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I Was a Faith Failure

True Story: in college I read the twin passages in Isaiah and Peter, “By his wounds we are [were] healed.” I sat at my desk, wearing my glasses. I thought the fact I wore glasses meant I was flawed--that I was sick. I read the Bible verses and faced a crisis of faith: I wanted to stand in faith on these wonderful promises--which would I believe: God’s perfect word or my fuzzy vision? I prayed, “God, I have faith in this promise. By your wounds I am healed.” Without any fanfare I set my glasses on the desk, went to bed, woke up the next morning and announced to my friends that God had healed my eyesight!

“No way!”

“Absolutely,” I declared, choosing to believe God’s word more than my blurry vision. “I asked him to heal my eyes, and now I see perfectly.” I still couldn’t see very well.

I was the talk of the campus for a few days. Of course, my eyes were actually no different, but I was determined to believe God’s word rather than my lying symptoms. My glasses stayed on my desk for two years. When I graduated from college and moved away, I quietly put them back on. I was a faith failure.

Some Bible-words sit behind so much stained glass it’s hard to recognize their meanings anymore. For me, it was the word "faith."

Several years ago the word faith became so stale I was tempted to cut it out of my Bible. Every time I read "faith," the word seemed so heavy and trafficked with religion. Televangelists rave about faith. Athletes use it like human growth hormone. George Michael sings about it. For me, it had become a lifeless word, an albatross around my neck, a flat tire slowing me down, or a worthless metaphor like the bird and the tire.

It was a problem, because I’ve been told that without faith it’s impossible to please God. Everyone kept telling me faith was the currency of God’s Kingdom, which meant some days I was bankrupt and other days I was a rich as a sailor on payday. I was a pastor for 15 years--I was supposed to deal faith like Kanye deals beats. But when it came to faith, I needed five new letters like David needed five smooth stones--you get the idea, right? I needed a fresh metaphor.

Then Holy Spirit changed my life when he gave me a new meaning. The Spirit whispered the simple word, "trust," and new life filled my veins. I may not have had faith, but I knew how to trust. I had trusted my friends and been rewarded with deep and lasting relationships. I’ve had complete assurance that no matter what bone-headed thing I’d done they would not judge me or leave me. I met the woman who became my wife, and I’ve trusted her for decades. That trust has grown into a little outpost of God’s Kingdom on earth as together we model Jesus and his bride. Trust is the natural outcome of loving relationship.

Faith I do not understand. Trust I have lived day-by-day.

So many believers have been taught that faith exists as a proposition: you believe, then God fulfills his promise. The Bible is filled with promises, and many of us have been taught that faith means reading those words, even memorizing them, and (I have really heard this) “holding God to his promises.” If faith is only propositional, no relationship is necessary. Faith is a currency, God is selling promises, so pay the Man.

It never worked for me. Frequently I mis-understood the meaning of the words I read in the scripture. Even more frequently I presumed upon the Father’s good grace, and tried to tell him what to do. Most frequently of all, I talked myself into having faith in something I didn’t really believe. Like the little girl in Sunday School who answered honestly, “Faith is believing something you know isn’t true.”

But trust? I’ve learned to trust people even when they’ve hurt me. I’ve learned that trust transcends my puny brain; trust builds a bridge between my foolishness and his mercy. I don’t care one bit about “the problem of evil” portrayed in the Book of Job. In that wonderful book I met a man who trusted God beyond all reason, because God was his friend.

I suspect I’ll be a faith failure all my life, but I trust the One who will welcome me home in the end, and I trust him day by day.

Reader Comments (9)

Ray, what a great way to frame the idea of faith, thanks for putting it into words. I too struggle with the overused, and often co-opted for someone's particular purposes idea of faith.

My wife and I are 10 weeks pregnant. Too early to be showing, though she's clearly experiencing all the pregnancy symptoms. We both find it hard to believe that there's actually a baby in there yet. I find that I'm having this experience when I read about what's going on in terms of the formation of the baby, and what to expect in upcoming weeks, of a mixture of excitement, unbelief, and mostly trust. I trust that there is a child forming, and that I'm going to be able to see this child soon. It's actually helping me to understand what it is to trust that Jesus is telling us the truth, and that He is at work knitting creation back together.

Thanks for the help along that path.

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

First of all, Joe, Congrats on the coming baby! It's the best news ever. Whether it's your first or your fourth, it's always wonderful.

Pregnancy might just be the fresh new metaphor we need: Hebrews uses the inspired and trustworthy phrases, "The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen." Young marrieds hope and pray from a child, whose time and place has been determined in the heart of God. Then comes the pregnancy test, and the news. It's news too good to be true, and in those early weeks be believe the baby is growing and developing, even though we cannot see!

Blessings to you and your growing family.

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

This very revelation saved that word for me, too, Ray! I grew up in some hyper-faith stuff (Word of Faith movement etc.) that soured me on some aspects of the same stuff you're talking about here. But once I reframed that word as "trust" it felt real again, to me, too. Thanks for another great post.

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Bessey

I'm glad you wrote this post, Ray. It's often bothered me that people treat faith like some mystical substance we have to summon up from somewhere, rather than trust in a person, which grows over time.

Thank you for bringing me back again to the one most important thing I can pursue: a relationship with God.

Healing, whether of eyesight or the heart, always comes from there.

May 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChris Lovie-Tyler

Hi Sarah: I love that you used the word reframe. There's nothing wrong with the (very Biblical) word "faith," but if it takes on a life of its own and eclipses our relationship with the Father then it's time to reframe.

Chris: So true~all healing flows from Him. I love John 17: 3 where Jesus says that "eternal life" is simply knowing him. He is our destination; relationship with him is the path.

May 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

Ray, FAITH took on a very real attitude when I realized that is what I had as an infant in my parents to provide that which I did know I required to survive. FAITH is not knowing my Father in Heaven will provide what I think I need rather is being most certain He knows my needs and loves me enough to fill them, as my parents did when I knew less than enough to do so for myself.
Love you and your sincerity, Herman.

May 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHerm

Yes, I love that verse too, Ray. I've got it pinned up at work. Reminds me of what it's all about.

May 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChris Lovie-Tyler

Hi Herm: I think the parent-to-child thing is a great example. If we met a 9 year-old who worried about whether Dad or Mom would provide, it would be a great tragedy. Good call.

May 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

http://singlextianman.wordpress.com/2010/12/07/credo-36-on-the-gift-of-faith-or-on-name-it-and-claim-it/

May 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCharles

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