CBS News told the story of “Operation Choose Joy.” A family decided to face their Mom’s cancer with optimism. At each chemo session, they dressed up – like superheros, Disney characters, etc – and spread laughter and joy. Who would not applaud that kind of optimism? They knew that laughter, by itself, would not cure their Mom, but they found some joy for the journey. I remind myself on the dark days that “The sun’ll come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun.” Sometimes, however, optimism is not enough! Mere optimism cannot change the reality, only our experience in it. A sunny outlook will help us weather the storms a little better than others. But, optimism is limited by the source from which it springs, the human will. “I can do this. I will overcome.” Optimism is admirable! But, faith is better.
Faith comes from the Person and Promise of God. Faith sees deeper, trusting a purposeful God. Do you ever confuse faith with optimism? Faith says, “He is working in all things to accomplish something for the good of those who love Him!” (Romans 8:28) Are we demonstrating faith when we make bold assertions about what we think God will do about situations we want changed? If it just an expression of general hope, it is optimism. If it is a conviction based on that person’s experience of the Spirit of God, it is a statement of faith!
Let’s not make the mistake of believing that if we say enough positive things, or if we force ourselves to ‘believe’ what we say with conviction, that we obligate God to act as we desire. That’s the core flaw of much ‘faith’ teaching. It is not about faith at all, it is based on optimism. I know that prayer changes people’s lives. My life is dedicated to bringing people to God and God to people. I have experienced healing, provision for financial needs, forgiveness of my sins, and seeing opportunities created- when I pray! Even knowing this, I resist the very human temptation to demand that God act in a specific way to make my life more comfortable. I tell Him what I think I need, as He has taught me to do, and then trust Him – in faith – to provide the best for His glory.
Bold prayers do not flow from self-confidence, but from God’s invitation. God tells us “since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. … Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14, 16, NIV) Real faith always involves large quantities of humility, remembering that God sees what we can’t even begin to imagine!
- Did Job suffer as he did because he did not pray with faith? No! He suffered according to the will of God for purposes that he did not know and could not grasp, and yet that faithful man did not turn on the Lord. Yes, he questioned. Yes, he even challenged God to explain Himself, but he quickly became humble and confessed that God was Lord of all saying, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” (Job 13:15, NKJV)
- Did Paul go through hard times because he lacked faith? To suggest that is absurd. He reminds us that the sufferings he endured actually served to bring him to greater dependence on God! “ It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead!” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9, The Message)
- Peter tells us “those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (1 Peter 4:19, NIV)
Do not settle for mere optimism. Build great faith! How?
Get to know God – in prayer, through meditation, from the pages of the Scripture, in worship. Go beyond having a god (small ‘g’ intended!) that you keep around like a good luck charm, a deity you bring out to ward off ‘bad luck.’ That’s the stuff of religion, the empty tradition of human based ‘worship.’ Give your life over to Him. Tell Him that you are delighted simply to belong to Him, to be used by Him, to serve His purposes. Does that sound frightening? It should, for He is an awesome (in the sense of ‘fear and trembling’) God! But He is also a good God. Faith allows us to go from good to great in His service. Faith lets us abandon our plans and demands to discover the adventure of being part of what God is doing. There, in His will, is supreme joy that supersedes our situations.
Our word from the Word reflects the very heart of faith, a totally God-focused, surrendered, trusting life. As you read these inspired words, ask the Spirit to breathe faith in your soul. With real faith, you can move mountains. “I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21, NLT)
Great Is Thy Faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness,
O God, my Father,
There is no shadow
Of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not,
Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been,
Thou forever wilt be.
Pardon for sin
And a peace that endureth,
Thy own dear presence
To cheer and to guide!
Strength for today
And bright hope for tomorrow.
Blessings all mine
With ten thousand beside.
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning,
New mercies I see.
All I have needed
Thy hand hath provided,
Great is Thy faithfulness,
Lord, unto me!
Thomas Obediah Chisholm | William Marion Runyan
© 1923. Renewed 1951 Hope Publishing Company
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