Growing up, my sister used a craft called Shrinky Dinks.
She would color and create these figures and then put them in the oven. The heat would shrink them down into tiny emblems she could put on her backpack.
I am coming to grips with the fact that unbelief and the heat of the pandemic have caused something of a “shrinking effect” like this in my own life, and conversations with friends around me have convinced me that I’m not alone.
Unbelief shrinks our dreams, our convictions, and our relationships. But, a little bit of faith can change everything!
And, “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.
Hebrews 10:38-39 NIV
One of the things I think Covid and its latest variant, Omicron, have done is to nurture and draw out the unbelief in all of us. The constant uncertainty, disappointment, and negativity we have all experienced over the last two years can leave us with fatigue and a damaged faith.
Unbelief prevents us from living our best life and instead shrinks our enthusiasm, our passion, and our impact. When put under the heat of this pandemic, these things can shrink and leave us discouraged, compromised, and isolated.
Faith has the opposite effect.
Jesus replied: It is because you don’t have enough faith! But I can promise you this. If you had faith no larger than a mustard seed, you could tell this mountain to move from here to there. And it would. Everything would be possible for you.
Matthew 17:20 CEV
There is nothing that makes a bigger difference in my life than the level of faith I have. Jesus says it is the most potent of substances. Just a tiny seed of it can make anything possible!
The central issue in each of our spiritual lives is not our circumstances or other people or even the sins that can make us feel so guilty. Rather, it is the amount of faith we have that Jesus says makes all the difference.
Time and time again in the Gospels Jesus tells us and his disciples that not having enough faith is THE issue. He did not rebuke people because of lust, swearing, or because they lied, but rather it was because they did not have faith.
So, how do we go about increasing our faith? The first step is identifying how unbelief has gripped us and then deciding to have a defining moment. A great example in the Bible for us to learn from is Thomas.
The faith to get out
After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to all of the disciples one Sunday evening—except one, who was not there. Who was that one person who wasn’t present? You guessed it: Thomas.
One of the twelve wasn’t present when Jesus appeared to them—it was Thomas, whose nickname was “the Twin.”
John 20:24 TPT
Where was Thomas when all the other disciples were meeting on that Sunday night? We don’t know. All we know is that he wasn’t with the guys who were probably his closest friends.
The other disciples were afraid to meet together on that Sunday evening, but they met anyway (John 20:19). This certainly took faith, and perhaps Thomas didn’t even have the faith to get there. He had gone through a very difficult time with Jesus dying. His life had been disrupted, and if I were him I would feel down, discouraged, and afraid.
I can be like Thomas, only my disruptions are much smaller. During the pandemic, meeting together with friends does take faith (and masks, hand sanitizer, a ventilated space, weighing the risks of how much exposure your friends/family have had, sometimes tracking down a rapid test … you get the idea). Sometimes, it’s just hard to get out.
The unfortunate consequence of this is that many of us, like Thomas, have stopped getting much time around our friends and have become more isolated than we may realize. It’s important to note that by not being with his friends, Thomas missed out on the very thing that would have built his faith—seeing Jesus alive again.
Likewise, when we are not with our spiritual friends, we also miss out on some of the great things that could build our faith. We miss out on hearing answered prayers, or sharing something going on in our life and getting just the right encouragement at just the right time.
We miss out on serving together, and seeing lives change because we happened to be together at the right place at the right time.
Physical distance and taking appropriate safety precautions have been very necessary, but it’s also important to reflect on whether we have been letting unbelief keep us isolated from spending time with our friends. Faith helps us see possibilities and ways we can connect, instead of being focused on all the reasons we can’t.
Remember, identifying unbelief doesn’t have to get you down. Recognizing it is the first step to changing it. So if you have been experiencing a “shrinking effect” in your relationships and have been having a hard time finding the faith to get out and spend time with people, admitting that to yourself and your friends will go a long way in building your faith.
Pause and reflect
How has the pandemic drawn out my unbelief?
How has my unbelief shrunk my dreams, my impact, and my relationships?
Has unbelief left me isolated? How can I get the faith to reengage with my spiritual friends to build my faith?
So the disciples informed him, “We have seen the Lord with our own eyes!” Still unconvinced, Thomas replied, “There’s no way I’m going to believe this unless I personally see the wounds of the nails in his hands, touch them with my finger, and put my hand into the wound of his side where he was pierced!”
John 20:25 TPT
Have you ever missed out on something that all of your friends got to experience? When I was in high school, the movie Ghostbusters came out. All of my friends decided to blow off studying for a test one weeknight and go see it (I am sure we did not tell our parents).
However, one of my friends decided not to come. The next day, our teacher decided to postpone the test, and we all celebrated by singing the Ghostbusters song. My friend was so upset that he missed out and he started talking about how it was a stupid movie anyway and a waste of time.
I would imagine that Thomas might have felt something like my friend. He must have felt disappointed, saddened, and probably embarrassed that he missed seeing Jesus. So, he doubled down on his unbelief.
He did what I call “evangelizing unbelief.” Instead of sharing my faith, I can share my unbelief, fear, and negativity without even realizing what I am doing. Before you know it, my toxic attitudes have spread through my family and my friends.
I am learning that instead of evangelizing unbelief, I can identify and share vulnerably about the impact of unbelief in my life. This helps me get help and encouragement instead of going down the path of negativity and taking others with me.
Here are three common signs of unbelief I have seen in my life. Remember, recognizing these signs can actually be a good thing and a big step toward building our faith. We can’t change things about ourselves if we don’t understand what is happening to us.
Thankfully, Jesus didn’t leave Thomas in this condition for long. He gave him another chance to believe and he will always give us another chance to believe also.
Pause and reflect
How have you evangelized unbelief? Has it had any effect on those around you?
What is another way to handle disappointment, sadness, and embarrassment?
Which of these three signs of unbelief do you identify with the most?
We can change our faith right now
Then eight days later, Thomas and all the others were in the house together. And even though all the doors were locked, Jesus suddenly stood before them! “Peace to you,” he said. Then, looking into Thomas’ eyes, he said, “Put your finger here in the wounds of my hands. Here—put your hand into my wounded side and see for yourself. Thomas, don’t give in to your doubts any longer, just believe!” Then the words spilled out of his heart—“You are my Lord, and you are my God!”
John 20:26-28 TPT
After eight days, Jesus came back again—and this time Thomas was there! As I read this, I wonder if Jesus postponed ascending back into heaven a few days, just so he could have this interaction with Thomas. It helps me to believe that God will never leave me or you wallowing in our unbelief, but will always come back to restore our faith.
When Jesus did interact with Thomas, he didn’t get down on him or rebuke him. He just did what would most help him believe. He showed him what would help him believe and said, “Don’t give in to your doubts any longer, just believe!”
Jesus gave Thomas the chance and ability to believe again, and Thomas did. He changed on the spot. Thomas did not respond by saying, “Let me go pray about this,” or “I need to work on that.” He changed his faith at that moment.
We can change our faith right now. We do not need to be gripped by unbelief any longer. Chrisitan tradition holds that Thomas had the faith to travel outside of the Roman Empire to spread the news about Jesus. Let’s learn from Thomas and have this be a moment that redefines us not as doubters but as believers.
Jesus responded, “Thomas, now that you’ve seen me, you believe. But there are those who have never seen me with their eyes but have believed in me with their hearts, and they will be blessed even more!”
John 20:29 TPT
Pause and reflect
How do I need to change my faith today?
How is God trying to help build my faith?
Each of us can grow when we learn to identify our unbelief. Make sure to read the next article in this series about overcoming unbelief. Here are three steps we can take to turn our unbelief into faith.
Study the book of Acts to see how God used simple, ordinary people who believed to do extraordinary things.
Pair up with a friend and help each other identify the areas of unbelief in your lives and then encourage each other to overcome them.
Read these Deep Spirituality devotionals to help give you the faith to overcome unbelief.