“Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” James 5:13-15
I met a lady last week, who told me an amazing story of faith. She told me how she had visited the doctor for chest pains, only to discover cysts in her esophagus. The doctor’s prognosis was not good. She told me how, a few days later, she had two people of strong faith lay hands on her, and pray for healing. Miraculously, on her return visit to the doctor, the cysts were nowhere to be found.
Did those people heal her? No, God healed her. These were no “miracle-men” but merely people of faith who fully embraced the word of God.
Do you have faith? Let’s find out below…
What is Faith?
Faith, as a righteous man would say, is “…the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” This is true (reference Heb 11:1), but what does this really mean?
I remember my youth pastor from long ago pulling a metal folding chair out into the middle of our classroom, and explaining that faith was trusting that when you sat down in the chair, it would hold you. He further went on to say that when you turn on a light switch, you have faith that it would turn the light on above you. While I accepted his explanation at the time, I have a much deeper understanding of what faith is today. The “chair” and “light” analogy make faith too easy. We have a significant amount of evidence and experience surrounding these events to truly call this “faith.” For example, I expect that the metal chair will hold me because it was in use last week; because it looked solid; because I know there are quality measures in place in the factories that produce these chairs; etc. And I expect the light to turn on because the light turned on just yesterday; because I’ve paid the light bill; because the light in the adjacent room was on, etc.
I submit that this is less a measure of “faith” and more an exercise of belief and wisdom (“wisdom” being the ability to apply knowledge to a certain situation). Faith is much more demanding, and has a much higher consequence. To have faith in God doesn’t simply mean you believe that God exists, is real, or even that he is the only God. Remember that the same author of the verse above stated in a previous chapter, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” (James 2:19).
It is not enough simply to believe.
So then, what does it mean to have true faith?
To begin with, the result of experiments of the “chair” and “light” (call it belief, trust, wisdom, etc.) share one thing in common: it is derived or generated from an individual. As someone who observes and listens, we make the decision that the chair will hold us. This is based on a person’s observations, and thus it cannot be true faith. True faith is of God, and is God-imparted only. True faith comes from the inside, not from the outside. To use the “chair” analogy; True faith would tell you to sit down in a dark room, and you comply, fully expecting a chair to be behind you as you sit.
The primary difference between faith and belief, trust, wisdom, etc., is the origin of the confidence. If the origin is external (e.g., your five senses, research, analysis, etc.), then it is not faith. If it is internal (e.g., Spirit-driven), then it is faith.
Faith is a persuasion from God–a divine convincing if you will–not from personal observation. Faith can belong to an individual (e.g., and individual can have faith), but it cannot originate from the individual.
How Does One Obtain Faith?
Notice here I said obtain rather than attain (look up the difference if you’re unsure). There isn’t anything you can do to “muster up” faith, no matter how hard you try. Recall that faith doesn’t come from the individual, but rather from God, and God alone. As well, Romans 12 states that God has given everyone a “measure” of faith, so at some level, we all have enough faith internally, placed by God, to truly believe.
Recall the words of Christ in Luke:
“And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.” Luke 17:5-6
The “mustard seed” Jesus mentions here is important. The mustard seed is indeed a very small seed, and while it’s important to note that this seed grows into one of the largest of the “garden plants,” its more important to note here that Christ is saying that it’s less about the amount of faith (the tiny seed), and more about the existence of the faith itself. It is not the person who performs the work, its God.
Continuing on in verses 7-10:
“But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” Luke 17:7-10
Now, Christ here provides an analogy of how the master doesn’t thank the servant for doing the things that are commanded of him. Thanking the servant is, in a way, allowing the servant to drive the master. The master should always expect the servant to do what he commands. The parallel here is that, as we should fully expect the servant to obey the command, and not be “surprised” when he follows through, we should also expect that when we ask in faith, it will be done. This is an amazing revelation! Jesus is telling us that we are to command our faith. It comes from God, and God is the one that performs the work, so we must speak in confidence.
Follow this scenario:
You are visiting a group of new believers in a remote village in a foreign country. You have been leading studies on the word of God, and exploring the scriptures with these new believers. Pouring over the Gospels, and the book of Acts, you share of the events of the first century. Continuing on through the Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, all the way through the end of the New Testament. Their perspective of the first-century church is that of the writings of John, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude. No poison of denomination, statements of faith, creeds, or other man-made traditions have yet entered their mind.
Now, suppose one of the children in this remote village is hurt, very badly. The child is dying, and the family pleads with you to do something.
After all they’ve been taught, after all they’ve read through the epistles, and James more specifically (see opening passage), their faith hasn’t been contaminated with the traditions of man. They believe that the “…prayer of faith…” can heal this child, so they call on you (as an elder) to anoint him with oil, and pray to God for healing.
Here’s the crucial point: The people have faith, but do you? Do you have faith to invoke the name of Jesus, and ask with expectation that this child will be healed? Does your pride keep you from saying “Lord, heal this child!” and instead changes it to “Lord, if it is your will, please heal this child” so that, if the child does not survive, your ego isn’t harmed? Besides, it’s God who decided not to heal (it must not have been his will, right?)…
There are those who say that “miracles have ceased” citing I Corinthians 13, but this is sorely taken out of context. The same God who was present in that first century church is present today. I submit that we’d see more miracles if we only had the “…faith of a mustard seed.” We have neutralized the supernatural work of the Lord by discounting the supernatural.
He is willing, are you?