A believer once asked me, "Why is it that after all these years of believing in the Lord, I still have so many problems? Don't I have enough faith?" This believer had problems with family, work, and interpersonal relations, and people told her that if she had more faith in God, everything would be okay. Soon, she began to doubt whether she had any faith at all.
Is it true that if we just have enough faith, all our problems will disappear? Is genuine faith proven only by a happy and peaceful life? Let's look at some examples from the Bible to see if this is the case.
Many consider Abraham the "father of faith," but he encountered family conflict with Sarah and Hagar, ultimately having to send Ishmael away. Jacob spent his early years laboring for his uncle Laban and his later years mourning for Joseph. He described the days of his life as "few and evil" (Gen 47:9). Joseph spent the majority of his youth as a slave and prisoner in Egypt. And Moses saw God face to face, yet He describes his days as ones of "labor and sorrow" that soon "fly away" (Ps 90:9-10).
As these examples show, many of the saints in the Bible encountered difficulties, just as we do today. Being a Christian does not mean that we live in a utopia or an ivory tower, cut off from the rest of the world. The Lord Jesus does not want us to be removed from the realities and troubles of the world (Jn 17:15); instead, He wants us to overcome the world through Him (Jn 16:33).
God Moves the Mountains
Why did this believer ask, "Do I not have enough faith"? The question stems from the belief that faith can and will change reality, that problems will disappear, work will go smoothly, and family members will live in harmony. We point to Jesus' words in Mark 11 and assert that faith should change reality:
Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. (Mt 11:22-24)
When we face great mountains—our personal problems, family problems, or career problems—we want to move them and make them disappear. We believe that faith can make the mountain disappear because we think that is what Jesus promised us. But we must pay attention to Jesus' other words in this passage: "Have faith in God." Let's think about this idea a bit—do we believe that we can move the mountain, or that God can move the mountain?
There is a very important differentiation here. When we want something to change in our lives, do we pray only for what we want, or are do we pray for God's will to be done? It's important for us to understand that God has the power to change reality and that He will do so if He wishes. Things don't change just because we want them to and believe that we can do it. Our responsibility is to bring our requests before the Lord with the faith that He can accomplish anything and then leave the decision up to Him.
Matthew 8 describes the story of a man who faced a great mountain—leprosy. He probably endured both physical pain, as his body slowly deteriorated, and emotional pain because he was cut off from his family and all of society. When he came to the Lord Jesus, he did not forcefully ask to be healed, although he wanted it desperately. Instead, he said, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean." The man wanted so much to be clean, but he understood that the power and the decision lay in Jesus' hands. Jesus answered him, "I am willing; be cleansed."
This man had the correct kind of faith. He didn't focus on changing reality to get what he wanted; rather, he had faith that Jesus could change reality. These are two vastly different attitudes and understandings. Having this kind of faith means that instead of believing that you can receive anything you want just because you ask for it, you believe that God will fulfill your request if it is His will. This is faith in the power and mercy of God.
God Has His Time
We often wish that things would change immediately, that our problems would be solved tomorrow. Our prayers are fervent in the beginning, but if things haven't changed and we feel that God hasn't answered us soon enough, then our prayers cease, our faith dwindles, and we settle back into our daily lives.
When Abraham was seventy-five years old, God promised him that that he would have a child. Abraham, of course, wished that he could have the child immediately, but he didn't receive Isaac until twenty-five years later, when he was one hundred years old. Unfortunately, Abraham didn't hold fast to his faith during these twenty-five years of testing. After ten years he took Hagar as his wife, and she gave birth to Ishmael. This lack of faith created much strife in his family.
Oftentimes, we don't persist in our faith because we want something right away. But if we want something to change and believe wholeheartedly that God can change it, then we should keep our hearts at peace and wait patiently.
James tells us that our faith in God must face the test of time in order to be perfected:
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (Jas 1:2-4)
It is through trials that a person's faith grows roots and is established; it is under the test of time that faith surpasses our desires. Joseph was sold into Egypt when he was seventeen, and he didn't become prime minister until he was thirty. He spent thirteen years as a slave and prisoner. These long years were a great test of faith, but it wasn't until Joseph passed through this trial that he was able to accomplish God's will.
If we believe in God's power, we must also believe that He knows when the best time is. After we've placed our requests before the Lord, we must give Him time to work. We believe that God can change reality, but we must also understand that He will do things in His own time.
So no matter how long it takes for things to change, we should continue to pray, to believe, and to have peace in our hearts, because we have entrusted everything to God. Since God has the power to change things and knows when and how best to do it, we no longer need to worry about it. It may happen today, tomorrow, in two years, or in ten years. Regardless, we will continue to believe.
Having true faith means that we do not forcefully place our desires before God; instead, we lay our requests before Him, and if it is His will, He will make it happen, in His own time.
True Faith—The Change Within
The ability to change our circumstances through our belief in God is only one aspect of faith. What happens if God chooses not to act? Where then does our faith stand?
If we look at the examples in the Bible, true faith surpasses circumstances and environment. This kind of faith no longer depends on the situation; it is not shaken when the circumstances do not change.
Paul was chosen by God and did much wonderful work for Him. God established many churches through Paul and gave him the ability to preach and even perform miracles. You might think that a man with such great faith had a problem-free life, but in reality, Paul had his own problems. He had an illness that gave him much trouble. This illness was so severe that Paul had to bring Luke, a physician, with him on his missionary trips.
Paul asked God to take away this "thorn in his flesh" three times, but God refused. Was this because Paul didn't have enough faith? No, it was because through this painful thorn, Paul could understand the true meaning of faith. God told him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9). Paul realized in his prayer that God's grace was sufficient for him. The thorn was indeed painful, but the abundance of God's grace totally surpassed the pain.
Today, when we pray about our needs, we often neglect what God has given us and only dwell on our own thorns. If we pray for our career, we neglect to see the blessings of our family. If we want to change a person, improve our environment, or move a mountain, we think only about the problems they give us, not the blessings. We need to ask God to open our eyes so that we can see past our needs to the grace of God.
True faith is marked by this kind of change in our hearts and in our understanding of God. Because of this realization, Paul's attitude changed toward the thorn itself: "Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Cor 12:9). Paul no longer saw the thorn as something negative but as something that allowed God's grace to be magnified. Earlier, he asked God to remove the painful thorn, but later he gave thanks for it because he saw it as something beneficial.
Paul realized the purpose of this thorn in his life, which is something that we too must do when we face the realities of life. Once we understand the purpose of our thorn, we will be at peace. Paul realized that God had a purpose for his thorn: God didn't want him to become proud because of the abundance of revelations he had received (2 Cor 12:7).
Paul focused on the grace of God, not on his own weakness. He realized that through his weakness he could better experience God's grace, so he no longer tried to hide his problems. He thanked God that he encountered these problems, because through them he found joy, and he was able to see himself clearly and change his inner heart.
Many people in the Bible exhibit this true faith, such as Daniel, his three friends, and Jesus Himself. Sometimes God would change circumstances because of their faith and prayer—He healed their sicknesses, rescued them from enemies, and protected them from danger. But we shouldn't just focus on these events.
If we look at the entirety of their lives, we see that they were closest to God when they could understand His will and submit to Him during times of distress. There were indeed miracles that happened in their lives, but it was when reality didn't change that they learned to submit. They looked at their problems with a different point of view and understanding, so for them the problems were no longer a burden. On the surface the problems were still there, but within their hearts, they were gone. This change of heart gave them blessed and victorious lives.
Rejoicing in the Lord Always
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. — Phil 4:4-7
A life of true faith is to rejoice in the Lord always, no matter what the situation is—whether we gain or lose, succeed or fail, live or die—because we believe that the work of God is the best, and that everything is God's work. So we rely on the Lord and rejoice.
So what should we do when we face a challenging situation? We should tell God what we need in our prayers., not only crying out to Him, but also giving thanks. When we tell God what is in our heart, He will change it. His peace, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds.
As Christians, our lives may not seem different from that of a non-believer's. We don't live in ivory towers, and we still encounter problems like everyone else. But we are able to pray to God, and in His mercy, He may change our circumstances. But if God chooses not to change things, we must remember that it is during these times that our faith is tested and transformed. This is when we begin to understand the purpose of God in our lives and the meaning of the thorn in our flesh. It is during these times of great trials and distress that our transformation brings forth the greatest and truest faith.