You cannot make yourself believe something through willpower. Oxford professor Richard Swinburne writes, “In general, a person cannot choose what to believe there and then. Belief is something that happens to a person, not something he or she does.”
Sometimes people with “iffy” faith will think, I have to try harder to believe that I’m going to get the answer that I want to my prayer. It doesn’t work. Trying hard to believe is toxic. It is a dangerous practice. I can say, “I’ll try to learn. I’ll try to study. I’ll try to grow. I’ll try to know God better. I’ll try to pray.” But I cannot directly generate belief through willpower.
Alice learned a lesson about the nature of beliefs on her trip to Wonderland.11 (Lewis Carroll was both an Oxford mathematician and an Anglican clergyman, so he was very interested in the nature of belief.) In the middle of a dizzying conversation, the Red Queen says to Alice, “Now I’ll give you something to believe. I am 101 years, five months, and one day old.”
This is too much for poor Alice. Although one would guess it is hard to gauge the age of an animated chess character, it is clear that the queen can’t be beyond middle age.
“I can’t believe that,” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” asked the queen, in a pitying tone. “Try again. Take a deep breath and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said. “One can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” — Ortberg, John (2008-08-22). Faith and Doubt (Kindle Locations 2205-2221). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.