The tree image could not be more apt than when it comes to a discussion of FAITH. Jesus used just this image to speak of faith and the kingdom: “It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade” (Mk 4:31-32).

When first planted, faith is a tiny, tender thing, fragile and vulnerable. With careful cultivation, faith can and will grow, becoming stronger and more stable. Even then, the trials of life can strain faith, making it bend and break in some people. Fully matured, however, faith is a powerful thing, standing strong and straight and steadfast.

The key to a mature faith is in that word “cultivation.” Every Christian has a responsibility to nurture and care for his/her faith, to regard it as the precious and precarious thing it truly is. The church also has a responsibility to nurture the faith of its members, to create an environment where faith can be fostered and fed. Such cultivation requires attention and deliberate shaping. It requires us to build up layers of faith (like the rings of a tree), until faith is transformed from a seedling that must be protected to a great tree that ends up protecting us.

FAITH, like love, is a “many-splendored” thing. It takes various forms.

At the most basic level, FAITH could be thought of as a noun—as in “the faith.” Here, faith is little more than a list of things we believe to be true … a catalogue of ideas and principles we accept as fact. To be sure, that is an important facet of faith. Many of us, however, never grow beyond that simple understanding. Faith forever remains a list of propositional statements to which we give mental assent: God created the heavens and the earth … Jesus was an historical figure who lived and died in first century Palestine.

Ultimately, however, faith must be more than facts. To use the Hebrew writer’s famous definition: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb 11:1). Faith is a matter of confidence and hope and assurance. It involves convictions, certainly, but so much more. It is a verb (“trust,” “reliance”—not just what we believe, but that we believe, how deeply we believe). And in that active form, FAITH has at least five facets.

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