I know I am repeating myself because have written "faith" many times before, and I certainly wrote quite a bit about that during the season of testing our family went through in 2009-2010. But I continue to learn a lot (by experience!) about trusting Papa God, so here are a few things I am learning or learning more thoroughly.
First, I am more than ever aware that "faith" (trust) is something that is present in every human being. The question, then, is not whether I have faith, but where I choose to place my trust. All of us exercise enormous amounts of faith every day. We trust other drivers to stay alert and in their own lane of traffic, we trust those who worked on the airplane we are boarding to be responsible and careful, we trust those who prepare our food to exercise good hygiene practices, etc. And, most of all, we trust ourselves and our own perception of things. It's that last fact that creates the challenges for us when God invites us to trust Him. We are conditioned all of our lives to trust "self" and trust self above all else. And this self-trust is so automatic that it's almost invisible and is exercised without conscious thought. But God invites and challenges us to transfer our trust from this very limited and highly ignorant person (that would be me or you) to Himself, the infinite, all-knowing, completely loving One. Sounds good when we say it, eh? But learning to transfer trust to Him is a lifelong process that is often fought tooth and nail by both our adversary and our very own self. Big revelation there, eh? Once we stop and think about this, we realize how true it is that we all have faith--mostly in ourselves, and that it's a fight to transfer it elsewhere! When I realized that I wasn't trying to create faith (trust) or generate more faith (trust) but instead transfer my trust from self to God, it helped me both to want to do so and made me see how very possible and wise it is to trust God (I just keep choosing to shift my trust from my unreliable, ignorant self to all-knowing, totally reliable Papa God!).
Second, I am learning that it's best to "build faith" during the good times so that it's there to sustain us during the bad times. This isn't what I was taught in church, though. I was told that times of testing come to grow my faith (to "exercise my faith muscle," etc.), but I was left with the impression that this is the primary way to build faith. But this isn't quite what really Scripture says, and it isn't what life experience teaches us! Trust grows in our lives in response to our experience of another's trustworthiness. We learn to trust another person by their demonstrating through their actions that they really are trustworthy. The more we experience their trustworthiness, the more we grow to trust them. Eventually our trust can grow deep enough that when they ask us to trust them in something we haven't previously experienced with them, we do trust them because their trustworthy character has been revealed through our experience with them. I think you can see how this applies to the God journey, too. And Scripture bears this out, showing us God's trustworthiness over and over again as experienced by people just like us. And yes, the Bible also tells us that struggles come not so much to grow our faith but to reveal it in the midst of the test (see, for example, 1 Peter 1:6-7). Our faith does grow, of course, after the testing because we see God's faithfulness as we go through the test. But it's our confidence in Him that's already there that enables us to endure, not some "faith" that I work up while the test is going on.
But how does the above truth help us? I am learning that paying attention to God's faithfulness during the good times, taking time to be grateful and to reflect on His goodness when things are going well can actually build my trust level in Him in lots of ways. That is indeed what happened during the season of pain that my family and I went through. The trust that had already grown in our hearts sustained us and invited us to trust in uncharted waters, even in the midst of the storm.
And God, of course, was also continuing to reveal His trustworthiness during the troubled times in many different ways. Which means, as I said, that trust does grow during times of testing, too, but that doesn't negate the need to grow it first and most during the good times, in my opinion. It's my already established trust in God that helps me stand firm when hell assaults me. It's my already established ability to hear His voice in the good times that enables me to hear Him shouting to me over the noise of the storm!
Third, I am learning that by its very nature, faith is meant to increase and grow in any relationship, and especially in our relationship with God. We were meant to trust God, we were born for that very purpose because we were born in order to be in relationship with Him! But because increase is part of the journey, we find God encouraging us to pay attention to His goodness, calling us into deeper trust in the good times, and we also find ourselves faced with a new choice to trust God in a new way during hard times as well. Personally, my own sense of self trust is so deeply ingrained in me that I still sometimes find God's invitations to trust Him in new ways rather stretching at the very least and downright annoying and scary at the most! Yet His invitation continues every day of our lives: "Trust in the LORD with all of your heart and don't trust in your own understanding." And so even our anxiety becomes God's call to trust Him more deeply, not blindly but based upon His character as revealed by our experiences of His faithfulness and the testimony of many others. But it's still scary and annoying at times! It wouldn't be faith if the need to trust weren't involved! Faith always "feels like faith," not certainty!
Finally, I have discovered again that, when we read the Bible, it really does help to translate the words "belief, believe and faith" as "trust." There is something wonderfully down-to-earth and easy to understand about Jesus asking the disciples, "Where is your trust?" instead of "Where is your faith?" Because of our religious conditioning, the word "faith" often sounds like a commodity or something we do, whereas "trust" is easy for us to understand as a relational decision. Try it! The word "trust" will fit in all of those places where the words believe, belief or faith show up.
So here we are, facing the uncertainty of life in multiple dimensions, with no sure end in sight. But I hear again the words of Lamentations 3:57 as Jeremiah writes in the midst of his great pain, "You came near when I called to you, and you said, 'Don't be afraid!'" And now you hear them with me. What can we do otherwise than transfer our trust once again to the One who alone is fully trustworthy?
Tom, one of Abba's sometimes trusting children