I guess it makes sense that the church spends a lot of time talking about faith. Faith, it turns out, its a pretty important part of what it means to be a follower of Christ, and it also happens to be one of the most misunderstood parts. I’ve been a part of the church for a long time, and I’ve heard a lot of sermons preached about faith. Unfortunately a lot of them go something along the lines of "if you simply have enough faith, God is going to do/give/provide/show you the thing you are believing for."
That sounds great, except, sometimes He doesn't.
Sometimes we pray for people to be healed and they aren’t. Sometimes we pray for a friend to overcome an addiction, and they don’t. Sometimes we pray for God to move in one direction, and He doesn’t. In fact, sometimes He moves in the opposite.
So my question is, why? Is it because of a lack of faith? Does God actually withhold the things He wants to do for us because we simply don't "believe enough?" That doesn't seem likely to me based on who I know God to be.
Don't get me wrong, I believe it's certainly true that most of us have far less actual faith than we'd like to imagine. But I don't think that's the issue here. I think there's something else going on that has far more to do with the character of God and the nature of our relationship with Him - and specifically the nature of His promises.
One of the biggest problems is that I think that often we are believing for God to keep promises He never made to us. And I think the church is part of the problem. I think the church does a poor job helping people to understand that faith isn't trusting that God will do the thing we want Him to do. Faith is trusting Him to do the thing He promised He would do.
Faith is believing that God always keeps His promises. It’s taking Him at His word.
Kind of like Mary and Martha expecting Jesus to show up and heal their brother Lazarus. After all, when they sent word to Jesus that their brother was sick, He promises that “this sickness will not end in death.” (John 11:4). But that's not what He does. He doesn’t heal Lazarus. He doesn’t do the thing they are expecting Him to do. In fact, Lazarus dies.
Later, when Jesus does show up they give Him a hard time. "Jesus, if only you had been here, our brother wouldn't have died.”
Did you catch that? “Jesus, if only you had…” There’s a sense of almost indignation that Jesus hadn’t done what they expected him to do. He hadn’t healed their brother and the sisters were upset. They had asked Jesus to do something, and they expected that He was not only able, but that He would come through and deliver. I’ve had a lot of “Jesus, if only you had…” moments in my life. Maybe you can relate.
“Jesus, if only you had healed my sister...”
"Jesus, if only you had gotten me out of trouble..."
“Jesus, if only you had come through on this job I prayed for...”
"Jesus, if only you had made my wife understand…"
But that wasn't the promise Jesus made. He promised that the sickness would not END in death. The sisters only understood that as a promise on this side of death. They only understood it to mean that Jesus would do one thing, heal their brother. But Jesus’ promise is much better. If they had truly understood, they would have realized that Lazarus’ death meant only one thing - it’s not over yet. This isn't the end. That’s what Jesus told them.
There’s something else about the promise. It comes in verse 5 and reads: “It is for God’s glory, that God’s Son may be glorified.” Did you catch that? The sickness, and the promise has a purpose. The thing you’re going through has a purpose. The thing that you’re praying about but God doesn’t seem to answer, despite your faith, has a purpose. Take Him at His word. Every one of God’s promises accomplishes His purpose, and His ultimate purpose is His glory.
Later Jesus says to the sisters “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (John 11:40) God is always working according to His purpose. He is always about accomplishing His plan, which the Bible tells us is to bring about His glory. There’s no doubt, we’ve been getting in the way of that since the garden of Eden, but that doesn’t stop God from working to accomplish exactly what He set out to accomplish in each and every one of us.
Paul writes that “in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) The trouble is, we often want to be the one to define “good.” We have our own idea of what is good for us, according to our plans and our agenda. So we imagine that God’s promises align with our purposes. Yet, the truth is that God is always working for our good, despite our misunderstanding of what that means. We can always trust that no matter what, He is organizing and ordering our steps to lead us towards the best possible outcome - our good.
If only the church spent more time talking about faith as trusting in what God was doing - what He said He would do, instead of faith as trusting that God will do what we want Him to do. I know, it preaches well to stand in front of a congregation of people, each with a list of things that they need from God. I get it. Superstar pastors have preached it well, and churches have been built on this concept of faith. So have a lot of disappointed and disillusioned Christians, who are wondering “Jesus if only you had…”
So church, stop encouraging people to believe in promises that God never made, and instead help people grow in faith - the steadfast belief that God always keeps His word. He always keeps His promises, His promises always accomplish His purpose, and His purpose in your life is good.