It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you.
Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, pg. 245
On my last Sunday at St. Luke's, the parish held a farewell party where they gifted us with a gorgeous quilt (that will eventually be hung on one of our walls) and a coffee table book about the Rogue River (the author being a former student of my deacon) that was signed by everyone in the parish. It was a lovely party hosted by lovely people.
My senior warden also, in his quiet, unassuming way, presented me with two books by Timothy Keller; The Reason for God being one of them. I began reading it on the move to Maryland, and had every intention of finishing both of them before we arrived. I figured I'd have plenty of time what with changing drivers every so often, and quiet times at hotels and other places. I figured wrong, and I just finished the first one last week.
Timothy Keller is a Presbyterian minister and pastor of a large New York City congregation. The book is basically a recounting of how he has presented the Gospel to the people of NYC, the skepticism with which they view the church and Jesus, and how, by sticking to one message, that church has grown over time. And it is at the end of the book where this sentence appears. I don't agree with everything he says, but there are things he says that are valuable and insightful. This is one of them.
So often we wish or hope for a stronger faith. We see it in the Gospel of Mark when the father of an epileptic boy cries out, “Lord, help my unbelief!” We hear it when people lament, “If I only prayed harder.” Or we feel it within ourselves when we wonder if we really have the faith required to be saved.
But faith, like discipleship, is a journey. If we only focus on the end results, we may miss important events along the way. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were so focused on one thing in particular (wondering how they could be disciples of Jesus now that he was dead) that they missed seeing Jesus among them.
There is also the possibility that we may injure ourselves. If we compare faith to exercise, we all want to be in the best shape possible. But if we begin our exercise routine by trying to bench press 250 pounds, well, you get the idea. We need to work up to that. Likewise, sometimes we might enter faith with unrealistic expectations and when things take a turn we don't expect, there's a possibility that we give up; thereby injuring, sometimes fatally, our faith.
This is why this sentence from Timothy Keller is so important. We are all at different places in our faith journey. If we begin to focus only on how strong or how weak our faith is, we have stepped away from God and have begun the process of relying on ourselves for salvation. If, however, we understand that our faith centers on God in general, and on Jesus in particular, then it doesn't matter if we have a “weak” faith or a “strong” faith – our faith, weak or strong, is centered on God, not us. When we allow that to happen, it is then we can faithfully sing, “Surely it is God who saves me; I will trust in him and not be afraid.”