There are a thousand different buzzwords that float around through Christian speech. But if you were to make a word cloud of them, I’d be willing to bet that one of the biggest ones shown would be faith. It’s a word that we slap on coffee mugs, motivational posters, bumper stickers, and more. It’s often mixed in the words of encouragement we offer each other or the rallying cries we give. It’s a foundational part of our Christian walk, and you know what? We misunderstand how it works all the time.
We all too often lose track of what faith is meant to look like and how we should build it. The problem is that with faith being unseen, we all too often look to something as equally unseen to foster it. That in itself is not the problem but once we add our capacity for human error into the mix things are bound to go haywire.
I remember one summer going to a weeklong conference for high schoolers. Every day there were all sorts of fascinating classes, lectures, and activities. My understanding of my Christian walk was getting bolstered left and right, but there was one thing that felt off.
Every evening, all the students would meet in a giant auditorium for worship and a sermon. The lights would go down like we were at a rock concert and suddenly boom! Emotions were running rampant. The whole evening always ended up looking less like a church service and more like a borderline hysterical cry fest. Most evenings I found myself trying to comfort a new crying teenager who couldn’t even articulate exactly why they were crying. A lot of it was happy crying. Once or twice my tween self got swept up in the fervor.
It became very clear what was happening. In trying to build up the faith of all us young highschoolers, the organizers of the conference had tried to create something that was captivating and exciting. If the spectacle were big enough, it would move all of us and we would get excited for Jesus.
Now, I’m all for showing God the full breadth of your emotions because quite frankly he is already well aware of them. But what was so dangerous about that model of engaging all those high school students was that hundreds of kids were being fed the idea that big feelings equaled big Godly presence. That is categorically untrue and it is a perilous line of thinking to follow.
Faith that is built on solely feelings will never last.
It just won’t. Because feelings faith is usually built on positive emotions and whatever happy high you were on at the time. So it’s no wonder that when the going gets tough it all vanishes into thin air. It was built from something temporary, so it vanishes as something temporary.
We tell people this in relationships all the time. You can’t rely on just the warm fuzzy feelings of being in love with someone to last indefinitely. There will be moments of intense frustration and hardship where there’s not a single ounce of lovey-dovey feeling between you and if you’re expecting that emotion to be what carries you through, your relationship will inevitably fail.
There will be times, hopefully not constantly, where your faith is holding on by nothing more than the knowledge on your very soul that it is worth it. That’s it. Just the part of your soul that’s telling you “We have a memory that this will be worth it. We need to stick with this.”. Everything else about you will be operating in complete rebellion to that little voice. Your heart will be breaking and calling for surrender. Your mind will be calculating every risk and concluding that it would be far easier to just quit. You might even be physically feeling the exhaustion and strain and having your body tell you something is wrong and that you need to quit.
In those moments, you simply cannot afford to have a faith that is built on feelings because they will all betray you. Every last one. In perhaps one of the most powerful passages written on the subject, the author of Hebrews breaks down not only the reality of faith but some of the greats who have gone before us and lead the way with their example. Again and again and again they pull examples from the old testament of incredible characters who despite all the odds kept their faith in God. I strongly recommend reading Hebrews 11 in its entirety (I may have contemplated just putting the whole thing in here but that would have been an incredibly long blog post). But for our uses today, I want to look at the closing of this chapter.
“How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back again from death.
But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half,[d] and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.” (Hebrews 11:32-40)
This is the far more accurate reality of faith. The faith Hebrews is outlining is most definitely not faith built on feelings. How could it be? It would crumble at the first test and there are a lot of tests outlined in this one chapter. This is faith modeled after grit and determination. This kind of faith lasts. And of course, it's the harder faith to build. Feelings faith is built in an instant, but grit, determination, and knowledge faith is an ongoing process with no end in sight. But it's one worth showing up for because the hard work of it pays back so immensely we'll wonder why we ever felt drawn to feelings faith in the first place.
We simply can’t afford to live in a world where we base our biggest confidences by our feelings. They are temporary at best and we are after something far more eternal. God did not build us to live our lives subject to something as fickle as runaway emotions. Our faith can be built on something much more than a moment.
Let’s find some joy,