How Faith Affects Us
Insights from John Owen
I wrote last month about lament – the outcry from our souls about the evil and chaos around us. Lament powerfully expresses faith because it trusts that God can handle our complaints. Lament reflects the confidence that God will act in His time. This month I turn our attention to the power of faith in difficult times.
Who Is John Owen?
John Owen pastored in England in the 1600s. He left behind profound reflections on God and the Christian life, which I periodically include in my devotional reading. Owen lived at a time when many feared for the future of Christianity. Times were difficult for Christians, and many who called themselves Christians revealed what he called an “our worldly-mindedness”: they loved the comforts of this world more than the Lord. This was seen in people leaving the church when the church called for basic discipleship expressed in self-sacrifice for one another. As Owen put it, there “is an evident lack of love that is among churches, church members, and believers.” Christians also faced broader challenges from the culture, government authorities, and rival religious views.
Owen preached about the same struggles faced by Christians of every generation, including ours. His words guide me, knowing that he would look at our time with a smile of familiarity. Today I read through a sermon from 1680 and thought his insights about faith during difficult times was helpful.
Four Points to Ponder
The first of his four points was that, “Faith will remind our soul that… Christ has built his church upon the rock, so that nothing shall prevail against it.” People might abandon the church because following Christ is too costly, but this will not keep Jesus from accomplishing His work of building His church. We have no idea what church in 2021 will look like, but we know that the church Jesus is building will stand.
His second point was, “Faith will also remind the soul that God still has the fullness and portion of the Spirit and can pour it forth when He pleases….” We might struggle today with discouragement or exhaustion, but at any point the Holy Spirit can revive us and renew our walk with Christ. Or to say it differently: we will get through this, not by gritting our teeth and pressing on, but because the Holy Spirit will sustain us.
Point three: “When your souls are perplexed over these things, your faith will say to you, ‘Why are you cast down, O my soul? Were not all these things foretold to you?'” He explains, “God has some great purpose to fulfil in it [our difficulties], and then afterwards all will be well.” God is not surprised by this crazy time in history. In fact, He is actively doing something in it.
Finally, “…faith, if exercised, will stir up every soul that possesses it to attend particularly to those duties that God requires at such a time.” He identifies those duties as examining our lives (How are we guilty of wanting comfort or things of this world more than sacrificial love?); lament because of the state of the world; watch ourselves and one another to avoid spiritual decline; be zealous for God and the gospel.
That is a very practical way forward: examine myself (and repent when necessary), take my grief about the world to the Lord, watch my life and encourage others in faithfulness, and talk about God and the gospel often.
I appreciate being pastored by such a man as John Owen. I hope he helps you, as well.