People who claim to have no qualms about their faith make me question how often their lives actually depend upon it. It is when faith is pulled off the shelf and put to use that you notice its quirks. You can’t see the oddities when faith is only for display purposes. For Christians, the Bible tells us that inactive, on-the-shelf faith isn’t much use. When you get it moving, when you depend upon it for real, that’s when you begin to see the spots that are less-than-perfect, in need of repair and attention. Because of the work involved, I can see why it might be easier to leave the mystery of faith alone, to collect dust on the shelf.
My faith came to life when I first heard God’s redemption story, when I was a senior in high school. When I heard that Jesus came to make God’s love manifest—to me—I was overcome. Faith broke loose in my heart as I trusted God to be what He said He was. Over the years, Jesus has proven trustworthy. My faith is focused upon Him and all He has promised. Even so, my faith has ebbed and flowed over the years, depending on the situation at hand. That speaks more about me than it does of Him.
And so my faith, although resting on a certain good and worthy Person, is still something in the works. It must be used and exercised if it is to grow stronger. I need to actually depend upon Jesus, for real. That’s when I see how it is (or isn’t) working, growing, deepening. The way I see it, leaving my faith on a shelf is like trying to train for a 5K race by sitting on the couch. Which is why, in part, I picked up a rather heady book titled Spiritual Depression by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. There are places in my faith that get cloudy and blue, given the right circumstances. I had heard his insights were extraordinary for understanding what to do when faith is acting skittish. About halfway through the book, I now agree: Lloyd-Jones dissects the perplexing nature of faith without mutilating its mystery.
Take, for example, the recommendations given for the times when faith has seemingly been displaced by situational fear, anxiety, disappointment, anger, and so on. He doesn’t chastise or belittle; Lloyd-Jones sympathizes, then sets you on the way toward greater faith with these four instructions:
1. Put faith in action. “Faith is an activity, it is something that has to be exercised.”
2. Refuse to allow yourself to be controlled by the situation. “Faith is a refusal to panic. . . . Faith is unbelief kept quiet, kept down.”
3. Remind yourself of what you believe and what you know. “Faith reminds itself of what the Scripture calls ‘the exceeding great and precious promises.’ Faith says: ‘I cannot believe that He who has brought me so far is going to let me down at this point.’ “
4. Apply your faith to the particular situation. “Whatever your circumstances at this moment, bring all you know to be true of your relationship to God to bear upon it.”
It seems then, that Lloyd-Jones is saying faith isn’t so much erased when life takes a dark turn, but is more so overshadowed. That’s when we need to pull it off the shelf and stir it to life, to exercise it, to put it into practice, to put it front-and-center. When the going gets tough, it’s time to get your faith in the game. It’s no time to sit back, because God has already given a gift of faith for such a time as this.
I see another parallel here between faith and running. When I go for a run, I must not expect it to be as easy as sitting on the couch. Running will cause fatigue, heavy breathing, weary legs, and more. This isn’t shocking or unfair that running takes effort—this is what it means to run. So too, exercising faith isn’t like lounging on the couch. It will cause spiritual fatigue, shortness of breath, weariness of heart, and more. This isn’t shocking or unfair that faith takes effort—this is what it means to have faith. But the end result of exercising your faith is much like running: The more you practice your faith, the stronger it gets.
The key is to not be shocked when trials come requiring you to use your faith. Situations like these expose the quirks in our faith and show us weak spots that need attention. If we never pull our faith off the shelf and put it into action, it never grows. Honestly, I would rather avoid tough situations that include spiritual despression. But no one gets a free pass in this life, so I think it would be best to be trained and ready.