Over the last couple of weeks, we have looked at how living through the divorce of their parents can fundamentally change a child’s view of the world, and how their faith in God (or ability to put their faith in God) also suffers as a result of the divorce. In part one of this series, we began our look at a biblical definition of faith by setting out five questions that we must answer about faith and answered the first of those two questions:
1. Who do we put our faith in?
2. What is faith?
Last week we examined the questions:
3. Why do we need faith?
4. Where does faith come from?
Today, we will tackle our final question:
5. What do we do with faith?
Next week, we will discuss a number of practical ways that the church can help these children of divorce on their faith journeys. So, let’s get to what might be the most important question when it comes to understanding the concept of faith:
WHAT DO WE DO WITH FAITH?
We know from our discussions the last couple of weeks that faith is akin to trust, and that the Bible tells us to place our faith in God because without faith it is impossible to please God. We also discussed how God provides even the faith the He tells us we need in Him. Which leads naturally to the question, what do we do with this faith? I contend that the answer to that question depends on how you answer one very important question:
HAVE YOU PUT YOUR FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST?
For those who have not yet put their faith in Christ
For a child (and anyone else) who does not yet know Jesus as Lord and Savior, the first step of faith that they need to take is to trust in Him and His death on the cross. The first thing you must do with faith is to put your faith in Jesus Christ. That means believing that He is the Son of God and that He came to earth and lived a perfect life only to die on the cross for our sins. It means believing that we have all have sinned and that there is nothing we can do to earn our way back to God. It means believing that we must choose to follow Him and put our trust in Him and Him alone in order to be saved, to be reconciled to God and have a personal relationship with Him. We have to make Jesus the Lord of our life and follow him. If you don’t know Jesus, the first step of faith is to believe in Him and place your trust in Him.
So many times, when we hear testimonies of how people came to put their faith in Christ, those testimonies include some aspect of the person being at a low point in their life when God called them to follow Him. The fact of the matter is, God shows up very often in our darkest hour of need. It comes as no surprise then that out of those places so many people choose to put their faith in Him. It is a great grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that He allows us to be broken enough to realize just how much we really need Him rather than continuing to wallow in our perceived independence and self-reliance.
Children of divorce are oftentimes at the lowest point in their young lives at a time when their world seems to be collapsing in front of them. Despite their difficulty in trusting in anyone (as we have discussed previously), we must continually point them towards Jesus in these low moments of their lives. We serve a gracious and loving God, and He can and does work through devastating circumstances (like divorce) to bring people to Himself. For the child of divorce who does not know Christ, this is the first step of faith that we must guide them towards.
For those who have put their faith in Christ
The Bible is far from silent on the issue of what faith means for believers. Faith is not a one-time thing that we need only at the moment of originally trusting in Jesus. Faith is not only about putting Jesus in control of our lives, it is the basis for how we continue to live our lives for Him. Once we have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, the Bible tells us that faith still plays an important, and foundational, role in our lives in so many ways, That is why it is so important to help these children of divorce to rebuild their faith in God and establish a firm foundation in that faith that will help them to overcome the ill effects of the divorce and live a life that glorifies God. Let’s look at just a few of the things the Bible tells us about faith in the life of believers.
Live by Faith
The Bible tells us that we should live by faith. Everything that we do should be based in our faith in Jesus Christ. Consider Galatians 2:20:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. [Galatians 2:20]
For the child of divorce who has placed his faith in Jesus Christ, it is important that we remind them of that faith and encourage them, no matter how hard it might be, to live by that faith. When the world seems upside down, and parents are not behaving appropriately, we can remind kids of their trust in someone who loves them so perfectly and so completely that He gave His own life for them. In a time of turmoil, this can help to ground kids in the truth of God’s love.
Approach God in Faith
Not only can we remind these children that God loved them enough to die for them, we can, and should, encourage them to talk to their Heavenly Father. The Bible tells us:
In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. [Ephesians 3:12]
Through our faith in Jesus Christ, we are completely free to approach God with our fears, with our worries, with our hurts, with our pains, with our hopes, and with anything else that we need to talk to Him about. In a time when their normal support structure has disintegrated, children of divorce need to know that they can always – ALWAYS – turn to God in faith. He does not always answer our prayers when we want Him to, or how we want Him to, but in faith we know that we can ask Him and that He always has our best interests at heart.
Put on faith
Several times, the Bible speaks of faith in terms of armor. As we live in this world, God gives us faith to persevere and fight. Far from a tranquil easy life, the Bible lets us know that a life of faith involves fighting for the things of God and persevering. Consider 1 Thessalonians 5:8:
But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. [1 Thessalonians 5:8]
As Christians, we “belong to the day.” That day is the day which we hope and long for. That day will be marked by our future reign with Christ as co-heirs of the Kingdom. It is that day, secured by the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross in which we hope. Accordingly, we must be prepared to persevere and battle in this day. In doing so, God gives us faith and love as a breastplate to protect ourselves. We wear our faith from God, and in God, as a protective covering in our battle against everyday life.
For children of divorce, this battle is so often readily apparent. So many times, they are engaged as innocent casualties in a war initiated by one or both of their parents. They wage war against change and fear and anxiety. In that battle, we must remind them, and model for them, that faith is a breastplate that protects and holds them securely.
Take up the Shield of Faith
Elsewhere in the Bible, faith is described metaphorically not as the breastplate but as a shield:
In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. [Ephesians 6:16]
We are instructed by God to take up the “shield of faith.” Unlike the breastplate which we put on to protect us until it is taken off, a shield must constantly be raised against the onslaught of arrows. We must actively appropriate the faith that God gives us in this way.
For children of divorce, this means that they must turn to, and rely on, their faith in those moments when the world seems most against them. They must remember their faith in God and rely on it to fend off the attacks of this world. When they feel like less of a person because the union that originally brought them into this world has dissolved, they must ward off that attack by having faith in who God says they are. When the world tells them that they will never feel happy again, they must raise the shield of faith in defense and remember that true joy is found in Jesus Christ. When they feel rejected, abandoned and forgotten, they must deflect those arrows with the shield of faith that tells them that God knows every hair on their heads, collects their tears in a bottle and has loved them with an unquenchable love from before time began.
Stand Firm in Faith
Several of the Bible’s “faith verses” deal with perseverance. A life of faith will not be without trials and tribulations, which is something the child of divorce can relate to. But, God gives us the faith to endure and stand firm through our faith in Him:
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. [1 Corinthians 16:13]
This is perhaps the hardest of most critical thing that children of divorce who already have a relationship with Christ must do. There is no doubt that our faith is a gift from God, and He also gives us the grace to persevere, but there is some element of it that also requires us to “stand firm in the faith.” Despite everything going on in their lives, we must encourage children of divorce to stand firm. We must point them directly to God and encourage them to share their struggles with Him and to put their hope in Him. When the foundation of a child’s life seems to be crumbling underneath him, a foundation of faith will provide a solid ground for these kids to rebuild their lives.
Grow in Faith
Our battle of faith, though, does not end with standing firm. The Bible tells us that we must continue to grow in faith:
Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, [2 Corinthians 10:15]
We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. [2 Thessalonians 1:3]
Strengthen Your Faith
This growth results in a strengthened faith, and the Bible is clear how we do that:
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. [Colossians 2:6-7]
As we live our lives in Christ, we are built up in Him, and our faith (which is learned previously) is strengthened. This results in an overflowing of thankfulness.
I see three things in these verses that I think are important to remember when it comes to ministering to children of divorce:
1. Faith is all about our focus. For a large number of children of divorce, their lives become all about the divorce itself and the ramifications that result from that divorce. It is easy, and understandable, that these kids will focus on, and spend a good deal of their time reacting to, the divorce. In essence, the divorce itself, and more precisely the impacts of that divorce, become the central focus of the child’s life. In order to strengthen their faith and begin the healing process, that focus must be shifted back to where it properly belongs – squarely on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
2. This faith is a faith that was “learned previously.” In a world where a large percentage of the kids in our ministries have already, or will someday, experience the divorce of their parents, this is just another reason that we must work fervently in the lives of kids who have not yet experienced this tragedy and loss to build a firm foundation of faith. A well established and grounded faith in Christ, prior to divorce, while not totally alleviating the impacts of the divorce, can help some of these kids to weather the storm.
3. This type of strengthening faith results in an attitude of thankfulness. Throughout the Bible, we see that focusing on ourselves and our own circumstances can lead to despair. On the contrary, focusing on God and focusing on others, helps to realign our focus to where God says it should be. Time and again, we see that this represents God’s best for us. All children are prone to this self-focus, but children of divorce face the added pressure of focusing on, dwelling on, and lamenting how the divorce has affected their lives. This merits a word of caution though – as you attempt to refocus a child of divorce on thankfulness, empty platitudes like, “You should be thankful that you still get see your Dad once every couple of weeks” are not helpful and will likely lead a child to write you off.
Finally, in the Book of Hebrews, the Bible reminds us of the importance of having people in our lives whose faith we can imitate:
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. [Hebrews 13:7]
The Bible exhorts us to remember those who taught us the word of God and imitate their faith. That exhortation comes with one caveat however – we must “consider the outcome of their way.” When selecting people to model the faith of, it is important to discern whether or not their own faith has resulted in the kind of life that warrants imitating.
So, what does this mean for the children of divorce? As those who minister to children and those who care about children of divorce, we must provide them with role models of faith that are worthy of being followed. For many of them, the divorce of their parents has left an absolute void of role models in their lives. Parents have abandoned them or become so caught up in rebuilding their own lives that they no longer serve as adequate role model. Statistics show that men and women flee the church after going through a divorce taking their kids with them. As Christian men and women, we can stand in the gap and provide these kids models of faith worthy of imitation. To be those types of models though, that means that we must constantly be evaluating the “outcome of our own way.” Before we can model faith for these kids, we must be living of life of faith worthy of being followed.
Over the last couple of weeks, we have examined how and why a divorce can shatter a child’s faith. Today, we have examined the importance of nurturing faith in the life of a child of divorce. Join us next week as we examine some practical things that the church in general, and those of us who work with kids in particular, can do to bolster and restore the faith of the children of divorce.
I want to leave you with one last verse about faith from the Bible. This verse reminds us that our faith, our lives, and everything that we have and do is all about Jesus – the founder and perfecter of our faith!
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. [Hebrews 12:1-2]