Faith is a cornerstone in Christianity. So much so that it is often called “my faith” or being in “the faith”. We as Christians value faith tremendously, and hold having it to such a high regard almost to the point of misunderstanding it. We tell people all the time to simply “have faith,” but don’t realize that we may be being incredibly unhelpful in doing so.
Now before you cancel me, give me a chance to explain myself here. Having faith is incredibly important, don’t get me wrong. In fact, in the book of Matthew Jesus gives many parables on the power of having faith in the Lord, such as the popular parable of the mustard seed. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have faith, I’m saying it’s important we look at it through the correct lenses. Too often, Christians and non Christians alike have the wrong idea of what faith really is. We assume it’s all about being happy, not having doubts, never being sad or disappointed, or never having a bad day. The truth is that the Bible doesn’t give precedence to ANY of those misconceptions.
Instead, the Bible paints a slightly messier picture of what faith looks like in the life of the believer. Let’s explore a few of these misconceptions and see.
1- Having Faith Doesn’t Mean That You Don’t Have Doubts
So often we assume that the opposite of faith is doubt, but that simply isn’t true. How do I know? Because several notable people in the Bible also had faith, but they also had doubts.
For example, John the Baptist spent years of his life preparing the way for Jesus, preaching his coming, and even proclaiming his arrival to the masses. Yet when John the Baptist ended up in prison, he asked the disciples (in my paraphrase) “how do I even know Jesus is who he says he is?” John the Baptist, the man who announced the arrival of Jesus, even he had doubts. That doesn’t make his impact on the world null and void. That doesn’t make his faith nonexistent, it makes him a human being.
When you read the stories of Abraham, Paul, Nehemiah, and countless others you learn quickly that doubts don’t equal a lack of faith. In fact, more often than not, extreme confidence and certainty flag a lack of faith more often. Often we find the people with great arrogance in themselves and their abilities actually lack faith in God, therefore they lean on their own strength instead of the Lord.
So when you have your doubts, don’t immediately think that it’s because you lack faith.
2- Having Faith Doesn’t Mean You’re Always Going To Be Happy
I find more often than not when a person gives an empty statement of “just have faith” that it’s more of a Christian flavor of toxic positivity than solid Biblical advice. There is absolutely ZERO evidence that faith equals happiness.
Let’s take Sarah for example. She didn’t stop believing God would give her a son, just like God promised. But that didn’t mean that her long journey to motherhood wasn’t riddled with disappointments (you can read Sarah’s account in Genesis 17 and Genesis 21:1-6).
Hannah is another prime example of someone with faith who was arguably far from happy. She spent her time weeping in the temple for a son, and yet didn’t give up, even though it was a long journey to motherhood for her. If faith equals happiness, then Hannah wouldn’t have been weeping uncontrollably for a son (Hannah’s account can be found in 1 Samuel 1 and 2)
We simply cannot assume that faith equals happiness, because hardly a single person of great faith in the Bible were happy a majority of the time. Most of the time they were in great struggle or great despair, but persevered and didn’t give up.
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3- Having Faith Doesn’t Mean All Your Desires Are Going To Come True
Many Christians are somehow convinced that having faith is a recipe to have everything they want come true. Faith is not a genie in a bottle In fact, Hebrews 11:1 gives us exactly what faith actually means:
“now faith is confidence in what we have hoped for, and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1 NIV
Notice, faith isn’t a promise for everything you want. Faith is simply the substance of a deep hope in God. Having a deep hope in the Lord could mean you’re believing the Lord can do something miraculous, and that’s great, I think He can too! But when it doesn’t happen, or it doesn’t happen the way you want it, it’s not an indicator of your faith. More often than not, it’s an indicator of something else completely unrelated. You cannot give yourself so much power that you believe your faith will work like a genie in a bottle.
Yes, faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains, but ultimately it’s God who decides if that mountain needs to be moved. Sometimes faith also means that you still trust the Lord even when your desire doesn’t come true.
4- Telling Someone To Simply “Have Faith” Isn’t Going To Fix Their Bigger Issues
Like I said earlier, the platitude of “have faith” can feel dismissive because it feels like toxic positivity. That doesn’t mean that the people who say that don’t mean well.
Let’s say you have a friend who unloads some heavy situations on you. They tell you about the struggles of their life, and they’re struggling to see God in the midst of their struggles. If you reply to that “have faith,” then imagine how disappointed that person would feel. It can feel like a form of spiritual gaslighting to them.
Instead of telling someone to simply have faith, try doing what Jesus did when people were in great pain. He sat with them in their pain, he comforted them in their pain, and he was a friend to them. A prime example of that is found in John 11, which is the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Of course he did eventually raise Lazarus up, but before he did he comforted his grieving family. He sat with them in their grief, and he even grieved with them. They had faith that he could raise Lazarus from the dead, but that didn’t negate the pain they were experiencing.
Telling someone to simply “have faith” doesn’t fix someone’s problems. Instead, meet them where they are. Cry with them, grieve with them, give them solid advice, and be a friend.
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5- Faith Doesn’t Eliminate Grief And Disappointments
A cancer patient may have faith that God will lead them to victory, but it doesn’t eliminate the grief of having a potentially terminal diagnosis. A family member may have faith that they will see their loved ones in Heaven someday, but it doesn’t eliminate the disappointment of not having them here. Faith doesn’t always come with a smile, sometimes it’s found in the tears of the hurting.
Some beautiful examples of faith in the times of grief and disappointments can be found in the series of lament psalms. This category of psalms are so interesting because they don’t come off as praise worthy, in fact they’re super depressing. Typically they start off as the ramblings of a person in deep sorrow, but then transition to trust and praise to the Lord. To the untrained eye, it can seem kind of erratic for someone to speak like that, but it gives a beautiful picture of what real faith is. The writers of the various lament psalms perfectly showcased that faith doesn’t always smile. They showcased that faith isn’t void of disappointments, and faith isn’t void of grief. Faith acts more like the light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
I encourage you to take some time and study the various lament psalms and see for yourself this perfect balance. God gives space for grief, and doesn’t shame it. He makes it very clear that your pain isn’t because of lack of faith, it’s because you’re a human. Some good examples of lament psalms can be found in Pslam 6, 10, 42, and 43.
Some people believe that faith is something you can grow, while others believe you have it or you don’t. Honestly, I’m not a theologian, so I can’t give a great answer on that debate other than I don’t think it entirely matters. What we can understand is that faith is not quite as complicated as some have made it out to be.
If you leave this post with anything to latch onto, then do so with this. Faith doesn’t have to be beautiful, profound, exuberant, or crazy. In fact, Jesus described faith more often as something small, like a mustard seed. It’s size didn’t matter, because it was capable of moving mountains. In my simple understanding of faith, the best thing you can do for your faith is to simply have it and never let go. Even when you’re finding yourself doubting, hurting, grieving, and drowning in struggles, don’t let go of faith, even if it’s just a mustard seed of it.