The minister described him this way: “He was the most dejected man I had ever seen. He was a handsome young fellow, 6 feet 2 and weighing 200 pounds. But he had lost his faith. He had lost his faith in God, in himself, his fellow human beings and his world. Thirty years of age — and bankrupt.”
What a tragic ring it has. When a man or woman has to say, “I did believe in Christ, but not now. Once I had faith in God, but not now. Once prayer had meaning, but not now. Once I was deeply involved in the church, but not now.” It’s a terrible thing when faith breaks down.
So if you have faith, any faith at all, treasure it and don’t lose it. If faith is yours, don’t let it slip away.
How do we guard against our faith breaking down? If I may, I’d like to offer these suggestions.
First, expect the path of faith to be difficult from the beginning. One of the certain things that leads to a breakdown of faith is the mistaken notion that the path of faith is easy.
Yet, Jesus clearly warned us of faith’s difficult path. His warning was not only of persecution in the sense of hostility, but the persecution of the flesh, the old self-life.
When William Tyndale was persecuted because he sought to give the Bible to the people in the English language, he said calmly: “I never expected anything else.”
The Christian life, as anyone knows who has really tried to live it, is a life of struggle, a life of continuing temptation, a life of advances and denials, a life of joys and frustrations, a life of tedious self-discipline. For only as we discipline our faith in priority, prayer, study, worship, commitment and trust in God does our faith become stronger. Otherwise it breaks down.
Second, we guard against our faith breaking down by moving beyond pat answers. Someone has rightly noted, “If you are not confused, you do not understand the true situation.”
I read a little book called, “Where Was God?” by Erwin Lutzer, a longtime former pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago. It’s a book about God and natural disasters. It deals with such questions as, “Should natural disasters be called an act of God? Is God mad at America? In what ways do we think natural disasters mirror the evil side of human nature?”
Without doubt, the book points out the uselessness of pat answers.
Among other things, Jesus said, “Love me with all your mind.” To me, that takes us beyond pat answers.
Third, we guard against our faith breaking down by keeping our devotional life current. Not long ago a minister friend and I were having lunch together. After we had chatted a while, this friend asked me what advice I would give him as he transitioned from being the pastor of a small church to a larger church. Immediately, I replied, “Keep up your devotional life.”
To me, this is the single most important thing any of us, minister or lay person, can do to keep our faith from breaking down.
For many of us, maintaining a devotional life is not a theological issue, but just finding a time and place for a few moments of silence. So often, the fast pace of our lives hinders the work of the Spirit in our lives, resulting in a breakdown of faith.
Fourth, we guard against our faith breaking down by noting the practice of the psalmist. The psalmist stated, “My feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped...” (Psalm 73:2). So testified the psalmist as he came to a time when his faith was in retreat.
So how did the psalmist deal with his near collapse of faith? He tells us very specifically. Said the psalmist, “I went into the sanctuary of God,” (Psalm 73:17).
One of the best therapies I know is just going into the sanctuary of God and being reminded that “God is!”
Now, I asked you, what value would it be to us and our insecure world to trust that above all the confusion and darkness there is still God. “I went into the sanctuary of God.”
No breaking down of the faith here.