On Weak Faith, Doubts, and the Object of our Faith

Originally published Saturday, 25 July 2015.

"I tried Mommy, but I just can't do it!" moaned my son. He curled up on the couch and cried. Sitting down beside him, I said "You're right. You can't. But God can. Let's pray about it together"

I often look at my son and see my own heart and my own struggles. Sometimes I look at the road ahead, see an obstacle and think, "There's no way around it. It's impossible." When I consider my life circumstances and the trials seem insurmountable, I throw up my hands and think, "I'm stuck. I'll never get out of this mess." Feeling overwhelmed and in despair, I simply give up. Like my son, I want to curl up and cry.

The truth is, my faith is quite small. Imperfect. Weak.

In my personal Bible reading, I recently read through Genesis. As I read the account of Moses and the Israelites in Egypt, I thought, "That's me! I am just like the Israelites."

In Exodus chapter 4, Moses and Aaron told the Israelites that God would deliver them from Pharaoh. They showed them signs and wonders. They believed that God sent Moses to deliver them and they worshiped God. Then in chapter 5, Moses went before Pharaoh for the first time and told him to let the Israelites go. He responded in anger and made the work load harder for the people. They were punished and beaten. The Israelites went to Moses and Aaron and said, "May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” (v.21).

I do the same thing. I say I believe God can do anything and then when he does it differently than I expect, I stomp my feet and say he did it wrong. I follow him when he gives me what I want but as soon as scarcity arrives, I complain and say "This is not how I'm supposed to be treated!" I grumble about the provisions I'm given and returning to slavery begins to look appealing. When the future seems filled with giants, I'm like the returning spies who want to give it all up and return to the desert rather than believe the promised land is worth the effort to stay and fight.

I know I'm not alone in this. I receive emails all the time from people struggling with doubts and feelings of insufficiency. Even in Scripture I see that I'm not alone in my weak faith. In fact, over and over in Scripture, I see Jesus extending grace and accepting the imperfect faith of those he called. Take the disciples who Jesus often admonished with, "O you of little faith!" They constantly questioned him and doubted what he could do. Even after witnessing Jesus feeding the five thousand, they were concerned when they didn't have anything to eat. Jesus said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? (Matthew 16:8-9). Yet these were the very men whom Jesus entrusted with starting the church.

Those who came to him for healing didn't have complete faith either. The woman who had bled for twelve years came to him with a combination of superstition, doubt, and faith and touched the edge of his cloak. Yet he accepted her efforts and healed her. A man asked Jesus to heal his demon possessed son saying, "But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” (Mark 9:22) Jesus responded, “‘If you can?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (vs. 23-24).

In Calvin's commentary on the book of Mark he commented on how God responds to our weak faith: "This agrees with what I have lately noticed, that God deals kindly and gently with his people, --accepts their faith, though imperfect and weak,--and does not lay to their charge the faults and imperfections with which it is connected...Though we have not such abundance of faith as might be desired, there is no reason why our weakness should drive away or discourage us from prayer.”

This is what I want my children to understand and what I want my own heart to grasp: It's not about what I can do but about what God has already done through Jesus on my behalf. It's not the strength of my faith which saves me but the object of my faith. It's who my faith is in and not how strong it is that matters. Though my faith is weak and imperfect, I need to come to God in prayer saying, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"

I recently read a letter written by Francis Schaeffer to a man who struggled with doubts. He wrote "You may go through a period of darkness, but once we have accepted Christ as our Savior he has promised to hold us fast forever. Our salvation does not rest upon our holding on to Christ, but upon his work as He died upon the cross. Because He is God, His death has infinite value and can cover every spot. Thus when He promises to hold us fast and to never let us go, He is doing so upon the basis of the infinite value of His shed blood as He died for us....You have been in a relationship to this personal God--in the way God Himself has provided through the work of Christ--and as such you can look to Him to help you through the darkness." (in Letters to Francis Schaeffer, p.142).

Here's what I know to be true, in this life I will face trials, circumstances, and mountains that are too high for me to climb. I will have fears, doubts, and worries. I will feel weak in faith. Like the Israelites, I may see God's wonders in my life one day but the very next day doubt he can provide my daily bread. But I must keep my eyes focused not on my circumstances or on how strong I feel but on the object of my faith, Jesus Christ. His blood is sufficient; his grace is more than abundant to cover my weakness. I must come to him, no matter how weak my faith and ask him to help me in my unbelief. And though there may be times when my grip loosens and I just can't hold on, I have to remember that Jesus never loses his grip on me.