I was going through a book that I was writing almost three years ago, and found a chapter that applied exactly to a conversation I had yesterday. I doubt that the book I was writing way back then will ever get published, so I want to share this so that maybe it might touch someone where they are at right now =)
“He who is not every day conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
“You block your dream when you allow your fear to grow bigger than your faith.”
-Mary Manin Morrissey
I’m learning a lot about faith these days, and I am discovering that I had a lot of misconceptions about the topic for years. Maybe they were things that I had been taught or maybe I constructed my own understanding. However it came about, I was a little off base.
You see, faith is something that does not come easily for me. I have always considered myself to have a good relationship with God, and I know Him and love Him with everything that I am. And I trust Him, I really do…until it comes time to actually follow through on something He asks me to do. I can believe that He is all powerful, and all resources are His, and He can work through a broken jar of clay until the day is done, but when it becomes necessary for me to take action, I hit a wall. That wall is called FEAR.
I have always identified a lot with Moses. If we would have been born during the same general time frame, we would have been great friends, I am convinced. I take great comfort in his story, because I learn that someone that struggles with fear can overcome it, and choose to follow God. Moses needed a lot of help with his faith, and he frustrated God. However, God didn’t let him off the hook and allow him to be mediocre. He still used Moses for an incredible task, and as it turns out, he is one of the most important personalities in the entire Old Testament.
Moses had a special calling on his life, and his mother knew that from the day he was born. Now, his family was Hebrew, and these people were being held in slavery in Egypt. Pharaoh, the Egyptian ruler, did not like how fast the Israelites (Hebrew nation) were growing, so he made a law that when any babies were born, all the boys were to be killed, but the girls could be kept alive. When Moses’ mother saw him, she knew she could not allow her son to die, so she courageously hid him for several months.
A person cannot hide a child for very long, however, and when Moses’ mother saw that she could no longer do it, she put him in a basket that would float down the Nile, trusting that God would take the child to a safer place. Long story short, Moses ends up being found by Pharaoh’s daughter, who decides to adopt him, and Moses spends his childhood years in the palace. As he grows up, he starts to realize that he is a Hebrew living an Egyptian life. One day, as he sees one of his own people being mistreated by an Egyptian, he decides to take matters into his own hands and ends up killing the guy and burying him in the sand. Of course, everyone found out about it, and Moses had to flee for his life to another place. He takes up a nice quiet job of shepherding, and settles down, probably expecting this to be how he lives out the rest of his days.
Then God showed up. A bush bursts into flames, and Moses finds himself in the presence of Almighty God in the ordinary place of Moses’ everyday life. God begins to tell Moses how much it is hurting Him to watch the Israelites suffer under the rule of the Egyptians, and that He has chosen someone to confront Pharaoh about this injustice and to lead the ENTIRE nation of Israel out of Egypt and into the land of promise. Who is the lucky person? MOSES! Ding ding ding…bells are going off in Moses’ head. “Let’s see….how can I convince God that this is NOT a good decision? How many ways can I tell Him that He is making a HUGE mistake?”
So the argument begins. Moses comes up with an excuse, and God counters it. Moses tells God, “I don’t know Your name, so how can I tell them who sent me?” God says, “I AM who I AM.” Then Moses says, “What if they don’t believe me?” God gives him miracles to show them. So Moses brings up his stuttering problem. “Surely I can’t talk to the people, God. I can’t say anything right.” So God tells him, “I will help you speak and I will teach you what to say.” Then Moses comes to the point when he realizes that he can’t outsmart God, so he resorts to begging: “Oh Lord, please send someone else.”
The next part makes me laugh. God is upset with Moses, but He isn’t about to let him off the hook of his calling. He sends Moses’ brother Aaron to “help” Moses, but in God’s own words, “You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help BOTH OF YOU speak and will teach you what to do.” In other words, “Moses, you’re not getting out of this that easily. I want YOU!”
I spent a lot of my teen years constantly worried that I would somehow miss God’s calling because I wasn’t paying attention. I have learned, however, that hearing Him is not the hard part at all. When God speaks, you notice. That part is great. The hard part comes in the actual DOING it.
So now we come to the question: what is FAITH? The easy Sunday School answer would be Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” However, just like any other part of Scripture, this verse should not only be read by itself. It must be understood in the context of the verses surrounding it.
One of the other major topics of the letters in the New Testament is perseverance. In fact, this is the topic of the second half of chapter 10 in Hebrews. The author explains the sacrifice of Christ, and how no more ritualistic sacrifices need to be made to God anymore for forgiveness. This gives us confidence, that we don’t have to go through a priest to come to God, and our hearts can be made clean again. He goes on to talk about our responsibility to keep ourselves pure and close to God, and about His judgment of those who do not do this. Then he calls to mind all the times when the Hebrew people courageously stood for God, and finishes the chapter with these words:
“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised. For in just a very little while,
‘He who is coming will come and will not delay,
But my righteous one will live by faith,
And if he shrinks back,
I will not be pleased with him.’
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (vs. 35-39)”
Wow. Ok. I always thought that faith was something that I either possessed or did not possess. However, this seems to indicate that faith is an action. It is a lifestyle. It is something we must choose. Faith is choosing to have confidence and to stand firm. Faith is rising to the challenge that God presents. It is pretty strong language that God uses, “And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.”
The writer continues in chapter 11 with the famous “Hall of Faith.” This passage tells a history of people who CHOSE to obey God, even when He asked them to believe and do some crazy things. For example, God told Abraham to leave his home and travel to a land that God had not yet shown him. He chose to believe that God would give him a son, even though this was not fulfilled until he was 100 years old. Through faith the Israelites walked on dry ground through the Red Sea and saw the walls of Jericho fall. These things that happened so long ago sound strange when placed side by side with the every day lives that we live. However, I wonder what incredible promises that God might entrust us with if we dared to believe that He can truly do the impossible?
Verse 6 talks about pleasing God again, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”
I love the incredible summary in verses 32-38:
“And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.”
It is interesting to me how the author ends this summary with all the bad things that happened to them. If I were writing this section, I would have put that part first, saying, “Here is all the bad, but look at what good came out of it!” However, this is not how the author chose to write it, and he did it for a reason. These verses emphasize the incredible truth that in this life, the only thing worth suffering and dying for is OUR FAITH in God. Our faith is something we must strive for, fight for, and treat as precious.
I want to live in faith like that. I want to be used in mighty ways by God, and be trusted by Him to be obedient to anything that He might ask of me. My imagination sparks and flashes with vibrant life when I think about this, and then suddenly I realize that I am still me. How on earth do I develop faith like that?
Maybe it is not as hard as it sounds. In my study of the Bible and through my own experiences, I have discovered eight things that have helped me to stand firm in faith and depend on God for the future. Some of these take time and searching, but if faith is as amazing as it sounds, then it is worth everything that we can give. In fact, God calls us to live the kind of lives that trust Him in every way, and everything He asks of us, He is capable of developing IN us. So let’s begin this journey to develop an unshakable faith in God.
1. Draw close to God. This sounds like a “well, duh” statement, but it is really the most important step in learning to trust God. It is difficult to trust someone with your life that you don’t know, and much easier to trust our family and friends. However, when it comes to God, we assume that we can go to church on Sundays and hear about Him and even learn a lot of facts about Him, and somehow we will develop trust and a personal relationship by osmosis. Relationships require time and effort, and our relationship with God is no different. Take time out of your schedule to spend with Him. Think about ways that you have used to get to know someone and allowed someone to get to know you, and do it. Go on “dates” with God, pour out your heart to Him, and spend time listening. You will be amazed at how God can and will speak when your heart is open to hearing His voice.
2. Dive into His Word. Sometimes this step is most difficult for people who have grown up in church, because they are under the impression that they have “heard it all before.” Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active.” You have never been in the place in your life where you are right now. Dive into His Word again, and be amazed at the things He will show you. Verses that you have read a hundred times will take on new perspectives in light of your present situations and struggles. Go in with new eyes and an open and teachable heart.
3. Claim God’s promises. Please don’t mistake this for the “trust God and He will make you healthy and rich” philosophy that for obvious reasons is very popular. God’s will and plan do not center around you and your comfort. However, as the Friend and Father He is, He has given us promises that we can learn to hold onto. In your study of the Scripture, keep a list of the promises that you find. For example, Joshua 1:5c says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” and Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” As someone learns to trust their lover through the promises they make, learn to trust the ultimate Lover, who will never fail you or let you go.
4. Surrender your dreams. The summer after my freshman year in college, I worked at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. For about a month and a half, I was very angry with God for leading me there. I did not want to be there. I wanted to be serving God in a more “exciting” place. Finally, God used that experience to break me of the illusion that I could serve Him and still call all the shots in my life. Part of faith in God is choosing to trust Him and obey Him even when life takes a detour and leads you to the last place you want to go. Are you struggling with the place God has led you to right now? Tell Him. However, don’t hold so tight to your frustration that you can’t let God take it and trade it for His peace. He knows who He has created you to be more than you do, and the person He dreams for you to be is beyond anything you could imagine for yourself. Learn to be content in your circumstances, no matter how painful they may be at the time. God never wastes time and He never wastes tears. Pray about how your situation can best be used by God.
5. Ask God to show you His dreams. Did you know that God has dreams? That is a pretty amazing concept, if you think about it. As you are giving Him your dreams and desires, ask God what His dreams and desires are. The brokenness and pain in this world affect Him deeply, because He created the world to be good. As He reveals His heart to you, ask Him what part He has for you to play in the dream. When you catch the incredible vision of God, no other dream holds a candle to the possibilities.
6. Step out in faith. Many times in life, we are faced with a decision that includes a level of impossibility. It is a good thing that we have a God with Whom anything is possible. Especially in western culture with technology and abundant resources, we are not in the practice of taking very many steps of faith. However, God still provides opportunities for faith boosters that often disguise themselves as impossibilities. What impossibilities are you facing right now? How is God leading you to take a step of faith and trust Him?
7. Develop a track record with God. About a year ago, I was facing a tough decision and I was struggling with the way I saw God leading. On a Sunday morning, I went down to the altar and through my tears I asked God to help me to want what He wanted. One of the pastors whom I did not know well and who was unaware of the situation, knelt beside me and began to share with me the concept of developing a track record with God. As we trust God with situations and we see Him come through and provide, we take note of His faithfulness and therefore we build our faith foundation. We develop this track record as we commit to long term memory the times when our faith was rewarded. This helps us to trust God in future situations. Whenever we are faced with a new impossibility, our natural reaction is fear and uncertainty. When these times come, it is important to call to mind the track record of God, and it is easier to trust Him with the next step. Our steps grow from smaller to larger as we find God to be faithful.
8. Learn to focus on Him. Contrary to popular belief, faith is not blind. Although sometimes in trusting Him you cannot see where God is leading, it does not mean that you are blind. It means that you have learned to focus your eyes on Him. When Peter took his eyes off the Lord, he saw the wind and the waves and began to sink. What did Jesus say to him? “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31) Over the past few years, I have struggled tremendously with illness. It is easy, especially when battling a problem for a long time, to be worn down and for discouragement to set in. Our eyes wander off Jesus, and we start to see the crashing waves all around us. It is not long before we are overcome. However, our salvation lies in crying out as Peter did, “Lord save me!” Our strong God reaches out, grabs our hand, and we are able to stand again. Our eyes are back on our Lord, and we focus on Him once more. This is the essence of perseverance: finding our focus point and holding fast. As we go through life, it is imperative that we learn how to run with perseverance, and we do this by focusing our eyes on God. He is not surprised by any situation that comes into your life, and just as Jesus walked with Peter in the storm, He will walk with you in your storms as well. Keep the faith you have developed in God by keeping your eyes on Him!
I’m looking for my faith…have you seen it? Yes, I have. It is in a God who has proven Himself time and again, who has found me where I am and loves me too much to keep me there. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for the promise you have given that you will never leave me. Please develop in me an unshakable faith in You that I may become everything that You created me to be. Help me to trust in Your ability to handle any impossibility, that I may take part in Your dream for the world.