For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
When I was a pastor, I often listened to people’s struggles to have faith in God. Some had a hard time believing in the existence of God. Others couldn’t believe that God’s grace was really offered to them through Christ. Still others had put their trust in God’s grace, but struggled nevertheless to trust God on a regular basis.
As I listened to people sharing how they struggled to trust God, I was reminded of the fact that even our ability to put our faith in God is, in some sense, a gift of God’s grace. That has surely been my experience throughout my life—most of all when I was a freshman in college.
When I left for college, I had what I considered to be a rock-solid faith in Christ. I had studied lots of apologetics and felt certain that I could withstand the onslaught of “godless Harvard.” Indeed, during my first week of college, I had long debates with my roommates about Christianity. It seemed to me that I had prevailed in these debates. My faith was strong enough to fend off all sorts of attacks.
But, as the weeks passed, I found my faith beginning to falter. I had not encountered any ideas in class that successfully refuted Christianity. I could still out-argue my roommates. But my own confidence in God began to slip. God seemed increasingly unreal to me. Doubt began to strangle my soul. Even the best arguments for faith didn’t convince me anymore. I began to worry that my faith was lost forever. I fell into deep despair. No matter what I did, I could not make myself believe, let alone put my full trust in God.
One evening, as I worked at my job washing dishes, I came to grips with the fact that I could not make myself believe in God. Unless God helped me, I would be mired in unbelief. I began to pray, crying out to God for help, even though I wasn’t sure God was there to hear me. The clamor of the dish room provided cover for my desperate supplications. I remember saying, “God, unless you help me, I’ll never be able to believe in you again.” I felt utterly helpless and needy.
Late that night, when all of my roommates were asleep, I snuck over to the common room of my dorm. It was the only place I had where I could pray without disturbing people. There, in the darkness, I poured out my anguish to God, confessing my former pride that I could produce faith all by myself. I admitted that, without his grace, I would never have faith again.
As I sat in the silence of that common room, all of a sudden, I felt peace descending upon my heart. I knew I wasn’t making this happen. Yet, as I sat quietly, I felt my doubts lifting. I sensed God’s presence as never before in my life. I didn’t see a vision or hear an audible voice, but God was more real to me in those moments than anything I could see or hear. I could feel faith welling up in my heart, a different kind of faith, not something I produced by reason, but something even stronger. Soon, I felt a deep peace, unlike anything I had ever known before. As I sat there in the common room of my dorm, I poured out my gratitude to God, blown away by his grace and mercy to me.
Since that night in the Straus Common Room at Harvard over forty years ago, my faith has sometimes been shaken. I’ve had plenty of doubts. But what God did in me that night has endured. Yes, I have chosen to trust in God. But my act of trust is based on and empowered by the gift of God’s amazing grace. This I know to be true, and for this I am forever grateful.
Something to Think About:
When have you experienced God’s grace in especially powerful ways?
Has there been a time in your life when you were aware that God was helping you to have faith in him?
How do you need God’s help to trust him today?
Something to Do:
Most people I know have had their own powerful experiences of God’s grace. I shared one my stories in this devotion. If you have had a similar experience in your life, perhaps you might share it with someone else. If you’re in a small group, consider setting aside time in a group gathering for all members to share how they have experienced God’s amazing grace in their lives.
Gracious God, as I remember how you have rescued me from unbelief, I am filled with gratitude. You have poured out your grace upon me in so many ways. Thank you for reaching out to me so many times when I have cried out for mercy. My faith is indeed a part of your glorious gift to me. All praise be to you, O God. Amen.