Quite frequently I come in contact with individuals possessing that which most kindly could be called a "lowness of spirit." They are most often individuals who either presently or recently experienced disappointment or, at some point in the past, were let down in an extremely distinct and definitive way without finding recovery. They are, in short, defeated and, in many cases, have given up on victory entirely choosing to accept simple existence over abundant living.
All too often, the process by which a Christian finds themselves slumping into this particular condition is the result of receiving, accepting and embracing incorrect teaching on the subject of faith. The fault lies at the feet of those who perpetuate these bizarre ideas in regard to faith and, finally, with those who believe it. At this stage, some are already ready to shoot the messenger because, quite frankly, this is not the paradigm we enjoy seeing when we look in the mirror. We'd much rather lay blame elsewhere and, upon occasion, it is proper. But one of the true tests of Christian maturity is the depth of honesty one is willing to have with oneself. In issues of discouragement and eventual defeat, we must be willing to accept the fact that often we set ourselves up for these episodes due to our own tendency toward putting an inordinate amount of faith in what is nothing more than an illusion.
Christian are, by necessity, people of faith. No one can come to God or please Him except they first believe that He is God and that He rewards the seeker (see Hebrews 11:6). Furthermore, the faith of a Christian is one which finds the ability to believe what is otherwise unbelievable. Christians accept by faith things like the miraculous creation of the material universe by the creative Word of God and the supernatural sustenance of a massive multitude of individuals over a span of four decades by a bread-like substance falling almost daily from the sky. Most of all, they accept by faith the virgin birth of the Messiah, His life, suffering, death, burial, resurrection, ascension and eventual physical return.
On a personal level, a Christian accepts by faith that if the Gospel is believed and obeyed the righteousness of Christ will be imputed and salvation will be obtained. Furthermore, it is believed that the same God who gives salvation will also give physical healing, provision and deliverance. In this, a Christian's life is sustained by the institution of faith. Faith is believing God for what is impossible but it is not insisting that the impossible is inevitable. In this we see the fatal mistake that too many Christians make.
There has been far too much incorrect teaching on the subject of faith. All too often we are taught that praying for God's will is, in some way, a lack of genuine faith. This is peculiar considering 1 John 5:14 instructs us that God will only hear our prayers if we come to Him asking "according to His will." Statements like, "it's always God's will to heal," create a caustic and unbiblical environment of pseudo-faith which, in reality, is no faith at all. In a supercharged atmosphere of emotional appeal, we are led to believe that God has given us faith so that, in essence, we would use it in order to dictate the Divine response. But this is not faith in God. The Scriptures define faith as trusting God; not insisting upon a particular outcome from Him. "Name it and claim it" has never been a biblical model for faith.
In John 11 we find the account of the death of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha. Word comes to Jesus of his ailment but Christ delays His coming. Later, when Jesus is aware that Lazarus has died, the Lord springs to action, goes to the grave site and Lazarus is raised from the dead. But within the story are various characters and their responses which give us great insight into human nature. First there were the disciples who believed Jesus would prevent the death of Lazarus. Then we encounter Mary and Martha both of whom believed that Jesus could have healed their brother had He arrived on time. Then there was the crowd which, watching the scene, concurred with Lazarus' sisters and their analysis.
Now, it is incumbent upon us to remember that the narrative begins with the news of Lazarus' ailment and the answer of Christ that his sickness would not end in death but, rather, for the glory of the Son of God (John 11:4). Nevertheless Lazarus died. This development immediately negated the words of Christ in the minds of His hearers. After all, how could the promise still be true if Lazarus was dead? Neither the disciples nor the dead man's sisters could reconcile the death of Lazarus with Jesus' words concerning resurrection and life. They had predetermined the limit of Jesus' ability and had settled in their hearts that, if He didn't answer a certain way, there was no answer at all.
Are we not often guilty of the same thing? And do we not do so in the name of faith?
Consider this: A woman's son falls sick of an ailment. The woman believes God for his complete healing. She decided that her son will make a full recovery and declares such very vocally to everyone she knows. The child's condition grows worse and, eventually, he dies. The woman is devastated not only at the loss of her son but at what she perceives as God's failure to respond. She grows increasingly discouraged and is unable to reconcile that what she asked God for didn't come to pass. There is a strong chance that the woman's faith was misguided.
When the Lord Jesus prayed in Mark 14 He reached a place of special agony where, in a reflection of His humanity, He says, "Father, I know you can do anything: take this cup from me, but, not my will but yours be done." In this we see the model prayer for the Christian in times of suffering or distress. The theme of paramount importance is that of God's role as Father. As a Father, God knows how to give the best of all things to His children (Matthew 7:11). There is nothing beyond His power to do (Mark 10:27). As human beings, we have a will and a desire that must be submitted to the sovereign will of an all-knowing God. This is faith in its purest form.
There should be no limit to what we would ask of God in prayer. The flesh of the Son of God crying out to the indwelling eternal and Holy Spirit asked that the imminent suffering and death be dismissed. Nevertheless, the faith of the Son of God reached beyond human will, suspending all selfish desire and yielding to the will of the Almighty. This is faith: when we come to God with petitions expecting the impossible but parsing our prayers parenthetically to the will of God. In other words, true faith is when we trust the answer of God regardless of whether or not that answer fits our desire.
In fact, we are sometimes guilty of masking intentional or unintentional selfishness and faithlessness behind the word "faith." We come to God insisting that a certain end result is what God will or must do. Then, when our request does not come to pass, we blame God or a lack of faith. The reality is that the fault lies, not in God, but in our lack of properly constructed faith - faith which is willing to trust God to work what is ultimately best for us rather than what we think He ought to do. We must not deceive ourselves into thinking that God is beholden to us in any way, shape or form. Regardless of how many "positive confessions" we make or how boldly we declare what we want God to do, His will is for us to learn to trust Him even when the result looks vastly different from what we envisioned.
The Scriptures note that the love for Lazarus and his family that Jesus had was very great and that the delay of two days was intertwined with that love. Yet we would not consider a delay in action by someone capable of helping to be a demonstration of love. Nor would we look at the words of Christ in John 11:15 where He said, "Lazarus is dead and I am glad," and consider them the words of a loving figure. Yet God is not only the all-knowing, He is the best-knowing and the best-loving. Faith is trusting God to author the ending according to what He knows is best even when that is beyond our comprehension and outside of the boundaries of our own will. It is accepting that His love for us might produce actions which seem contrary to our concept of love but that are, in all actuality, entirely perfect.
The desired result was that Lazarus would not die. Since God did not prevent his death, the assumption was that God had allowed the event to pass without Divine intervention. Yet, all the while, God had prepared an ending that was outside of the desired result of all parties concerned. Yes, Lazarus was risen from the dead, but not before Mary and Martha had to suffer days of distress as their brother lay dying nor before experiencing the profound grief at the time of his death. They had constructed an illusion in their minds that Jesus could only answer their need in one particular way. When Lazarus died, they were disillusioned. Their disillusionment lead to great discouragement which, in their hearts, had resulted in defeat. This is reflected in the sad statements by Mary and Martha, "Lord, if you had been here, he wouldn't have died" as if to imply, "I'm sorry that you came so late and chose to do nothing because, now, there's nothing you can do."
Their disillusionment was very healthy for them. An illusion is that which is not, in fact, reality. God would have us rid ourselves of illusions while not limiting our ability to ask for the impossible. This is only accomplished by framing our prayers with, "nevertheless, not my will but Your will be done in every situation of my life." Discouragement often comes when we have put all our faith in a desired result which never comes rather than in the Lord God Himself to whom we have entrusted our life and eternity. A faith based solely in what God does will receive a fatal injury the first time He fails to act in accordance with the dictum of human desire. But a faith based entirely on who God is is unshakable even as He is unshakable.
In the case of the Disciples, Mary, Martha and the crowd of bystanders at Lazarus' graveside, a very important point had been lost: God had options they neither had nor were aware of. In their minds, Christ was held to a limitation and their hearts were broken when this boundary was reached and surpassed. Yet God, in teaching a beautiful lesson of genuine faith, showed not only His limitless power but His superior knowledge. Faith in a desired outcome will never accomplish that which absolute trust in God will.
Almighty God, your Word has said that you know my need even before I ask. And yet you desire to hear my voice lifted up to You in prayer. I believe that You are my only help and I lay my life completely in Your hands. Father, here is my need and I ask You for this result. Nevertheless, my utmost desire is that You have Your way in my life. I ask You to give me grace to accept the answer, especially if it is one which I won't understand. Ultimately, I trust You and am confident that You know what is best for me. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
May God give us all grace to trust Him entirely - not only for our desired results but for His perfect will which shall always provide the best outcome for our lives.