Have you ever worked with a trainer at a gym? Then you know how it goes. You meet them every day at the gym and they torture you for the next hour. The trainer doesn’t think you’re doing enough unless you feel bad. If you haven’t crumpled over in agony, grabbed a torn muscle, or thrown up sometime during the hour, then he’s failed at his mission to train you.
According to the trainer, all of this is necessary for you to get stronger. The pain has to be endured for the muscle to repair itself from the damage of the workout (yes, you damage your muscles when you work out) and, in repairing themselves, grow stronger and bigger.
There is no shortcut. If you want to get stronger, you have to work out. You have to push through your limits if you want to grow. Small victories have to be won every day or there’s no victory at all.
For all the sermons we preach on faith, for all the discussions we have about “having faith,” you’d think we would know how it works. Rather, you would think we would know how to live in faith, but few of us do. Every church will have one or two people who know how to live this way. Go to any congregation and find the ones that the congregation calls “saints” and you’ll know who they are. That’s the point. Everyone knows who they are because there are so few of them.
Most of us, however, live mundane lives that are well within the limits of our natural abilities. Most of us rarely, if ever, enter the realm of living in faith.
Part of the reason is that most of us don’t understand what faith is. Words like “faith” and “belief” are thrown around every day in church, but rarely are they given definitions we can live out within the real world. The writer of Hebrews tells us that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for,” which means living with the confidence that Christ will keep the promises He has made to us and to creation.
His creation will be restored to more purely reflect His original intent and those who are redeemed will join Him in His eternal rule. Sadness will be wiped away and death will be defeated. That’s the short version.
That’s then…but not until then. Until then, we will have trouble. Jesus promised that. We are, however, to be of good cheer because He has overcome the world. That’s faith — living joyfully in the middle of all our troubles, confident of Christ’s ultimate victory even though it looks like we’re behind on the scoreboard right now.
Faith is a lot more than intense emotion. Anytime we’re called on to “have faith” or “just believe,” we think that if we can muster up strong and deep emotion, then we really “believe.” But faith is a lot more than feelings.
Faith is alignment.
Faith is making decisions that bring our lives into sync with Jesus’ teachings, molding ourselves into the likeness of the life He lived. Through prayer, the study of the Scriptures, and obedience, we bring our lives into greater alignment with Jesus’ word and thus, more under His Lordship.
And we learn by doing small things first. When you begin working out, you don’t start on the heavy end of the dumbbell rack. You start on the light end with the smaller weights. Then, you gradually work your way up.
You don’t run a complete marathon on the day you start running. When you start running, your first goal is to run to the end of the block.
And it’s the same process in following Jesus. You don’t begin preaching to thousands and healing the sick. You begin by regularly spending time in prayer and in Scripture. You help to take care of a struggling family in your church. Maybe you show up to help with disaster relief efforts. Or, you set up chairs for the senior adult dinner. You show up and do the small things first, then you’ll be trusted with greater opportunities.
In doing this, you’ll learn how faith works. Most of the time, the most important thing you do is show up. The Spirit is working all the time to draw broken, confused, and lost men and women to Christ. When this happens, our role is to join in the Spirit’s work and become a guide to the lost friend who’s trying to find a home.
You would have learned this important lesson in small ways. You would have shown up in all those moments when you didn’t think anything important was going on, only to later realize there was something of eternal significance at that moment and you wouldn’t have wanted to have been anywhere else. You would have learned it by being obedient to Christ, not for reward, but simply because it’s the right thing to do. Sometimes, the lesson will be so subtle that you won’t even know you’ve learned it until someone else points it out.
When someone asks how you have become such a deep person of faith, you’ll be surprised that anyone considers you to be such a person. If you have an answer at all, you’ll end up saying something like, “I don’t know. I just kept showing up.”
So, where is the next place Jesus wants you to show up? Don’t worry if it’s a little uncomfortable. That’s to be expected. It’s stressing your faith, making your faith sweat a little more each day, that makes you stronger.
Jesus is already working somewhere. Are you strong enough in your faith to get where He’s working – and join Him?