Prayer: WTF? (Where’s the Faith?)

It was the summer between 4th and 5th grade and I was certain I could fly. I knew I could fly because I loved a big God, and this God comes with a host of legendary tales of miraculous events. This God turns water into wine, converts ordinary mud into sight-restoring salve, raises people from the dead and transforms a scrappy fish sticks happy meal into a supersized fillet-o-fish (aaaand, cue the hand jive! “Big mac, fillet-o-fish, quarter-pounder, french fry, icy cola, thick shake, sundae and apple pie!”).

If this God can do all that, then surely he can make me fly. I had a faith equivalent to that supersized fish fry and I knew, deep in the marrow of my bones, that God would let me fly.

So I dug through our bin of Halloween costumes and strapped on an old pair angel wings. I then proceeded to nail together 2 pieces of scrap lumber in the form of a cross so I could carry it as I ran (because the more Jesus-y paraphernalia you can have, the better). And I began running circles around our driveway, roaring the confident declaration ; “Jesus! I know you can make me fly!” Round and round the driveway I ran, declaring faith in my God; “JESUS! I KNOW YOU CAN MAKE ME FLY!!!!”.

Hours, my friends. This horse and pony show of child-like faith went on for hours. I was so sure that eventually one of my faithful leaps would launch me into soaring victory.  Alas, to no one’s surprise but my own, those used angel wings never set me into miraculous orbit.

So what went wrong? I was a faith-filled kid certain that God could not only hear my prayer, but that God would answer my prayer. I followed James’ instruction manual perfectly. I prayed, I had faith and I did not doubt (James 1:6). Yet, I did not fly.

Maybe I really didn’t have enough faith. Maybe I did doubt. Maybe that’s why I didn’t fly.

When it comes to prayer we are instructed to have faith. If we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can create a whole new topography by tossing mountains into seas (Luke 17:6). Isn’t that crazy? And have you ever seen a mustard seed? It’s pretty puny. Surely we can sow seeds of that size.

But what if God’s idea of a mustard seed is akin to his idea of time? You know that whole, “One day to God is like a thousand years,” kind of thing? But what if a mustard seed to God is like an Everest to us? How are we ever supposed to know if we’re doing it right?

Prayer. WTF? No wonder so many of us give up on it.

What does it mean to have faith? Where are we to place our faith? How do we know if we have enough faith? These are just a few of the many questions we contemplate as we engage in the curiouser nature of prayer. And I suggest to you that, in matters of faith, more often than not we practice faith in ourselves rather than faith in God. Stick with me here.

For generations Christians have reduced faith to a teetering structural belief system of certainty. The center of this scaffolding isn’t built upon a strong foundation of the person of Jesus Christ, but within a tight grip of bibliolatry. Adherents of this kind of faith sing with gusto their credo song, “the bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!” When our faith is structured around the rightness of our beliefs, little room is left for authentic questioning or wrestling. And while it’s true that we can find passages of scripture that explicitly say, “have faith and do not doubt”, we also find raw experiences with characters grappling with God in prayer. Think of Jacob wrestling with God (Gen. 32), Moses begging God to send someone else (Ex. 33), Paul imploring his thorn to be removed (2 Cor. 12) or even Jesus pleading for the cup to pass from him (Matt. 26).

Stories like these, like your’s and mine, reveal a faith that is relational, authentic, and dynamic.

The center of faith ought not be based on beliefs, but on the person of Jesus Christ. When we ask, “where’s the faith?” we are liberated from certainty and welcomed into the faithful arms of Jesus. You see, Jesus is our faith and this faith is primarily covenantal in nature. And Jesus is the faithful covenant keeper. We are clumsy, messy, terribly unfaithful and yet… Jesus. Jesus faithfully holds us by the hand and says, “Come. Come to me with your questions, your doubts, your uncertainties. I want to hear it all.” The starting point of our faith isn’t our intellectual beliefs, but our heart’s posture in relationship with Jesus.

So when we pray, our faith is in Christ. When we pray, we can have immeasurable faith that Jesus, as the faithful covenant keeper and the inaugurator of the Kingdom hears our prayers. Where’s the faith? It’s in Jesus, not ourselves, our beliefs, or even the Bible. Yes. You read that correctly. The core of the Christian faith isn’t the Bible, but rather Jesus Christ – the Bible is the story which points us to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Be free, my friends, from the weight of your belief system. Go ahead and wrestle with God, express your doubts, fears, uncertainties. You might not take off in supernatural flight, but watch how your faith will flourish in new ways.

 

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For more on this idea of faith and doubt, check out Benefit of the Doubt, by Greg Boyd.

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