"I know in whom I have believed and I'm persuaded…" said Saint Paul. For a long time, I thought Paul was expressing here what I felt I should be able to express about my own faith - "I have NO doubts…I'm convinced and so never fear or question that God is going to take care of me, not only in this life, but in the life to come."

I would say things like that and I'm sure that those who heard me make such declarations thought to themselves, "Wow, he's so confident in his faith." Or, "He seems to have such fearlessness…and, so much faith." Or, "I wish I could be like him."

No you don't.

It was a facade, for the most part. I was not being, however, intentionally misleading. I just did not know better. I mistakenly thought all "sincere" and "real" Christians made such Pauline declarations and, as a consequence, I suppose I thought, "If I say similar things out loud perhaps I'll be a confident person of faith, too."

What I did not know is that it seldom works that way.

I am not doubting that Paul was making a sincere confession and, the older and wiser and more genuinely I become a person of faith, the more I realize inner peace, trust, and confidence - or, you might say, the more "by faith" I genuinely live.

The capacity to believe is a divine gift of grace. You're born with it. No child worries whether his mother and father will feed him…care for his every need. They just instinctively believe…know they will.

Until they don't.

This is what happens to us…life's experiences don't always work perfectly and natural faith…the capacity to believe gets for all of us a little undermined. If you were raised by highly dysfunctional parents, faith might have been vastly undermined.

In either instance, learning how to believe again…how to live by faith AGAIN, is a learned capacity and, for some of us, may take years. So, how do you grow in your faith? Here are two suggestions...

First, do not confuse pronouncements people make about faith…or, that you may make about your faith, for the actual practice of faith itself. For example, I used to worry a great deal about where my next paying job was coming from. My experience has taught me, however, over and over again that, when I stay focused on what God has given me to do, I always make it just fine. I always have plenty of work to do.

Now, while I know that in my head and sometimes even in my heart, there are still times, even to this day, when a residue of doubt appears when a new challenge presents itself.

Remember this: the practice of faith is not pretending you never doubt; or, that you live free of all worry or concern. It is rather the acknowledgement of your doubt and then finding yourself provided for yet again. It is giving thanks for that provision and growing in your faith confidence that God is still true to His promise, "Why do you worry about what you'll eat or wear…look at the birds of the air. If I take care of them, how much more valuable are you to me" (Matt. 6, author's translation).

As you make this your practice, as your consciousness expands in this regard, I think you'll discover, as I am discovering, that, over time and with practice, with each new challenge you face, you will feel a little less threatened by it and, conversely, more certain that the God who has provided in the past will provide in the present once again. So, take heart, my friend. In time, you, too, with the Apostle Paul, will be able to make a genuine pronouncement, and not just some pious platitude, "I know in whom I have believed."

Second, stop worshipping Jesus. Instead, follow His example instead. He became a master example of living by faith in His own Father. For example, have you ever noticed how frequently you and I refer to God as "God" but Jesus referred to God frequently as "Father?"

For most of us, we mistakenly think of God as separate from us…as this big fellow up in the sky to whom we offer prayers like dropping tokens in a slot machine with hopes of hitting the jackpot of grace and getting what we need.

You will notice, however, this was not the case with Jesus.

Why? Because as Jesus grew in his own faith practice, he became more and more comfortable with the inner intimacy he cultivated with God. God was less "out there" somewhere and more "in here," so to speak.

The same will occur for you. But you will need to start viewing Jesus, less as a religious relic you worship in a high and holy sanctuary, and more like the concerned older and wiser brother who is interested in teaching you and modeling for you how to live successfully…how to live in happiness…how to be at peace, all gifts he offers and will train you to enjoy.

The problem still in most churches today is that people have, in the words of Fr. Richard Rohr, "made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey toward union with God" (The Naked Now, p. 154). When this happens, and it is happening in churches all over America, Christianity becomes merely "a belief-based religion" insead of a "practice-based religion," a "religion of belonging instead of a religion of transformation" (P. 155).

If you'll follow these two steps…that is, if you'll make it your practice to practice faith, while acknowledging your doubts, and follow the way Jesus lived, which is more than worshipping the words said about Jesus, you will discover you are advancing in your spiritual life…growing in your faith…expanding your consciousness of the Divine Presence, and living the joyful, abundant life Jesus modeled for you.

You will be living…

Your Best Life Now!

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, thought leader and spiritual teacher. His books and blogs inspire spiritual seekers around the world. He is a devoted follower of Christ but an interfaith activist as well. He is frequently heard to say, in the words of Mother Teresa, "I love all religions; but I'm IN LOVE with my own." Read more from Dr. McSwain on his blog Your Best Life Ever.

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