A woman entering her hotel room was shocked to see a naked woman, who appeared to be dead, draped across the bed. Her husband, bending over the corpse, looked up and said, “Dear, before you say anything, I have a question. Are you going to believe what you see, or what I tell you?”
That is exactly the same question God has for each of us. We believe what we see, and that’s the wrong answer.
Does that faith stuff work?
You may have heard a lot of teaching about using your faith to get something from God. It usually refers to healing and prosperity. That’s not quite what I have in mind, but I would like to quote some healing and prosperity promises and then look at cases of unbelief.
- The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up . . . (James 5:15)
- . . . Who forgives all your iniquities, heals all your diseases. (Psalm 103:3)
- He was wounded for our transgressions; the chastisement for our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
- He who did not spare his own son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32)
- And my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
“I tried that faith stuff, and it doesn’t work.”
So declared a man in a Sunday school class I taught about 40 years ago. He was wheelchair bound as the result of a congenital illness. Therefore, he lived on Social Security disability.
He frequently shared that he wasn’t sure that Jesus always did someone a favor by supernaturally healing. After all, the person would have no skills to get along in society!
He said that someone took him to a healing service of some traveling minister, that he had been prayed for, and had not been healed. He wanted to be able to walk and use the fine motor skills that his condition denied him, but he doubted that the same healing Jesus would then provide for his needs.
He was afraid to give up his disability check. He believed what he saw, not what the Bible says.
Struggling to believe
But it’s not fair for me to mention that man and leave it at that. I have been unemployed or underemployed for more of my life than I like to think about. I was working for a temp agency at the time, wondering what it would take to find full time work in my chosen profession. I had developed a powerful spirit of poverty and believe what I saw.
- “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house, and try me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.” (Malachi 3:10)
- Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:38)
- But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)
- This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1:8)
- Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23)
I studied such verses. I “claimed” them, taught them, and did my best to live by them. But I believed my bank account statements. I believed the rejection I experienced. And I wondered why I saw no reward to my faith.
Speaking to the mountain, and about it
Alas, I must admit that I still struggle with some of the same issues. But someone pointed out how another familiar verse has acted as a double-edged sword:
For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, “Be removed and be cast into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. (Mark 11:23, NKJV)
Jesus did not promise that anyone would have whatever he says to the mountain! He promised that when anyone believes those things he says, he will have what he says.
What can I expect if I say to the mountain, “Be removed,” then doubt in my heart and tell everyone, “It’s not moving”? That’s what I believe. That’s what I say. That’s what I get. After all, that’s what Jesus promised when he talked about moving mountains.
Real, active faith
In the Garden of Eden, Satan began his temptation of Eve by asking, “Did God really say . . . ?” The question moved her mind to confusion about what God had really said. Satan has used exactly the same question to tempt people ever since. After all, it works.
Did God really say that he would provide all our needs according to his riches? Yes, he did. Satan is a liar and loves to imply that we need to hoard whatever we get our hands on to provide for our own needs. God cannot lie. If he could—if he did—he would become a devil.
But we’re not in Eden anymore. We don’t experience provision automatically all around us. God requires something of us first:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? . . . So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25, 31-34, NIV)
Real, active faith seeks God’s kingdom first, before seeking God’s provision. Then, just as Abraham believed for a son for years before Isaac was born, it keeps believing––and speaking––what God tells us, not what we see. Because soon enough–according to his definition if not ours–we will see it. So will everyone else.