PROFILES IN FAITH
Living faith! It brings to mind images of fiery prophets, dynamic apostles, brave martyrs and exceptional followers of Christianity across the ages. Great people of God, powerful and effective. You could never have faith like that, could you?
Or could you?
Few aspects of the Christian experience are so often talked about, but so little understood, as the subject of faith. And yet, God says that without faith it is impossible to please him, “because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
“Have faith in God,” Jesus Christ declared (Mark 11:22). He was speaking about heartfelt belief. Such belief involves commitment and loyalty. Faith in God means belief in him even though we cannot see
him. It means support of God’s principles, his words, his commandments–believing in and actively doing his will.
The Bible records many examples of believers who in faith served God, received answers to prayer, triumphed over adversity and did truly remarkable deeds. These examples have been recorded and handed down to us for our learning (Romans 15:4). Let’s look at some experiences of believers of the past and see how faith worked in their lives.
God’s Friend Abraham
Besides Christ, no individual is referred to more often in the New Testament as an example of faith than Abraham, who lived nearly 2,000 years before Jesus Christ came as our Savior. Because of the depth and sincerity of his belief, he is called God’s friend (James 2:23).
At age 75, Abraham (then called Abram) perhaps would have liked to comfortably live out his days in Mesopotamia, where his home and relatives were. But God had something else in mind. He instructed
Abraham to pull up roots and migrate to the land of Canaan and to settle there in unfamiliar territory. Furthermore, though Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were childless, God promised to greatly multiply their descendants.
Certainly, at Abraham’s age, it was not easy to accept the idea of a move like that. He probably would never again see most of his relatives. But Abraham had faith. His reaction is simply summarized by
the words “So Abram left, as the Lord had told him” (Genesis 12:4).
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). But he did know he could trust
Time passed. Though God had safely guided them to their new land, Abraham and Sarah remained childless. Abraham therefore reminded God of his promise (Genesis 15:2-3).
God responded, not by granting a child, but by repeating his promise in additional detail. And, in spite of how hopeless having a child looked from a physical point of view, Abraham believed in the Lord (verse 6).
More time passed. For nearly 25 years, Abraham and Sarah felt their bodily vigor diminish. “Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing”
But Abraham knew that nothing is too hard for the all powerful Creator God he worshiped. “Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead–since he was about a hundred years old–and that Sarah’s womb was also dead [she was about 90]. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:19-21).
Finally, after many years of waiting, “the very time God had promised” came, and Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah in accordance with God’s word (Genesis 21:2). Their faith had grown over years of
testing. In their place, who would not have been anxious as the years went by? Who would not have wondered if God meant what he said, if the passage of time somehow nullified the promise?
It is never too late for God! He who “calls things that are not as though they were” (Romans 4:17) will do as he wills at the time he appoints. Nothing can stand in the way.
But God had not yet finished testing Abraham. When his long-awaited-for and beloved son, Isaac, was still a boy or had become a young man, the big test came. God told Abraham to take Isaac to a
designated place and there to offer him as a sacrifice (Genesis 22:1-12)! “A sacrifice?” Abraham must have been tempted to ask.
However, Abraham didn’t argue. He trusted in faith that God knew what was best. Abraham did not understand how God would work it all out. But he did know without a doubt that the true God was speaking to him. He knew the God he served did not desire human sacrifices, as did the gods of other nations. He knew that God would somehow provide a lamb as a substitutionary offering (verse 8). But how? When? Abraham did not know. Nor did he have to. He prepared to offer Isaac. It wasn’t until the last second that God intervened and provided the substitute sacrifice.
A close call? Not for God. He had promised Abraham innumerable descendants through Isaac. Abraham believed the promise. He knew that God, if necessary to fulfill his word, could raise Isaac from the dead
Abraham fully trusted that God was in complete control. As a memorial of the experience, “Abraham called that place ‘The Lord will provide’ ” (Genesis 22:14). That, in fact, is one of God’s names. In
every trial, in every peril, in the face of every obstacle or need, the promise that God will provide is the assurance on which living faith thrives and triumphs.
Of course, Abraham was not perfect. His faith wavered at times. Nevertheless, the Bible calls him “Abraham, the man of faith” (Galatians 3:9) and singles him out as an important example for
Christians to follow.
Faith without action is dead (James 2:17, 20). By his deeds or works Abraham demonstrated the reality of his faith (verses 18, 21-24).
Mary the Mother of Jesus Christ
God carefully chose the woman who was to be the mother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He made certain that both Jesus’ mother and stepfather would be capable parents, submitted to God’s will.
Joseph, the man appointed to be the stepfather of Jesus, was a righteous, God-fearing person (Matthew 1:19-25). Mary, the woman who was to give birth to and be the mother of the Son of God, was a person of quiet, patient faith.
Can you imagine Mary’s astonishment when the angel Gabriel appeared and announced to her one day that she, being yet a virgin, would bear a child, and that the child would be “the Son of the Most
High” (Luke 1:32)? What a test of faith! How can a virgin give birth, let alone to God’s child, who was destined to live and reign forever (verses 32-34)? And, on a personal level, what about all the gossip and
accusations that would result from Mary conceiving a child before her betrothed husband came to live with her?
From a human point of view, there was ample reason for a woman to be hesitant and skeptical about getting involved in something like this. But the angel assured Mary this was God’s doing, that the Holy
Spirit would accomplish it and that “nothing is impossible with God” (verse 37).
In spite of how unlikely all this seemed, humanly speaking, Mary believed God and faithfully obeyed. “I am the Lord’s servant,” she said. “May it be to me as you have said” (verse 38).
Mary’s reaction to Gabriel’s announcement stands in sharp contrast to the reaction of another person–the aged priest Zechariah. Some months previously, Gabriel had appeared to him and announced that
his wife, Elizabeth, also aged, would conceive and give birth. Luke records that Zechariah, the mature priest, had difficulty believing Gabriel (verses 18-20).
But Mary, the inexperienced young woman, believed. She knew that God is trustworthy and can never fail. Mary’s faith is commended in these words: “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has
said to her will be accomplished!” (verse 45).
From the beginning it was obvious that Jesus was a special child. The hand of God was often manifested in events surrounding him. Mary didn’t understand everything that transpired or everything her son
Jesus said and did (Luke 2:33, 48-50). “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (verse 19, see also verse 51). In faith she knew God was in charge, and that is what really matters.
Mary’s humble faith is apparent in the account of the wedding at Canal When the supply of wine ran out, Mary knew Jesus could do something about it. Why else would she have brought the problem to his
attention (John 2:3)? Though it was not yet time for Jesus to perform public miracles (verse 4), the fact that he performed a miracle as a result of Mary’s request speaks loudly of his respect for her and her
For a long time, Jesus’ own brothers didn’t believe in him (John 7:5; Mark 6:4). But his mother believed in him. Mary remained steadfast through all the years of Jesus’ life–as she witnessed her son being
ridiculed and persecuted and finally shamefully murdered.
Where were Jesus’ brothers and sisters when he was crucified? The Bible doesn’t say. But it does record that in the depth of Christ’s agony, close to the cross whereon hung the torn and bleeding body of
her firstborn, stood his mother, Mary (John 19:25).
Mary’s faith endured. The next and last scripture where she is mentioned by name is Acts 1:14. Here we learn that she was with Jesus’ disciples, who were later imbued with the Holy Spirit on that great Day
of Pentecost, A.D. 31 (Acts 2:14).
The Apostle Paul’s Faith
No one wrote more books of the New Testament than the apostle Paul. Through them we get a clear picture of the role faith plays in genuine Christianity.
Paul had his share of trials after becoming a Christian. More than once he was unjustly thrown into prison for his beliefs. He experienced execution attempts, serious accidents, attacks by criminals, betrayal and opposition from those he tried to help.
He was only too familiar with pain and weariness, loss of sleep, lack of food, water, shelter and even clothing. You can find a list of various trials he endured in 2 Corinthians 1 1:2327.
What did all these untoward events make of Paul? A depressed, discouraged, defeated individual? Not at all! As his writings show, Paul was a thoroughly positive person–one who traversed difficult times with a triumphant faith.
“I have learned,” he wrote, “to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:1112).
Paul could handle all these challenges and more because he had faith in Jesus Christ. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” he wrote (verse 13). Paul knew the God he served would make all things work out for good in his life (Romans 8:28).
Faith Is a Way of Life
Aside from demonstrating the value of faith to meet the challenges in life, Paul showed how faith is related to salvation.
Paul taught that commitment to faith in Christ involves obedience (Romans 16:26), living by God’s Word as revealed in the Bible (1 Thessalonians 2:13) and being willing to serve others, even to the point of self-sacrifice (Philippians 2:17). These are ways faith is expressed in daily Christian living.
Paul made it plain that salvation is free–a gift by the grace of God through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is impossible to earn salvation by works (our actions and deeds). “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law,” Paul wrote. But, lest some misunderstand, he quickly added, “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law” (Romans 3:28, 31). Faith is in harmony with the law, not opposed to it.
Once we are forgiven of our sins, God expects us to obey him. The reason we need faith to obey him is that human nature is contrary to God’s law. The natural mind “does not submit to God’s law, nor can it
do so” (Romans 8:7). That’s why we are not able to please God of our own selves.
We need God’s Spirit (verses 9-14) and the faith it produces. The problem the ancient Israelites experienced under the old covenant was that although they had God’s law, they didn’t have faith (Hebrews 3:18-19). Saving faith is in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:22-25). As a result, God’s Church–New Testament Israel–has both the commandments of God and faith (Revelation 14:12). Because of this combination, we “may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).
Living the Christian life constantly requires the exercise of faith. It is by faith that Christians come to repentance and the knowledge that Jesus Christ died so their sins may be forgiven. By faith they know God has given them his Spirit and that they are his children. And in faith they await the immortality and glory promised at the resurrection of the dead when Christ returns. Faith assures that God watches over them, cares for them and hears them when they pray to him.
Christians continually face decisions requiring them to choose between doing God’s will and doing their own will, between doing what is right and doing what appeals to their human nature–their lusts, their vanity, their pride.
On the one hand, doing their own will appeals to their natural desires and may have promise of rewards such as sensual pleasure, immediate gratification, material gain and increased self-importance. On the other hand, doing God’s will involves extra effort, sacrifice and humility now with a sure reward promised in the future.
By faith Christians reject their own will and choose to do God’s will. By faith they offer their “bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God,” as Paul pointed out in Romans 12:1. This is an expression of total dedication, where every ounce of bodily strength is expended to God’s glory and all the members of the body are “as instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13).
Persons of faith profoundly trust God and give themselves in loving service to God and humankind–“faith expressing itself through love,” in the words of Paul (Galatians 5:6). This is living faith. And
it is living by faith!
The story of Ruth is often referred to as a lesson in commitment and loyalty. Ruth’s demonstration of these qualities in her relationship with her mother-in-law, Naomi, resulted from Ruth’s faith. Commitment and loyalty are expressions of faith.
Naomi, a Jewish woman, along with her husband and two sons had moved from Bethlehem in Judah to the land of Moab. There the two sons took for wives Orpah and Ruth, Moabite women. Eventually Naomi’s husband and two sons died, leaving three widows.
Naomi decided it would be best to return to Judah. Orpah and Ruth set out on the journey with her, but Naomi strongly recommended that her daughters-in-law go back to their own people and their way of life. For one thing, the young Moabite women might receive an unfavorable reception from some living in Israel. A tense, sometimes violent relationship had existed for many years between the two peoples.
Orpah chose to listen to her mother-in-law’s recommendation. She tearfully kissed Naomi and returned to Moab. But Ruth clung to Naomi and uttered her much-quoted statement of loyalty: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).
Thus Ruth expressed commitment to her mother-in-law and to her mother-in-law’s God–the God of Israel. She had no prospect of gaining anything by accompanying Naomi to her homeland. Indeed, she stood to lose everything by leaving her own people. Naomi had nothing tangible to offer Ruth but widowhood in a strange land.
But Ruth believed in Naomi and her God. And she demonstrated her belief not by words alone, but by deeds.
God rewarded Ruth for her faithful attitude. She eventually met and married Boaz, a wealthy relative of Naomi. Through their son, Ruth had the honor of contributing to a most important family line. From
Ruth and her husband descended not only King David, but also Jesus Christ!
BY FAITH, NOT BY SIGHT
It was electrifying news: Jesus Christ had risen from the dead! Just as he had said he would. “We have seen the Lord!” some of the disciples excitedly affirmed. The disciple named Thomas, however, could
not bring himself to believe it. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side,” he exclaimed, “I will not believe it” (John 20:25).
Some days later, Thomas’ doubt evaporated when he had the opportunity to see in person the resurrected Christ and to examine his wounds. “Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’ ” (verse 29).
“Those who have not seen and yet have believed”–that describes most of God’s people past and present. We have been called to worship the invisible God. When we pray, we don’t see or hear God. Our faith
does not rest on physically detectable signs or manifestations. Our beliefs sometimes go contrary to what logic and the physical senses indicate. Faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).
“So we fix our eyes,” Paul wrote, “not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal …. We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 4:18; 5:7).
As we walk through this life, we trust in our great, caring Shepherd to lead us safely. At times the path may wind through green pastures and beside still waters. At other times it may traverse the valley of the shadow of death. At all times, though, God is with his people today as he was with the saints of old.
Those men and women of God “were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth …. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13, 16).
It’s true no human knows exactly what the immediate future has in store. But Christians have the advantage of knowing that the steps they take in faith lead to a definite and positive goal–God’s promise of immortality. Peter referred to this comforting truth when he wrote, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).
“Nevertheless . . .”
The Christian life was illustrated long ago by what the ancient Israelites experienced. As the Israelites trekked through the rugged wilderness to reach their inheritance in the Promised Land, so Christians journey through this life, with all its obstacles, on the way to their eternal inheritance in the future fullness of the kingdom of God.
It’s a journey of faith. The Israelites, for the most part, showed how not to make the journey. They lacked faith. Doubt and disobedience kept an entire generation of them from their inheritance–“they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19). They perished in the wilderness. The warning to Christians is obvious: Faith is essential to inherit salvation (Hebrews 4:1-3). A converted person must “through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (Hebrews 6:12).
One of the Israelites’ biggest mistakes was their lack of spiritual vision. At one point they were poised on the border of the land they were to inherit, awaiting the return of 12 scouts who had been sent to get an idea of what the land was like. The scouts returned and in glowing terms certified that the land was indeed rich and fertile as God had promised (Numbers 13:23-27). “But . . . ,” they added, and then began to list all the obstacles they had seen (verse 28).
They had seen fortified cities. They had seen mighty peoples of great and fearsome stature. For 10 of the 12 scouts, there was only one logical answer: “And they spread among the Israelites a bad report” (verse 32).
The people of Israel chose to believe the bad report. They trusted solely in what they had heard with their human ears. Faith disappeared. Morale collapsed. Disaster followed.
The scouts who brought the bad report reasoned wrongly. They should have said, “Our eyes may see many terrifying obstacles to inheriting the land, nevertheless we believe God’s promises.”
Many centuries later, Simon Peter also had to choose between what seemed obvious to him and what God said. Jesus, standing in Simon’s fishing boat, directed that the nets be let down for a catch of fish.
Simon, however, balked. He and other professional fishermen had just spent hours toiling in a fruitless attempt to catch something.
“Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything’ ” (Luke 5:5). Simon stated the physical facts. But then he added, ” ‘But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break” (verses 5-6).
The physical evidence may proclaim impossibility. All our eyes can see may threaten defeat. Nevertheless, we can believe God when he says he will help us, encourage us, make things work out for the good.
Being Spiritually Minded
A classic example of faith versus sight is Peter’s attempt to walk on the water of the Sea of Galilee.
One night Peter and some companions were in a boat being battered by a storm. They were in grave danger of sinking when, suddenly, they saw Jesus walking toward them amidst the surging waves, telling them not to be afraid.
“‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. [So far, so good!] But when he saw the wind [faith now gives way to sight], he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?'” (Matthew 14:28-31).
One of the greatest hindrances to faith is that the world around us, like the raging waters swirling about Peter, is so real. We, made from the dust of the ground, are naturally in tune with the physical. We feel the pain when we are sick. We hear the harassment or threats from neighbors and relatives. When we lose a job, we see the cold reality of a termination notice and the accumulation of bills. Family
problems are real. Medical reports are real. So are the temptations and weaknesses of the flesh.
Whatever the situation is, we can look around and see, hear, taste, smell and feel material reality. Knowledge of it comes to us through our senses. But there is another vital dimension: faith. Faith
sometimes operates in conjunction with our physical senses, making spiritual truths real to us.
Once a massive army was sent to capture the prophet Elisha and his young servant. The situation did not look good. Elisha’s servant could see that the number of enemy soldiers was immense. He saw they
were well-armed. He saw they surrounded the city. He saw there was no escape route. He was overcome with fear. “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” he asked (2 Kings 6:15).
Elisha, to whom God was very real, answered, ” ‘Don’t be afraid’ ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them’ ” (verse 16).
What does he mean by that? the servant must have wondered. Can’t Elisha count? There are two of us and multitudes of them!
“And Elisha prayed, ‘O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (verse 17). The servant now saw with his eyes what he should have seen by faith: The power that sustains and protects the righteous by far exceeds all opposing forces.
If our minds are mostly on the world and material things, exercising the spiritual element of faith is extremely difficult. We easily begin to sink in the waters of doubt as Peter did. Or we worry and fret as Elisha’s servant did.
On the other hand, getting one’s mind off the physical and onto the spiritual is one of the greatest keys to strengthening faith. We can fill our minds with spiritual understanding by studying God’s Word
and allowing God’s Spirit to work in us. Also, through God-centered prayer, our minds will be more focused on the reality of God’s presence in our lives.
Daniel and His Three Friends
God was real to the prophet Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
One day, Daniel’s enemies tricked King Darius into signing a decree that outlawed making petitions to anyone but to the king himself. Anyone found breaking this law was to be thrown into a den of hungry lions.
Here was a test for Daniel. The new decree made it unlawful for him to pray to God. Should he now forsake prayer? Daniel determined to do what was right and in faith leave the outcome to God. “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published . . . he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (Daniel 6:10).
His enemies caught him praying, reported him and had him thrown into the lions’ den. There he was, face to face with ravenous beasts closing in for the kill. Had he made a mistake by trusting in God? No,
the Lord “sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions …. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God” (verses 22-23).
Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, at an earlier occasion had trusted God in a similar situation. King Nebuchadnezzar ordered that everyone worship a golden image he had made. Those who would not comply were to be thrown into a fiery furnace (Daniel 3:4-6).
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to worship the king’s golden image. The king was furious. He decreed that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. Even as Daniel’s three friends
fell into the blazing inferno, their faith remained steadfast. They would not compromise with God’s law even though they could see no escaping from the fire. They knew God could deliver them at any time.
And they knew that even if he chose not to do so, their ultimate fate was still in his hands.
Imagine the astonishment of those who braved blasts of heat to peer into the furnace. There, walking about in the flames, they saw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, accompanied by a fourth individual, who appeared to be a divine being! When the king ordered the three to come out of the furnace, he and his attendants “saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. Then Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him’ ” (verses 27-28).
The Bible contains many accounts of individuals who believed God and his promises. They said, in effect: “I see what the circumstances are. I see the hardship. I see the trial, the danger, the suffering.
Nevertheless, I believe God and his Word. I will walk by faith, not by sight.”
We should review those accounts often (see Romans 10:17) so we get used to thinking of God as the living God who is faithful to what he has promised.
To those who have faith, God has specifically promised that they will not be tested with more than they can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13). All things will eventually work out for good (Romans 8:28). Exactly how and when is up to God to decide. After all, the principal goal of faith is not that we be totally free of every physical, material problem and difficulty in this life. The main goal of faith is salvation (1 Peter 1:9) and receiving a crown of life (James 1:12).
When God allows our faith to be tried and tested, when our eyes can focus on no visible solution to our distress, we must not despair. That’s precisely the time to continue believing and patiently waiting
in faith for God to lead. He knows what is best. We must learn to trust him in faith.
IS ANYTHING TOO HARD FOR GOD?
Even the greatest faith imaginable would be of little worth if the supreme God were not faithful.
But God is faithful. “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
Living faith goes beyond believing God exists. The faithful also believe God actively intervenes in their lives. That is why the Scriptures tell us “anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and [equally important!] that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
To his disciples Jesus declared: “Have faith in God …. I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what
he says will happen, it will be done for him” (Mark 11:22-23).
Again he said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you” (Luke 17:6).
Jesus did not imply that moving real mountains or trees would be a regular occurrence. Indeed, there is no record of Jesus or the apostles ever exercising faith exactly that way. But the point is, the God whose power regulates the universe would literally transport a mountain or a tree in response to believing faith if there were ever a valid need to do so. Jesus pointed to those nearby physical objects to illustrate the limitless possibilities of faith.
As far as mountains are concerned, life is filled with obstacles that, on the spiritual level, can be more formidable than towering masses of solid granite. Who does not from time to time come up against situations, circumstances and problems that are simply overwhelming–predicaments that defy resolution? These, too, God can move if we have faith.
In the late sixth century B.C., Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, supervised the rebuilding of the ruined temple in Jerusalem. Many great obstacles stood in the way of completing the project. But God said he
would provide the strength to overcome all those “mountains.” “What are you, O mighty mountain?” God challenged. “Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground” (Zechariah 4:7).
A person with faith can substitute his or her name for that of Zerubbabel. No obstacle is too great, no barrier too imposing to be leveled before one who seeks God’s help in believing prayer.
But faith is more than belief that something will happen. It is trust in God, in his overall wisdom and judgment as revealed in the Scriptures. Faith takes into account whether a matter is God’s revealed
will. Jesus Christ, knowing that his arrest, trial and crucifixion were imminent, prayed: “Father, . . . everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).
Here is a remarkable example of a prayer of faith. First is the expression of faith that God has all power, that with him nothing is impossible. Next comes the personal request. The matter is then left in
God’s hands, in faith, that he knows and will do what is best: “Not what I will, but what you will.” What was best was already revealed in Scripture, and Jesus in faith and submission accepted that.
This is a prayer by which believers may receive “whatever” they desire (Mark 11:24), providing, of course, that what they ask for is based upon God’s revealed will. If they are truly close to God, their
desires will be molded around holy principles and concepts. They will be striving to reflect God’s desires.
“If you remain in me,” Christ stipulated, “and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7). John later wrote, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14).
Faith, then, is not wishful thinking. Nor is it “walking in the dark” or believing without evidence. Faith is based on knowledge and the surest evidence of all–the written Word of God! God cannot fail. His word cannot be broken. God “does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). For God nothing is impossible, and nothing can keep him from fulfilling his promises.
God Is the Source
But how is it possible to have this kind of faith? If faith does not depend on tangible evidence, how can a person ever be sure of the invisible truths concerning salvation?
The answer is that it is not possible–humanly. The human mind of itself is capable of evidencing a degree of faith, just as, for example, it can evidence a degree of joy or kindness. But that which is
of the human spirit is profoundly limited. Whatever it produces is sporadic and undependable. Human faith easily wavers and falters. We see a graphic example of wavering in the desperate man who with tears cried out to Jesus: “I do believe,” and then quickly added, “help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
Human faith is inadequate. Saving faith comes only from God. It is a gift. “God has given” to each one a measure of faith (Romans 12:3). The Scriptures speak of faith as something God’s people have
“received” (2 Peter 1:1). “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him,” Paul wrote (Philippians 1:29). Jesus Christ is “the author and perfecter of
our faith” (Hebrews 12:2)–“faith that comes through him” (Acts 3:16).
Living faith is active belief and trust in God and his Word. God is its source and sustainer. God’s gift of faith enables us to sincerely repent and accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in payment for our sins. This marks our conversion.
Of course, faith grows. It is nurtured by the Christian experience. Trust in Christ increases with experience. The more we see that God is dependable and of great mercy, the stronger our faith in
Faith Thinks Big!
“Is anything too hard for me?” God asked the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 32:27). The answer, of course, is no. “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Still, a lack of faith can limit what
God is willing to do.
Time and again the disbelief of the ancient Israelites caused God to withhold his blessing from them. Lack of faith “limited the Holy One of Israel” (Psalm 78:41, King James Version).
Jesus encountered similar disbelief. When he visited Nazareth, his hometown, the lack of faith he found was so great that he “could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith” (Mark 6:5-6).
On the other hand, the Bible clearly demonstrates what God can do for those who do believe. When his people placed their confidence in him, he repeatedly gave them victory against overwhelming odds. The
lesson, written time after time, is that physical circumstances don’t limit God, for “nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6).
Nor does he have to work things out in the way that seems most logical. The Israelites, leaving Egypt, became trapped at the edge of the Red Sea. They were about to be captured by Pharaoh’s pursuing army.
There was no way they could see to get out of this predicament, and they were frightened. Though he had no idea how God was going to do it, in faith Moses reassured the people: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today …. The Lord will fight for you” (Exodus 14:13-14).
Then God, who is not limited by human imagination, directed Moses to do what no one expected: Tell the people to start walking toward the water! Moses, following God’s instructions, stretched his hand out over the lapping waves and watched as a dry pathway to freedom formed through the midst of the sea (verses 15-22).
It’s a natural tendency, when praying to God for help, to try to figure out what God’s options are for resolving the problem at hand. But God is not limited to what we can think of, for with him nothing is
impossible (Luke 1:37). In fact, the more hopeless a problem appears, the more uncrossable an obstacle seems, the more unwinnable a situation is by human standards, the greater God is glorified when his mighty hand brings victory.
“My power is made perfect in weakness,” said Christ to Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9). But our weakness in no way determines his prerogatives.
Who would have thought, when there were thousands of hungry people to feed and only enough food for a dozen or less, that the way Jesus would solve the problem would be by multiplying the small amount
of food on hand (Matthew 14:1321)? Faith thinks big. It places no bounds, no restraints on God.
The hem of Jesus’ garment (Matthew 14:35-36), the shadow of Peter as he passed by (Acts 5:14-15), or just a spoken word (Matthew 8:8) brought God’s miraculous power into play. He who for Elisha made an insignificant, borrowed axhead float after it had fallen into a river (2 Kings 6:4-7) is the same one who for Joshua suspended cosmic laws regulating the sun and moon (Joshua 10:1-15). He who designed the atom is he who filled the heavens with untold numbers of galaxies.
God does not change. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). All power is his. He is the living God.
There is no limit to what God can do for you if you trust him.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY THE WORLDWIDE CHURCH OF GOD, 1993, PAGES 1-22. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.