JESUS PREDICTED FAITH would be in short supply at the end of time. He asked this probing question: “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). . . .
Scripture contains one entire chapter devoted to faith. It’s Hebrews 11. This chapter clarifies some of life’s deepest issues. It answers some of life’s most fundamental questions. It cuts to the heart of how to live our lives. Here God lists the heroes of faith down through the ages—people whose names hang high in heaven’s hall of fame.
Verse 1 of this chapter serves as an introduction to what follows. It defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is the
“substance . . .” Sub means “under.” We have words like “submarine” (“under the sea”) and “subterranean” (“under the earth”). Literally, a “substance” is something
that “stands under.” It is the essence of a thing—what it is. It supports or sustains something. It is a foundation.
So, faith is the quality that supports us when all of life falls apart. Faith stands under everything else. Faith sustains us in the perplexing questions of life. It is the essence of the spiritual life; it is what keeps it from crumbling.
However, biblical faith produces some surprising results. On the surface, it’s rather confusing—a casual look at Hebrews 11 will leave you with more questions than answers. Follow me as we take a brief journey through this chapter:
• Verse 4: Abel’s faith is so strong that it gets him killed. If he didn’t have faith, he would have lived.
• Verse 5: Enoch’s faith takes him to a place where he will never die. If he didn’t have faith, he would have died.
• Verse 7: Noah’s faith leads him to stay put for 120 years and build an ark. Noah obeys God and fulfills his God-given task.
• Verse 8: Abraham’s faith leads him to go away where God directs him. Abraham obeys God and leaves home.
• Verse 22: Joseph’s faith leads him to remain in Egypt, and God entrusts him with unusual wealth.
• Verses 24-27: Moses’ faith leads him to leave Egypt and live in poverty in the wilderness.
• Verse 30: By faith the walls of Jericho fall down and the Israelites preserve their lives in battle.
• Verse 32: By faith mighty Samson brings walls down and loses his life.
• Verses 34, 35: By faith God’s people are protected and miraculously delivered from death by the sword.
• Verses 36, 37: By faith God’s people hang on despite persecution and are killed by the sword.
Do you catch what’s going on here? The contrasts leap off the pages of this classic chapter on faith. By faith Abel dies and Enoch lives. By faith Noah stays and Abraham goes. By faith Joseph remains in Egypt and becomes rich and Moses leaves Egypt and becomes poor. By faith some are delivered from the sword and others are slain by it.
What is the common thread? In each instance, it is faith—trusting God enough to believe His promises and do just what He says. The heroes in God’s hall of fame had different experiences, but they all trusted God. They trusted Him in life and in death. They trusted Him when He commanded them to stay and when He commanded them to
go. They trusted Him when they lived in poverty and when they rejoiced in wealth. They trusted Him in sorrow and in joy. . . .
What difference does faith make in our lives? “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17). Faith is not simply belief or mental assent; it is something we live by.
FAITH AS RELATIONSHIP
Faith is a relationship with God as with a well known friend—a relationship that leads us to do whatever He asks and accepts whatever He allows to happen to us. Faith believes God will strengthen us to triumph over every difficulty and overcome every obstacle until the day we receive our final reward in His eternal kingdom.
Faith energizes. It enlivens. It lifts our spirits. It encourages our hearts. It renews our hope. It lifts our vision.
Faith believes God’s power and receives God’s gifts before they are realized. To receive the gift and to realize the gift are two different things. To receive the gift is to accept it in advance, believing that God will give it if and when we need it. To realize it is to experience its actual presence. . . .
Faith is trusting God for strength in our weakness, wisdom in our ignorance, courage in our fear, peace in our anxiety, hope in our despair, guidance in our doubt, and joy in our sorrow.
Faith doesn’t know defeat. It doesn’t understand the word impossible. It is filled with courage. People of faith trust God enough to act upon His Word, believing He’ll give them the strength to do whatever He asks them to do. Faith is the key ingredient for end-time living.
What has God asked you to do? What journey of faith has He asked you to take? What pilgrimage has He asked you to make? Faith is trusting God on the journey—trusting that He is leading you through life.
WHERE CAN WE OBTAIN FAITH?
Faith always has a source. It isn’t faith in oneself or faith in faith. It isn’t some kind of hyped-up positive thinking. It isn’t a self-centered ego trip. It is faith in God.
God is always the source of our faith. Faith is the gift He gives us as we trust in Him.
Moses’ faith enabled him to endure because he saw Him who is invisible (see Hebrews 11:27). How do you see something that is invisible? You must see it by faith.
Faith grasps the reality of God’s presence. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a humble, godly pastor, was thrown into prison during World War II. Allied planes raided the German city nearby, and the prison shook under the intense bombing. Of that time Pastor Bonhoeffer wrote, “I sensed the presence of God.” Awaiting death in a German prison camp, this godly man sensed God’s closeness by faith. He had learned to trust God with his life.
To understand faith fully, we must also understand what faith is not. Faith is not sight. The apostle Paul stated it eloquently when he said, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). If you can see the answer to your prayers before you pray, you don’t need faith.
When you’ve prayed for the $500 you need to pay your bills this month, it’s much easier to sing God’s praises after you receive the money than before. It is far easier to thank God for healing you of cancer than to trust Him when you are going through chemotherapy. It isn’t difficult to be joyful when your marriage problems are solved. It is much more difficult to trust when you are going through them. Faith trusts God before the problem is solved. It sees beyond the difficulties and challenges of life to a loving God who will work them out in His way and in His time.
Faith isn’t sight, nor is it understanding. A very dear friend of my wife and me, Sandy Wyman Johnson, shared this powerful scriptural insight with me. Sandy’s son Trevor died in childhood after a lengthy battle with leukemia. Trevor was a delightful child whose faith encouraged his mom greatly. When we were talking about Trevor’s death one day, Sandy quoted Philippians 4:7, “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” She then made this
telling observation: “Mark, when your mind does not understand, you still can trust.”
Sandy is right. You don’t have to understand everything God is doing in order to trust that what He is doing is right. God’s ways are far beyond my understanding. Faith is trusting that God knows what He is doing when I don’t.
Faith isn’t sight. It isn’t understanding. And it isn’t selfishness disguised as belief. Faith doesn’t focus on what I want; it focuses on what God wants. Jesus illustrated faith at its best when He prayed in Gethsemane, “Not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). Faith always seeks the Father’s will. . . .
We can become so absorbed in what we want God to do for us that we fail to receive what He wants to give us. Faith isn’t believing that because I prayed, the sun will shine today so I can take my family to the beach. Faith is trusting that whether or not it shines, God is going to give me a wonderful day. Faith isn’t believing that God must heal me when I demand Him to. It is committing my life to bring glory to God no matter what happens in my life. Faith is always directed to God. It is God-centered.
Have you ever wondered what to do when your faith is small? Have you wished you had a great deal more faith? I have good news for you. You have more faith than you realize. The problem isn’t that you don’t have faith. The problem is that you haven’t exercised the faith you have. The apostle Paul speaks of God having “dealt to each one a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3). When you accepted Jesus, God placed a measure of faith within your heart. And when you exercise the faith that God has given you, your faith grows. Ellen White, one of my favorite authors, said, “Your faith must not let go of the promises of God, if you do not see or feel the immediate answer to your prayers. Be not afraid to trust God.”1
HER HUSBAND’S KILLERS
One of the past century’s most amazing stories of faith is the story of Elisabeth Elliot. Elisabeth’s husband, Jim, was speared to death by Auca Indians on January 8, 1956, on the Curaray River in Ecuador. Some considered the Aucas to be the most savage tribe on earth. Jim was part of a mission group that wanted to teach this primitive tribe about the God who loves us. Along with four others, he made repeated attempts to contact them.
To assure the Aucas of their goodwill, the mission group flew over their village and dropped gifts from the air. All seemed to be going well. The barriers seemed to be breaking down. The missionaries felt it was safe to approach them. They landed their small plane on a narrow sandbar by the river and set up base camp. Every day for several days they radioed their wives at a mission station to report their progress. Then there was silence. The men no longer made the radio calls that their wives expected.
For several days of uncertainty, these five women and their children waited to find out what had happened. Then the terrible truth was discovered.
During the time of uncertainty, Elisabeth Elliot wrote the following lines in a letter to her parents: “I want you to know that your prayers are being answered moment by
moment as regards me—I am ever so conscious of the everlasting arms. . . . I have no idea what I will do if Jim is dead, but the Lord knows and I am at rest.”
When word came out that all five were dead, the women and children gathered to comfort one another and to pray. One of the women went to the piano and began to play the song they had all sung together the morning the men left on their journey. “We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender, / We go not forth alone against the foe. / Strong in Thy Strength, safe in Thy keeping tender, / We rest on Thee, and in Thy name we go.”2
Elisabeth Elliot committed her life in faith to communicate to the Aucas the love of God and the life available through Christ. Within a few years, God had miraculously opened the door to reaching them, and this amazing woman of faith entered the Auca village and lived among them. She wrote, “Faith, to be worthy of the name, must embrace doubt. . . . Nothing less could have brought us to that place.” God opened the door to one of the most savage tribes on earth.
Fast-forward. It is a sunny day in the Ecuadorian jungles. The sky is blue; the sun is bright on the lush landscape. Time has passed. The Aucas have accepted the gospel. One of their own has become an elder in the local church. Now he and another of the killers step into the river to baptize Steve and Kathy Saint. Years before, these men had speared their father to death on the banks of this same river. Now faith has triumphed. It has reached out and clasped the hand of God in crisis. It has become a channel through which God’s power has reached the Aucas.
Would you like to open your heart to God and by faith receive His power today? Faith is trusting God as a friend well known. This is why faith is an indispensable part of end-time living. With God’s gift of faith, you will survive and even thrive in life’s difficulties today, tomorrow, and in the tumultuous days ahead.
1 Prayer, p. 48.
2 Lyrics by Edith Cherry.