Perhaps one of the most confusing of the non-doing spiritual gifts is the gift of faith. After all, aren't we all supposed to have faith? Isn't that what we're here for in the first place? Isn't that why we've come?
Yes and, quickly, no.
Yes, we are a people of faith and it is incumbent upon all of us to have some, but in the world in which we live, it is easy for us to turn our faith quickly into works. It is easy for us to turn our faith quickly into exercise. It is easy for us to take our belief and turn it into mathematics - a little of this plus a little of that with just a touch extra of this equals faith. And it doesn't take long before w come to faith asking the most basic questions - what shall I believe and to what extent and on what grounds?
In other words, tell me about God in the most academic way possible. Make Him a proposition that I cannot deny. Do the math for me in the places that it adds up so that I can know how faith is measured, how faith works.
It's why Pascal's famous wager continues to be one of the most-cited reasons for faith in the church today. The wager goes something like this: if you're wrong about God and it's all just a sham, you will die and never know because there will be eternal nothingness, but if you're right, then the greatest reward is yours. In other words, tell me what to believe because there is nothing to lose and everything to gain. This is the kind of God that most of us have come to.
The gift of faith reminds us that the Christian life is meant to be so much more.
It does this first by reminding us how intimate and personal faith is, how authentic it can be. We lose that authenticity when faith is nothing more than a lesson in a classroom. While most of us are focused on what to believe, the spiritual gift of faith reminds us how to believe. It's the kind of faith that puts its whole life in the hands of God, trusts in the darkest times, holds onto hope. It's a faith that is not swayed by the ways of this world, a candle that flickers and moves in the darkness.
The gift of faith takes a token of the what that has become so central to the Christian practice, plants it in the human heart, and grows it into a mighty tree under which entire communities take shelter. And I'm not talking about the kind of blind faith of the unexamined that sometimes passes for something greater in our time; I am talking about real, authentic, good times and bad times, honest about this broken world, hopeful for the next, actual abundant life faith, the kind that Jesus Himself modeled for us. It's mustard seed what gone wild.
And that is the second way that the spiritual gift of faith reminds us of what the Christian life is meant to be. It's a wild kind of faith. It's an adventurous kind of faith. It's the kind of faith that straps on its sandals and follows Jesus through the dust and the dirt and the grime of this world, trusting and hoping and believing in places most of us wouldn't dare touch because we just don't know. But faith knows. And it's not about to let us forget. It reminds us at every turn why we believe - because there's a world out there that needs His love.
It's weird to talk about the faithful and then to say that faith is a special gift of the Spirit, but it is. And it's one that we desperately need. Because in our safe, comfortable, academic churches where we can learn all the what in the world, it is real, living, authentic faith that tells us how and why. Maybe it's true that Pascal's wager is enough for most of us. We're content knowing that we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. But if we're truly seeking everything to gain, if we're looking for the abundant life that Jesus promised, if we want to know how to live and why it matters, it's the spiritual gift of faith that reminds us again and again and again through its confident assurance and reckless abandon.
Truly, truly an incredible gift. For all of us.