Last week, we talked about the ways that changes in life can be hard on faith, how some people are even drawn away from God through the shifting shadows of temptation and lust. But remember two weeks ago when we discussed how change is part of God’s redemptive plan, how even now the changes of life are producing changes in our faith?
As someone who has known lots of change in my life … and often hard change … I’ve come again and again to Paul’s promise in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
It’s true that change has the potential to throw us off the narrow path of faith. But change also can be the thing that propels us forward toward greater faith: change can be the catalyst for growth, maturity, and the spiritual transformation we all long for.
A few weeks ago, Steve and I had dinner with a friend who’s been going through some rough changes in his life for more than two years. What’s happening is not his fault, and it’s out of his control. “Do you ever just look at your life and think, ‘How did I get here?’” I asked him. And he said that’s exactly how he feels. Never in his life would he have imagined that he would end up where he is. I have several friends in that exact same situation: through death, illness, job loss, and more, life’s unpredictable changes have taken them down unexpected and unwelcome paths. “It’s probably been hard on your faith,” I said. “How could it not?” Our friend nodded. But then he said, “Difficult times like this are what cause us to grow. I know God’s working thing out. I just don’t know how.”
We just don’t know how. That sounds a lot like faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” the writer of Hebrews tells us. This is the heart of how faith grows through change. Change has the potential to throw the “things not seen” into question, but in Christ, we can respond with increasing “assurance” and “conviction.” The more change we endure, the more this way of uncertainty begins to feel familiar. We’ve not been down this path before. But we’ve been down other unknown paths, and Jesus has always walked with us.
I love how Paul puts this all together in Romans 5:3-5 so we can see the big picture of our life of faith: “we exult in tribulations [all types of changes, really], knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance [we keep going even though we don’t want to]; and perseverance, proven character [been there, done that]; and proven character, hope [and I can do it again]; and hope does not disappoint.” Why? [here’s the best part]: “because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Here’s the bottom line: when changes come [and they will], Christ has given us everything we need to grow in faith through his Spirit. We can keep the faith because the Spirit keeps us. “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).
A few weeks ago, I wrote, “It seems like the only thing that ever stays the same is how much everything is always changing.” And that certainly seems to be true. The world is always changing, the specific circumstances of our lives change, we are ourselves are always changing: learning, adapting, growing. But in order for us to keep the faith, we have to believe two things never change: God and his word. And with this assurance, we can face any change that comes our way.