I don’t think we’ve admitted to ourselves just how much belief is a choice.
Some mornings you wake and feel God is near; the day looks hopeful. Next morning God seems far; the day has no color to it. For years I wrote this experience off to the ins and outs of the spiritual life, clouded by the weather of my emotions. Then Jesus began to show me something.
Innumerable times in the past several years, I’d be in a time of prayer, asking God’s help or guidance with something or other, and Jesus would reply, Believe me. Just that—a direct command. Believe. So simple, yet it cut straight to the core of my problems. Either my wayward emotions had taken charge, or my circumstances had completely arrested my attention, but I was not settled in believing God. Nor was I operating from the position of believing God. Believe. The instruction revealed that I was caught up in my emotional state. Taking the simple command as the doorway back to experiencing God, I would simply say, “Okay—right. I believe you. I believe you.” And Jesus would come again into my awareness. I was startled by how direct the connection was.
We wait to be struck by lightning. We wait for an epiphany. In our therapeutic age, we’ve become so self-conscious, so deeply entangled in our personal experiences, we think belief is also an experience, something we mostly feel. It is not. It is first and foremost an act of the will. A choice. Why else would Jesus handle the doubts of his dear friend Thomas with the command, “stop doubting and believe?” (John 20:27). Thomas had a decision to make in that moment, a decision he was quite capable of making, a decision our Lord was waiting for him to make. Thomas’s experience was waiting on a choice.
Faith, or belief, can only be rewarded if it’s something we’ve chosen. You don’t reward your child for finishing their homework if you did it for them. Faith can’t be rewarded if it simply falls on us from above. Belief is something we muster, set ourselves to, and practice. Especially when the “data” before us seems to argue against it. Our faith in God is our most precious possession, and God is committed to deepening and strengthening it.