Exercising Expectant Faith

There are three kinds of faith – believing faith, trusting faith, and expecting faith – and we do not begin to see the glory of God until we have expecting faith. Believing faith could also be called doctrinal faith. Many people have this kind of faith because they accept the Christian truths. They have faith that Christ is the Son of God or that there is a heaven and a hell. 

Trusting faith is faith in God’s goodness. When people have trusting faith, they believe that everything will turn out well. God will take care of them because he loves them. Believing faith and trusting faith are both important, but they are not enough to see God’s glory.

The difference between just having believing faith or trusting faith and having expectant faith can be seen in the story of the woman suffering from severe bleeding that is told in Mark’s Gospel:

“Then Jesus started off. So many people were going along with him that they were crowding him from every side. There was a woman who had suffered terribly from severe bleeding for twelve years, even though she had been treated by many doctors. She had spent all her money, but instead of getting better, she got worse all the time. She had heard about Jesus, so she came in the crowd behind him. ‘If I touch just his clothes,’ she said to herself, ‘I shall get well.’ She touched his cloak and her bleeding stopped at once; and she had the feeling inside herself that she was cured of her trouble. At once Jesus felt that power had gone out of him. So he turned around in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ His disciples answered, ‘You see that people are crowding you; why do you ask who touched you?’ But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. The woman realized what had happened to her; so she came, trembling with fear, and fell at his feet and told him the whole truth. Jesus said to her, ‘My daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed from your trouble.’”

Mark 5:24-34

As Jesus was walking through the crowds, the woman suffering from severe bleeding came up to him. 

She reached out to touch him, and when she did, she was healed. It was her faith that allowed her to be healed. But it was not just believing faith that she had. When she reached out to touch him she did not say, “This man is the Son of God,” or, “this man is the Messiah, and I want to touch him.” She might not have even known who he was. All she knew was that he had healed people. Nor was it just trusting faith that she had. When she reached out to him, she did not say, “This is a good man, a man I can trust. He will see that whatever happens to me is the best possible thing.” Rather, she had expectant faith. She said, “If I touch just his clothes, I shall get well.” She did not just believe in who Jesus was, nor did she just trust him, but she expected that if she touched him in expectant faith, and that, Jesus said, is what healed her.

The kind of faith which makes it possible for us to see the glory of God is expectant faith. God wants us to reach out for many things, because we have a confident expectation that he will do things for us if we only turn to him. When we put that kind of faith in him, things happen.

Expectant faith often means that we have to do something before we see God act. A good example of the active element in our faith is Peter’s walking on the water. Peter saw Christ walking across the lake, coming closer to them. When Peter saw him, he asked Christ to let him walk on the water. So Christ told him to come, and he did. He stepped out of the boat and began to walk.

In order for Peter to walk on water, he actually had to walk. It may sound stupid to say it that way, but Peter’s part was to walk, and his part was indispensable. There would be no walking on water unless Peter actually did some walking. It was the power of Christ which made it possible for the water to hold Peter up, but the power of Christ could not do everything. His power could be there, but if Peter had never stepped out of the boat and walked, there would have been no story to tell.

In order to walk on the water, Peter needed some expectant faith. He may not have needed a lot, but he at least needed enough to take the necessary step. Moreover, he not only had to expect something to happen. He also had to do something to make it possible. His expectant faith had to lead to action. He had to act upon what he knew Christ had said.

What is faith, then? Faith is a response to God’s revelation. Once God begins to show us something about what we can expect from him, we need to respond to that by believing it, counting on it, acting upon it. As we begin to put expectant faith in what God is showing us we begin to see things happen.

Growing in Faith

Many years ago, if people had told me that I would pray with someone to receive the gift of tongues, and he would receive it, I would have thought that they were not quite in touch with reality. Not only did my faith in the area not reach very far. It was almost nonexistent. And yet now, I expect it all the time. In fact, if I were to prepare someone and then pray with him and he did not receive the gift of tongues, I would wonder why not.

The Lord has made many changes in me. He has built up my faith far beyond what it used to be. I expect him to do more and more. In many areas of my life, my faith in God is unquestioning. When I notice lacks in myself in the area of the fruit of the Spirit and pray for the Lord to make a change, I expect to see progress. On the other hand, there are other areas where my faith is lower. If I pray for someone and he is healed, I am not surprised, the way I would have been years ago; but on the other hand, my faith in that area is not as great as it is when I pray with someone for the gift of tongues. Moreover, I must confess, I would be surprised if I prayed with someone who was dead and he got up. But then again I would not be surprised to see the Lord building my faith in that area so that I might expect to see it happen someday.

Faith grows. We do not have to be upset when we notice that we do not yet have faith to move mountains. Often when people have been baptized in the Spirit, they begin to feel nervous and guilty about the way they exercise faith. They read the promises Christ made to those who have faith, and they think they should be able to do all those things at once. Sometimes they even become fearful of trying anything, because they think it might not happen and they fear that might prove fatal to what little faith they think they have. Or they do try praying for something and it does not happen, and then they start feeling guilty about how little faith they have.

What the Lord expect from us is not mature, fully formed faith all at once (of most of us anyway), but the readiness to grow in faith. Even more, he wants us to have an expectancy to grow in faith. He does not want us to be anxious about the shortcomings in our faith but he wants us to look to him and expect him to build faith in us. In other words, he wants us to know that faith comes from him and that it grows. As we expect him to build our faith, we will begin to see changes. 

Often God builds our faith through experiences. Our faith is fed when we see God act. After I saw the Kathryn Kuhlman service I described in the previous article – Living a Life of Faith – my faith was different. In fact, it has never been quite the same since. Because I saw what God could do, I found it easier to believe in what he would do. As I see him doing more things around me in a daily way, I find faith easier and easier. Almost without thinking about it, I have come to expect God to do many things as a matter of course that ten years ago I would have been very excited about. Just today, some friends shared with me some sudden changes in their lives that had come through prayer. I was happy that the changes had happened, but I did not think twice about the way they had happened. I have come to expect that God will work in that way.

God also builds our faith through people who have faith. If we live with Christians who have faith, we will find faith growing in us. If we live with Christians who are fearful and who have little faith, or if we live with little personal contact with other committed Christians, we will find ourselves struggling to keep our faith alive.

Recently the Lord began to speak to our community about having more faith. He told us that we did not count on his promises enough, that we often reacted to situations as if he were not there or would not help us, that we often acted like a group of orphans. That word from the Lord changed us, and our whole community began to pray for healings of all sorts, began to ask him to supply things they needed but could not find or afford, began to ask him to fix machines that were not working, to find things that were missing. Not only did the community begin to pray more for big things, but they also prayed for little things. They tried to meet each situation more consistently in faith.

As those around me began to change, I began to notice something happening to me. I found myself having more faith and expecting the Lord to do more all the time. The change did not come because I took some special steps. It was more because the faith of others “rubbed off.” It felt like I was catching faith from others. And I believe the Lord wants it to be that way. He wants us to have our faith built up by other members of his Body.

The Lord often builds faith in us by directly imparting it to us spiritually. When we are baptized in the Spirit the Lord imparts faith. Many times he imparts faith as we pray. We experience the Lord’s presence in a strong way or we hear him speak to us in a clear way, and afterwards we find that we have more faith. The more we come to know the Lord and the more we experience his reality, the more faith we find that we have.

Although faith grows in us because of what God does to us, we do have a part in the growth of our faith. We can cooperate with him as he works to increase our faith. If we learn some simple lessons, we will find ourselves growing steadily in faith.

Listen to God’s Word

In order for us to grow in faith, we have to hear God speak to us. The words he speaks to us build faith in us. He speaks a message to us that frees us to have faith. Paul explains it this way,

“The Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in him will not be disappointed.’ This includes everyone, for God is the Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him. As the Scripture says, 

“‘Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how can they call on him, if they have not believed? And how can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear, if the message is not preached? And how can the message be preached, if the messengers are not sent out? …So then, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message comes through preaching Christ.” 

Romans 10:11–17

It is hearing the basic Christian truths presented to us that allows us to have the kind of faith we need.

God’s word comes to us in many ways. The most important way is through the scriptures, and therefore if we want to grow in faith, we should read the scriptures regularly. But it also comes through prophecy, through words that other Christians speak to us that are prompted by the Spirit and through words that God speaks to us directly as we learn how to listen for his voice. God’s word is alive, and that means that he wants to speak to us constantly. Moreover, usually it turns out that the things he wants to say to us are the same simple things: faith–building truths.

The truths that build faith the most quickly are usually the most basic truths. For instance, one of the most faith–building truths is that God loves us. He created us because he loves us and he wants us in existence because he loves us. He became man and died on a cross for us because he loves us. His care and concern for us is constant, because he loves us. No matter what situation we are in, we can know that we can count on his love. As we grow in consciousness of the truth that he is a loving Father, we can pray and act in faith more easily. We know in every situation that we can count on him to be for us.

A second faith–building truth is that the Lord is with us. He does not leave us, but he is there with us. That means that whatever situation we are facing, whatever concern we are wondering about, the Lord is there with us. We do not have to act in any situation as if we were alone. We can always expect the Lord to be there and to make his help available. Much of our lack of faith comes simply from our forgetfulness of the Lord.

A third faith–building truth is that Christ is in us through the power of his Spirit. Not only is he with us in every situation, he is in us. That means that we can count on him to act through us, to give us the strength that we need, to supply us with wisdom, to even give us faith. Paul says to us, “Surely you know that Christ Jesus is in you” (2 Corinthians 13:5). To simply be aware of these truths being spoken to us helps us to grow in faith.

There are many faith–building truths. As we listen to the word of the Lord, we will hear those truths being spoken to us. In fact, we can count on the Lord to repeat them to us and draw them to our attention as they grow dim in our minds. The more we live in the light of God’s word, the more we will grow in faith.

Pray for Faith

The following suggestion is a simple, obvious one: we should pray for faith. That is a prayer that God always answers. We should persevere in that prayer until we see it happen within us, knowing that the Lord wants us to have faith and that the will give it to us. As it says in 1 John:

“This is why we have courage in God’s presence; we are sure that he will hear us if we ask him for anything that is according to his will. He hears whenever we ask him; since we know this is true, we know also that he gives us what we ask from him.”

1 John 5:14–15

We should, therefore, not pray for faith in a begging way, or in a way that acknowledges that we have no faith. We should pray for it by turning to Christ and remembering how much he wants us to have faith, and how he has given it to so many others in the past when they have turned to him for it.

Be Willing to Try Acting in Faith

When I was first prayed with for the gift of tongues, I was afraid to do anything at all that might be “me”. I would not so much as move my lips, because I was afraid that I would be getting myself into praying in tongues. People worked to get me free from the fear, and after I was willing to try speaking in tongues, a change began to occur. Once one of the attempts I made to speak in tongues was different from the others. There was a different ability to yield to the Spirit, a new spark of faith. If I had not been willing to try, I do not know what it would have taken for me to begin speaking in tongues.

The same lesson applies in more ordinary areas of our lives. We often do not relate to people in a good way, because we do not have the ability to do so, or at least we do not see that ability in ourselves. But once the Holy Spirit has been given to us, we have the source of the fruit of the Spirit inside of us. We have a new power to relate to others well. One of the people I knew well in our community tended to be shy and had a difficulty being able to talk with people. He was afraid that they would not be interested in what he had to say, or, even worse, that he would not be able to think of anything to say. After a few months of his new life as a Christian, the Lord began to let him know that he had given him a new ability to relate to people and that as he tried using it he would see that it was there. He did try, and he could see something new happening. Today he is able to talk freely with a wide variety of people and to serve and care for them in a responsible way.

God wants us to be unafraid. He expects us to learn to have faith, and he will give us faith. If we want to grow in faith for healing, we should pray with people to be healed, and pray for ourselves to be healed. If we do not have the faith to expect God to do things in a given area, we can at least trust him enough to expect him to increase our faith. We may even have to have the persistence of the man who went to his friend at night and demanded loaves of bread; we should be prepared to be that way, and not shrink back. We should not hold back until we feel perfect faith.

Do Not Try to “Work Up” Feelings of Faith, But Look to the Lord

Faith is a gift, not a feeling that we have to work up inside. I went through a period of “trying to have faith.” I had notice that at times of genuine faith, I often felt an assurance that God would act. And so when I tried to “have faith,” I tried to produce that feeling of assurance inside of me. I would not pray for someone, or speak, or do anything until I had worked up a feeling of assurance. Well, it rarely seemed to work. It almost seemed, in fact, that the harder I tried to “have faith,” the less it worked. Then I learned an important truth. I began to see that what I was doing was concentrating on myself. I was having faith in my feeling of assurance, rather than in Christ. I was beginning to think that if I felt a certain way, things would happen. But I also rediscovered another truth in the process — that trying to concentrate on having a certain feeling is often one of the worst ways of actually getting that feeling. The more I tried to produce a feeling of faith inside me, the harder it was for me to actually experience it.

We grow in faith, not by looking to ourselves, but by looking to Christ. What we need to focus on is not our own feelings (Christ often works despite them), but on him — on his power, on his promises, on what he has done in the past. What we need to fill our minds with and our hearts with when we try to act in faith or pray in faith is the Lord himself. As we turn to him, he will increase our faith.

Pray with Confidence

How we pray for things makes a big difference in our growth in faith. Often we have a tendency to beg God for things. Over and over we will ask him to give us what we want. The very approach of begging betrays a lack of faith. Whom do we beg but the person we do not believe will give us what we are asking for? God wants us to approach him confidently, as sons and daughters who are sure of their Father. When we ask, we should ask with confidence, thanking him for what he will do, confessing his power and Lordship, praising him. Our prayer should be an act of faith, not an indication of our lack of faith.

I once observed two acquaintances of mine who learned the same lesson, but in a different area. They were in love with one another, and the man had promised the woman that he would love her until he died. When she first heard him say it, she was happy. But she kept asking him over and over if he really would love her until he died. Finally, one day they a fight over the question, and he wanted to know if she had so little trust in him that she would never believe him when he said yes. She felt so insecure about herself that she could not believe him. He felt exasperated and hurt, because her constant asking made him feel that she did not think he could be trusted.

We do the same thing with God at times. We ask him as he were not to be trusted, or as if he did not really love us. Sometimes we call his promises into question. It is true that what that shows is only that we are insecure. But we are treating him in a way that a human being would find insulting. We are praying to him as if we cannot expect him to help us, or sometimes as if he does not want to help us. That gets us into the kind of relationship with him in which it is harder for him to do things for us.

Our prayer is most effective when it is according to the truth. When we acknowledge that Jesus is the Lord and has all power in heaven and earth, when we call to mind his love for us and how much he wants to do for us, then we are beginning to pray in the Spirit of truth. The more our prayer is in the Spirit of truth, the more effective it is.

Resist Spirits of Fear and Doubt

There are many things in us which work against faith: fears, doubts, hesitancies, confusions, anxieties. There is a great deal about the way we are which is an obstacle to growth in faith. But Peter tells us that we also have to be aware that we have to deal with evil spirits who work upon the natural things in us and stir them up, making it more difficult to have faith. Peter says:

“Throw all your worries on God, for cares for you. Be alert, be on watch! For your enemy, the Devil, roams around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Be firm in your faith and resist him.”

1 Peter 5:7–9

Paul tells us,

“Put on the armor that God gives you, so that you will stand up against the Devil’s evil tricks. For we are not fighting against human beings, but against the evil spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age.”

Ephesians 6:11–12

And James gives the simple advice to us,

“Oppose the Devil and he will flee from you”

James 4:7

One way in which evil spirits work upon us is through lies. They begin to put thoughts into our minds, thoughts which hinder our ability to follow the Lord. They tell us, “it will never work” or “you do not have enough faith” or “God will never listen to someone like you” or “it didn’t work the last time” or any number of different thoughts. When we listen to those thoughts and believe him, our faith begins to drain away. Instead we have to resist them. We have to say to ourselves, “I know what the truth is, and those thoughts are not the truth.” If we give in to all the thoughts of doubt and fear that go through our heads, we will not be able to grow in faith.

A big obstacle to our ability to resist the work of evil spirits is our tendency to live by our feelings. Many of us tend to approach situations with the idea, “if I feel that way, that’s the way it must be.” We think that if we feel we cannot do something, we cannot, or if we feel fearful, we have to act in a fearful way. But we do not have to follow our feelings. If we do follow our feelings evil spirits will have a field day with us, because they can more easily work on our emotions than any other aspect of us. The Holy Spirit give us the ability to follow the Lord no matter how we feel. We have to claim that power and begin to act on it. We have to recall the truth and act in faith even when we are opposed by feelings of fear and doubt.

Go to Where Our Faith Can Be Fed

If our faith is fed by seeing God act and by being in contact with committed Christians who have faith, we should go to situations in which we can see God act and where we can make contact with men and women of faith. If we want to grow in faith, it only makes sense to go where our faith will be helped. For most of us that means looking around for the nearest group of Christians who are beginning to experience growth in faith and joining with them. It is difficult to grow in faith by ourselves.

Of course, we cannot always see God act when we want to (we could if we had the faith, the problem is often getting to the point of faith), nor can we always find a group of Christians who can help our faith. Or sometimes we are part of a group of Christians struggling to grow in faith, but the whole group needs help to grow in faith. Then years ago, I would not have known how to get myself in a situation in which I could grow in faith the way I am able to now. In such a case, books can be a great help. For me, it was the reading of The Cross and the Switchblade that revolutionized my faith. By reading a book on how God acted, my faith was fed, fed to the point where I could make a resolve to do whatever I had to do to grow into the kind of faith that I saw in the book.

Books, in fact, can often feed faith, and if we want to grow in faith, reading certain books can help us. The Cross and the Switchblade is one such book, as is RealitiesI Believe in Miracles is another, as are The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi and The Miracles of Lourdes. There are many books written about how God has acted in history that can make us see that what we read about in the scriptures is not just something that happened in a Never–Never Land, nor in a special period of past history, but that has happened in every age since Christ and is happening today to people like us. Amen!


This article is excerpted from Growing in Faith, copyright © 1972, 1980 by Stephen B. Clark, and published by Tabor House. Used with permission.

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