Faith and Prayer
This document was originally written by me to a friend and fellow victim of cancer, who told me he was searching for "something" but did not know what. George was a man of considerable intellect, having been a published writer and assistant to news anchor Peter Jennings at ABC TV. I knew him after he was retired and living in Provence, France and Indonesia. We corresponded frequently, I shared my faith and he asked many questions. One day I received a letter simply asking me two questions, "What is faith and how should I pray." I had assumed that my previous letters answered those questions but this time I took more time and went into more detail. This was my answer. I regret that he never told me whether or not he believed what I had written. Shortly after I sent him this note he died from prostate cancer on an airliner over the Pacific, flying from Malaysia to a prostate cancer specialist in California. Later I posted this slightly revised note on a cancer mailing list to about 2,000 fellow cancer victims who knew George and me.
On more than one occasion I have been asked to answer questions such as:
1. "Faith, how can I find it?"
2. "What is prayer and how should I pray".
Please read and understand this note. If you have questions, I will be happy to answer them via e-mail.
Thank you, Jack Weaver
Original letter, October 5, 1996
E-Mail a note to Jack....
Please read on.....
At the risk of making a short story very long, I can best explain "faith" and "believe" by telling you the story of my journey to faith and beyond.
My childhood and pre-teen years were spent in a Calvinist religion where I supposedly read the Bible. Spiritual hypocrisy and boredom were facts of life in our family and church. When, at about age sixteen or seventeen, I was out from under control of my parents, I dumped this religion. From then up until the time I was 35 years old, I investigated many religions, Catholicism, Zen Buddhism and a plethora of so-called Protestant religions. Even the dark powers of the supernatural intrigued me. None of these religions ever "stuck" because they were neither logical nor satisfying. Agnosticism was my game for a long time -- until I learned the word agnostic means "without knowledge." Feeling it was un-cool to be without knowledge, I settled on atheism.
I was surrounded by Calvinists, my Mom and Dad, my sister and brother-in-law, my Best Man in our wedding, neighbors and friends. None of them spoke to me of Jesus in any way.
My dear Baptist wife, Fern, tried to persuade me to "believe" or "have faith" but simply could not tell me how or what to believe. So we argued "religion" and often she went to bed crying. She suggested that I, "Just go to church, ANY church!" I replied "OK, how about I go to the church of Satan?" Believe me, we didn't get over that discussion for a long time.
We had three wonderful young kids whom I loved. Somehow, at that time, I started thinking about how I should raise them and what I should teach them to "believe." I figured they should believe something even though I did not. My lack of any foundation frustrated me.
Much like you, I realized there was something I needed but could never pinpoint "what."
In the early sixties it was clear to me that our country was on a path of financial, moral and political ruin. So I tried politics. I met Shirley Spellerberg, a lady who later became a radio and television personality in Miami. Shirley and her friends seemed to have something about them I was looking for, but I was hesitant to ask. She didn't volunteer because as she says now, "I didn't want to be too pushy." I often wonder how I would have responded had she told me. Then, after our disastrous national political defeat of 1964 I was deeply depressed.
Our friend Shirley invited us to a meeting purported to be a "Conservative" Christmas concert. That night I noticed many familiar bumper stickers in the parking lot so I figured I was on friendly ground.
Another friend met us at the meeting carrying a Bible. She became the target of my ridicule. Who in their right mind would carry a Bible to a concert? Well, the "joke" was on me, it was a Christian Concert. I would have turned the invitation down cold had I known the concert was at a Bible College. I was irritated, but to this day I'm thankful to God that Shirley invited us.
The Christmas music was interesting and seasonal. Later in the program a gentleman spoke for about 30 minutes. As he started, I asked my friend, "Who is this man?" She described him as a Pastor and the President of the Bible College. Shirley had hoodwinked me. Oh, how I dreaded the thought of having to sit and listen to "preacher talk!"
Somehow this man's message was different from the messages of other preachers I had known. He used several illustrations while quoting Bible verses that caught my attention. As he spoke, he pointed with his index finger out to the audience and said "You are sinners! You are short of God's perfection!" That did not offend me because I knew I was not a very good person. Then the amazing part to me, he said, "I hate to point at you like this, because every time I do, I have three more fingers pointing back at me and I am reminded that I am no better than you and maybe three times worse."
This astounded me. Here was a Pastor and President of a Bible college who placed himself in the same boat as me along with his audience and did not put himself on a pedestal. That got my attention! He quoted the only scripture I remembered learning as a child, John 3:16. But with the reading, he also simply explained what the verse meant, using what he described as a "hand gesture" showing how God, through Jesus Christ took my sins on Himself and paid for them on the cross, was buried and rose again. Wow, his illustration was so simple. Other verses with illustrations he used from the Bible sounded so logical. During the prior thirty years I either ignored or missed the meaning of those simple verses. Forgotten scripture now became very clear for the first time.
I was impressed when the pastor covered Old Testament scripture prophecy about Jesus Christ written 600 years before His birth. The scripture spoke details of His birth, life, death and resurrection. These and many other Biblical prophecies now appeared to be proof for me that there is a God, that He inspired the Bible and meant for us to believe it. I learned that "Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God." [Romans 10:17]
Can I explain how and why I finally understood God's Word? Not exactly. But I know that this pastor spoke of Jesus, salvation and Heaven at, of all places, a musical concert. I also recall that this pastor spoke in simple, non "theological," terms using Bible verses. He emphasized that my salvation and belief in Christ did not require that I stop my smoking, drinking, etc. This was contrary to what I had heard about religion's demands. I had been told I must turn 180 degrees and walk the other direction from my sin, I must change my life, give my heart/life/all to Jesus, walk down the aisle to the altar, etc to have eternal life.
This pastor simply showed me from the Bible that salvation is a free gift from God to me personally by His Grace. I needed to simply appropriate eternal life by believing that Jesus died for me, period... absolutely free -- nothing more and nothing less. It was so simple and clear.
How could I believe in the trustworthiness of a God whom I had rejected for so long? How could I believe this message was trustworthy and true? I am not sure exactly how it all happened but I do have this illustration which may help.
The sun has risen every day for centuries and proven itself to be dependable (faithful). Clouds may obscure the sun, but the sun is always there whether we see it or not. I believe (have faith) that the sun will rise tomorrow. I take it for granted. How? Why? The reason: the sun has proven its dependability for years. We know it will do what it is supposed to do and has been doing for centuries.
That example explains my faith in God's promise of my salvation. My faith is founded and grounded on the dependability of the object of my faith, Jesus Christ and His Word.
The more that preacher talked the more I was aware that I missed something in my earlier years (or never heard it). Churches and preachers had withheld or obscured this good news from me. To my knowledge, this was the first time I heard the undiluted truth about Jesus Christ.
I began to see that God is dependable. I simply must understand what His Word says and believe in Christ. He has done and will do what He has promised. If I believe just that much, I am having faith in God's veracity.
That night the Pastor invited anyone to trust Christ as Savior. While I sat in the audience, I made the decision to trust Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. Christ asked nothing from me... just that I trust Him alone. What a relief to know that my eternity is secure in the God of the universe. I have never regretted that decision and the more the years pass the stronger my faith becomes. Even though I did not understand it all, my original decision was based on evidence presented to me that night. It just made good sense to take God's Gift freely offered that cost me nothing and would last for all eternity.
As I began to grow in Christ, I analyzed what happened that December night. Here are eight scriptural facts that now stand out in my mind.
God's Word, the Bible says:
All God requires from us is that we believe the Holy Scripture when it says, God loves us so much He provided His Son to die for us, paying the death penalty for all who would believe in Him, thus giving "whosoever believeth" the free gift of eternal life by faith in Jesus Christ. What is our responsibility? We simply put our faith in Jesus Christ, believing that He is who He claims to be. I have faith that Jesus Christ died for me and offers me His gift of eternal life absolutely free. God promises it, now I believe it.
You can KNOW you have eternal life. "These things have I (the apostle John) written to you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that you may KNOW you have eternal life, and that you may believe (trust) on the name of the Son of God (Jesus Christ)." [I John 5:13]
John 14:6 "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."
By virtue of God's Word, the Bible, I know my eternal destination is secure and safe with the Lord Jesus Christ because I simply believe (have faith) that Jesus Christ is who He claims to be, the Savior (One who saves, not a probation officer). He will do what He says He will do -- which is give me Eternal life (Heaven) as a FREE gift when I trust Him ALONE for my salvation..
As I trusted Christ as my Savior, I approached my honest new found faith and belief in this pragmatic way:
If Christ's claims are NOT TRUE and I choose not to believe them, I lose nothing.
If Christ's claims are NOT TRUE and I believe them, I lose nothing.
If Christ's claims ARE TRUE and I do not believe them, I LOSE EVERYTHING.
But if Christ's claims ARE TRUE and I believe them, I GAIN ALL ETERNITY.
I know Christ's claims ARE TRUE!!! I have all eternity by my faith in Christ!
I didn't know at the time but my thoughts were similar to "Blaise Pascal's Wager" with God. This seemed perfect for me.
The wise person will believe Jesus Christ and trust Him alone as Savior and therefore have Eternal Life as God's gift (not by works).
Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death; but the GIFT of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Titus 3:5 "Not by WORKS of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us,...." We ALL need the Savior because none of us are good or righteous by God's required standards. Romans 3:10 "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:"
The real essence of belief in Jesus Christ is that He is the Author and Finisher of our faith. Hebrews 12:2 "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; ....." He designed our salvation and then He finished it when He paid my sin debt on the cross, was buried, then rose from the grave and was seen by hundreds. His last words on the cross were, "It is finished." Nothing more needs to be done.
Once a person determines in his mind to take that initial step of faith, the keeping and finishing of his faith is now up to Christ alone. Thus, the only requirement for anyone to have eternal life is believe or trust in Christ. Of course, this is contrary to most world religions. God does not require anyone to change his life, turn from sin, donate money, attend a church or study the Bible to receive or keep salvation. I started doing these things AFTER I trusted Jesus Christ as my Savior. These are not required for salvation but are things we should do in obedience to His Word. My motivation? I saw family and friends who were without Christ so the love of Christ compelled me. [2 Corinthians 5:14]
When I decided to start going to church, I searched long and hard to find one that did not strap me with the legalistic "Do and Don't" routine. Religions require the "Do.. Don't" to keep adherents in line.
In the Bible, the Apostle Paul mostly used the word "religion" in a negative sense when he was talking to the self righteous Pharisees. False religions require us to continually ingratiate ourselves to God. You probably know of some false religions that attempt to keep you "in the fold." I am not "religious," because I don't have to make myself acceptable to God. He has already finished that work on the cross when Jesus Christ died for me. The moment I believed, He bound me permanently to Himself. I cannot lose that "forever" relationship.
My relationship with God is now similar to an earthly father-son relationship. I am kin to my earthly father by birth and blood; I will always be his son. Nothing he nor I can do will ever alter that fact. Similarly, I am God's son by virtue of the shed blood of Christ. I am His son by my faith decision and nothing will sever that relationship. My fellowship with God can be hindered by my behavior or disobedience, but I will always be His son. He will discipline me as a good Father should, but that discipline is never expulsion. That, my friend, is eternal security!
The question has been posed, "What does it feel like to believe, really believe?"
It is a wonderful thing to really believe, but we must be careful to base our faith and belief on Biblical FACT and not feeling. For instance, tomorrow I may wake up feeling lousy. Since my diagnosis of prostate cancer I occasionally do. If I based my faith in Christ or my eternal destination on my feeling, I would be doomed right now. The phrase, "I know," is a powerful combination of words. I know I have eternal life, not because I feel it but because I trust Jesus Christ for it. He guarantees it, He is dependable even though my feelings are not. [1 John 5:13]
The statement has been made, "I don't know to whom I'm praying or really why. I have trouble imagining God and my place in all of that."
Prayer is a mental exercise directed to the Lord, either spoken or not. A person seeking to know God prays to Him and asks God to reveal Himself through His Word. He may reveal Himself to you as you read Scripture in this communication.
One who is trusting Christ as Savior prays to God "in the name of Christ". Such prayers may be of thanks, intercession for one's self or others, for physical, spiritual, health or financial needs to be met, for more understanding of the Scripture or just about anything else you may imagine. I found prayer awkward at first, but someone described prayer as a simple talk to God, just as I would have a son-father talk with my Dad. It worked for me.
The Scripture clearly says in 1 Tim. 2:5, "For there is one God, and one mediator (intercessor) between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;" We have a direct line to God. We do not need a pastor, priest, saints, Mary or otherwise to pray to Him. Many religions try to make us so dependent on the religious rituals that we become convinced that we are unable to speak directly to God through prayer. These religions are not abiding by scripture!
As you read this I pray for your understanding of this letter. Right now please, the best you know how, trust Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. You may not understand it all, but He is God and He knows we are often confused by a mental overload. He will honor your sincere desire to know the truth -- and as scripture says, "You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free!" [John 8:32] Jesus Christ said "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me." [John 14:6] Put those two verses together and you have the miracle of eternal life and salvation through Jesus Christ alone.
After we trust Jesus Christ as Savior, we certainly should do good works (the Scripture says so), but such good works are not required to gain or keep our eternal salvation. We cannot gain any assurance of eternal life by our good works.
The teaching of good works meriting salvation is not found anywhere in God's Holy Bible and it is the most subtle counterfeit of God's Grace for salvation. Remember also, the closer the counterfeit is to the real thing, the more difficult it is to detect but most important - it is still a counterfeit.
The Holy Bible gives clear instructions about how a believer should live. We should find a good church, a fellowship of believers, we should study the Bible, we should pray to the Lord in Jesus' name. We now have the opportunity to tell others about God's grace that gives us eternal life by our faith in Jesus Christ. Share the Good News with friends (and enemies; you'll make friends of them.) These are all voluntary blessings of which you may partake when you become a child of God by Faith.
Please let me hear from you -- whether you agree, disagree, despise or condemn me. After many years as a pastor and quite a few in academia, I have a thick skin. Please speak to me honestly any way you wish. If something written here is not clear, challenge me and I will try to clarify it for you.
PS: Shirley Spellerberg, the lady who, in 1964, took my wife and me to the meeting where I trusted Christ as my Savior was Mayor of Corinth, TX for 18 years. She and her husband Spell are still very close and dear friends of ours. (Update- After serving as Mayor of Corinth, TX for 18 years, Shirley chose not to run for re-election in 2001. She is now happily retired and still living in Texas with her husband, Spell.)