John Wesley was struggling with doubt about the sincerity of his faith. The year was 1738 and though he was a preacher he was unsure whether he was even truly a Christian. He says he was convinced of unbelief and felt that because of this he must stop preaching. After all, how could he preach to others if he had not faith himself? He told a friend what he was thinking and his friend replied:
“Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”
Wesley continued to preach. He was often asked not to return as official churches did not like his simple message of grace and faith. Through this time he saw people’s lives changed. Eventually Wesley himself had a religious experience where he realized Jesus Christ truly loved him:
“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
I am struck by that phrase: preach faith till you have it.
Is it a beautiful message of confidence in the faith, regardless of how you feel at the time?
Is it a tricky message of hiding your doubts and putting up a facade that you have it all together?
On one hand, I do think this is helpful. I especially find it helpful since I have encountered so many Christians who tend to judge their faith based on how they are feeling at the time. So on a mission trip or at a Christian concert, they have an emotional high and feel close to God. In the mundane of daily tasks, they feel God is distant. The assumption is that something is wrong and the goal becomes achieving that spiritual high again.
I kind of see Wesley in the same way here. He was a Christian, questioning his faith and waiting for his heart to be warmed. Desiring such experiences is fine. But to stick with the faith, to preach the truth of faith, to live out faith, even when you do not feel like you have it is admirable.
On the other hand, I see this as somewhat deceitful. Perhaps it is just growing up in a culture that values the idea that it is not the destination that is important but the journey. I feel I owe it to my students to be open about my own doubts. I do not have everything figured out and it would be wrong to stand up and pretend that I do.
I would almost amend the statement to say, “preach faith in the midst of your doubt, tell people having doubt is okay, challenge people to continue to pursue truth and faith in the midst of doubt.”
I think I’ll be thinking about this statement for a long time. And I’ll be looking forward to my own Aldersgate experience…