Somewhere along the way we lost sight of what it means to believe. The promise is big—whatsoever we believe we will receive—but taking a close look at our results in life, \\is it possible we don’t know what this kind of believing looks like?
Some see belief as a power we wield, like magic, holding something so firmly in our minds that we can bring forth whatever we will.
Lois did! The first time I met her, Lois leaned playfully across the table, slipping her arm around our friend Tom, confiding that she had “created” him. Bemused by her novel beginning to our dinner conversation, I couldn’t wait to hear what she meant. Lois described how the disastrous end of her last relationship had propelled her to make a list of the characteristics she most wanted in a man, and how she had intensely focused on that person she had in her mind, until he appeared . . . Tom was the manifestation of the one she had “created” by envisioning him, down to the very last detail. A year later their relationship would end; no matter how hard Lois “believed,” she found no power to hold on to what she was desperate for. Magical thinking does work (more on that at a later time), but it has a brutal downside, when we realize that the power to keep it together does not lie in us.
Believing as we see it in Scripture brings us into the experience of God’s power, magical thinking does not. And yet, for many Christians, their practice of “believing” is not that different from Lois’ magical thinking.
Projecting our thoughts to obtain a desired outcome is not what Scriptural believing looks like. Bringing our thoughts captive to the influence of a word from God is.
To begin with, believing is not self-directed, but God directed.
God tells Abram that he is going to have a son,
and Abram believes what God has said.
In Abram’s story, God brings him out of his tent one night and tells him, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” (Genesis 15:5,6)
Scripture uses the Hebrew word aman (aw-man) for “believed,” which means to make firm, to build up or support; to trust as true or certain, to verify. Our English word “Amen” comes from the same root. So when the preacher preaches, and the congregation responds “Amen”, they are confirming (making firm) not only the word being preached, but also the preacher who speaks. When Abram believed, he was trusting not only the word as true, but The One who was speaking, as well.
Believing is an affirmative, interactive, reciprocal relationship
between a word and ourselves.
Believing takes place when a word from God exerts its persuasive influence down on us, and we affirmatively respond to it, strengthening its influence (power) over us.
This dynamic relationship accounts for why some people experience what God wants to be and do in their lives, and why some people don’t.
Scripture describes the cosmos as being alive with, driven and propelled by the word of God, which conveys the power of God.[i] Scripture also makes it clear that our interaction or lack of interaction with a word (believing or not believing) will either increase or decease our ability to experience God’s power through His word.
- Isaiah warned Judah that if she did not believe, she would not last—she would not experience God’s protective power over her. (Isaiah 7:9)
- When two blind men followed Jesus, crying out for mercy, He asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” Then He touched their eyes, saying, “It shall be done to you according to your faith.” And their eyes were opened. (Matt 9:28-30)
- When Jesus went to his own hometown, they took offense at him, “And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.” (Matt 13:57-58) NASU
- And when the father came to Jesus pleading for his son, “ if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us,” Jesus made it clear, ” ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:22-24)
We need God’s help to believe
In the summer of 386, a young man wept in the backyard of a friend. The soil of his soul was lousy with rocks and weeds, packed hard from licentious living, resistant to God. He knew that his life-style was killing him, but he didn’t have it in him to believe in Jesus. As he sat, he heard some children playing a game—calling out to each other “Take up and read! Take up and read”
For a brief moment it felt as if God was prompting him through the children…”Take up and read!” A scroll lay nearby. The young man picked it up and began to read
not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires . . .
Romans 13: 13b-14
The series of experiences leading up to this; his inner wrestling, grief and frustration; the words of the children; the scroll laying there; the timeliness of the specific passage he opened to; its direct message nailing his exact circumstances—these came together as if linked in a message that was being spoken to him in that moment—a dam burst infusing the young man with the realization, “This is God!” And Augustine, one of Christianity’s greatest minds, filled with quiet thunder as he believed for the very first time.
We cannot make our self believe.
Believing is a supernatural state-of-being,
which only God can bring about.
All of Augustine’s life, his Christian mother had begged him to believe, but he couldn’t. As our father was nearing the end of his life, he pleaded with my sister to believe in Jesus. Christi’s heart could not have been more tender; more than anything she wanted to give Daddy this gift, but she couldn’t.
The dynamic of believing can only take place
between a human soul and a word from God.
There was a treacherous time in history when the Spanish conquistadors lay their swords at the Inca’s throats telling them to convert or die. This destroyed any chance for the dynamic of real believing to take place between those human souls and God. Coercion betrays the sacred romance that is meant-to-take-place between a person and God. Yet how many of us—trying to please others, to find acceptance, or to avoid a threat—have responded to coercion, a sword at our neck? And in doing so, have exchanged authentic interaction between our self and God for compliance that mimics, but counterfeits what it means to truly believe? Coercion subverts belief; it cannot compel it, no matter how gentle the motive, no matter whose hand holds the sword—even our own.
I’ve never told my sister this, but I’ve always felt she did the right thing that winter afternoon with Daddy—stroking his hand, consoling him, promising only to remain open to the possibility. Deep down I think she intuitively understood that pretending to believe would not only betray our father but what it means to believe. Honest to the core of her being, she would not subvert either.
There has to be a word from God in order for us to believe.
Augustine could no more experience faith, making himself believe, without a word from God, than a woman can make herself pregnant without the seed of a man.
Believing, like the mystery of conception, is about timing, chemistry, ripeness, a seed planted, receptivity. That afternoon in his friend’s garden, Augustine was ripe for implantation—something he could never accomplish for himself, something only God can bring about for us and in us.
And then there had to be a word for him to believe—so the children’s song floated to him over the air, “Take up and read!” The scroll beckoned him. And a specific word from the ancient book of Romans was choreographed to speak to his inward wrestling in that precise moment. We believe as we affirmatively respond to the word that God is bringing us. . . whether it is for the first time or the millionth time. In that moment as the word exerted its persuasive influence over him. Augustine believed as he realized, “this is God speaking to me.”
Augustine saw that God was extending the garment of His Son to him. It wasn’t his mother, the church, or an ancient book trying to persuade Him—it was God—speaking to just him, through a divine dialogue of word and happenstance, in that moment of time. And Augustine’s heart leapt in affirmative response.
“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom 10:17, NKJV)
Few things break my heart more, in the church, than to see people struggling alone and ashamed with their inability to believe—trying to hide it, bluffing their way through, feeling less than those whose belief is robust—not realizing that this is how it is for all of us, until God intervenes to ripen us and send us the word we have to have, in order to believe.
We cannot mimic what can only be conceived. We need to be gentler with ourselves, more realistic, understanding that no matter how much we want to—we can’t make our self believe. When we realize that we need God’s help to believe, we will stop falling into the trap of trying and lieing.
All “believers” lose their sense of God from time to time—when we feel dead inside—because there is no enlivening, interactive, affirmation taking place between God and us. The worst thing we can do is pretend. The best thing we can do is to be honest with exactly where we are, placing the responsibility for our believing on God, where it belongs. We cannot manufacture what can only be conceived.
I’ve cried out to Him a thousand times to send His word to find me—to bring me from where I am to where I am meant-to-be. But I have also learned that I can come to His Word.
At any moment, in any place, I can come to His Word, to read and pray until its energy begins to warm me—like the sun on a cold winter’s day. A few flickers, a bit of light, the warmth of realization that He is speaking to me slowly spreading through my limbs . . . and my heart leaps, and I begin to believe again.
It is a sacred romance, our relationship with God.
And sometimes it is our turn
to come after Him,
after so many times, when He has come after us,
so that His word can have its way with us.
Believing is not a duty.
It is the profound unspeakable completion
of becoming one with God
in His sacred romance with just us alone.
[i] Heb 1:3, AMP
He is the sole expression of the glory of God [the Light-being, the out-raying or radiance of the divine], and He is the perfect imprint and very image of [God’s] nature, upholding and maintaining and guiding and propelling the universe by His mighty word of power.