Characteristics of a Fervent Life Part 3: Even If Faith
Disappointment is a breeding ground for doubt. And nothing renders a sucker punch to your spiritual life like unmet expectations.
We all collect expectations at some point—and usually we don’t even realize it. Because we’re human, and we’re drawn to tangible blessings we can see, and dreams we can create in our own imagination. And if those dreams don’t come true, we can end up in a really dark place. We can give up.
That’s why living a fervent life requires having an even if faith.
Even if… you never get married.
Even if… a loved one dies.
Even if… the diagnosis isn’t good.
Even if… the pain doesn’t go away.
Even if… the dream dies.
There’s a passage in Scripture that vividly illustrates what can happen to someone who doesn’t have an even if faith. Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21 says, “Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died…
"The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s Word” (NLT).
Now I realize Jesus was addressing unbelievers here, but if you take a walk through the rest of the New Testament I believe this scenario can be applied both to believers, and to those who may think they believe but don't actually have a relationship with Jesus. In the case of the unbeliever, what little interest they have in Christ is lost as soon as troubles come. They realize that Christianity isn't what they thought it was and doesn't accomplish for them what they wanted it to. It requires too much sacrifice. They can't imagine giving up their vices or living in this way... And they fall away.
Other times I believe a person can be a genuine Christian and have a true relationship with Jesus Christ, but somewhere along the lines they stop growing. They become disillusioned. They get weary. They get distracted. They fall away.
I believe their eternity remains secure because of Christ's work on the cross, but their spiritual life and growth on earth starts deteriorating (1 Corinthians 3:15). I have been this person many times. And each time I start down that slippery slope the Holy Spirit has to bring me back to my senses and I have to remind myself anew of God's truth.
If we find ourselves lapsing in this area, then it's necessary to take a look at our spiritual roots. Are they shallow? Is this a wake up call to get serious about our faith and our relationship with God? Maybe we're at the precipice of our first major step in sanctification and maturing in Christ. Or maybe we've been through all that before but we've just let down our guard and allowed our faith to become uprooted. Perhaps it means we're in the great unraveling process called healing. Maybe we’ve reached a point where we're only allowing God access to the shallow parts of our hearts, but we’re keeping the deeper parts under lock and key.
If one does not have even if faith, then one’s hopes are being placed in a set a circumstances—a set of desired outcomes—and not on God Himself.
Does having even if faith mean we never struggle? Does it mean we never feel devastation or loss? Does it mean we never grieve?
No. All of these things will most likely happen to us, in fact they’re an important part of growing deeps roots of intimacy in our relationship with God. One can possess a crushed spirit and even if faith at the same time, and the best example of this in the entire Bible is our Savior—Jesus Christ Himself.
Matthew 26:36-44: “Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, ‘Sit here while I go over there to pray.’ He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, ‘My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, ‘My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.’
"Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, ‘Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!’ Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, ‘My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.’ When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open. So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again” (NLT).
Luke 22:44, “He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood” (NLT).
Hebrews 5:7, “While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God” (NLT).
Here we see Jesus in a way most Christians don’t often think of Him. Distraught. Grieving. In utter emotional agony. He says “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.” Have you ever grieved so hard you felt like you were dying? The Bible says Jesus prayed with loud cries and tears. Jesus wept. Jesus yelled. He was so worked up emotionally that He was sweating all over and it fell from His body like great drops of blood.
Jesus mourned, and grieved, and writhed with emotions so strong we can barely comprehend them. He begged God to let Him out of the situation. And yet, He had even if faith.
Even as His body shook and his tears were spent, He surrendered to God and spoke these words: “Your will be done.”
How did Jesus come to this incredible statement of faith in the midst of His grief and despair? Yes, He was not only human but also the Son of God. However, I believe His life on earth is an example for us to follow, and the things He experienced He did so that He could become our mediator and high priest who empathizes with and understands our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15), and points us to victory.
His actions are a guide for us; after all, the entire sanctification process is meant to forge us further and further into the image of Christ. We are to resemble Him more and more every day, so we must look to Him for the answers of how to live this life.
Now I’m no scholar (my husband is the one who went to seminary, I didn’t), but I believe there are three truths we must believe in order to have even if faith like Jesus:
1. No matter what happens, God is a good and loving Father. Jesus submitted to His Father’s will because He knew God was a good and loving Father. And he knew that—even though the road ahead would be excruciatingly painful beyond words—it was a plan born of a good and loving God, for good and loving purposes. Jesus trusted in the character of His Heavenly Father, and because of that He was able to say, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42, ESV).
2. God is still working—even when we cannot see Him. Consider Peter for a moment. When Jesus tells His disciples the startling truth that He is going to be killed, “Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. ‘Heaven forbid, Lord,’ he said, ‘This will never happen to you!’ Jesus turned to Peter and said, ‘Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s” (Matthew 16:22-23, NLT).
Peter saw it the way most of us do: Pain should never happen to God’s people. And comfort and safety mean victory and success. From Peter’s point of view, God should have never allowed Jesus to experience pain like that. But what Peter couldn’t see was that God would be working through the pain. It had a purpose, and that purpose was to bring about the salvation of not only Peter but every other soul who would ever believe in the name of Jesus Christ as their Savior.
Our Messiah’s painful journey is the reason you and I can be saved and live eternally with our Heavenly Father. God was working. Even in the darkest hour. Even when it seemed like evil was winning and God was nowhere in sight, He was working.
3. God can and will work all things together for our good and for His glory. Not only is God working in the midst of our pain, but He is actually working it all together for good. There is nothing—not even our worst mistakes—that He can’t use for good if we submit them to Him.
Hebrews 12:2 says, “…For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the throne of God” (NIV).
Isaiah 53:10-12 says, “But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands. When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied.
“And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels” (NLT).
Jesus was able to act in even if faith because He knew that, not only was God a good and loving Father, not only was God still working even when people couldn’t see it, but He was working EVERYTHING together for good. And not just the Father’s good. But the Son’s good. And the good of every human who would ever exist.
“For the joy set before him,” that joy was our salvation, and Jesus’ glory. “When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied.” It was worth it to Jesus. It was worth it to Him because we were worth it to Him. Jesus knew that by His sacrifice our freedom would be purchased and our souls would be saved. And He was satisfied—despite the pain—because it would accomplish our salvation.
But God the Father doesn’t stop there. Not only does He pour out His love on us through salvation, but He fully repays the Son for His sacrifice; bringing Him to the highest place of glory; a place where every living thing will praise and glorify Him for His loving sacrifice for all of eternity.
When we believe that God is a good and loving Father; when we believe that He is working even when we can’t see it, and that He is working everything together for our good and for His glory, then we can walk in even if faith.
We do not walk it perfectly as Christ did, but as we learn to renew our minds with His truth, by His Holy Spirit, and cling to Him for endurance and wisdom, He will continue to strengthen us and mold us more and more into the image of Jesus.
And with each step we take deeper into faith--deeper into the heart of God--our walk with Him becomes sweeter and sweeter. Our passion for Him burns brighter and brighter. And before we know it, we begin living more fervently for God than we ever have before.