Looking for Faith in All the Wrong Faces
If you were to ask me if I believe in the prosperity gospel, I would answer unequivocally, “No, of course not!” The Good News of the gospel is that Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven and spend eternity with Him. It is not, as the prosperity gospel proclaims, that if we accept Jesus, we will have a healthy, wealthy, happy, and successful life on this earth.
The belief that more faith produces more health and wealth is a drastic perversion of the gospel and has no real foundation in Scripture. If the prosperity gospel were true, we would be masters of our own destinies; and faith would be reduced to a magic wand used for nothing more than to make our dreams come true. It turns the relationship between God and man into an equal exchange, a business deal, or a political quid pro quo—“I’ve got the faith, God, so give me what I want.”
Discerning Christians can usually see through the slick and shiny TV proponents of this false faith gospel, but a much subtler perversion is sneaking its way into evangelical circles. Phrases such as “life on my terms,” “believing in myself,” “empowering myself,” “doing what I want,” and “living my best life now” all sound enticing. Who doesn’t want those things?
If those sayings are to be believed, all it takes is faith to make everything we want become ours. The object of faith, then, becomes ourselves and our ability to create the life we think we deserve; and exercising that faith means designing the life of our dreams on our own terms. Ultimately, we would use God to accomplish our desires for our happiness, whereas biblical Christianity affirms that God uses us to accomplish His purposes.
The prosperity gospel and the teachings of its splinter groups masquerade as faith in God; but much of this doctrine is nothing more than self-promoting hype and faith in yourself, which these groups preach will result in health, wealth, material blessings, and success in all you do. But missing from this equation is the biblical view of suffering and Jesus’ promise that “in the world you will have tribulation” (Jn. 16:33). When we have trouble, we are to “count it all joy” (Jas. 1:2).
I have a young friend whose life is marked by hurt, rejection, sorrow, pain, depression, and abuse. I can’t imagine having to go through what she has experienced both in the past and in the present. Her constant, sometimes crippling and debilitating pain was likely caused by the physical abuse in her past.
She has lost friends and family members because they cannot deal with all of the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain in her life. They either deny or make light of her struggles. As she learns to forgive those who hurt her and move past many terrible experiences, she battles a chronic illness.
She has every human reason to be angry, despair, and give up on her newfound relationship with God; but she doesn’t. By faith she believes her sovereign God is protecting her and guiding her life.
My friend doesn’t walk around with a fake smile. Often her pain is plain to see. But she has hope—genuine hope and anticipation of the day when her Lord returns and takes away her relentless pain forever. She does what she can each day with what God has given her, but her eyes are on the hope of the future.
The saints listed in Hebrews 11 “waited for the city” (v. 10). Theirs was that Blessed Hope of God’s promises coming to pass even though they never experienced them in their lives on Earth but saw them coming and eagerly anticipated their fulfillment. Hebrews 11:1 verifies their hope: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Can we pray for healing? Yes, because God can heal miraculously. Should we pray for healing? Yes, because “if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 Jn. 5:14). But real faith—true biblical faith—means that no matter our circumstance, whether God heals or not, improves our situation or not, gives us a wonderful family and beautiful home or not, we will trust God.
The apostle Paul attested to this truth in Philippians when he wrote that he was able to be content in whatever situation God placed him (4:11). That’s quite a statement for someone who was once an educated, privileged, respected man of power and influence as a “Pharisee of Pharisees” (cf. Acts 23:6) before becoming, in his own words, “a fool for Christ” (1 Cor. 4:10), often running for his life as he endured cold, hunger, beatings, shipwreck, stoning, and imprisonment. He suffered from an issue that he begged God to take from him, and God told him that His strength would be made perfect in Paul’s weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). Scripture never indicates God told Paul if he only had more faith, he would be healed, find increased wealth or notoriety, or escape his captors when they came to put him to death for his testimony concerning the risen Christ.
Yet Paul is the “faith expert.” He wrote more about faith than any other topic. However, his faith was neither dictated nor renewed by his circumstances. He trusted God relentlessly. He counted his former life of social status, power, wealth, and influence as rubbish compared to the unsurpassed joy of knowing Christ (Phil. 3:8). His joy did not depend on health and wealth. Concerning his “thorn,” he said, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9).
The psalms are filled with cries to the Lord for relief—relief from pain, false accusation, betrayal by friends, and sleepless nights with pillows wet from tears. At the end of these psalms usually comes a resolution but not necessarily a change of circumstance or healing. The writer changes his focus from his self-absorption to a vision of the triune God, as he remembers His glorious power and greatness.
Finding Genuine Faith
I recognize real faith in the resolve of my young friend to trust the Lord no matter how her life unfolds as her disease continues to destroy her body but her hope renews her soul.
I see it in the endurance of my dear friends who lost both of their children within a year yet found their way to church the day after they buried their second child and, with tears streaming down their faces, still sang “Amazing Grace.”
I find faith in the life of my cousin who, only a short time after coming to Christ as a young adult, was injured in a surfing accident that left him a quadriplegic. His confidence in the sovereign plan of God and hope of future healing and glory have defined his life, having not only suffered for a year or two but for 40 long years.
That’s the type of faith I want to emulate. That’s a living faith, not in a God who grants wishes but in a God who says He will work out all things—even trials, pain, and crushing sorrow—for our good and His glory (Rom. 8:28).
How can we look for faith in all the right places? We should look in the faces of believers undergoing great trials and suffering. Look into their pain-filled eyes, and see the flame of unwavering trust in their heavenly Father flickering deeply in their souls even through the roughest times.
This faith is worth pursuing because it doesn’t depend on our personal health or the possession of material things. It depends on the faithfulness of God and His promises—and He will never change.