it’s important to remember that our faith is not in a set of practices, an organization, a superstar preacher, or even a group of such people. Our faith is in God, Himself.
In the human realm, is there anyone you trust? Sure, you understand they’re not perfect, but you know them well enough to know that if they tell you something, it’s probably true. How did you come to know them that well? Probably by spending time with them, getting to know their character. You observe how they behave. You listen to what they say. It really helps if you can do some things together or be involved in a project of some kind. I’ve always found that traveling together for ministry is a great way to see someone’s heart.
When we apply these same principles to having faith in God, how does that work? If I want to know Him, I need to spend time with Him, talking and listening. I need to observe how He responds and learn His character. I can read what He’s written, see what He’s said. Most of us try to do this in some kind of “devotional” time. Maybe we read, or listen to a recording, or pray. Something that allows us to think about God for a few minutes. If you’re satisfied with your “devotional life,” then God bless you. If you sense that maybe it could be better, then keep reading.
Before we dig too deeply into “how faith works,” let’s do a little fine-tuning on our relationship with the Author of our faith. If the relationship is rich, the faith will come easier, a natural outflow instead of a desperate plea. I don’t pretend to be a great mystic or an original thinker, but I do have some tips that may help you build a more intimate relationship with God.
- Stop “doing devotions.” Every morning, I spend a few minutes with my wife. We drink coffee, talk a bit, and pray together. The rest of the day we talk, text, work, and go about life together. We are married all the time, but we have a few special moments in the morning. Similarly, as a Christian, I am devoted (dedicated, loyal) to God all the time, not just in the morning. I spend time with just Him and me in the morning, then we spend our day together, sharing, talking, working as a team. I don’t “do devotions,” I am devoted.
- Remember the Purpose. No one is monitoring how many verses you read. You’re not seeking a degree in theology. The purpose of time with the Father is building relationship, not accomplishing projects or getting Him to do things for you. He’s in you. He never leaves you nor forsakes you. Part of the life of faith is being constantly aware of His presence. That begins in your private time. This thing is personal.
- Get alone with your Father. Jesus said, “go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place;” (Matthew 6:9 NKJV) Whatever you have to do to make intimate, personal time with God, do it! Intimacy is the cornerstone of strong relationship. The back yard, the bathroom, or your office – find an alone place and turn off the phone at least once a day. Tell Him that you’re there just to spend time with Him. Ask Him to speak.
- Worship Him. It doesn’t have to be a song, it doesn’t have to be loud, it doesn’t have to be long, but it helps get you aware of His presence. You can use recorded music to help you if you must, but something needs to come out of your heart and your mouth. You can listen, but don’t just listen. *****If there are songs that remind you of powerful experiences with God, revisit them occasionally. I still get a Spirit buzz when I listen to “He’s Alive” by Don Francisco. It was sung at the first Easter service I attended after I was saved, and I will never forget that moment. *****Always end your worship with a song that extols Him. There are lots of good songs that sing about what I have because of Him, or how awful life was before He saved me, or how tough it is to get through hard times. But songs have different purposes. If you want to worship, sing about Him and His goodness. Tell Him of your love and devotion. Get your mind and your heart focused on Him. God, you’re so good! I exalt thee.
- Speak in tongues. This wonderful gift allows you to pray directly from your heart. It will stir up your spirit and help you to get your mind quiet. There is a still small voice in your heart, but the clamor in your head often drowns it out. Pray and sing in your prayer language until you sense a stirring on the inside. You’ll know it when it happens.
- Get real. Humility and transparency are the currency of faith. You can’t con God, so don’t’ even try. If you’ve failed, talk to Him about it. If you’re faith is wavering, tell Him. If you’re angry with someone, ‘fess up! He knows already. He’ll help you if you talk with Him about it.
- Be quiet. A relationship requires give and take. Don’t do all the talking. Make sure your Father has the opportunity to speak. He wants to help you, guide you, and teach you. Let Him!
- Read His Word. Take a new attitude in your Bible reading. This is not time to gather new information. There is a place for diligent study, but this is time to receive new impartation. The Word you’re reading was inspired, breathed by God to those who wrote it down. If you will allow Him to do so, He will breathe on it afresh and make it alive to your heart. As you read, listen, imagine, stop, and process. Ask questions of the Author, then listen to the text. What is God saying to you. Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. (John 6:63 NKJV)” Let Him take the words off the page and speak them to you.
Many years ago, in a time of frustration with the ongoing failures of some of my parishioners, I was talking to the Lord about how to help them. He spoke to my heart these words: “The problem with most people’s prayer life is that they don’t have one.” I have found over the years that this is true of what we might call the “devotional life” as well. Life gets busy. It takes all the attention we will give it. For some of us, we simply stop spending time alone with God. We begin to substitute Christian music on the car radio or praying on the way to work. We “work God in” to our busy day. For many others, the time becomes a religious ritual. We read a book, or a prescribed Bible passage. We repeat a few perfunctory prayers. There., that’s done for today. Now I can get on with “real” life. No life, no reality, no relationship.
Here’s the point: Our faith to receive things from God is founded in our relationship with God. We can certainly learn principles that work, and we can apply them to our life circumstances. But if we apply principles for the sole purpose of obtaining results, we have established a religious ritual. As a Christian, I trust the principle because I know the character of the Author. When the going gets tough, when the formula doesn’t seem to be working, it’s the strength that comes from the relationship that will carry me through.
Next Steps: If you sense that your relationship has slipped, take the time and effort to get back on track. It never hurts to do a little self-examination and make some improvements. Start by changing things up a little. Do something different each day. Change times, change the order of what you do in your private time. If you don’t have a private time, now’s the time to get one. Each day take one of the suggestions above and apply it in your life. Read it, think about it, and find a way to apply it to your time with the Lord. Keep notes on what you learn. This is going to make a difference!
Trust in the LORD, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass. (Psalms 37:3-5 NKJV)
Pastor Virgil Stokes
The previous lessons in the Healing Help series along with many other materials are available at pastorvirgil.com. #HealingHelp