Finding faith again…
How to recover faith once you’ve lost it
Are you losing your faith? Have you already lost it? Have you walked away from faith but in some strange way you wish you could get it back but you don’t know how? Have you said, “How can I believe what I no longer believe?” If you don’t believe a thing, how can one believe again—just by trying or pretending its true? This column is about finding faith again after losing it. But to get to that answer we must start with how you found faith in the first place. For a misunderstanding of how you got faith in the first place may be the great barrier to your finding faith again. Consider these thoughts.
1. Your faith was a gift of God and not an effort of yourself.
You didn’t get your faith in the first place by trying to believe or even choosing to believe. You got your faith from God. It was a gift. No human can work up faith on their own. The best a man and woman can do is work up unbelief or maybe agnosticism, but not faith. If you have lost your faith, begin first to realize that the faith you once had was never something you “exercised.” It was a gift of God.
For example, John Wesley describes his Aldersgate experience as having his heart “strangely warmed.” As a result he testifies that while hearing Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans, “I felt I did trust Christ in Christ, Christ alone for salvation…that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” Wesley’s “faith” here was not so much an action he took, rather it was something happening inside of him, a divine work creating an internal conviction that Christ loved him. It is his heart being acted upon that creates personal faith in Christ, not vise versa.
2. Your gift of faith came by grace.
You did not earn your faith by anything you did—it was a totally undeserved gift from God. Just because you were a good kid did not give you faith. Neither did you come to faith by “assessing all the facts and choosing to believe.” You believed because God gave you faith—it was a pure gift of God’s grace. On these two points Calvin, Wesley and Luther agree: Faith is a gift of God and it comes only by grace.
3. The grace that brought your faith is resistible.
Here John Wesley 1 takes a different tack from Calvin and Luther. He explains that grace is resistible—a person can either receive or resist the grace that brings faith. Remember how you got faith in the first place? Perhaps there was for you One Great Moment when you became a believer—maybe at your father’s knee or at an altar call at youth camp. God’s spirit moved you—the river of grace was flowing strong. You felt this was “your time.2” As God’s grace came you received it—you accepted it, responded, opened up your heart and let God plant the seed of faith. You may not have totally understood exactly what was happening —but you sensed God calling and you yielded. What if you had refused? What if you had rebuffed God’s grace? What if at that “Big Event” you had resisted? You would never have had faith in the first place. You could not believe on your own, but you could reject it on your own. But this did not happen to you. You opened up your heart to God’s grace. And God gave you faith as a pure gift. You believed because of Him, not yourself. Rather than resist God’s grace you yielded to it—and you got faith.
4. Your faith was then kept by grace and not your own effort.
“Resistible grace” is not just about initial faith at the One Big Moment of conversion but this is how you kept your faith as well. God’s grace came to you in ten thousands “moments of grace” and each time you had a choice: resist or receive that grace. When your mother read you a Bible story you could either receive it or resist it. When you said “amen” in your spirit God’s grace flowed and fortified your faith even though it was a simple Bible story. When your youth group prayed around a circle God’s grace was flowing you had a choice: resist or receive God’s grace. You opened your heart cooperating with God’s grace and God built your faith through this process. Throughout your childhood and teen years you probably faced millions of these “moments of grace” where you could either resist or receive. You probably didn’t receive grace every case, none of us does this, but in most cases you said “yes” to God’s grace and thus the gift of faith in you grew strong. But there was never a time when your faith was secure and beyond the possibility of loss. God’s gift of faith does not come in one massive lifetime dose. Your faith is no more permanent than your marriage. Both must be tended. Left alone, faith diminishes. To “keep the faith” you continually surrendered to God’s grace and saw your faith remain, even grow. Perhaps you thought that you yourself were “keeping faith” but actually you kept the faith by staying open to grace. And God kept on giving you faith. As you kept your heart open to God’s grace he continually built your faith andit became strong because it was a gift of God—all you did yourself was “refuse to refuse.”
5. However, faith can be lost in a gigantic landslide if you reject grace in a moment.
How does a person who once had faith “lose their faith?” Most Christians who lost their faith lost it one of two ways (or a combination of both). Some lose their faith in One Big Moment. They face a death or tragedy or (actually more likely) they “got screwed royally” by a church or some Christian leader. They had a decision: how to respond? And they chose to shut the door to grace battering the hatches against more from God. Pain or betrayal or cruelty can harden a heart if we do not “refuse to refuse” God’s grace. Each of us has the power to slam shut the door through which God’s grace flows. During One Big Moment some Christians abandon faith in a single moment and walk away. For these, faith dies quickly. They quit going to church, stop reading Christian books, give up reading the Bible and cease praying. They walk out on faith, slamming the door and drive away to a new life. They do not stay around to even sign the divorce papers. Some argue such folk never had faith in the first place, but that’s about as believable as saying that people who get a divorce were never in love in the first place. People can have true faith and lose it later—but rejecting God’s grace. Some do this in a tsunami moment of disillusionment when their faith is overwhelmed and at all gets washed out to sea. Just as people can come to faith in a single moment of response to grace so some can walk away from faith in a single moment of rejection.
6. But most people who lose faith do so gradually.
Far more people lose their faith gradually than in a momentary landslide of rejecting faith. As outlined above, faith is kept by constantly yielding to God’s grace—the channel through which the gift of faith is mediated. This grace comes to us constantly as we hear preaching, assemble for worship, take Communion, gather to pray, or read the Bible. In a single worship service we are presented with dozens of opportunities to either receive or resist God’s grace. When we hear the pastor give truth we can either resist or receive that truth with an inner “amen” or an inner “hogwash.” When the group is worshipping we can chose to stay open to God’s grace, or we can shut our hearts to grace because we reject the style. When we read Scripture we can receive the truth into our hearts or hold it up examining it like it was a biology specimen only to be scrutinized and described,. not to be “let in” to our hearts to change us. We can move to the Lord’s Table expecting God to build our faith or we can scoff at the “mere juice and crackers” or the “cheap snack they area serving.” All of us have thousands of occasions when we can either resist or receive God’s grace which provides and fortifies our faith. Of course none of us chooses always to receive it, but a true Christian consistently falls on the receive-grace side and does not repeatedly resist grace. When a Christian consistently resists grace their faith will flicker. Even a Christian with great faith can lose faith this way—just by repeatedly resisting the grace that brings faith. Finally there will be little faith left—or none at all. Soon such a person will quit reading the Bible and they’ll drop out of Sunday school class. They will stop taking Communion and eventually quit attending church altogether. As their faith wanes they will have even less reason to go to church or to pray and finally religion will seem totally irrelevant to their life. When they come to a preacher on their TV they will actually verbalize their rejection out loud. It will not be a rejection of that style of evangelism (most of us do that!) but it will be a rejection of Christian truth at large. Any billboard, any book, driving past any Christian bookstore, hearing any Christian music will be an opportunity to reject the faith again. To this person the church and Christian living will seem strange to them as if they somewhere in the distant past had escaped from another planet where this life was lived Their life will go on without the church the Bible or Christian friends. They will make a living, go to the movies, have a great time, buy a new DVD player, watch their favorite films. They go out for a beer, laugh all evening, get promoted at work, find a new hobby, have a baby, buy a house. To this person who has closed themselves off to God’s means of grace the Christian faith will eventually be only a faint memory. They might even eventually reinterpret their former life of faith as a former sickness or neurosis.
7. There are only two things you can do to recover faith.
So, to the original question: how does one find faith again after losing it. We have said that one gets faith only as a gift of God and it is only through grace that we receive it. So, how does a person who has lost faith get it back? We have already said it is useless to “try to believe” or “pretending to believe something you don’t believe.” Faith is a gift of God not a “work” of men and women. Is there nothing whatsoever you can do to regain a lost faith? No. there are two things
There are only two things you can do to find faith again (the rest is up to God).
FIRST, put yourself in the stream of God’s grace again. As outlined above, the gift of faith comes through the “means of grace”—the ordinary channels through which God grants His gifts to us. The greatest flow of grace happens in assembling with other Christians. A few might find faith again in solitude and seclusion. But most will find faith again where the grace flows best—at church. Start attending church—not just occasionally or even just once a week, but as often as you can. Put yourself into the middle of the strongest stream of God’s grace flows. Don’t expect to be convinced of faith—apologetics will never bring you back to faith. This is not a problem of convincing your mind even though you may claim that now. It is a problem of the heart. You have shut off the means of grace in your life. So, attend the means of grace: go to church as often as you can. Hear the worship songs, even if you can’t sing them. Listen to Scripture even if you can’t read it yourself. Hear the prayers of God’s people; maybe even shut your eyes. When the Lord’s Supper is served go forward and take it with hope that it may renew your faith. 4 Since faith is a gift of God, and that faith comes through grace, and the grace flows mostly through the means of grace you will probably only recover your faith when you start by getting under the influence of the means of grace. The strongest stream of grace found among the assembled church, not when you are pondering faith issues by yourself. Why will you not do this? If you have no faith and don’t believe these things are true then what worry do you have attending church? If there’s nothing to it then why refuse to attend? If you truly want your faith back again—go get into the stream of grace and see if God gives it to you. There is no better way.
SECOND, Give up resisting. But getting into the channel of grace will not give you back your faith if you keep resisting grace. If you return to church and mock the prayers, dismiss the Lord’s Supper as meaningless and roll your eyes at the shallow emotive singing of the people you will never get your faith back. Attending the means of grace can either damn you worse or bring you back. If you attend church and reject every drop of grace that rains on you, you will only shut your heart more securely against God’s grace. Rather, decide you will simply refuse to reject things. You do not have to accept anything. You do not have to pray. You do not have to sing or even agree with anything sung or said. Just refuse to reject it. Resist resisting. Make a covenant with yourself that you’ll refuse to refuse God’s grace. Don’t “try to have faith.” Don’t try anything at all… except to not resist grace if it comes your way. Of course you should not expect faith to return to you the first month you’ve returned to church. It may take time. Give it time Place yourself into the stream and wait. Be passive. As you sit in the stream see if God grants to you once again the gift of faith—perhaps even a tiny mustard seed amount at first. Then do not resist this grace that brings faith—just ‘let it happen.” This is why we sometimes say ‘faith is a decision.” Is faith a decision made after carefully considering all the options? No. Faith is a decision to respond to God’s grace. It is a decision to not resist grace. A decision not to reject this grace. It is a decision to attend God’s “means of grace” and let God grant you again the gift of faith.
If you have lost your faith, or even most of it, I pray you will at least do these two things that you can do. And I will pray that God Himself will give to you a gift of faith again. It is a precious gift and if you again receive it I hope you’ll cherish it.
By Keith Drury and Chris Bounds 10/11/2005
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1: On the first two points Wesley and Calvin have so much agreement that if John Wesley were among Wesleyans today he would be accused of being a Calvinist! For a further and deeper approach to these first three points see the related article by Chris Bounds and Keith Drury on the subject of faith as a gift of God and the resistible grace that brings it.
2: See the above treatment of this by Chris Bounds and Keith Drury—John Wesley’s position that a person can respond to Christ if they will but they can not respond when they will—the notion that only God controls the timing of when a person might be converted and the gift is not left on the table forever with the individual then able to take it whenever they want or delay receiving it as long as they like. Here too John Wesley (if he were among Americans today) would be considered “too Calvinistic” for most Wesleyans.
3. While we have described here a person who loses faith gradually and leaves the church it should be noted that many who lose their faith gradually actually stay in the church. They just continually resist grace and eventually come to resist everything. If they are simply attendees this is not a problem, but when such faithless people get on boards and committees (or serve as pastor) the church becomes just another battle of wills for power, influence and territory.