"Someone's recently put a question on our wall: 'what can I do to strengthen my faith?' How would you reply?"
As @Seeking1st I tweeted an instant answer as follows:
"To strengthen your body you feed and exercise it. To strengthen your faith you do the same. Both are needed. So is rest."I thought that at least for my own benefit I should expand on what I mean in a blog post.
There is a paradox in the idea of wanting to strengthen faith. Faith is a gift of God, so if my faith is weak, is that God's fault? I think that like any gift, to be any use, faith has to be received and used. Or in other words has to be fed and exercised. But just as the body would become ill if deprived of sleep and constantly fed and exercised, so faith needs rest.
How do you feed faith?
I think a basic diet to strengthen Christian faith includes prayer, Bible reading (or listening) and corporate worship (including Holy Communion). There are other things I find helpful e.g. music, art, nature, a wide range of reading on and offline, discussion..I could go on.
In our individualistic society we often think in terms of 'my faith', but there's a problem there. The Christian faith is founded in community. The Church is the 'body of Christ'. As the community of believers it is 'our faith' that needs feeding if we are to be any use as Christians.
What feeds your (individual) faith? What feeds your church community faith and how do you contribute to that?
How do you exercise faith?
We know the result of too much food and not enough exercise. Or at least, many of us in the rich nations know that. So what does it mean to exercise faith? I shall never forget a Sunday School lesson when I was a child. The teacher placed a chair in the centre and told us much information about the chair, especially how good it was at weight-bearing. He fed us with this head knowledge. Then he invited a child to sit on the chair, which he did. That's faith - not knowing about the strength of the chair, or even believing in it, but acting on that belief by sitting on the chair. If the chair is strong enough, it doesn't matter how strong or weak is my faith in that fact. It will support me if I sit on it. I think this incident has influenced my ideas about faith ever since. It's where you place your faith that matters, not how strong is your faith.
I think exercising faith is living as if the truths of the Christian faith are true, even at times when my mind or emotions may be full of doubts and questions. I think exercising faith means taking risks, for example the risk of making a commitment to follow Jesus, not knowing where that might lead. Or the risk of taking into a step or even a leap into the unknown, for example at the start of a new project or sphere of Christian service. Or the risk of praying for someone but leaving the outcome in trust to God. Or the risk of doing things differently from ways that worked before but are not where the Holy Spirit is leading now.
It is important to exercise individual faith, but this always needs to be as part of the community of faith exercising faith together. And I don't mean retreating into a cosy Christian club. Some people believe it is possible to be a lone Christian, but this makes no sense in relation to New Testament teaching and I for one would find it far too difficult.
How do you exercise faith - as an individual - as part of a church?
What about rest?
I surprised myself by tweeting that to strengthen faith, it also needs rest, like the physical body. I think what lies behind that thought is the realization that to be always active and strong is not healthy. When I feel spiritually strong I am more likely to start acting as if I don't need God or other people and not acknowledge weakness. When a church feels strong it can behave the same way, or cultivate the culture of busy-ness rather than being. Jesus said,
"Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest".He knows we need it.
There needs to be time set aside for recreation, for doing nothing, for resting in God. That's what the sabbath principle (1 day off in 7) is about. There are also times in life, during illness or grieving for example, when it's OK not to fret about trying to feed or exercise faith, but just let go and let the faith of others be the support and strength. If prayer seems impossible at such times, that's when we have to let others pray for us and leave the rest to God.
How do you rest in God?
Image Credit: Photo by Drew Herron, Flickr, CC Licence