I was a Christian for two and half decades and a self-helper for a few years after that. Both had the same source code for doing the impossible. Jesus was the original coder and pitchman:
“All things are possible for one who believes.” Mark 9:23 ESV
“Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.” Mark 11:23 ESV
This is classic mind over matter – or more accurately, heart over matter. Ask “Where’s your heart?” and most people would point to the place in your chest and throat where you feel strong emotion. The belief that moves mountains is something you feel strongly. Plus you need to not doubt. Doubt is when you switch the channel to your intellect and wonder if it’s really going to work. Finally, you have to believe that the thing you want “will come to pass.”
“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:24 ESV
That’s classic power of positive thinking – no surprise that self-help is all over it: visualize, use “affirmations,” create vision boards, keep it fresh by buy buy buying more books, classes, seminars, and conferences, and if you’re really serious, hire a coach.
Jesus, on the other hand, preferred to ramp up the emotional commitment with inspirational stories about being persistent (the widow who pestered the judge, the guy who pestered his neighbor, etc.) and about going all in on your heartfelt ideas (the pearl merchant who sold his entire inventory to buy one perfect pearl).
Let’s give this a try.
One night a circuit-riding evangelist told our campus Christian group we could use all that believing in our hearts, not doubting, and believing we had already received it to heal anything we wanted. I was nearsighted. Next day I put my glasses in my pocket and sailed out across campus. People kept saying hi and I didn’t know who they were. I felt stupid and antisocial, and was getting a headache. I put my glasses back on.
When it Doesn’t Work
Beliefism’s response when the mountain doesn’t move is…
- It’s all your fault.
You don’t have enough faith. You’re doubting. You don’t actually think it’s going to happen./
As in Jesus’s stories, belief only has one solution: go deeper, further, invest more, take a bigger risk. Belief seeks its own perfection through the elimination of doubt — that’s why extreme belief always ends up as fundamentalism. Once you’re in, you need to get further in, and you can’t look back and start questioning, because that would be doubt. Trouble is, if it didn’t work the first time, it’s probably not going to work the third or the thirtieth – you can double down, triple down, quadruple down, but nothing is ever enough. You’re trying to move a mountain – or walk across campus without your glasses – which is something you’ve never done before, and of course you’re going to be wondering if it’s going to work or not. But as soon as you start wondering, that’s doubt, and doubt means it’s over. So cover your ears and eyes and plunge forward.
How much faith do you need?
Jesus makes it sound like it shouldn’t have to be that much.
“For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”[a] Matthew 17:20 ESV
Most of us have never opened a package of mustard seeds to see what size they are, but we assume from the context that a mustard seed must be small, so when it comes to believing things, small is beautiful. That’s how this advice was rendered when I was a Christian.
Nothing like a little false consolation on Sunday morning.
Start talking about mustard seeds and now you’re trying to measure faith. Christians did that all the time. “I don’t have enough faith.” “I need to pray harder.” “I wish I had more faith.” “I need to stop doubting.” Things like that. It’s crazy-making.
One thing is sure: the buck stops with you. If the thing you want doesn’t happen, you fail. You didn’t believe enough, you’re doubting, etc. etc.
But there is something else you might try….
Schmoozing the Old Man
“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” John 14:13 ESV
“Be sure to use my name when you ask my dad for stuff,” Jesus advises, “he likes that, because he likes to take the credit for what happens.” That advice is why Christians end prayers with “in Jesus’ name, amen.”
But wait… we started with Jesus saying we could tell themountain to move. Now we’re fussing about asking.
Read the fine print, I guess.
One of Jesus’s disciples refined it further:
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. 1 John 5:14-15 ESV
So if we want to be confident – i.e., not doubt – we need to ask “according to his [God’s] will.” As a friend used to say, we need to ride the horse in the direction it’s already going. This is Belifism’s second response when the impossible doesn’t’ happen:
- The thing you want has to be God’s will.
The impossible we want has to be something God already has in mind, otherwise it’s not going to happen. Even Jesus wasn’t couldn’t get a free pass on this one.
We’ll talk about that next time.