For the grown up heart:
While I am not denying that God can and does work in miraculous ways sometimes, "faith" can often seem like an elusive character trait that only "super spiritual people" have. This article by Thabiti Anyabwile helps shed some light on how the Bible defines faith:
But “faith” defies easy definition for many people. Some wonder whether they have it. Others mistake faith with presumption. Sometimes people seem to speak of “faith” as an antidote to anxiety. Worried? Have a little faith. Blind leaps, vague hope, and believing against the odds all masquerade as faith. So what is faith? Perhaps the closest thing to a succinct biblical definition of faith occurs in Heb. 11:1, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
Two things are obvious from this statement. First, faith involves a sureness about future hope. It orients us with confidence toward what is coming later. Second, the essence of faith is certainty about unseen and invisible realities. Faith is a way of seeing beyond physical sight. The remainder of Hebrews 11 works this definition out in a variety of historical examples.I recommend taking a look at the rest of the article as Anyabwile fleshes out 20 aspects of faith based on Hebrews 11. Faith is knowing that what we hope for in Christ is a reality and we will one day see it realized. I find it particularly interesting that the people in Hebrews 11 were all credited as having faith and the majority of them had less than pleasant circumstances and many of them ended up being martyred. That doesn't bode well for the arguments that "If you just believe, God will make it all work out the way you want it to."
For the little heart:
So, the Bible tells us to have "faith like a child" (Lk. 18:17). Most kids have faith in others. When they're young, we can pretty much tell them anything and they'll believe us. As they get older, they get a little more discerning and don't believe every word they hear, but most are still fairly trusting of others. They have the concept down without really thinking about it, but asking them to "define" the word faith is another story.
Here are a couple of things I've done to help explain FAITH to Isaac. And as a side note, these are activities that can work well for older or younger kids. My favorite kind of explanations!!!
1. Trust Fall. This one is pretty simple. Have a child stand on any stable surface and "free fall" into your arms. For older kids, you can use several people to catch them. Instruct the child to turn around with their back toward you and cross their arms over their chest as they fall. (Note: This can be done several ways, with one person catching the other from a standing position or a group catching from a higher platform. Take a look a the pictures here to get a better idea of how this can look.)
This activity take a lot of trust, even for an adult. You have to believe that the person (or people) is strong enough to catch you and that they will keep their word and not let you fall.
2. Go fly a kite. Or make a piece of paper move with something like a fan or blow dryer if it's not windy outside. We had a nice, breezy day recently and so I grabbed my Bible and the boys' new kite and we went outside. I read Hebrews 11:1 to the boys and said, "Hmmm.... we have to believe in something we can't see? Can you think of something that blows trees and hair and flowers and kites?"
Isaac quickly responded with, "Wind." It was an easy question. We were seeing the wind's effects with our eyes and feeling it on our bodies.
"But I can't see the wind? I'm trying to hold it in my hands, but I don't see anything. Are you SURE there's wind out here?"
He was sure. He was confident about something he couldn't technically see (though he could see it's effects).
We grabbed the kite and sure enough, it went soaring! There was definitely wind.
Now, for an older child who might say, "Yeah, but I can see the effects, it's not the same," I would recommend trying the next activity. (And they're right. These analogies, though helpful, all break down at some point. We CAN sometimes see God working and it's easy to have faith, but other times, he seems silent and having faith is easier said than done.)
3. Blindfold them. Tie a handkerchief around their eyes and describe a scene to them. What it's like outside. What a picture looks like. This is similar to the trust fall, only the focus is on them listening to and trusting your words, just like we listen to and trust God's Word. It's not so much trusting your strength this time, but what you are telling them (a little closer to what it means to have faith in God's Word). In some ways, our entire life is lived out with a blindfold. We don't ever get to SEE what we're promised is there. But we believe with all of our heart that the Words are true.
One day, the blindfold will be removed and what we've hoped for all this time will be our reality.
I can't wait!!!! Can you?!?
If you have any ideas that you've used with kids to help them understand faith, please leave a comment!