Friday, April 1, 2016

Practical ways to grow in faith

Most of the time, growing in faith results from suffering trials.

The Bible addresses this in James 1 ("Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds because the testing of your faith produces perseverance..."), in Romans 5 ("We glory in our sufferings because suffering produces perseverance, character and hope..."), and in 1 Peter 1 ("You greatly rejoice though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials to prove the genuineness of your faith...").

This is not my favorite truth, yet it does seem to be true.  Birdsong, blue skies and comfortably full bank accounts produce complacency.  Sickness, strife and scarcity drive us to our knees before the Lord.  We call out to Him; He answers.  We see His hand and thank Him; our faith grows.

We come into this world with hard hearts, with expectations that we are entitled to great blessings, with presumption that we ourselves know what is best for our lives.  We come selfishly focused on our own egos, grasping, hoarding, bossing and justifying our every move.  Most of us are pretty nasty creatures, without any natural inclination to make sacrifices for the good of others (with the possible exception of our children, but even then we want their benefit for our benefit and not apart from it).

God has to wring the self-idolatry out of us, and in most cases, this requires trials that cause us to suffer.  Suffering brings us to the end of ourselves, and coming to the end of ourselves is often what must happen before we become willing to look up to the Lord.  "Not my will, but Thine," Jesus prayed in the garden.  He prayed it before He suffered, because He was the only sinless, selfless man ever to live.  We generally only pray this after we have suffered.

Suffering is the primary way in which God's children grow in faith. However, there are two ways for us to grow in faith without having external suffering thrust upon us.  We can grow in faith when we observe the Lord's Sabbath.  We can also grow in faith when we tithe.

Observing the Sabbath and tithing are very closely connected.  In the first, you are giving to the Lord from the firstfruits of your time.  In the second, you are giving to the Lord from the firstfruits of your income.  In both instances, you are offering something to the Lord that it may not make sense to give Him, and you are trusting Him to make it up and supply what you need in the end.

The Sabbath is a day of rest that we offer to the Lord because He asks us to.  It is one of seven days, a day to set aside as holy to the Lord, a day to cultivate a thankful heart, a day to refrain from the business of providing for ourselves.  It is a teacher trusting God with her lesson plans, even if she doesn't chart them out on Sunday afternoon.  It is a businessman turning off his phone for a day, ignoring the email, and trusting God that the necessary deals will come through anyway.  It is a student putting away his textbooks for the day and trusting the Lord with the results of his exam.  It is a farmer parking his combine on Sunday and trusting that God will help him bring in the harvest on Monday, even if rain is predicted (that must be the hardest one of all to follow through, because all the others can--and should--work ahead, but the farmer is truly at the mercy of the weather).

Honoring the Sabbath makes little logical sense.  Why would you set aside an entire day of the week when you could be productive?  God asks us to do this so we will remember that He is our Creator and Provider.  He delights to honor His children when they do this thing to honor Him.  If you fellowship in Christian circles, ask around and you will hear wonderful stories about how God has cared for His own when they have honored His Sabbath Day in situations where it seemed like a risk to do so.  God comes through.  Honoring the Sabbath Day is a practical step we can take, on our own, when we desire to grow in faith.

Similarly, tithing makes little sense.  Why would you give ten percent of your money to "the Lord's work"?  Why would you do this off the top, before you even know what emergencies will come up before your next paycheck?

People who tithe will tell you that it makes no sense, but the Lord provides.  Even when the budget on paper won't balance, somehow when we honor God with the firstfruits of our money, He makes sure that we have enough.  Sometimes it seems that while tithing, people have less emergency expenses, while when they fail to tithe, the expenses come like gangbusters and drain savings like a hole in a pocket.  Sometimes it is even more mysterious than that.  When we trust the Lord with our finances and tithe, He meets our needs in amazing ways that lead us to rejoice and multiply our faith.

As Christians, we need to be growing in faith.  Anything that is alive must either grow or atrophy, and our spiritual wellness must not be allowed to atrophy.  God loves us too much to ignore us and leave us in complacency, so He consistently brings us faith exercises, or trials, to strengthen our spiritual muscles.  However, we can work with Him on this and take some proactive steps of our own to increase our faith.  Honoring the Sabbath and tithing are two things we can do from our own initiative to help our faith become stronger.

Has God shown Himself faithful to you, and thus strengthened your faith, when you have honored Him through the Sabbath or tithing?  Please share about it if He has.


Shawn Carpenter said...

Great post!

Yes, without a doubt, we have seen God provide in ways that didn't seem likely or possible when we have chosen to honor Him first. Thank you--thought-provoking truth.

Priscilla said...

Birdsong, blue skies and comfortably full bank accounts produce complacency. Sickness, strife and scarcity drive us to our knees before the Lord. We call out to Him; He answers. We see His hand and thank Him; our faith grows.

The first sentence above made me laugh out loud. There have plenty of times when my husband and I had to completely rely on faith to pay the bills. I'm still not sure how they all got paid...but for the Lord of course. We made it a commitment to tithe, no matter what, ever since we were first married. I can tell you two incidents of amazing provision.
1. One time we were out of money and had almost no food in the cupboard. Never mind how we were going to pay the rent, etc. My husband had been working at a job where his income was dependent upon commission off of sales. He wasn't doing very well there and we had a few pay checks of almost $0. At this time I was about 6 months pregnant. Not the best time to go out and find a job to help out. One Sunday we came out of church and on the seat of our car, there was a $100 gift card to Wegmans. I'll never forget that gift from the Lord. It may not seem like much to some people, but I knew it was the Lord's way of saying, "See? I know what you need and I'm going to take care of you." (Luckily the Lord also provided a better job for my husband a few months later)
2. Another time, we were in a similar financial bind. I was extremely stressed out about our finances. We didn't have enough to pay the bills. We were eking by day after day, always scraping by without a penny to spare. It was so discouraging to see other couples our age going on vacations and buying beautiful homes. Each week, I took our little children to Community Bible Study. They would be in the children's program, while I was a part of a core group of women studying the word of God. We had a large CBS chapter in Canandaigua. Many women. Several core groups. It was so large that I didn't know everyone who attended. One week, a woman I didn't know came up to me and handed me $100 in cash. She had come across extra money earlier that week and decided that the Lord must mean for her to bless another person with it. She told me that the Lord brought her attention to me and told her that I was the one she should give the money to. After I took the money, I started crying. I'm actually crying write now as I remember this.

I also think that it is neat that you wrote about the sabbath. I have not been good about that. The Lord has recently brought it to my attention and here it is again on your blog. Please pray for me as I begin a new journey of purposely honoring the sabbath.

Ruthie said...

Thanks so much for sharing, Priscilla. Dear Lord Jesus, please bless Priscilla and bring her joy as she learns to release the Sabbath to You and watch You work Your loving power in her life. Amen!