“For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God…” 2 Timothy 1:6 NIV
We’ve just finished the 2019 World Series. Enthusiasm was not a problem for baseball fans particularly those who support the Astros or the Nationals! (Congratulations, Nationals!)
In general, standing and cheering for teams does not seem to be a problem for fans. I have known some pretty passionate sports fans who follow teams, players, plays, and scores constantly and have no shyness about jumping out of their seats to yell or sing or whatever!
But when we speak of faith, sometimes it is difficult for people to let themselves be so freely enthusiastic. And sometimes it is hard for people to maintain enthusiasm over time. They may begin “with a bang” once they have fallen in love with Jesus and may start with great gusto. But, as time goes by, that enthusiasm, or the discipline to maintain it can go away. And then the world comes beckoning with its cares and/or temptations.
As a pastor working in faith-based recovery, I am particularly concerned about this for people in addiction recovery. Many a person has said to me after experiencing a relapse, “I began to let my Bible reading drift. Then, prayer ceased. Finally, I wasn’t going to church…and after that, relapse came.” If the enthusiasm and the discipline had been kept up, would the relapse have been avoided? I think the answer is highly likely to be yes.
How Do We Build Faith?
Do you remember the old children’s story of the tortoise and the hare? (turtle and the rabbit for us modern folks)
The two animals were in a race and the rabbit was sure he could fool around and take his time to take the race seriously. After all, he was running against an EXTREMELY slow turtle.
In the end, he lost because he didn’t stay focused on the race. The turtle did, and though he was slow, he was steady. And so he won.
Nothing can replace being steady – keeping at something. If we don’t pay attention or we let an activity drift, we may lose something precious as a result. Our health is one example. If we don’t get up almost every day and decide to eat right, exercise, get rest, etc., soon we may find ourselves way “out of shape” and in poor health. Yes, it would be lovely to say, “I don’t have to work at this. I can coast. I exercised last week!”
But life doesn’t work that way. What we consider precious we need to tend to – our work, our children, our marriage, and yes, our faith. Above all these things, our faith.
“…for at the right time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Gal. 6:9 ISV
How can we tend to our faith? We need to make daily choices to “feed” it, no matter what we may be feeling. Here are four simple suggestions:
1. Start and end your day in devotions.
In the atmosphere of prayer and singing songs, God is present. Jesus said, “…where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21 KJV) But, may I switch that around? Where we focus our hearts, that thing will become our treasure – even if it doesn’t start out that way.
The founder of Methodism in the 1700s, John Wesley, was really dismayed with himself. He thought his faith was not just second rate but third or fourth rate. He asked a man radiantly full of faith, “What am I going to do with myself? Why don’t I feel like you do?” The man said, “Look John, preach faith until you get it, and then preach out of it.”
He would later “get it,” and become a great hero of the faith. How did he get it? His heart was “strangely warmed” in a meeting he hadn’t really wanted to attend.
He encountered the presence of the Lord, the love of the Lord, the touch of the Holy Spirit. When we do keep up “spiritual disciplines,” the Lord is waiting just beyond the doors. When you feel Him, your enthusiasm takes a huge leap. Nothing compares to His love and presence. Nothing.
To stir faith and to maintain it, just begin to read the Bible, say simple prayers, listen to a worship song and even sing with it. Work at making this a daily routine. The moment will come when it ceases to be a duty and suddenly you find your heart “strangely warmed” for the first time, or again after dullness, awakening and alive, because you have kept up a spiritual discipline.
2. Watch other people with great faith.
The apostle Paul said a simple thing, “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV) If you find someone who just seems to sparkle with faith, keep your eye on them. Enthusiasm is catching. It might be a famous preacher on the tv. It could be the person in the next work cubicle. But let others inspire you. Sometimes it’s a good devotional book to accompany your Bible that will do it.
3. Give and be grateful.
It is amazing how the act of giving and being kind in Jesus’ name stirs our faith and builds it up. I can remember having to visit many people in the hospital in one particular church I served. People would say, “Doesn’t that get you down, to go into the hospital and see people sick?”
“No,” I would say very honestly. “I leave the hospital and I feel alive and tender and full of awareness of God.” There is something about caring for others that stokes our faith.
And there is something about remembering to be thankful for the smallest of things that again, draws us close to God and keeps us in a steady walk with Him.
4. Find a good church.
Churches are just people and people make mistakes. People hurt our feelings. At times, we also hurt theirs. Sometimes the church services involve music we don’t like or a sermon that missed the mark for us – but the idea of being part of the church is to grow together, love together, take care of each other, and be moved in the right direction. You cannot fan the flames of your faith if you stay in isolation away from others, from preaching, teaching, prayer and community.
How Do We Keep Faith in Hard Times?
We keep the faith in hard times by having kept it in the easy times as outlined above. That daily feeding the fire of our hearts with fresh kindling makes us ready for when life inevitably “throws us a curve.” You don’t want to find out in the middle of a car accident, a cancer diagnosis, a troubled teenager’s crisis, or in some other great stress how much or how little you know God and what you can or cannot withstand.
The daily practice of faith whether you feel like it or not is what will prevent the fall into temptation, the relapse, or the collapse when a tragedy comes. Like push-ups or eating our vegetables, we must keep it up regularly for it to benefit us.