The New International Version (NIV) translation of the Bible uses the word hope to mean roughly the same thing as “trust”. In the fifth chapter of Romans, Paul says that, as believers, we “glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame…” Later, in his second letter to the Corinthians, he says that because “we have hope, we are very bold”. In the 33rd Psalm, David says that he “waits in hope for the Lord”. They confidently trust, in other words, that the Lord is great and good.
In the context of my life, though, and in my vernacular, hope means something else. Something less than trust, and certainly less than faith. It means that I want something to happen, but really don’t have an inkling of confidence that it either will or won’t.
What the authors of the Bible (and thus God) compel us to do instead is to live “by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). In other words, to trust in God’s promises no matter how outlandish they seem and no matter how much tangible, worldly evidence there appears to be stacked against them.
I’ve come to think of faith – the kind God expects of his believers – this way: faith is the total absence of doubt.
In the book of Matthew (chapter 17), Jesus heals a small boy of demonic possession after his disciples failed to do so. The disciples asked Christ why he was able to heal the boy when they couldn’t. Jesus responded simply: “Because you have so little faith.” He goes on to tell them that if they’d had even faith “as small as a mustard seed”, they’d be able to perform this and plenty of other miracles.
The question a lot of us ask is: “Okay, exactly how much faith do I need? Less than a mustard seed, I guess, but more than the disciples did. So, like, a grain of salt? A sesame seed’s worth?” In measuring the degree of our faith, we miss the point, and the point is this: it doesn’t matter how much faith you have if you have any doubt at all.
That’s my problem: I believe. Mostly. But I also doubt. And that means I lack real faith.
Over the holidays I sped through Steven Furtick’s insanely awesome book Sun Stand Still, which has really challenged me to be bolder in my relationship with God. It’s also inspired me to set some pretty hefty goals for myself in 2011, goals which I intentionally set so high that I’m forced to rely on God if I’m going to achieve them. And I really believe I will. Because I’m growing in my faith, erasing (or at least ignoring) the doubt that I face daily. I hope that you’ll do the same.
In 2011, I challenge you to doubt less and avoid the trap of worrying whether you have enough faith. When you stop doubting, faith is what will be left.
What does faith mean to you? How have you experienced faith, hope, and doubt in your life? Tell us about it in the comments below.