As children of God, we are free to ask Him anything we please, and once we ask, we can hope He will give us exactly what we’ve asked for. But to believe He will do something He has not promised to do is not faith; it is presumption! I fear that much of what is passed off as faith today is really presumption.
If I sent you an email inviting you to my home for dinner, I wouldn’t include such statements as, “I have perfect faith you are coming! I know you will be here! I am claiming your arrival! By faith, I am announcing to all my friends you will be here!” On the contrary, I would say things like, “I hope you can join me; I would like to have you; please check your schedule.” I would be foolish to believe you were coming until you told me. Once you called me and confirmed the date, I could have faith you were coming, but not a moment sooner. Why? Because you told me you would be here; you made a commitment to come; I received a promise to hang my faith on. And if you don’t show up, my disappointment would be justified – you broke your promise.
Disappointment with God usually stems from confusion over the meaning of faith. Most people who are disappointed with God misunderstand what faith is. To them, faith is some sort of power or force. They think if they have enough faith, God will do whatever they ask Him. So when a crisis comes along, they try to move God into action through their faith. When God doesn’t respond, they become disappointed. Their misunderstanding leads to unrealistic expectations, and their expectations eventually lead to disappointment.
There was a time in my life when I was disappointed with God. I felt as if He had let me down because He didn’t answer my request as I desired. It’s not unusual for people in this situation to stop reading their Bibles, stop attending church, and stop praying. In some cases, their disappointment turns to anger and even bitterness.
Part of the reason for confusion in the area of faith is because we want to be in control. We want God to do our bidding. We don’t want to submit to His will; we want Him subjected to ours. We don’t really want God to function as the Lord of our lives; we would rather have Him operate like a vending machine (we put in a little faith and He sends out whatever we think we need). But God doesn’t operate that way. To approach the Christian life as if He does is to set ourselves up for disappointment.
Faith is not an escape hatch from all the trials and tribulations in this life. Faith is not a lasso we slip around God’s neck to force our will on Him. Faith is not a button we push to prod God into action. Rather, it is confidence God will do what He promised. That’s what all those men and women in Hebrews 11 were commended for.
Another reason for confusion in the area of faith is incorrect interpretation of James 1:6-7 and Matthew 21:21-22 . Some of us think it says, “God will give us whatever we ask for provided we have enough faith and believe He will grant our requests.” But that is not what the Bible says. We are not told God will give us $1,000,000 or a new car or a better salary if we just have enough faith. We are not given a promise from God for unlimited access to anything and everything we want.
On the contrary, James writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God” (James 1:5). Whenever we need “wisdom,” we can pray to God and He will generously supply it. We don’t have to grope around in the dark, hoping we will stumble upon answers. To those who lack wisdom, this valuable resource is readily available to guide our choices.
God’s provision, however, has some prerequisites. To receive God’s wisdom in trials, we must ask in faith. To “believe and not doubt” means to not only believe in the existence of God, but also believe in His loving care. This includes relying on God and expecting He will hear and answer when we pray. God does not grant every thoughtless or selfish request, so we must have confidence God will align our desires with His purposes (Psalm 37:4). Receiving wisdom from God depends on our faith in Him.
A third reason for confusion in the area of faith has to do with the foundation of faith. Most of us tend to judge God’s interest and involvement in our lives according to what is happening around us. When things are going well – our health is good, our finances are solid, our family gets along – we are quick to praise God for His faithfulness. But when things take a turn for the worse, we often doubt. We ask, “Where is God? Has He forgotten me? I thought He loved me!” We make the mistake of drawing conclusions regarding God’s faithfulness based on what is happening at the time.
The writer of Hebrews warns us against this deception. His original audience made the same mistake two thousand years ago. Their situation, however, was a bit more severe than anything most of us will ever face. He was writing to a group of Jewish Christians who were being persecuted for converting from Judaism to Christianity. Their persecution was so intense that they began to doubt whether they had made the right decision. God wasn’t honoring their faithfulness in any tangible sort of way. On the surface, it looked as if He had abandoned them. They were judging His love and concern for them on the basis of what was happening around them. Consequently, some abandoned the faith.
However, we never, regardless of our circumstances, have any reason to doubt God’s promises to us. The primary support of our faith is not what is happening now, but what happened two thousand years ago on the cross. Jesus demonstrated His faithfulness to us in a way that far surpasses bailing us out of unpleasant circumstances and answering a prayer or two the way we want. The fact He died on the cross for our sins settles the question of His love for us. The fact He rose from the dead settles the question of His reliability. God’s concern for you and I has nothing to do with the circumstances surrounding us right now. That question was settled a long time ago. By faith, we can have confidence God will always do what He has promised.