My husband loves going to Las Vegas. He says there is a thrill and a rush that comes with the potential of winning money. And from watching him and his friends gamble, I’ve seen first-hand the excitement that builds with each win. They turn into these fascinating creatures, getting louder and louder, high-fiving each other with each roll of the dice. Knowing that winning is possible, because it’s happened before, builds confidence and hope. Each small win encourages them to put more and more on the line, chasing that thrill of possibility.
As for me, I’m extremely risk averse. I’ve never felt comfortable with just hoping something will happen. I’ve never believed in luck. Hard work and following a set of rules to get an expected outcome always made more sense to me. Instead of gambling, you’ll more likely find me shopping in Las Vegas, where I know I will receive something in return for my money. So it shouldn’t have been a big surprise to me that one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of making a real change in my life was faith. Or lack of it.
When explaining Human Action, Ludwig von Mises said (and this is extremely paraphrased for my little pea brain) three things must happen for change to occur.
- There must be discomfort with the current situation.
- There must be a vision of a better state.
- There must be belief that reaching a new state is possible.
It’s that last one that always trips me up. Faith is something that I had definitely heard of, growing up in a Christian environment my entire life. But I don’t think I really understood it until recently. It was just a saying to make me feel better, something to explain the holes that people couldn’t otherwise explain. “I don’t know, just believe, just have faith.”
I think I’m not alone in this confusion. It’s probably what holds a lot of people back because it’s hard to believe something you don’t really understand. It’s hard to put your trust in something that you feel hasn’t been proven, at least not personally.
So what is faith?
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. ~Hebrews 11:1
How do you get confidence and assurance that God is going to help you? How do you literally have faith?
With anything that seems too huge, in this case going from uncertainty to complete faith in God, I like to break it down into smaller steps. Have you ever seen the movie What About Bob? Bill Murray’s character does baby steps everywhere just to get through his day. Baby steps down the road, baby steps to the car…well, I had to baby step toward faith.
One important thing I considered was that I had actually been practicing faith since I was a child. I think we are all hard-wired for this; we just have to unbury it. I have a memory as a small child of wanting to jump into a swimming pool. I had discomfort with my current situation – everyone around me was having fun in the pool, yet I was still standing outside of it. I could imagine a better state – I could literally see everyone having fun. I had belief that reaching a new state was possible – my dad had just jumped in the pool (without drowning, mind you) and was now offering to catch me. I loved and trusted my dad; he had proven over and over again that he would take care of me. So even though the thought of jumping and the risk of drowning was a little scary, I finally took the leap anyway. It wasn’t perfect. I got water up my nose the first time. It’s a little uncomfortable throwing yourself into someone’s arms (no offense, Dad!). But I did it! The proof of the small win built confidence, and each time after that, it got easier and easier.
Another baby step toward faith is to build knowledge. Do you know that lost feeling you have when you start a new job? Like everyone around you knows everything because they are speaking a language you don’t understand, and it feels like you’ll never be an expert? And then three short months later you find yourself speaking that language of acronyms you didn’t know existed before, because now you have the knowledge to feel confident in your abilities. I will warn you, there is a fine line between building knowledge for the purpose of trusting our own abilities and building knowledge for faith. But I don’t think God asks us to turn off reason when relating to Him. He gave us the ability to think and reason and He doesn’t want to trick us. He has made it clear through the evidence of miracles.
Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. ~John 14:11
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. ~Romans 1:20
But I’ll be honest, when I first started learning how to have faith, even a few well timed Bible verses weren’t enough to move me from jumping off the side of the pool into my dad’s arms to making a major life change hoping God was going to catch me. I increased my knowledge by reading the Bible about all the miracles during those times long ago, and I believed that they happened. The problem was that I didn’t feel like any miracles had happened personally to me. So what evidence did I have that He would help me specifically? This is where my doubt came from. But I was at a point in my life where I was SO uncomfortable with my current situation, and I had such a STRONG desire to reach my vision of a better state, that giving up because of uncertainty didn’t feel like an option anymore.
I’d like to tell you that it was as easy as flipping a switch. I’ve even heard people describe it as just making the choice to believe. But I’m just not built that way. I’m stubborn in my need for a how-to list. I want to know exactly how to do it, step by step. I couldn’t find such a list that applied to me, so I created one. It was messy and imperfect getting there, but I can promise you now, looking back, it is completely worth the work. So here is the baby-step how-to list that worked for me. Please don’t try to do it all in one day; trust me, that will make your head throb something fierce.
- Admit that you suck at this. Yes, God knows everything and He already knows you suck at this. But remember that God created you for love and relationship. Part of relationship is talking to each other and owning up to your shortcomings. Just telling God that I felt terrible for not trusting Him and asking Him to forgive me for it felt like a weight lifting from my shoulders, and it made the next steps easier.
- Ask Him to give you faith. Yes, God still knows everything and that includes knowing that you need Him to help you. But this is about humbling yourself and admitting you really can’t do everything on your own. Especially something supernatural like faith. So ask the One who specializes in supernatural to give it to you. I simply asked Him to open my heart and let me see Him working in my life.
- Trust Him completely – with something small. I wasn’t ready to leap big at this point, and I wouldn’t be ready for a long time. I needed to start building up confidence through small wins, just like gamblers do. It’s not fair to God; He shouldn’t have to earn my trust. But I’m human and we’ve already established that I suck at this. So I started with something small I was trying to control; I don’t even remember what it was now. But I do remember I told God what it was, and that I was leaving it in His hands, and then I just stopped interfering with it. To be quite honest, I felt like I was pretending on my first attempts at faith. I’m not saying being fake will create faith; it definitely won’t. But what I mean by this is that I didn’t know how to trust Him because I’d never really done it before. So I asked myself what my actions would look like if I did trust Him. And then I acted it out. Even if I didn’t really believe it the first time, I acted like I did. For example, it was hard work to stop myself from jumping in and trying to fix the situation; I physically held myself back, because I knew that someone who believed wouldn’t jump in. And it worked.
- Practice and pay attention. The more I did this, the more confidence I had that He really did hear me and that He really does respond. I started seeing answers EVERYWHERE. After I prayed, and let go of control, a friend would call with a solution to my problem, an article about the very topic would arrive in my e-mail, or I’d see a related quote on Pinterest. I think the Holy Spirit was probably always trying to guide me, but I just hadn’t been open to paying attention before. I wasn’t looking for God’s help before now.
- Confirm with evidence. Even after all this, I was still doubtful. Maybe I was seeing things like this simply because I wanted to see them, not because they were really there. Maybe I was making it all up. But at that same time, my pastor gave a sermon about how we know whether God is speaking to us. He said there are 3 ways we know…God confirms it with His Word, His people, and His circumstances. After acknowledging my goose bumps from seeing the Lord answer my doubt with my favorite thing – a how-to list – I adjusted my practice a little bit. After prayer, I started focusing on His Word, and I would see a verse or a parable that directly related to the situation I was going through. Then a friend or an acquaintance would mention it, or I would directly ask someone’s opinion of the situation. Then circumstances would fall into place making what I had asked for possible…or not possible. With each little win, or what felt like proof that God was answering me, I felt confidence that He was there and gained assurance in what I could not see. This was essential in building trust and having faith that God would catch me on the big things.
- Believe. What all of this taught me is that God really does have this under control. He has a plan, and I don’t always know what it is. But what I do know is that whatever the outcome is, He will catch me. I will be fine. He will not steer me in the wrong direction. When I was finally ready to trust Him with the biggest change of my life so far, I really believed He would do what was best for me. I was willing to accept whatever answer He gave me. And the outcome was even better than I had hoped for!
- Praise Him. For goodness sake, after asking God to jump through all those hoops to make me feel comfortable, the least I could do was thank Him for it. I pictured him chuckling over my silly little human need for assurance and evidence, but He did it anyway. Why? I think He humored me because He loves me. I always thought it was a little silly to have to catch my children jumping in the pool for the hundredth time, but I did it anyway. Because I love them and I’ll do anything for them to believe I will always catch them. Why would I expect anything less from my Father in Heaven?
These days faith comes much easier to me. I never have to pretend. My how-to list has shrunk down to pray, pay attention, confirm my understanding (through His Word, His people, and His circumstances), and praise Him. He wants us to believe in Him and He’s willing to show us. All we have to do is ask.
I know some of you are still thinking, “But I have tried asking and praying, and I just don’t feel like He’s answering me.” If that is happening, I suspect it’s because you still doubt Him when you ask.
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. ~James 1:5-6
I know how you feel, I really have been there. I still suck at this sometimes. But please roll the dice again anyway, not believing in luck or your own abilities, but in God. Baby step through it this time. Ask Him to open your heart and give you faith. If you need to be sure if He is answering you, check what you are seeing and feeling against His Word, His people, and His circumstances. Knowing whether those three things are in alignment gives you the evidence you need to have faith in the outcome, no matter what it is.
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. ~Mark 11:24
(Spoiler alert: It probably won’t mean winning big in Vegas. The answer is usually no on that one!)