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To build one’s faith requires work to maintain, build it

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They tell me that Lock Road once offered a scenic tour past the lock, the lockmaster residences and the bend in the Kentucky River before bringing you to the armory stoplight.

With the river rising as it does, however, the stability of that road was less and less predictable. Eventually it was closed to through traffic. By the time I moved here, time had reduced the portion of the road past the lock to a wide, dirt trail accessible only on foot.

It made for a neat moment during long runs or biking—the river, the abandoned houses, and the thick canopy of the trees always offered a nice moment.

For old time’s sake I ran that route again last week and discovered that a portion of the dirt road has collapsed and washed away since I was last there. The road is officially impassable now. It was a bit confusing. (Call me old fashioned, but I generally presume that roads are where I left them). I shimmied down and then out of this substantial trench and went on my way, but I spent the rest of my run thinking about this load-bearing road diminished to a ditch.

It seems too simple to conclude that major roads disappear through mere neglect, but it is true. And if you would allow an obvious transition here, every great road disappears simply because we stop using it.

This is a pressing problem with faith, which is meant to be a strong road for life. While we speak of faith in God as a belief, it is pretty difficult to remain Christian in belief without being Christian in practice.

On the one hand, it is dishonest, even hypocritical, to confess belief and have no action that reflects that belief (James 1:22). On the other hand, it is a practical issue: give up living your faith and the death of your faith is not far off.

We do not have to explore here all the time-and-element reasons that faith seems to diminish, and there are some real challenges within and without, but we should at least be honest with ourselves on one point. When my faithfulness is more a story of the past than a practice of the present, the future will soon be predictably free of faith. The strongest faith roads succumb to time and element. And with enough time and neglect it becomes, on a practical level, a curious ditch in the woods—a point of history, but no future.

If we prove to be a weak-link generation in the unfolding Good News, the explanation will be simple. We’ll have lost faith because we abandoned faithfulness: We undervalued worship, prayer, study and fellowship. We’ll have lost faith because we focused more and more on the “minimum requirements” for eternal life than the gratitude that should brim within the people of God. We have lost faith because we were the generation that spent too much time trying to figure what we did not have to do to retain Christian faith.

It is naïve to reduce, reduce and reduce the foundational habits of faith and expect love for God to grow. Rich young rulers walk away from Jesus every day not because they cannot keep the rules but because Jesus asked for great love instead (Luke 19:22). As with so many things, we become what we do consistently. Our hearts always follow our treasures (Matt. 6:21).

We lose the great roads because we stop using them. That is my story and your story. Let’s return not only to the habits that made us faithful yesterday, but to the habits that will make us faithful today.

 

The Rev. Chris White, D.Min., is pastor of the First Baptist Church in Carrollton, Ky.