[PT. 3] ‘THE UNBELIEVABLY CONSTRUCTIVE POWER OF BELIEF!’

HOW do we, under GOD, grow our faith in him?? Let me suggest 6 biblical avenues worth exploring, hopefully avoiding that ‘magic formula’ approach so popular in today’s ‘Church’:

First, by recognizing our helplessness before God and looking to him alone. I refer my readers to Luke’s account of the conversation between Jesus and the two criminals crucified beside him: “One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him, ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, ‘Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus replied, ‘I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise’ (Lk. 23:39-43/CEB). Someone (despite many attempts I’ve been unable to identify the author) has asked very aptly, “How does the thief on the cross fit into your theology? No baptism, no communion, no confirmation, no speaking in tongues, no mission trip, no volunteerism, and no church clothes. He couldn’t even bend his knees to pray. He didn’t say the sinner’s prayer and among other things, he was a thief. Jesus didn’t take away his pain, heal his body, smite the scoffers. Yet it was a thief who walked into heaven the same hour as Jesus simply by believing. He had nothing more to offer other than his belief that Jesus was who he said he was. No spin from brilliant theologians. No ego or arrogance. No shiny lights, skinny jeans, or crafty words. No haze machine, donuts, or coffee in the entrance. Just a naked dying man on a cross unable to even fold his hands to pray.”

More than a century ago 15-year-old Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) was on his way ‘to church’ during a snowstorm in Colchester, England. The blizzard worsened and he decided to shelter in a Primitive Methodist Chapel on the way. The congregation was small, the ‘licensed’ preacher hadn’t arrived, the teenager sat down to hear a ‘layman’ (I don’t enjoy these terms) preach. The preacher kept repeating the words of the Prophet Isaiah, ‘Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else!’ (45:22/KJV) The outcome? Charles simply ‘looked to Jesus’ by faith that day and went on, despite chronic illness and seasons of depression, to become ‘The Prince of Preachers’ and initiator of orphanages for the poor. All of London was plunged into mourning, with 100,000 lining the streets for the funeral procession, flags at half-mast and every pub closed in honour of this man.

Second, by habitual Bible-reading through the lenses of Jesus. His sent-one, the Apostle Paul later wrote to the Roman ecclesia concerning the Jews, “So how can they call on someone they don’t have faith in? And how can they have faith in someone they haven’t heard of? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the good news.’ But everyone has not obeyed the good news… So, faith comes from listening, but it’s listening by means of Christ’s message” (10:14-17/CEB).

My wife grew up in an assembly proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. Her mother regularly instructed her girls, ‘Just read the Bible, even if you don’t always understand it.’ I fell in love with the beautiful ‘product’ of that old-fashioned up-bringing, more than 4 decades of happy marriage behind us. I would add, read the Bible even if you have no Christian background. English Professor Rosaria Butterfield of Ohio State University was an outspoken lesbian and gay rights activist for years. She was befriended by a pastor and his wife, hated his preaching, but decided to read the Bible for herself multiple times… she was converted in 1999. She married a pastor, raised a family and is currently an astute apologist for marriage according to the original Creation mandate (cf. YouTube).

Third, by regularly feeding our belief. CS Lewis wrote in his ‘Mere Christianity’, ‘There are three things that spread the life of Christ to us: baptism, belief… and Holy Communion. If you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive. It must be fed!’ At simplest, The Apostles’ Creed comes to mind, i.e. reciting it, thinking about it’s statements and even singing it (cf. Hill Song’s ‘This I Believe’ below).

Fourth, by lovingly ‘gossiping the Good News.’ The story is told of Englishman John Bunyan (1628-1688) of Bedford being powerfully influenced to faith by a few poor women in conversation one day in a doorway. He paused and overheard them speaking of their ‘new birth’ and the Spirit’s indwelling. He listened amazed, painfully aware that he knew none of this. Bunyan, through many spiritual struggles, was eventually converted to bless the world with his ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ and 60 other titles! You may protest ‘I’m no Bunyan!’ May I resume the story of my wife: like her mother (the latter sadly died of cancer at 42) who would spontaneously engage with anyone in the neighbourhood concerning her Saviour, she is one of the most ‘natural’ evangelists I know. I can’t tell you how many have entered her nursing clinic over decades, been gently prayed for (with their permission and without wasting her boss’s time), resulting in an amazing harvest of ‘ordinary’ and professional people drawn nearer Christ. Even if you’re not some Bible scholar, never underestimate the power of your personal testimony to Christ and the change he’s worked in your life!

Of course, winsome Christian Apologists (my personal favourite? Prof. John Lennox of Oxford) have a powerful role to play in our post-modern world. However, I believe Swiss theologian Karl Barth was also right when he said:

Fifth, by persistent prayer even in the face of our world’s stubborn unbelief. As one Ukrainian believer reminded the world recently, ‘Prayer is more powerful than rockets!’ To quote Barth again:

I think the notion of mass prayer being somehow more powerful than small group prayer, generally speaking, is a fallacy (I can think of at least one exception, the 1994 mass stadium prayer-gathering in Durban, South Africa, when a peaceful transition to democracy was sealed at the last moment: however we must never underestimate the many preparatory small all-night prayer meetings across the nation under the leadership of Dr. Michael Cassidy and African Enterprise, leading to that national breakthrough). Consider again Christ’s assurance in Mt. 18:18-20 to the effect that two or three believers in prayer-agreement can bring down his divine presence and power. The young praying Evan Roberts of the 1904/5 Welsh revival comes to mind, his prayers and testimony impacting Welsh society and nations for years! I treasure my copy of David Matthews’ ‘I Saw the Welsh Revival:’ I heard the latter preach in my city as a teen – he was in his 80’s, but the fire was on him still!

This post has just borne twins, I’ll leave point 6 for the near future. We’ve more than enough to process in the mean time!

6 thoughts on “[PT. 3] ‘THE UNBELIEVABLY CONSTRUCTIVE POWER OF BELIEF!’

  1. Yes, Erroll. Very Powerful points. The weakest prayer is more powerful than the mightiest warrior. A smidgeon of belief in an almighty God (mustard seed size) changes everything.

  2. Wonderful reminders as always Erroll, I especially was delighted reading the quote concerning the thief cross not wearing skinny jeans! Amongst everything else. I love that account that God ensured made it into our scriptures, it sure does a lot of undoing doesn’t it! Wonderful painting!

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