Faith is a lot like a muscle. And like a muscle, strengthening it takes time, effort and showing up. It’s a discipline to strengthen in the sense that you can’t measure it by feelings or what you are seeing or not seeing – but only by the amount of resistance it is able to withstand.
When we decided to start a prayer meeting for our busy, kids-hanging-off-of-both hips, already-serving-twice-a-week church community, we kind of understood it wouldn’t be the most attended thing at church. Believe me, we get it. And for me and my husband, we’re at a really sweet spot with our own kids. Their old enough to entertain themselves during our prayer meeting and we no longer have to worry about finding them a baby-sitter. If they were, say, 4 – 5 years younger – I doubt the prayer meeting would be happening at the frequency it’s happening now.
That said, we’ve had weeks go by where no one came and I aint going to lie – it got to me. I spent many a prayer meeting alone at the church. Times where all I felt was doubt and discouragement. I got resentful, self-pitying and self-righteous. Times where prayer felt like I was just awkwardly talking to the air. Evenings being distracting by the crows outside squawking at me from the pine trees, and where I just said, ‘Screw it,’ found some old taco shells and entertained myself with feeding them. There were plenty of times where I didn’t ‘feel’ his presence but had to rely solely on the promise that Jesus was there, he was hearing me and he was doing something.
To be a person of prayer, my faith needed to free from spiritual sensuality where I defined the effectiveness of my prayers by only what I could feel, see, hear or taste (or not feel, see, hear or taste, for that matter); He was teaching me to to define my faith on who He is, not on what I was able to discern through my rational mind. (1 Cor. 2:13)
If faith is a measurement of something of the Spirit, and can only be detected by the Spirit, then using our rational minds to get us to a place of faith is like trying to consume a meal by merely knowing the nutritional data of the food.
My journey through prayer has revealed to me a lot of unpleasant things about myself; but mostly it’s revealed my unbelief. And I got lots of it. Jesus talked about a mountain of unbelief – well, I got mountain ranges – and not just those hills in Palestine that they casually call Mt. this-or-that.
When Jesus encountered unbelief in his disciples, he rebuked them. He told them if faith was a measurement, they would need a certain amount of it (a mustard seed, for example) to move those mountains of unbelief that stood in the way of the Kingdom of God.
The strongest person in the world is incapable of moving a mountain all at once. The only way we know how to do it in our modern era with all it’s technology, is one rock at a time.
Approaching a mountain of unbelief with weak or unpracticed faith is similar. You start with the pebbles first, then rocks, on to boulders, etc. The more people who join in to help, the better. At the same time, using faith requires that we reach for the thing that feels impossible and if we are only lifting the the things we are certain can be done, we aren’t growing.
Look at the science behind muscle building – the parallels to faith are fitting, in my opinion.
- “The process starts with what is known as the ‘stimulus’ – this is the training itself. We stimulate the muscles, which causes ‘trauma’. This is the term for muscle damage – it is the breakdown of the skeletal muscle tissue. This breakdown forces the muscle to restructure and grow, returning bigger and stronger under the correct nutritional and recovery conditions.”
Faith is also grown through trauma and through the process of restructuring through the Holy Spirit. But many of us have suffered an injury or a brokenness in our faith where our faith in a certain area has been immobilized – and that too needs a healing touch by the Holy Spirit if we are willing to submit to the healing process.
Now all this talk about faith being a muscle can easily lead to us flexing our muscles in the mirror and judging who has the biggest biceps. And yes, it’s a danger, but at the same time, that kind of judging should be unnatural among the body of Christ. The fact that it isn’t, is a problem within the church that needs to be addressed, not accepted as a way of life. If we have been born again and are believers in Jesus Christ, our old man (the one that demands to be the center of attention all the time) has been nailed to the cross. (Gal. 2:20) To brag about one’s faith or to judge others for their lack or abundance of it should be as ridiculous as crucified people flexing and preening in front of a mirror and worrying about what each other looks like. Trust us guys, it looks grotesque.
Here’s the deal, we are all growing in this thing! We all have different areas of strengths and weaknesses. Where one has faith for finances and giving sacrificially, another has faith for deliverance of a sibling addicted to heroin. Where one has faith to pray for the sick, another has faith to open their home to fostering. (Eph. 4:16)
For example, my faith is weakest when it comes to finances. When it comes down giving to someone in need or paying my phone bill – I’ll readily admit, most of my atheist friends have more compassion than me in this area. I desperately need to grow! When it comes to finances, I’m going to need to lean on you guys who have faith in this area until I grow up into it myself. I’m going to need your testimonies to give me hope and smother the lies of the enemy that whisper God isn’t going to come through for me this month.
We all have varying degrees of mountains and varying degrees of faith. With Christ and with growing together, we can command them to move.
He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20