Faith. The Bible tells us that faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). With it, we can move mountains (Mark 11:22-24). Through faith, we are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9) and in faith, we are able to take our petitions to the Heavenly Father and believe that He will meet our needs (Matthew 21:22).
Faith. I’d love to tell you that I have a lot of it and that I live my life by it. I’d love to stand tall, hold my head high, puff out my chest and tell you that nothing causes me to doubt or worry because I have such great FAITH. I’d love to tell you that…. But if I did, I’d be lying.
Several years ago, I stumbled upon a prayer of Dr. Rick Warren as I was perusing Facebook. (Ah! The treasure trove that is Facebook!) Dr. Warren’s prayer was simple but packed quite a powerful punch. He prayed, “Holy Spirit, enlarge my vision, stretch my faith, and liberate me from self-imposed limitations that dishonor you.”
“Wow!” I thought as I read those words. “I need to be praying that daily!”
So, I made this my prayer for the next year…
Have you ever prayed for something and then, after receiving the answer, wish you had never prayed for that something in the first place? I must admit that I’ve wished many times over the past several years that I had never found this prayer of Dr. Warren. (Cursed Facebook!) But God has a way of revealing what we need in our lives and this prayer was, and still is, a part of His plan for growing me into the woman of faith that He wants me to be. However, I am quite certain that when I began praying this prayer, I was not ready for God to answer it.
Let me see if I can explain.
Have you ever prayed for patience? Have you ever prayed for a loving spirit? What about strength? If you have prayed for any of these wonderful characteristics, did God instantly bless you with them? My guess would be “No.” Like any other virtue, patience, a loving spirit and strength must be learned. They must be practiced and developed over time.
So, how does God answer the prayer for patience? He answers by allowing us to encounter situations that will require patience. How does He answer the prayer for a loving spirit? He places the unlovable in our paths. How does He answer the prayer for strength? He pushes us beyond our self-perceived limits and tests our endurance. That’s our God. He doesn’t just snap his fingers or wiggle his nose and instantly transform us into a better person. He molds us. He reshapes us. He teaches us through life lessons, through tough situations, through challenging seasons. And when the lessons are learned, we are the better for them.
Do you see where I’m going here?
Daily, I prayed, “Lord, enlarge my vision, stretch my faith and free me from self-imposed limitations.” I realize now that with this prayer, I was literally telling God that I was ready to be challenged. I was asking God to take me out of my comfort zone, to push me beyond my limits, to take me to the next level. Basically, I was saying, “OK, God, bring it on!”
God listened and obliged.
Though I prayed for three things and saw God moving in all three areas of my life, it seems He was most interested in my request concerning faith! And how do you suppose God answered my request for Him to stretch my faith? Yep, you guessed it. God is quite consistent with His teaching methods. I have to be honest, though, His methods are not always fun.
Challenge after challenge has been thrown at me over the past several years. From health scares, personally and with my older son, to school struggles with my younger son to learning to let go as my older son pursues and explores the calling on his life to financial stresses and job problems to watching my husband be pushed away from the church family that I love and serve, the road to increased faith has not been easy. I’ve failed perfectly many, many times in these tests of my faith and found myself wondering if I had any faith at all.
“Stretch my faith,” I prayed. What was I thinking?
I wish I could continue my story with a mind-blowing ending:
I have conquered all doubts and fears and learned to trust God with every facet of my life. When trials come my way, I don’t even blink. I take up my shield of faith and keep marching on.
I’m no where near there. I can tell you that I have seen God move in mighty ways and I’ve seen Him provide for my family in the toughest of times. Yet, I still struggle with faith in many situations, such as my husband’s discouragement with the church and my newly discovered issue with anxiety. But (such a powerful little word that is) God is still working – despite my lack of faith. You see, I may not be faithful but my God surely is! And “He who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6) And, yes, that promise includes continuing to allow situations in my life that stretch my faith!
Faith. I still have a long way to go before I become that woman of faith that God wants me to be. But as I face the challenges God lays before me – those circumstances He uses to stretch my faith – I find myself repeating yet another prayer. The words of a desperate father in Mark chapter 9 beseeching Jesus to heal his son sum up my daily plea, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!”