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What is faith? If you ask people, you’ll get different answers depending on experience, age, belief, and knowledge. Essentially, faith means confidence in your own system of beliefs.
Through faith, self-knowledge grows, leading us to discover the mysteries enshrined within us. Faith is like a compass that guides a wise spiritual traveler on the path of self-discovery and inner understanding.
Regardless of what stage of growth you are at, though, your faith can be at risk. Once you profess your belief in a religion, for example, there is no guarantee that you will maintain it.
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Perhaps you or someone you know has experienced this loss of faith. Many lose faith in God, for our faith is tested over and over again. The closer you are to God, the greater the tests may seem to become.
This can happen to the best of us. When faced with persecution by the Romans, even the disciples of Jesus Christ started to lose their faith in their savior. Mary Magdalene, the strongest of them all, saved them during this difficult time. Many join religions with great enthusiasm and expectation, but when difficulty or disappointment creeps in, slowly their steadfastness withers away. In some cases, those who lose their faith allow trivial issues to become more important to them than the love of God.
So how do we keep our faith strong and healthy?
The Baha’i teachings say that faith gains strength through prayer, meditation, and by keeping the love of God at the center of our lives:
Our limbs, our members, O my Lord, bear witness to Thy unity and oneness. Send down upon us Thy strength and power, that we may become steadfast in Thy Faith and may aid Thee among Thy servants. Illumine our eyes, O my Lord, with the effulgence of Thy beauty, and enlighten our hearts with the splendors of Thy knowledge and wisdom.
That excerpt from a prayer by Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, recognizes that our bodies exemplify the unity and power of the Creator, and asks God to strengthen our steadfastness in faith.
This suggests that we must work to maintain our relationship with God, realizing that as we grow closer to the Divine Presence our faith grows stronger only by overcoming tests and difficulties.
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We need both focus and balance, two key elements that sustain faith. Think of a tightrope walker at a circus, working without a net. To successfully cross from one end to the other of a tensioned wire, he must maintain his balance. Failure means serious injury. To attain the level of skill and confidence required for success, he must put in long hours of practice. Likewise, in our spiritual path we must learn to focus on our relationship with God, taking time each day to sustain and strengthen our connection. Maintaining a balanced life is always a challenge, as this material existence is filled with distractions that can lead us to barter God’s bounty for the benefits of this world.
In one real-life example, a man interested in the Baha’i Faith approached a Catholic priest for a “second opinion” on the new religion. He offered the priest a few Baha’i books, and asked him to comment on them. The priest refused. The man was disturbed by his reaction. He really wanted to get an opinion from someone he trusted. When pressed for a reason for his refusal, the clergyman said, “What if this religion is true? Son, being a priest is all I have known for most of my life. Changing religions means losing everything that I have – a profession. I am too old to start all over again.”
In 1899, Abdu’l-Baha reportedly said to May Bolles, one of the first western pilgrims to visit him, in his parting address: “As ye have faith so shall your powers and blessings be. This is the balance – this is the balance.”
If we maintain our faith, the promise of God’s bounty is unimaginably wonderful according to Abdu’l-Baha. He wrote:
Your Lord hath assuredly promised His servants who are firm and steadfast to render them victorious at all times, to exalt their word, propagate their power, diffuse their lights, strengthen their hearts, elevate their banners, assist their hosts, brighten their stars, increase the abundance of the showers of mercy upon them, and enable the brave lions to conquer.
In our spiritual journey from this material world to paradise, tests and difficulties in successive turns will surely visit each one of us. Yet for the people who have faith, trials, tribulations, disasters, sorrow, pain and illness are all parts of the spiritual path of purification they travel as they draw closer to God.
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