What Does It Mean to Have Faith?


Recently, we celebrated the latest class of Confirmands at my church.  

As part of their confirmation, each of the students was asked to write a "statement of faith."  When I read their statements, I was blown away by how honest they were, and I was also warmed by their heartfelt simplicity.  

I also knew that whatever they wrote was merely a marker of where they are right now in their faith journey, and that their words and beliefs would undoubtedly change over time.  As they should.  

After we celebrated the Confirmands, I started pondering the whole idea of a statement of faith.  I wondered what we were asking our students to do, exactly. I  also wondered how many of the adults in our congregation could articulate their faith in a paragraph or two.  

Then I started thinking about the whole concept of faith, itself... which is where you go with this kind of thing if you are me, and you probably think way too deeply about these kinds of things.  

Think about this... Most likely at some point in your life, you have had someone say to you:  "Just have faith."  Perhaps you have even uttered those words yourself a time or two.   

But when we say the words "have faith," what are we actually saying?  What is faith, anyway?  Is it something that gets passed down to you?  Some might say so.  Others might say that our faith is inextricably connected to our religious beliefs.  Still, others would say that faith is something you gain over time, and it's more akin to trust than belief.  

All of these things hold a kernel of the truth about faith within them, which is what makes it so slippery to define.  I mean, the author of Hebrews basically said that "Faith is the substance of things that you hope for, and the evidence of things you cannot see."  How non-committal is that?  

Recently, I was reading a book by Thich Naht Hahn where he wrote about this very thing:  

So faith is made of very concrete elements—it is made of your true spiritual experience, your experience in your daily life.  And faith here is not being caught in an idea or a dogma or a doctrine.  Faith is the outcome of your life. It grows. As faith continues to grow, you continue to get the energy because faith is also energy like love.  If we look deeply into the nature of our love, we will also see our faith.  When we have faith in [ourselves], we are no longer afraid of anything. 

I have to admit, this is probably one of the most satisfying definitions of faith that I have seen.  It speaks to the paradoxical nature of faith---the kind of definition the author of Hebrews lifted up.  

It also speaks to the fact that faith isn't something that you simply receive by adhering to the doctrines and dogmas of a religion or even a particular lane within a religion.  

In other words, you can be religious, and not really "have faith," so to speak.  Faith grows and is gifted to you through your spiritual journey, the direct result of experiences of God in your life.  

It also is deeply connected to love, which makes perfect sense when you read through the teachings of Jesus, who constantly exhorted his followers to embrace an ethic of love as well as forgiveness, awareness, and participation in bringing the shalom of God to the world around them.    

So if you feel as though you don't "have faith" or, as some might put it, "enough faith," don't despair.  It will grow within you as you continue to stumble after Jesus.  It will grow within you as you learn to trust the greater purposes of God in your own life, and in the world.  It will grow because that's what faith does if we are willing to allow it.  

May this be so for you today and every day and may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen. 


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