There’s no shortcut to real faith. Faith produces action and requires dedication, just like love. Throughout my childhood I’d always heard things like, “make your walk with God personal”, and, “your faith should be alive”. My least favorite was, “are you on fire?!”. I disliked those statements because I was absolutely not on fire. I didn’t feel like I had open communication with God, and the worst part was that I didn’t know how to fix it! In high school, I was suspect of believers around me who claimed they did. I assumed they were fake, and I knew some of them were because of how they behaved. Let me be clear here, I believed that Jesus died on the cross to forgive my sins. But I didn’t have faith enough to allow Him to work in my life. My walk with God was limited to a set of facts that I knew to be true because of the Bible stories I’d been told and because my parents always instructed me right. BUT, my walk with God was nothing more than a small seed of belief. My few prayers were routine and rarely felt like more than words into a room. I could talk the talk, and make it look like I could walk the walk. But I was a fake.
I was a complete fake.
Do you want to know the worst part? I didn’t care. It didn’t bother me because I was good enough to act like everything was fine and people assumed I was on the fast track to Heaven. I wasn’t doing anything to try and fix myself, to learn what it would take for me to have this elusive “living connection” to the Father, or to have a faith that actually bore the Fruit of the Holy Spirit. I went to church on Sundays and jumped through churchy hoops when I needed to maintain the façade. The one thing that has always tugged at my brain is Luke 12:48 where it basically says that to those who have been given a lot, a lot will be expected. I knew that I had every advantage possible in life, but I wasn’t using my time, money, talents, or brains to glorify God.
Now this is the point in the story where most people assume I’m going to say that I heard a voice calling me to repent. Many people snap out of complacency after a near death experience or a crushing addiction. Not me. You see, in 2006 I fell madly in love with my wife, Jenna. We got engaged and married quickly, and I looked up one day to realize that I’d gone from being a young Army guy with a frat-boy mentality to being a husband. I wasn’t trained for this! I knew I was supposed to be the spiritual leader of my household, but I also knew that I wasn’t equipped to do that! In fact, I had to learn what the missing piece in my puzzle looked like painfully slowly. I had to work for it. I knew something was missing, but I didn’t know what it was.
But I found the missing piece: real faith
The missing piece was faith. Real faith that influenced my actions. Faith that would soften my hard heart and change my view of those around me from comparative judgment to compassion and empathy. Faith that would make me become a little more like Jesus every day.
You might be thinking “well, duh”! But I’m a slow learner so it took me awhile. I knew what the word faith meant, but I didn’t know how to build faith in my life. So my journey began. My mission was to become the man that my wife deserved. I needed to become the spiritual leader of my household for my wife, and eventually for our children as well.
The following are the four things I learned that I had to do to develop faith. It took me time to find out what they are and I’m sure the list is imperfect, but I am a very different person now than the child I was when I first got married. Ask my wife if you want proof 😉
Four things that will help you build faith.
- Read the Bible. This was the fist thing I did. I knew it was easy and hey, it doesn’t require me to actually change, right? Ummm, RIGHT?! To start I just picked a “read the Bible in a year” plan and went for it. Jenna and I would read out loud to each other in the evenings but I quickly learned that nighttime = sleepy time. So I switched to reading in the morning. People – this is the most basic of all basics. If you are a Christian and you’re not reading the Bible, how do you expect to know what God intends you to live like? It would be like starting a new job but not having anyone tell you what you’re supposed to be doing all day. If you’re leaning on what society tells you a Christian is supposed to be like, you’re going to miss the mark. Sunday morning sermons are intended to support what you’ve read, to explain the history and application of your already existing knowledge of the Bible. Go back to the source of all wisdom. Get in the Word.
- Journal your prayers. When I started praying I felt a bit awkward and dumb. I knew what a prayer was “supposed” to sound like, but it still felt empty to me. I want you to try the practice of writing down prayer requests, or journaling your communication with God. I started by writing out two or three things that I was grateful for and then two or three things or people I was praying for. I guarantee you that if you do this for six months then look back to the beginning of that journal, every single request and “urgent need” you had at the time is gone. You will see plenty of yesses, some no’s, and some “not right now’s”. The result of seeing all those answers is a new confidence that my prayers are being heard. The gratitude softened my heart, and I have a new confidence in prayer that is increasingly strong. It worked for me. Whether you are new to praying, have tried and given up, or are seasoned and want to get to the next level, then journaling prayer is for you. Oh yeah, asking God for faith through prayer is a great place to start 😉
- Surround yourself with Godly people. I believe that this was the biggest practical thing that has changed the trajectory of my life. You’ve heard it before: “you are the sum of the five people you surround yourself with the most”. You can read more about choosing your influences here. For now I’ll say this: if you decrease the time spent with people who are draining you, and increase the time with people that lift you up, educate you, and model the kind of life you want for yourself – then self improvement will just happen! I chose to ask people out for lunch even though I didn’t know them. I was introducing myself to the leaders in my church, business people I admired in my community, and people who had very well behaved kids. I had no agenda except to get to know them and hopefully spark friendships where I would learn what it meant to be a leader in a church, to be successful in business, and how to raise great kids. Find people who are further along than you in different areas of life and hang out with them. It’s as easy as that. I do my best to add value to them in return so that we can grow together, they are now mutual friendships that are turning into deep friendships that will last a lifetime.
- Do the things you know you should be doing! At some point you’re going to have to just start acting on the things you’re learning in church and in the Bible. Even if it feels uncomfortable and hard. Remember what the ultimate goal of a believer’s life is – to love God with all your heart and to be a witness to those around you. These practical acts are things we talk about, but how many are we truly doing? Tithing is a tough pill to swallow if you don’t have faith. My wife and I both grew up knowing about tithing, but when that meager check came in and we needed new couches, guess what happened – no tithe. But we eventually made the decision to tithe a full ten percent consistently, even though it was scary and money was tight. We chose to do it because we knew we were supposed to. How about saying no to things that would keep you from respecting the Sabbath? How about loving your neighbor even if he’s voting for someone you disagree with? How about forgiving the person you’ve held a long-time grudge against? Guess what? It’s one of the most amazing things in the world to see your surroundings change when you enter into the blessing of faithfulness. These are choices that set you up for bearing real fruit in your life. As you see what happens in your life when you follow God’s instructions (that stuff you learned about by reading the Bible!), you will also see your faith grow when you see that things work better when you’re in line with His will. Matthew 7:18 says “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit”. As a believer you are a good tree, you’re saved. But without living by faith you won’t be able to mature into the tree that consistently bears good fruit.
In the book of James (chapter 2) we see the argument that faith without action is dead. This is not an argument saying that you are saved by your actions (or inaction), but it is saying that anyone that has real faith will automatically have an urge to become more like Jesus. The drive to glorify God and to spread His kingdom on Earth becomes a built-in component of our personalities, hopes, and hearts. We see that we need to get off the pew at church and actually go do something practical. We can help each other by staying accountable and encouraging Bible reading (and study), prayer, surrounding ourselves with godly people, and actually obeying what’s written in the Bible. By doing this, I think that we would change our families, our communities, and eventually our whole culture. Let’s get started by turning mere belief into actionable faith.
Let’s end average spiritual walks. Let’s end average together.
Post by Ryan Hansen, author of EndAverage.com – When being average isn’t good enough we look to the Bible for lessons on getting to the next level in Faith, Relationships, Health, and Finances. You can connect with him and a whole league of imperfect people who are improving their lives on Facebook!