My third principle for recovery says some kinds of faith are good for recovery and some are bad. In my previous post, I talked about the Word of Faith and why it was bad for my recovery. Here is an example of what I mean.
It Was (Not) All Up to Me
I was young I had an uncle with a terminal illness. Of course, I prayed for him.
But when I got into the Word of Faith, it changed how I prayed, because they
taught, “Believe and receive your healing.” Okay, it’s not my healing in this
case, but it’s my uncle’s healing. But they had me thinking if my faith is
strong enough, or if his faith is strong enough, he can be healed. Even though doctors
say, “There is no cure,” I am following the lead of my televangelist preachers who
say, “Oh yes, there’s a cure, faith in Jesus Christ.”
tried telling him, and he didn’t buy into it. I tried telling other family
members. They didn’t buy into it. I was the only one who bought into it. So if
it was going to happen, it had to happen through my faith.
so I prayed. I prayed sometimes for hours on end. I fasted and prayed to make
it happen at times, and that really freaked my family out. “Wait a minute! You’re
going to not eat?” for however long I was going to do it. They really thought I’d
gone off the deep end there. And they were a lot closer to the truth than I was
at the time, I have to admit now. Not that there’s anything wrong with fasting,
but me thinking I could break the power of Satan over my uncle with it? Guess
where I learned that. No, it didn’t work.
And so, eventually, when he died, my family—even though they were sad—accepted it as the natural outcome of his disease. Because I thought my faith was supposed to change it, this was a victory of Satan over me. More specifically, it was a victory of Satan over my faith. That was a lot of pressure to live under. Understand, this is all speaking from the perspective of my Word of Faith background. This is the harm that can come from this particular understanding of faith.
Word of Faith vs. Real Faith
If Christian faith is important to you, as it was and still is to me, it’s important to have a sound biblical definition of faith. Those who preach the Word of Faith message claim faith is something you use to receive what you want from God. Whatever you pray for, believe you receive, and you will have it. Mark 11:22-24. And when it comes to sickness and poverty, this is the work of the devil. The devil comes to kill, steal, and destroy. I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10. Abundant life isn’t sickness and poverty. Abundant life is health and wealth. So you can overcome any sickness and financial struggle with nothing but faith. When I bought into this, I didn’t even know I was living with clinical depression. So when it didn’t work, the depression and feeling of betrayal was probably worse than most because of it.
What saved me was something I first heard from my religion professor in college. She taught that a true biblical understanding of faith is not about trying to convince yourself to believe something you just know is not true. It’s not about believing all the right doctrines. If they respond to normal questions anyone with a brain might ask with, “Just believe,” or “Just take it on faith,” or “That’s faith. You shouldn’t ask questions about that,” or anything like that, that’s a bad faith for recovery.
faith certainly is not about thinking you can make God do what you want if you
believe. The primary understanding of faith throughout most of the Bible is a
trusting relationship with God.
Faith Is Trust and Relationship
two words are really important, trust and relationship. It’s something you
build, over time. One analogy I could make is, when my wife and I were seeing
each other, I was the first one to say I love you. It took her some time to say
it back to me. And I understood that, because of past experiences, it was
difficult for her to trust, not just me, but any man that she would be in a
relationship with at the time. It was going to take time in our relationship to
build the trust where she could say it.
same was true when I wanted to propose marriage to her. I brought up the
subject, and it’s a good thing I did before buying a ring and presenting it to
her, because at the time she just wasn’t ready. It was going to take time in
relationship together for her to get her trust to where, if I asked her to marry
me, she would be able to say yes. And that really is what faith is like. You
are building a relationship with God. You may have difficulty, at first,
trusting. And along the way, you are going to experience some doubts. I suppose,
maybe you can over time have so much trust that you have no more doubts. Theoretically,
I guess it’s possible, even though I haven’t got there myself.
But what is more important in a relationship, having no doubts, or being able to talk about those doubts honestly? You can talk about it with God. In fact, over the years, I’ve learned honesty is much more important to a healthy relationship with God than belief. You can be honest with God. I would also seek out someone who you can talk to about doubts and issues that come up. They’ve probably had the same questions and issues come up on their journey. The most helpful people are usually those who have “been there,” so look for a mentor, someone with genuineness in their relationship with God.
Believe, and You Will Receive (Maybe)
thing to notice is if they talk about faith as if you should be able to control
everything in your life, that’s a bad faith for recovery. In Alcoholics
Anonymous, they have a certain prayer they’ve made famous, and others have
latched on to. It’s called the Serenity Prayer. “God grant me the serenity to
accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and
the wisdom to know the difference.”
I tried to help my uncle “believe and receive” his “promise of healing,” I nearly
robbed him of the peace of mind that came from him being reconciled to God and
being at peace with himself. Thank God there was a minister in his life who was
able to counsel him with wisdom. Because he had the wisdom to know what we
could control, and what we could not, my uncle knew serenity in his last days.
prayed things like, “Lord, we lift up _______ before you and ask that you heal
him. However, if it is not within your will to heal his physical illness, then
heal him in other ways. Surround him with your presence and comfort him. Grant
him the peace of Christ that passes all understanding. Give him assurance that
you love him. And if this is the sickness unto death, receive him into your
is a lot of wisdom in the way he prayed. It was the perfect balance of what we
can control and what we can’t. He asked God to heal him of his physical illness
but did not make any claim that God was somehow obligated to do it because of
this or that Bible verse. And I should point out before he used the phrase “sickness
unto death,” he had already had conversations about the possibility of death
and what it meant to my uncle.
everyone, when they near the end of life, needs more than physical healing. They
need to be made whole in their mind, in their soul, in coming to terms with end
of their lives in this world. And if they believe in God, they may have
questions about the state of that relationship that need to be answered. Like I
said, a lot of wisdom, but I did not fully embrace it at the time.
Do Not Pray “If it be thy will”
In the Word of Faith, they tell you not to pray, “If it is Your will” when God has already promised healing in the Bible. So when he prayed that, inwardly, I rebelled. I thought that just guarantees he won’t be healed. 1) If it’s a promise in the Bible, you don’t pray “If it be thy will.” God wouldn’t have promised it if it wasn’t God’s will. 2) You are already expressing doubt in your healing when you say that. So it was up to me to keep praying for him “according to the Word.” I thought the outcome of his illness was under my control, and accepting death was surrendering to Satan.
by now, you understand I don’t accept that definition of faith anymore. I’m
probably going to have to write a book on all the ways the Word of Faith messed
me up. Again, I say, thank God that minister was there to model a truly
biblical and Godly faith for my uncle. He was able to die at peace with himself
and at peace with God. And even then, I knew that was really more important than
curing his disease.
From Faith to Faith
One lesson in this is any kind of faith that tells you, you are supposed to control things you cannot control is bad for recovery. You need to stay away from that. You need the kind of faith that teaches wisdom to know the difference between what you can control, and what you cannot. You need the kind of faith that doesn’t beat you up for not having “enough faith,” whatever that means.
And something I found through all this is when you do read the Bible in context, it teaches a kind of faith that is good for recovery. I’m talking about the kind of faith my professor taught me, the kind my uncle’s minister showed, because it’s good at teaching the wisdom between what you can control, and what you can’t. But again, only when it’s read in context. So that’s what I want to leave you with. Faith that is good for recovery shows itself in serenity, courage, wisdom, and peace. So I invite you to make this prayer a part of your recovery.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know that difference. -The Serenity Prayer
and peace to you.