It's wonderful how even a small aside in a conversation can teach you something more about Jesus, and in this case, the nature of faith.
A couple of days ago my wife and I were having a conversation with some friends, talking about our recent tragedies as well as God's faithfulness. My friend was only trying to be helpful and encouraging, but what he said was neither helpful nor encouraging, and is based upon what I am seeing more and more as a false Christian teaching/belief. However it is tricky as one can easily see how this belief can be accepted and preached.
We were talking about the sale of our house falling through and he basically said: you need to have more faith! Just have faith and everything will work out.
Now at first glance, this makes sense. God calls us to 'live by faith and not by sight' (2 Corinthians 5:7); '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)
However, I believe the error is in the belief that faith is an end of itself. That by simply having more of this thing called faith we can somehow magically achieve everything we ever wanted and life will suddenly turn around for the better. Faith as the aim and the destination is a mistake.
The problem is that faith is meant to be a connector, a way of us connecting to Jesus. Faith needs to be IN someone or something. I have heard of it being compared to a WiFi signal, a means of connection. You could install multiple Broadband boxes in your house to get more and more WiFi signal but without a website to visit, or an email account to check you can have as much signal as you like but it will not do anything for you. It is a connector, not a destination.
Hebrews 11:1 is one of the central verses for me in understanding what faith is: 'Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.' Here is how The Message puts it:
Notice how our understanding of faith and it's purpose is to be found in and through God.
I have also been reading Timothy Keller's book 'Preaching' and he encourages us to view everything in the Bible through the lens of the Gospel, through the saving grace of Jesus. The basic premise is that all scripture points towards the central event of the cross in one way or another. This has been quite helpful in understanding some of the more tricky verses about faith.
So, for example, James 1:6 which says: 'But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.' Should not be viewed as a cosmic summoning of faith in our own strength in order to gain blessings and an improvement of life's circumstances. Rather it is encouraging us to believe and not doubt Jesus! Do not doubt Jesus' power, His sovereignty, His good and perfect will in every situation. When we doubt we are to look to Jesus, not to ourselves and our feeble faith-summoning abilities!
We also see Jesus accusing His disciples of having little faith when they are afraid and caught up in a storm at sea (Matthew 8:26). Was this because their faith was small and they had neglected to go to the spiritual gym to 'work out' their faith muscles enough; or was it because in their fear, their attention and focus moved away from Jesus and onto the raging waves and blowing winds around them? I believe it is the latter. Refocussing on Jesus is indeed what saved them from the storm. Jesus calmed the ocean and the storm stopped. They did not need to summon up reserves of faith or try harder to have more faith, they had to refocus their attention back on to Jesus and trust in Him to rescue them.
Jesus is the pioneer and perfect or of our faith (Hebrews 12:2)! We are to look to Him and dig deeper into His presence when we need to exercise faith in uncertain times.
It has been a tough start to 2016 for my wife and I (see previous posts if you want more details) but we are confident that God is in control as we daily surrender our will to His, trusting by faith that His plans are bigger and better than ours; that we are safe in the loving arms of our saviour. For me, this is me having faith - faith in Jesus and not in faith itself.