I don’t know anyone that authentically follows Jesus that hasn’t struggled with faith at some point. Some people struggle intellectually: they learn something new and don’t know how to compute it with their faith. Others are troubled because of crisis: Something horrible happens and they don’t know if they believe anymore, because they can’t imagine God letting the pain or evil they’ve experienced go unchecked.
A little observed fact about Christianity is that struggle is a good thing. Few good things happen without scars. (And everyone needs to grow up, out of the ignorance of youth.) No one ever lived a great life without some sort of turmoil. The greatest leaders in Christianity have suffered for their beliefs, and nearly all of Jesus’ earliest followers died for their beliefs.
But it’s a major problem when we blame God for the physical, spiritual, and intellectual struggles we experience. This problem is rooted in a misunderstanding of how God operates in the world. The pain in our world is rooted in how people respond to God; not in God’s decisions. If we were all in perfect relationship with God, evil people wouldn’t exist. Likewise, if we were in perfect relationship with God, we wouldn’t have intellectual struggles. We would know Him and understand Him. And if we were in perfect relationship with God, the world wouldn’t be a chaotic mess full of physical pain.
In addition, intellectual struggles are usually rooted in ignorance, like the kind often manifested in fundamentalism. (“Just believe what we say,” is how I define fundamentalism.) In many sects of Christianity, faith is seen as something separated from intellect. Thus, when intellect is actually used to analyze faith, faith begins to crumble. I’m betting that if we taught the full truth in our churches, we wouldn’t see people lose faith in college. Instead, we would see them encounter things they already had an answer to. And when they didn’t have an answer, they would have a support system—in other people and in their own faith—to rely on. We would support them in the struggle. We need people to rely on, but who are they? How do we identify them?
Here’s where it gets really good: There is a spiritual gift to support people in faith struggles. Yes, faith itself can be a spiritual gift.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills (1 Corinthians 12:7–11 ESV).
Have you ever met someone with the gift of faith? They just seem to be faithful no matter what. They’re always loyal, always attached to Christ, and never cease to believe in the betterment of others. People with the gift of faith place everything in the hands of Jesus—claiming that He will redeem, no matter what the circumstances. These people are encouraging. They give us hope (which happens to be part of the definition of faith, in Hebrews 11:1).
Now, faith is required for all Christians, as is wisdom and knowledge. But the thing about spiritual gifts is that they are a way of labeling what comes easier for some people over others. (Spiritual offices are more unique in this regard.) Some are almost naturally wise—always observing. Others seem to just remember things—they know when others forget. And others just believe—no matter what, they have faith when others don’t.
The most faithful among us are rarely recognized. They’re uncompromising, but we don’t realize it because nothing ever seems to change about them: they don’t complain when things get difficult, but instead believe. They’re forcing us all to grow, but we don’t recognize their growth because it’s too consistent. People with the gift of faith are like an oak tree in the front yard. It’s growth is slow and steady. It’s not until we reflect on pictures of the tree when it was small that we realize that it has been with us all along, and has been a subtle reminder of providence. God has cared for it, because it simply waited patiently for the sun and the rain. And something as simple as its leafs and fallen branches become a nurturing place for others.
We need people who will remind us of what we’re meant to be, and people with the gift of faith do just that. Every community needs someone who remembers what it’s all about: the gospel and the gospel alone—showing the love of Jesus to the world and the hope of salvation He offers.
We all need hope. And we all need someone to believe in us when we’ve stopped believing in ourselves. People with the gift of faith see God’s faithfulness working in us and through us. They recognize Jesus’ plan for our lives, as individuals and collectively as church communities; and they continue to remind us of it.
Who has faith no matter what in your community? How can you promote people with this gift?
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