Often, all too often, our attitude toward God is more like the attitude of a Stoic than of a Christian. A Stoic’s attitude is, “Whatever happens is the will of God. Therefore, I’ll just wait and see what God does to me, and whatever it turns out to be is the best thing possible.” Sometimes devout Christians say it this way: “What I want most is what God wants. Therefore, whatever God does is fine with me.”
It is true, we should want above all what God wants. If we love him, we should want to please him. But if we fall into a Stoic attitude of accepting the things that happen to us as God’s will, then we have missed two important Christian truths. We have missed, first of all, the truth that God has already told us what he wants. He has shown us what pleases him and what he wants to do. Therefore, by what he has said to us we can tell that many things that happen to us are not his will; sometimes they are even the result of what Satan has been trying to do. We can also tell that there are things that should be happening with us that are not happening.
We have also missed the important Christian truth that God wants us to ask things from him, even demand the things from him that we need or that he has promised us. He does not want passive, quietly resigned children. He wants eager children who want to know him, who want to experience his presence, who want to see his glory. Jesus himself said this to us through a story in the eleventh chapter of Luke,
“And Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Suppose one of you should go to a friend’s house at midnight and tell him, ‘Friend, let me borrow three loaves of bread. A friend of mine who is on a trip has just come to my house and I don’t have a thing to offer him!’ And suppose your friend should answer from inside, ‘Don’t bother me! The door is already locked, my children and I are in bed, and I can’t get up to give you anything.’ Well, what then? I tell you, even if he will not get up to give you the bread because he is your friend, yet he will get up and give you everything you need because you are not ashamed to keep on asking. And so I say to you: Ask, and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.’”Luke 11:5–9
God does not want us to be passively waiting for him to do his will, but he wants us to be asking, seeking, knocking. He wants to have us hungry to see his glory. It is only when we are anxious to know him and to see him change us and to see him do things in the world that we are ready to have faith.
Faith is based upon the knowledge that God wants to do things for us and through us; he has told us that he wants to do things for us, and for that reason we can have faith that he will. The scripture is filled with God’s promises, his stated intentions of what he wants to do for us and through us. For instance, in the fifth chapter of John’s first letter (1 John 5:3,4), it says “His commands are not too hard for us, for every child of God is able to defeat the world. This is how we win the victory over the world; with our faith”. A verse in the previous chapter (1 John 4:4) reads: “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” We have confidence that we can keep God’s commandments and overcome the world because God is living in us, and he is able. Another promise is found in John’s Gospel (John 14:12) where Jesus says to his disciples, “I tell you the truth: whoever believes in me will do the works I do – yes, he will do even greater ones, for I am going to the Father.” There is a simple fact at the basis of our faith – God wants to work in us and through us and he can do anything he wants.
Not only does God want to work in us and through us, but he wants to do more than we usually look for him to do. A few years ago a friend of mine and I were traveling on the West coast. We had gone out for a conference on evangelism, but one of our main interests was to visit some people we had heard about who seemed to know a great deal about faith and spiritual gifts. These people invited us to go to a Kathryn Kuhlman service. Kathryn Kuhlman calls herself an evangelist, but most people would describe her as a healer. Once a month she holds services in the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The Shrine Auditorium holds about 7,000 people, and when Kathryn Kuhlman comes, it is filled to capacity. People are turned away at the doors.
The meeting we went to began with praise and worship — 7,000 in a huge auditorium glorifying god. Just that itself impressed me. Then part way through the service, she called some people who had been there the month before onto the stage to share what had happened to them. One man had had arthritis so bad that, as he put it over and over again, “I couldn’t even weed my garden.” In the course of the meeting he had first come to, while he was sitting in a back room in which he could not even see the service, he had been totally healed. A second man had come to the service only because a friend had insisted on it. He did not believe in Christ and had no expectation that he would be healed of the terminal cancer from which he was suffering. Toward the end of the service, he felt something like a rush of water go through him, and afterwards, he felt much better. The following week he visited his doctor who certified that he had been healed and even brought the X–rays to the service to show everyone.
After the two testimonies the service turned to prayer again, and then, all of a sudden, Kathryn Kuhlman said something like: “Up there in that balcony somebody is being healed of arthritis,” and then, “Somebody down there can walk now and if he will throw away his crutches, he will find that it is so.” She pointed out a number of other people in the audience who were being healed. And I thought to myself, “that sounds good.” But then people started coming up to the stage, and they told about the different things that had happened to them. One was cured of arthritis (a number of people in fact had been cured of arthritis that night), someone came up with his crutches to report on his cure, a boy deaf in one ear could hear with it. Dozens of people came forward with impressive healings.
One of the cases I found most impressive was a woman who had had to wear braces over her whole body and had walked on crutches. I had just happened to see her and talk to her before the meeting. As the different people were coming forward, I saw a man carrying all the braces and gear the crippled woman had been wearing, while she herself was walking in front. She told the people of how she had had an automobile accident about five or six years before, and since then had had a number of operations, some of which had helped a little, but no doctor could cure her. And yet here she was in front of us bending and jumping and walking back and forth.
I found that service a great experience for improving my faith. It showed me that the Lord not only could do things like that; he actually did them in front of me. About a month later when we were back home, a minister from the East Coast, the father of one of our friends, came to visit us. He told us the story of how one time he had worked with Kathryn Kuhlman in her service, and afterwards, for the help he had given her, she gave him a copy of her book, I believe in Miracles. The inscription in it was: “There is more, so much more.”
My reaction at that time was that if I could only have as much of God’s working as I had seen at the Kuhlman service I would be satisfied. There is a tendency in me to rest with what I have, to feel that this is enough. Since I have already gotten more from the Christian life that I had expected, I am tempted to just sit back and enjoy it. But Kathryn Kuhlman was expressing an attitude of the Christian life that we all need to have: that God has more for us and that we should desire it and expect it from him. If we put an upper limit on what the Lord is going to do for us, or if we say that we have had enough, God has a harder time doing what he wants to do for us.
The life of faith begins when we have our eyes opened to a truth: the truth that the all–powerful Creator of everything is with us and wants to do things for us and through us. His power is available, and he is ready to do a great deal, in fact a great deal more than we are hoping for. We are in the position of Elisha’s servant:
“When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning, an army with horses and chariots was surrounding the city. And the servant said, ‘Alas, my master! What shall we do?’ He said, ‘Don’t be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ Then Elisha prayed, and said, ‘O Lord, open his eyes that he may see.’ So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariot of fire round about Elisha.”2 Kings 6:15–17
We are surrounded by the power of God, by armies of angels and saints, and once we see that, once we see that we not have to depend on our own personal resources to live the Christian life, we are on the way to living the life of faith.
Faith is simply the way to tap the spiritual power which is available to us. At this moment there are all kinds of power in the room we are in. There are magnetic waves, radio waves, even nuclear power. Two thousand years ago, the same power was on the earth, but people did not know how to tap it. Since then, we have learned how to make contact with that power so that we can have electric light or can hear music that is playing hundreds of miles away. But in the same room, there is even greater spiritual power than there is physical power. The power of God is with us right now. We need to learn how to tap that power; we need to learn how to have faith.
Now for some people it seems unfair that God should make faith the way to tap his power. They feel that it is as difficult to have faith as it was for people two thousand years ago to hear music that was being played four hundred miles away. They feel that God is just trying to make it hard for them, that he is trying to set up an insurmountable obstacle to their receiving his gifts. Faith seems as out of reach as miracles do. And yet the Lord is not asking for faith because he wants to make the Christian life hard for us. He is asking for faith, because his intention is to make the Christian life easy for us. Or perhaps a better way of saying it is, he is asking for faith because he wants to make it possible for us to do more and to see more happen than we ever thought was possible. Faith is what he is asking for because faith is simply the way we let him do things in us and through us. Faith is a way of yielding to God so that he can do things through us.
Perhaps a brief analogy will help illustrate how faith is a key to letting God work in our lives. Suppose we took someone who did not know how to swim, a person who had not yet experienced how it was possible to stay afloat and move through water; if we were to throw him into a lake, odds are that he would struggle so hard to stay up that he would not be able to stay up at all. He would be so afraid that “it wouldn’t work” (after all, everyone knows that bodies are heavier than water), that he would thrash around until he went under. But if we can give him faith first, if we can give him faith in the buoyant power of the water, he can easily stay afloat. His faith in the buoyant power of the water will let him relax so that he can allow the water to hold him up. Then he will be able to move around in the water and learn to swim.
We need the same kind of faith to live the life of the Spirit. The power of God is there to hold us up and to let us move in ways we did not think possible. When we struggle the hardest to stay up or to get results, we have the hardest time. What we do when we struggle that way is to act as though the only way we can make progress is by our own power. But when we learn how to trust the Spirit in us, when we learn how to relax and let God do with his power what he wants to do in us and through us, then things begin to happen.
Faith makes it possible for us to count on and cooperate with what God is doing. Let us say that we want to get into a locked closet. If someone were to come to us, hand us a key and say “that is the key to the closet,” it would be a simple matter for us to take the key and use it to open the door. Even if we encountered some difficulty in getting the key into the lock the first time we tried, we would not give up. We would approach the situation as if we had the key – and we would be able to unlock the door. We have been given the Holy Spirit as the key to living the Christian life. We need only to approach the Christian life as if we had the key. We need only have faith in the Holy Spirit living in us. If we do that, then we are able to see his work in us; we are able to count on it and cooperate with it.
We have to know and believe a simple fact before the life of faith is possible: that God wants to do things for us and through us. Once we know he wants to, we know that the power from God is available, then we will be able to rely on it, expect it, and act on it.
This article is excerpted from Spiritual Gifts, Chapter 1, updated 2013 copyright © by Stephen B. Clark, first published in 1969 by Dove Publications and then republished in 1976 by Servant Books and Dove Publications. Used with permission.
Top image from Bigstock.com, used with permission. Scripture quote from Luke 11:9 added.
Steve Clark has been a founding leader, author, and teacher for the Catholic charismatic renewal since its inception in 1967. Steve is past president of the Sword of the Spirit, an international ecumenical association of charismatic covenant communities worldwide. He is the founder of the Servants of the Word, an ecumenical international missionary brotherhood of men living single for the Lord.
Steve Clark has authored a number of books, including Baptized in the Spirit and Spiritual Gifts, Finding New Life in the Spirit, Growing in Faith, and Knowing God’s Will, Building Christian Communities, Man and Woman in Christ, The Old Testament in Light of the New.