Do We Practice Godless Faith?

I recently met an elder whose faith brought him great distress. Three years ago, his small but growing church received tithes that exceeded two hundred thousand dollars, for the first time ever. But this is the rest of the story.

After seeking God, the pastor, elders, and deacons collectively felt led to invest in their youth. In faith, they unanimously decided to increase their 2014 budget by thirty-five thousand dollars to hire a youth leader. But the next year’s donations only increased by a thousand.

The following year they again they sought God, and again in faith set a budget with the extra thirty-five thousand dollars. But giving increased by only two thousand. Last year, in faith they repeated the process, and last year’s offerings decreased by three thousand.

I met that elder a week after the board saw last year’s final numbers. He said, “I have never had so much faith in my life. The entire board had faith. Jesus said that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we could move an entire mountain.”

“Well, we had faith the size of the Mt. Everest, and we couldn’t move a molehill.”

What If They Did Everything Right?

This elder gave me a Cliff Notes summary of their process. I didn’t participate in their weeks of seeking God, searching Scripture, and consulting with the congregation. I didn’t witness how they communicated the vision.

But let’s imagine that they acted perfectly: they sought God with pure hearts, they correctly heard God tell them to raise their budget, and they expressed their vision without coercion.

What was amiss? We know that some trust in horses and chariots; others trust in sword and spear; some trust in beauty and smarts; and others trust in education and 401k’s.

But some trust in the measure of their faith.

And all of these trusts are godless faiths, including faith in our faith. Faith is not the power of positive thinking; it is confidence in God’s loving goodness.

Where Is Our Faith?

The nature of faith is found in the depth of a relationship, not in the measure of our conviction. It looks to God not our ideas or plans, or even to our assurance. In fact, real faith is subconscious, unaware of itself because the presence of God floods our hearts and minds.

An overwhelming awareness of our faith is a sure sign that we have trust in our trust rather than faith in God. Real faith is confidence in the nature of a God whose ways we do not understand except to know that his plans for us are better than any we can imagine.

Chapter 11 of Hebrews lists a dozen heroes of faith. Some “stopped the mouths of lions or quenched the power of fire” but others were “sawn in two or killed by the sword”!

The only faith that can stop the mouths of lions is the same faith that can also be sawn in two. And the only faith that can be “sawn in two” is an explosive power of the Spirit of God in us that sees God so clearly that “quenched fires” and “death by a sword” are one and the same.

Infused Faith

When Gabriel told Mary that she would bear a child, she asks, “How can this be since I have not ‘known’ a man?” The angel answers, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

More than confidence, we need infusion. God invites us to invite his Spirit into our lives, a sense of the presence of God so powerful that swords and saws, and budgets and bosses, are overshadowed by an intimacy with God.

True faith is knowing God intimately.


Question: Have you ever had a ‘faith’ that substituted something earthly for intimacy with God? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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What do YOU think?

17 thoughts on “Do We Practice Godless Faith?

  1. Loved the statement … The nature of faith is found in the depth of a relationship, not in the measure of our conviction. Great insight!

    • Hi Kerry,

      You are a writer, and you know well that it’s much easier to state something than to live it. But sometimes in just stating it, our hearts move a bit more toward living it.

      May we all more deeply come to see, know, and hear God.

      Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for this message Sam. It hits right where we are now – being asked to step out and serve in a way I never expected. I’m convinced now that my prayers shouldn’t concentrate on provision, although God says we are to ask for our daily bread. Rather, my prayers should be focused on asking for more of Him. A Lenten focus perhaps?

    • Hi Kathleen,

      Yeah, I actually feel called by God to make this my Lenten focus, simply to know God for his own sake; not for plans, ideas, suggestions, or insights; just to know God personally.



  3. Maybe irrelevant, but did the Church let the youth pastor go? Were they at any point able to look back and see how God was working in the situation?

    • Hi Anna,

      GREAT question. Not irrelevant at all. Here is what happened. The church leadership decided not to hire anyone until they knew they could support the person. They felt that they were the ones to step out in faith; and if they hired someone who they couldn’t support, then it was that poor young youth leader who would suffer from their decision.

      So instead, they decided THEY would suffer (for looking like idiots 🙂 ) if the money didn’t come in.

      In the meantime, they had some surplus funds, and they hired an intern from a local Christian college. Each year they got a new intern (and each intern was great, by the way).

      They STILL feel God calling them in this direction, but now they also sense God teaching them to “wait” on him. They remember lots of biblical stories of people who did not wait on God but plunged ahead on their own head of steam.

      So they still hope, believe, and pray for the funds; and they are also asking God to teach them to wait.

      Thanks for asking.


      • This is a great open door on the after-the-fact situation. I don’t see that they necessarily missed God at all, not at all; because I don’t see any particular relation of the income from tithes to spiritual fruitfulness.

        • Hi Fab4,

          I agree with you that they really seemed to handle the situation with maturity.

          And God may still be calling them, but he may also be saying, “Learn to wait.” Faith and waiting so very often go hand in hand.


  4. “The only faith that can stop the mouths of lions is the same faith that can also be sawn in two.” Great line and great insight!

  5. A friend this morning told me of a great example of why “faith in our faith” (trust in our trust) is so godless and unbiblical. In the musical Sound of Music, there is a song called “I have Confidence” and it’s all about trusting in something other than God. It ends:

    I have confidence in confidence alone
    Besides which you see I have confidence in me!

    Exactly: I have confidence in …. ME!

  6. Hey Sam! I hope you don’t mind me going back to this post, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Do you reckon we might have a similar temptation sometimes when it comes to prayer? I mean, prayer is supposed to be (among other things!) an expression of dependence on God, of our need for him, and calling on him to help us in his grace. Yet sometimes I find myself thinking of something coming up, “I won’t let that go wrong – I’ll just pray about it every day really passionately, and it’ll turn out well.” Maybe not in those words, but that kind of sentiment. And I realise my confidence is in *my prayers*, not in the God who answers them. Do you know what I mean? Have you had any experience of that sort of thing? 🙂

    • Hi Timothy,

      I know exactly what you mean. It means we think we know what needs to happen and God is going get it wrong … without our help! And, as you say, it means we have faith in the confidence and passion of our prayers.

      It completely forgets that God knows best. Like when Joseph was sold into slavery, then put into prison. It was all part of God’s plan to save his family from starvation. I’m sure Joseph prayed “passionately.” God had a better plan.


  7. Wonderful wisdom Sam. Thanks for the work you deliver so regularly. Faith is truly a very large and confusing component in our honest love for Jesus.

  8. I don’t know if I missed this or simply forgot about it, but one of the comments really struck home to me.
    As a kid, growing up in the church, I was taught I should always pray like Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane, i.e. very purposefully and with a lot of emotional emphasis.

    As I grew older I eventually ran away from religion, but recall having roommates and neighbors complain that my prayers were too loud!

    Now, as a born again believer for 11 years, I still find myself criticizing that my prayers are not effective unless I reserve an adequate amount of time and put my whole person into it. And yet, I find I have concluded that my faith has too long been in the extent of my effort at prayer more than in my God. I still believe in “wrestling with God” over certain things. But I have also decided that keeping my prayers simple, like a child’s, and not thinking in terms of dotting every “i” when I pray is much more trusting…as long as I pray regularly and contextually. This article helps reinforce my departure from a legalistic and godless faith in prayer.

    Thank you!