Belief wears many faces. It is found in every culture and speaks every language. There is no person who does not possess belief in at least some small degree. Every religion has it, and every atheist both has it and decries it. With something as universal as belief, how do we confine it so we can study it and its effects on people?
First of all, belief is a choice. Whether you choose to believe in something that is totally false or something that is completely true, it is a choice people have to make for themselves. How often do we choose to believe a family member who has betrayed and lied to us time and again? Yet time and again we choose to believe they have changed. How many times has someone actually changed, yet we still refuse to believe in their change? Sometimes our unwillingness to grant another the “permission” to be better helps to trap them in bad behavior.
Since belief seasons and colors all our thoughts and behaviors, all our interactions and aspirations, perhaps it is best if we focus on just a couple of aspects of belief, as it affects things of the Spirit.
A hard heart and a stiff neck
The Old Testament has a number of references of people having a hard heart (Exodus 9:34) or a stiff neck (Jeremiah 17:23). As often as not the reference has something to do with the children of Israel. These two descriptors paint a perfect picture of what they are about. We refer to the heart as the center of our soul, the place where we feel things like mercy, love, compassion, sorrow, and pity. When the scriptures talk about someone whose heart is hardened, they are making reference to the unwillingness of that person to feel. Depending on the situation referred to, the scripture could be referring to the person’s unwillingness to feel sorrow for what they have done, their unwillingness to have compassion or pity for someone else, or their unwillingness to repent and feel bad about a wrongdoing they have committed.
How often did the Lord condemn and punish Pharaoh with a plague because Moses told him to let the Lord’s people go, and Pharaoh refused? (The number 10 comes to mind.) Please note that even though the scriptures state that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart each time, this is not correct. It is against the nature of God to cause any man to desire to sin against God. Pharaoh did the rebelling without any help from the Lord, and was punished soundly each time he did. It certainly does not make any sense that God made Pharaoh rebel against Moses then punished Pharaoh for doing so. It took ten plagues to break Pharaoh of his stubborn streak before he finally allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt. Even then he hardened his heart yet again and pursued the fleeing slaves. That action cost him, and Egypt, dearly in lost lives to a watery grave.
When the Lord accuses someone of having a stiff neck or of being stiff necked, He is describing someone who refuses to be led, or to have their head or attention turned in the right direction. Imagine the time when you slept wrong or had whiplash and it was painful to turn your head. If someone said, “Look!” and pointed at something, you had to turn your whole body in that direction in order to see it. Now imagine the Lord trying to direct us along the path we need to follow that will bring us happiness, but he cannot get us to turn our heads to look in the right direction. When we suffer from stiff necks in the spiritual sense we are unable to be guided and directed by the Lord to do the things that will bring us joy and relief from emotional and spiritual pain. Is it any wonder the Lord condemns someone who is hard hearted or has a stiff neck?
Belief is the cure
It has been my experience that God is far more forgiving to the person who too easily chooses to believe something than He is to forgive someone who cannot be brought to believe something. What does a willingness to believe do for us? Well, until we are willing to choose to believe that it is at least a possibility that God exists He cannot verify to our hearts that He does exist. The Lord has certain rules that govern heavenly interactions with His mortal children. The first and foremost of all the rules is that God will not force himself on us. We must seek Him. That does not mean that He is just sitting around hoping we will accidentally discover Him. He does everything in His power to promote our curiosity, our desire to find Him. But we have to have at least a little desire to know about Him before he can satisfy that desire with answers.
It is our willingness to believe in God that invites answers to prayers. God does not answer the prayers of the insincere, the cynical, or the unwilling and doubting. We must truly want to know. Once we demonstrate our willingness to do something, anything, according to the laws of God, He will bless us with confirmations of our belief. These confirmations, be they physical blessings, enrichments of the soul, enlightenment of the mind, or whatever, show us that what we chose to believe in, and live by, were correct.
We’re in control
But here is the key to why there is power in belief. When we choose to believe something that God has taught, and we put it to the test by living that law or proving Him as he desires us to do, when we have our beliefs verified, we actually gain the ability to believe in Him more than we were just able to do. With that increased capacity for belief we are now able to try following another promise made by God that we would have found to be too difficult to follow previously.
Each time we choose to believe then behave as though God’s word is the truth, we are exercising faith, which is belief in truth that is acted upon. As the Lord confirms our active belief, our faith, our capacity grows for not only being more believing, but to be able to exercise greater faith or action in that belief.
This means that we can systematically, and deliberately build our ability to exercise faith in God and grow in our capacity for understanding spiritual truth. In 1 Corinthians 2:14 we are told,
The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Those who harden their hearts against believing the word of God, those who are stiff necked, refuse to give any credibility to spiritual truth, therefore no spiritual truth can be revealed to them, for spiritual truths can only be revealed to those who have a believing heart. This is where our spiritual power comes from. The more we learn to trust in God and what He has told us we need to do, and how we need to behave, the more He can reveal to us the wisdom and power behind living that kind of life. The more we see that service to others is a key to personal happiness, the more we learn to love serving. The more we practice forgiveness, the more we see how much forgiveness we need ourselves, and our gratitude for our Savior’s sacrifice for us grows.
Obedience is the first law of heaven, and choosing to obey God’s law is our first opportunity to experience the transforming power of belief. Knowledge is the currency of heaven, and those who practice what God preaches are those who learn first hand how rich their lives can be in Christ’s teachings. The spiritually poor are those who choose not to believe. The rich and abundant life that God promises to those who follow Him is only available to those who are willing to believe and act according to the Lord’s commandments. To these people He reveals His wisdom and grants His grace. A willingness to believe, and to act upon that belief, opens all the heavenly doors.
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