As a young Christian I always struggled with what it means to have faith. The problem was that no one would define it for me. And equally bad, no one would give me practical applications of how to exercise this faith. I remember being told things like “you need to step out on faith” or “if you have even the faith of a mustard seed…” or “Graham You just got to ask for more faith…”
None of this was bad advice. But for me, it was woefully incomplete because it left me hanging for more. Inside, I was screaming (and desperately yearning) for a more concrete application. I knew I was not pastor material. I knew I was no Mother Teresa or Billy Graham. Far from courageous, far from saintly, I knew I was just scared, full of doubt and totally clueless. So how would someone like me ever be able to step out in faith? And what in the world would this faith look like?
First Question: Faith In What? (Will Any Faith Do?)
Often we hear people say “The best is yet to come!” Or they’ll spout off things like “All things work to the good of those who believe…” Sure this is faith. But it’s all nonsense when your faith is in the wrong place. Faith in rainbow unicorns and puffy clouds is far too wispy for the real weight of today’s serious problems. If faith means anything, it must be grounded in real truths and real promises for real adversity.
Today, we hear a lot about self-help and self-actualization. But faith is more than stacking your ladder next to a wall and climbing it. Indeed, as one 20th century monk notes: “People spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall!” So for faith to be anything other than blind optimism, it’s got to rest on a solid foundation. Faith can’t be grounded in yourself, or rooted in your marriage, or found in your career, or even based on your wonderful country or the progressive or conservative ideals of your political party.
Faith in these things will lead to a profound disappointment. And if it doesn’t, then you’re faith is in the wrong thing and it has extremely low expectations!
Christians know (at least in their head) that all faith is based on the Godhood of Jesus of Nazareth. But even they don’t always believe that. Just ask them where they spent most of their time this week. Or for that matter, what they chase after in life, or even how they go about resolving their everyday problems. Often, you’ll find that these pursuits have very little to do with an intimate, trusting relationship with Jesus. This is another reason why I delight in the Lord’s grace! For without His covering, we’re all toast. No one is righteous without Him! No one.
Faith Described in Scripture
Hebrews 11:1 (NIV) says it this way:
1. Faith is being sure of what we hope for
2. Certain of what we don’t see.
So, what does this mean when you break it down?
What Do We Hope For? (What Should We Be Sure Of?)
Many of us never even ask this question. What is it we hope for? Is it that everything will be alright? Is it for a secure job or for our kids to never have the hardships or heartbreak that we did? If hope is the crux of faith, then we must seriously consider what it is we’re hoping for. Because hoping in the wrong thing is just like climbing the wrong ladder!
Do you really hope for your kids to play in the sewer instead of thrive at the beach? You’d say “No, of course not!” And yet, what is the logical outcome of what you’re hoping for? If your hope for your children is just to be laughy-happy with lives full of prosperity, then perhaps this hope promises more sewer than beach for them!
Examining Our Hopes
Many entertainers and superstar athletes get all the things you want for your loved ones. They have the money, they have the marriage, they have the financial security… And yet they are never sustained by these things-which in themselves can never satisfy for long.
Have you noticed that the superstars and influencers who have what you hope for, often feel the most numb, the most lost, and the most apathetic? So lost and so dead inside, that they often resort to sex, drugs, infidelity, divorce and even cosmetic surgery-just to cope with all the “blessings” they have!
Is this truly what you hope for your children? Is this truly what you hope for yourselves? Is it just to have pleasure and avoid pain? Or maybe to retire early, perfect your golf game, or to go fishing and have money and good relationships?
None of this is bad in itself. Yet, none of this is what the early Christians were told to hope for. Sure, you can ask for these things. And Jesus may even give them to you. But don’t pin your hopes on such. And don’t freak out when you don’t get them. Or when to your surprise, after you get them, you feel a yearning for something more. For this is not the hope that Christians should set their hearts on.
The Hope of Early Christians vs the Hope of Modern American Christians
The early Christians were being persecuted. They knew life to be harsh and uncomfortable. So shooting for an easy life was a nonstarter. For them, a life of leisure would never happen.
Food would spoil, clothing would wear out, most would never retire from work, and by and large, life was always a struggle. They knew that just to get by, they must depend on Jesus. But to most Americans, this kind of hardship seems like a curse. We think that God’s approval is based on us being fat, dumb and happy. But in reality, the hardship of the early Christians was their blessing. Both in this life and the next.
The ironic tragedy is that American Christians have an uphill climb because we have it so easy! Often, we have enough wealth to attain comfort. We have the ability to save for our future and build bigger and bigger barns. We can do more and more things and acquire more and more stuff. We mistakenly think that because comfort and security and are within our grasp, we should shoot for this as our life mission. Sadly, we often succeed. But this comes at a price.
We can get what we want, find out it isn’t the right ladder or isn’t the right wall, and then in both confusion and desperation, we try something else. And after decades of trying the new thing that will never satisfy, we slowly die inside…until the Holy Spirit shakes us up, either through tragedy, or epiphany.
Believe it or not, this shake up is a blessing. It resets our spiritual compass so it’s once again pointed at what’s most important. God uses our trials and dissatisfaction to help us to keep the main thing the main thing. It’s like a lunar astronaut suddenly being exposed to Earth’s crushing gravity and hating it…until he realizes that without this gravity, his bones were becoming as brittle as balsa wood; mere shells ill equipped to handle the least of Earth’s challenges.
God doesn’t want Christians living in a lunar landscape free of Earth’s cares and troubles. He doesn’t want us to be tamed and neutered by our worldly pleasures. When God plans for us to thrive at the beach, He never lets us be satisfied with our mud pies from the sewer. So don’t be afraid of a shakeup. God uses this to wake you up from the fog of your apathy, so you will place your hope in something more solid and eternal.
What Does God Want Us To Hope For?
Yes, the Lord wants more for us. And so He tells us to hope for more. It’s perfectly OK to hope for specific things in the short run. But you should always have the following key hopes in the long run. And be ready to step into them.
These hopes are in God’s peace, God’s provision, God’s protection, God’s power, and most important, God’s presence. We are to be sure in our hope of God’s intimate relationship with us. And sure in our hope that as God writes His story in our lives, Yes, Jesus has our back. And Jesus has our best interest at heart; even when we’re clueless what to do next.
The God of the Universe wants our hope to be set on the right things. And He knows that what we typically think about most is what we’ve set our hearts on. This is why in Matthew 6, Jesus tells us do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Yes, the Lord has our back. And He wants us to trust that if we first pay attention to His kingdom and His righteousness, we don’t have to worry about Him not taking care of our physical needs. Yes, we work if we want to eat. But work is put in its proper place. Work is not our hope.
Nor are we to hope in our treasure. In this regard, the Lord says that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. In other words, your real hopes are what you spend most of your time and money on. So do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. As an additional warning, the Lord reminds us What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:36)
So, based on what God says for us above, our hope should be in God’s Kingdom, God’s Righteousness and in God’s heavenly rewards. In a separate blog, I write how it’s OK to hope in God’s earthly rewards. But if our hope is only in the these, then we’re once again climbing the wrong latter on the wrong wall.
What Does It Mean To Be Certain of What We Don’t See?
So OK, you now know what to hope for. But how can you be certain of such? And even if you feel you’re certain of such, what does this mean in your day to day living? Does a Godly faith mean we simply trust God exists, go our own way and assume everything will be alright? Or maybe that we can have a distant faith that God has our back and simply carry on our life with a dash of Jesus on Sunday? If you’re troubled by this then welcome to the club!
Being Certain Requires Habitual Practice
Do you remember when as a little kid you rode a bike with training wheels? At first it was fun, a giant step from the old Big Wheel. But eventually you tired of training wheels and wanted to do more. To go faster and farther. To ditch the baby bike and ride a real bike like the big kids did.
But like me, you probably wondered: “Would I fall? And if I did fall, would my daddy be there to catch me? Would I ever be able to effortlessly balance and brake like the older kids do?”
The truth is we’d never have known the answer if we simply stood on the sidelines. The only way we could know any of these things was to get on a bike with no training wheels. And if you’re like me, you would never have done so unless you believed that right behind you, was some capable older person who would keep you from harm. Someone you had to trust would literally have your back.
Specific Ways To Leverage Our Faith In Any Situation
The Lord has our back. You don’t have to feel it. You don’t have to be brave and you don’t have to know what He’s going to do in advance. But we will never know this until we put our knowledge into practice.
Yes, to be sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we don’t see, means we must take action steps according to this belief. And when we do this, Jesus takes the little faith we got, and shows us His glory, just like He did with the 5 loaves and 2 small fish. Just like He did with the countless prophets, the widows, the lame, the blind, the scared and even the stupid. Jesus writes a story in us that points back to His greatness not our own. And when He does this, He takes us with Him! We’re not left alone and out in the cold.
It is this glorifying of God that matters. He is our hope and our only Savior both in this life and the next. Both our hope, and our certainty of this hope, are firmly grounded in His personhood, His promises, His power, and His steadfast devotion to us as we seek Him with all our hearts.
Expressing Our Faith in Praise, Prayer, Action and Waiting
Faith is more than just moving forward. Rather, it’s a mixture of praise, prayer, action and waiting. Our faith is also expressed in giving, and forgiving. But it’s not a series of wrote commands where we mechanically get moving and leave God in the corner. Instead we actually have a continuing dialogue with Jesus. We talk to Him on all we do, or all we refrain from. And we listen for His quiet response. And if we don’t hear anything, we go forward with what we know will make Him smile. In Psalm 37, the Lord gives us some excellent examples of such.
Through David, a man after God’s own heart, the Lord tells us: Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. He then urges us to Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act. So to leverage our faith, we must actively delight in the Lord, actively commit our ways to the Lord and actively commit to believing that when we do so, The Lord will act.
But the Lord also values when due to our faith, we actually refrain from things. Elsewhere in this psalm, we’re told to Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him…We are to refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! We are also instructed to speak wisdom and turn away from evil and do good.
So faith is not just praise, it’s also action. And yet faith also involves waiting… patience, and grasping the Lord’s peace. And not taking justice into your own hands such as when someone offends you. So we leverage our faith in Jesus based on what we say, what we do, and what we refrain from doing when we know it’s against God’s heart.
Do you want more faith? Then ask yourself: If Jesus truly has my back and I truly believe that He will protect me and sustain me…then what step in faith can I take-no matter how small-to demonstrate to myself that He is in control, not me? This kind of faith is interactive. It is not a matter of you launching yourself out in your own power and doing a string of good deeds to feel good about yourself. In fact, as you take these faith steps, all along the way, you should be asking for Jesus to fill you with His wisdom, His perspective, His boldness, His creative love, His forgiveness and His ability to help you love those around you.
- Ask Jesus for Specific Things Both Large and Small. (Physical and emotional healing, a new job, ice cream, to reconcile with or forgive a spouse, friend or family member, more friends…Nothing is too small or large for Jesus.)
- Pray for Your Enemies by Name (your enemies at work, at home, at church, at school. Pray for the guy who cut you off on the highway…leverage your faith by doing what Scripture tells you to do!)
- Ask Jesus for a Greater Desire for Him. Ask Him for His zeal, His passion and for what makes Him smile.
- Ask Jesus for Creative Ways To Love Your Neighbor (whether at work, at home, while shopping, at the cafe’ or with anyone you routinely come into contact with. See the blogs below on creative ways to give and love your neighbor.
- Ask for More Faith! Do as in Mark 9:24, where a father asked Jesus to heal his son, and then cried out to Him, “I believe! Help me with my unbelief!” The Lord loves your honesty and He will answer. Trust Him!
Concrete Action Steps
- Carve Out Morning Time To Be Alone with Jesus for Daily, Praise, Prayer, and Scripture Reading. Start out with just 10 minutes a day…but DO IT! Not a morning person? If you have time to brush your teeth and shower in the morning, you’re enough of a morning person to spend time with Jesus. For more suggestions see Freeing Up Quality Time For The Creator Of The Universe.
- Cut Down Your Spending (even if just a little) so you have more to give. Give not just to the church but to others who need encouragement. For easy ways to give see Loving My Neighbor in a Post Covid World and Giving Hilariously!
- Apologize Even When You’re Only Partially Wrong! No buts. And no excuses for your conduct. Man up and simply trust the Lord to convict them of their part in due time.
- Take a Step (no matter how small) that You Would Never Normally Do but for Trusting the Lord Has Your Back. (Applying for the job you’re afraid will reject you, or which you feel is beneath you. Calling someone instead of texting your apology, giving when you know there are other needs to be met.)
Do you really believe God has your back? Do you really trust that God is not only bigger than you but also morally better than you? And willing to reward you if you listen to Him? If so, then we must practice not doing what He tells us to refrain from. This includes what He says about retaliation and the evil of making rash decisions when someone has angered or hurt you.
Things To Refrain From
- Being Nice Rather than Good. If you find you’re spewing out in anger, you may need to set boundaries so you don’t say or text something you can’t take back.
- Be Slow To Say, Text or Email Anything in Anger. Often hurt people hurt people. Your rash response may be yet another kick to someone who’s already in a spiritual wheelchair. So be kind to those who mistreat you.
- Don’t Interact with Difficult People When You Are Hangry. Eat first, or bring food with you, or set some boundaries, but be careful about exploding. Same goes when you’ve been drinking.
- Don’t Let Your Political Views (or Theirs) Keep You From Showing the Love and Truth of Jesus. Keep the main thing the main thing. Jesus never had a gun. And guns or the lack of guns won’t bring in paradise. We are not to answer harshly, but to explain what we believe with gentleness and with respect.
- Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Anger. Be quick to make amends so the devil will not get a foothold into your marriage, your friendships or your life.
- Don’t Take Instant Action When You’re Afraid-Don’t respond as if God is absent or won’t protect you. Fires, earthquakes, tidal waves, sexual assault and heart attacks are real emergencies that require instant action. But for most things, we can take a moment to go to Jesus in prayer and faith, and ask Him for knowledge, wisdom and even direct intervention. Ready fire aim with no prayer… it’s almost always a bad approach and a total lack of faith!
Leave It at the Cross (Jenn Bostic)