As followers of Christ, we understand that faith is the main source of our spiritual identity. We’ve read in the Bible that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). We been taught stuff like “Without faith, we cannot please God” (Hebrews 11:6a) and “ask in faith without doubting” (James 1:6a).
Yet in our everyday lives, faith seems to be conspicuously silent. Impractical. Absent.
Is this sentiment based on any research?
Barna Research conducted a study in 2015 of 23,000 adults, involving skeptics (atheists and agnostics), asking them several questions.
They found that most of their participants used to believe in the Bible and go to church on a regular basis.
Most no longer believed that the Bible was holy, supernatural or authoritative. They’d stopped going to church for various reasons: It wasn’t a place for individuals to connect meaningfully at a personal level; it stood for the wrong things; it added no value to their communities; its leaders weren’t trustworthy.
What does that have to do with us single Christians?
Let’s look at the beliefs of these skeptics and see if they have any place in our lives.
Do we believe that the Bible is holy, supernatural or authoritative? If we’re not receiving a regular intake of Scripture; if we think certain parts of the Bible apply to others but not to us; if we have trouble believing in miracles or biblical history — we might actually be practical atheists.
When did you last have the opportunity to attend church, yet avoided it because you didn’t want to go?
Sadly, many single believers find it difficult to connect in their local churches because church singles groups are on the wane. Singles look at how churches cater to married couples and “intact” families (single parents often feel excluded). They don’t see many other single believers they can connect with, so they leave or stay and suffer in silence. That’s despite the fact that singles make up half the population.
There is also a growing propensity to identify with outside groups according to ethnic origin and political ideology. If you see the church as one big conglomeration of ideologies that conflict with your primary identity, you may not want to go there.
Finally, we may not see the miracles in our lives that others claim to have experienced. Or we hear the stories of religious frauds who have bilked millions of their time and money and think, That’s just so wrong! I want nothing to do with a so-called religion like that!
I don’t blame you. I don’t, either.
Yet we have our own internal dialogue that sounds a lot like the skeptics. Inside, we doubt the same things:
- I long to be married, and the right person still hasn’t come around. I’m lonely and miserable. Why hasn’t God gotten me married yet?
- I have bills to pay. I’m struggling to provide for my kids, and it frustrates me. Where is this providence the Bible speaks about?
- I prayed as hard as I could. I’ve been involved in ministry. Why did He let (whoever you were praying for) die?
- I hurt really bad. I am so disappointed. They were good people. Those bad people over there should be dying, not good people.
And so our faith wavers, stumbles and plops down into the mud.
Are you — am I — just practical atheists, professing all the right things on the outside but emotionally and mentally setting aside our allegiance to God and the Bible?
We might be, but it’s OK. God is not afraid of losing you.
The Lord is not mad at you for asking serious questions and having emotional responses to suffering and sin in this world. In fact, He invites your questions and doubts.
Jesus understands your feelings, my friend. He experienced pain, loss, anger, sadness and the entire range of emotions while He was on earth.
He also experienced, on the cross, your reactions and mine, because He died for not only our sins, but the sins done to us, sins committed around us, and sins perpetrated against entire groups.
It may take longer than you want to get answers to your prayers, balance paradoxical principles in God’s Word and learn to listen for His heartbeat, His love, for you.
Know that He loves you no matter what your concerns and questions are (Romans 8:35-39).
Keep asking, keep seeking and keep knocking, my friend. And find someone nearby who you do respect within the body of Christ and share your questions and concerns with them. Pray together and stay in it to win it. In the end, we win if we stick with Him.
May His love and peace envelop your soul this season as you continue to ask, seek and knock.