I remember, as a boy, the day my parents brought home our first television set. The picture was in black and white, and very “snowy” because the closest stations were fifty miles away. It was a huge technological jump, however, from listening to a religious broadcast or the news on the radio that sat in the corner of our kitchen. Even our telephone was, to say the least, archaic. We had a “party line” telephone, which meant that we shared the same phone number with seven other families. When the phone would ring, seven different voices would say “hello.” Once it was determined who the call was for—no one hung up! It was great entertainment to eavesdrop on all of our neighbors’ conversations.
Today, a half-century later, we live in a visual world. Television, video, DVDs, computers, iPads, and even our phones bring the world to our eyes via sight and sound. When news breaks, people say: “I saw that,” rather than, “I heard that.” Many people enjoy reading the news, or even their Bible, on a device rather than from a book. But if we are not careful, all of this can destroy our faith! You see, according to God, “…faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Have you ever caught yourself saying, “I just don’t see how that is going to work?” We can’t see how we can get victory over a habit, give more to missions, or raise a family in a hostile culture. The truth is we’re not supposed to see it! If you can see it—it’s not faith.
With God’s plan for our lives, we don’t get to preview before we print. Previewing is always a good idea when preparing a letter or a term paper, but not when it comes to the will of God. Too many Christians today are riding in the boat, instead of walking on water, because they trust only what they can see. Perhaps we need to take a closer look at this ingredient of faith, because without it, there is no way for our lives to be pleasing to God. “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
So how do we define faith? First, Biblical faith does not make common sense. In other words, it does not compute with human logic. It did not make human sense for Noah to build an ark when it had never rained before. It did not make sense for Abram to leave his home and embark on a journey with no destination. It was ridiculous humanly for Sarah to believe she could have a son when she was in her nineties…or for Abraham to sacrifice that son later on an altar. What kind of people would put their child in a basket and push him into the river like Moses’ parents? The stories of David and Goliath, Rahab the harlot, Gideon, and Samson make no sense to the human mind of reason. But each verse in chapter eleven of Hebrews starts with the awesome phrase: “by faith” or “through faith.”
Let’s be honest. Does it make sense to take ten percent of your income each week and put it in an offering plate, along with a gift for missions and the building program? Does it make sense to put your children in a Christian school when your taxes are already paying for public education? Does it make human sense to pray for a loved one to be saved who has already rejected Christ or to ask God to deliver you from a stubborn habit that you’ve tried every gimmick in the world to kick? Why would a young person go to an unaccredited college? Why would a church planter with limited resources (at best) go to a town where he knows no one and has no connections? Why would a church run buses, take missions trips, or reach out to homeless people? The answer to all of this and more is “faith.”
Second, faith is never learned in comfortable surroundings. If you think about those “heroes of faith” in Hebrews 11, they were all in a tight spot when they exercised faith. One of my favorite stories in the Bible is Peter walking on the water. I have to remind myself when I read this passage that when Peter stepped out of that boat, it was in the middle of a terrible storm! The water was not calm and still; it was raging, and wind and waves were pelting the boat. Yet by faith, he left the comfort of that vessel and walked to Jesus! We often think that at some point it will become easier for us to have faith. But faith is not needed when we are comfortable. Someone has said, “A faith that cannot be tested, cannot be trusted.” It is during those tests, that faith is most needed.
Had Abraham received God’s promise of a son while he was still young, it would not have required much faith to believe. However, Abraham received this promise of an heir when he was one hundred years old—this necessitated great faith for Abraham to believe. “Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:18–22). The challenge from this passage could speak to each of our hearts: do not wait for comfortable surroundings to start walking by faith.
Finally, faith is not man’s calculated schemes. Faith is living without scheming. Too many Christians have a Plan B. If God does not come through as a result of their faith, they’ll figure out how to make it work out on their own. Need we go any farther than the life of Abraham to see the consequences of giving in to this temptation? Ishmael was a result of a Plan B. This human scheme ended in disaster with consequences that still affect our world today. Jacob is another example of someone who always tinkered with God’s plan, rather than trusting.
Often in ministry, we set our vision by faith, then try to make it happen on our own. In John 6:28, the disciples asked Jesus, “…what shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” That is a great question, and they certainly were asking the right person. The Lord’s response is challenging: “Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” Jesus said, your work is trust. It is not about proceeding in what you can see, but rather trusting the unseen God who honors faith.
Before Christ left this earth, He wondered, “when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). What if He came today? Would He find us in the boat of safety, comfort, and human reasoning or walking on water—by faith? Let us be challenged to launch out! It might not always make sense; it will not always be comfortable; and it will never be us who makes it work—but, it will be pleasing to our Saviour.