Jesus said a lot of amazing things about belief. He said with belief in him we could move mountains because with him nothing was impossible. James added that we could have wisdom if only we believed. But how do I believe? How do I move beyond doubt to trust? There are some answers in the story of the official’s son (John 4:46-54).

Belief is born in need (John 4:47). If you have no need to believe, then you will not believe.

The official’s son was sick and dying. Out of sheer panic and fear, the man begged Jesus to heal his son. Here was a man in desperate need, and it was because of his desperation that he was ready to trust in Jesus’ ability to heal his son. If you have no need to believe, you will not believe.

A lot of Christians say they believe in the perseverance of the saints, meaning eternal security, the doctrine that once we’re saved we’re always saved. Yet, when you look closer you discover that they don’t really believe that. I said I believed in eternal security for a long time, until one night I realized how bad I really was, how little I deserved, and I panicked. It was out of that need that I really learned to believe. It’s a paradox, but the difference between strong faith and weak faith is need. The strongest Christian really is the Christian who knows how weak he or she is (2 Corinthians 12:9).

God is in the business of putting his children in holes so deep that they can’t get out without his help. What is your need right now? Whatever it is, rejoice. That’s God’s hole, and while you’re in it, God is going to teach you how to believe.

Belief is nurtured in Christ (John 4:47). Whether or not your belief grows depends on the object of that belief. And if it’s anchored in the wrong object, belief will sink and drown. So when you’re in a hole, make sure you reach out to Christ. Are you hurting? In doubt? Struggling? Go to him. That’s how your belief will be nurtured.

John 14:12 teaches that, “He who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.” I know it’s almost a truism, but it’s one a lot of Christians miss. Belief will not grow unless the object of that belief is Jesus Christ.

Belief grows in faith (John 4:50). Jesus healed the official’s son, and the man responded in faith. Then “Jesus replied, ‘You may go. Your son will live.’ The man took Jesus at his word and departed.” The official accepted what Jesus said about reality even when he didn’t yet know firsthand the reality for himself.

You say you believe? How much are you willing to bet on that belief? Your money, your life, your relationships, your family, your friends? Without risk, there can be no belief. When Jesus told the man who had been sick for a number of years, “Pick up your mat and walk” (John 5:11), the man could have said, “Are you out of your mind? I can’t walk.” And he would have remained a cripple. When Peter and John were at the temple with the lame beggar calling out to them, Peter healed the beggar with, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6). What if the beggar had said, “I don’t believe you. Go away”? If he had done that, he would have stayed at the temple gate begging until the day he died.

Satan’s syndrome is this: a believer says, “I believe and I am secure in my belief. But if I risk it, I might lose it; I might find that it isn’t true. Therefore, I’m not going to risk it.” Within the context of your faith, God is telling you to risk. Belief grows in proportion to faith, and another word for faith is risk.

Belief is matured in fact (John 4:51). Jesus was right. The mature believer is the one who has seen God act in direct and specific ways, whose faith cannot be shaken—ever—because it is built on fact.

How do you get to belief? You have a need; you risk; you invest in the proper object; then the Father acts in ways that will simply leave you speechless. That’s when you’ll have that John 4 experience: “So he [the official] and all his household believed” (verse 53). That is the Father’s surprise! Paul got it right: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).

A mature Christian is not the one who says, “Lord, zap me with faith and belief so that I can do the mountain bit.” The mature Christian is the one who has gone through the process of need, Christ-centered help, faith and risk…and has seen God faithful.

The one sport I have ever excelled at is swimming. I have even taught many people to swim. If you are swimming in competition, I can show you how to cut time off your speed. Swimming is an experienced fact to me, but that maturity never came in shallow water. I’ll never forget the day when I was very small and my father let go of me in water that was much deeper than I was tall. The realization that I was in deep water and swimming was an absolute thrill. That day I laughed and laughed. My father laughed with me. The heavenly Father laughs for the same reason.

Time to Draw Away

Read 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; James 1:2-4, 12.

In a society that praises strength, it’s very hard for us to boast of our weakness. And yet, as paradoxical as it may sound, when it comes to faith, we’re at our strongest when we’re at our weakest. Are you feeling vulnerable, weak, afraid to risk? Great! You’re in the perfect place for God to work his best. Just keep believing in him, relying on him to do what you feel unable to handle. He’ll come through. You’ll see.