By Faith

Faith.

Our world defines this word as allegiance to duty or a person; fidelity to one’s promise; belief and trust in and loyalty to God; a firm belief in something for which there is no proof; complete trust; something that is believed especially with strong conviction (Webster’s).

Faith.

Our Bible defines it as the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. It is the way we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible (Hebrews 11).

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain and was commended as righteous.

By faith Enoch walked with God for over 300 years and was taken up to never see death.

By faith Noah built an ark and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed God’s call to go, even when he didn’t know where it was he was going. He started taking a walk of obedience not knowing anything but the promise that God would honor him and give him descendents that would outnumber the stars.

By faith Sarah was able to conceive and give birth in old age, being an instrument to honor the promise God made to her husband.

By faith

By faith

By faith

By the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…

I’ve been thinking a lot about faith recently…is it obvious? It seems as though the writer of Hebrews did a great deal of thinking about it too.

Why?

Wisdom and knowledge are like roots. Roots of a tree that bears the fruit of an obedient, faithful life surrendered to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Faith is the water...essential for growth. Faith waters the wisdom and knowledge He has rooted in us through His Word and by His Spirit in us. Without water, the roots cannot grow above surface level to give off life. You water something with the promise of growth, fruit and life being the result. Without faith, we could have all the knowledge and wisdom in the world and not give off one bit of life. We apply faith to the wisdom and knowledge we have with the promise that our life will then bear fruit that is evident of the Spirit within us. Faith is the very thing that first brings us to Jesus, and then helps us to daily place our lives in Jesus’ hands. I’ve learned over time His hands are the best hands my life can be in, far better than my own. But even knowing this, faith is still required to live like that.

Faith and obedience walk hand in hand. We are often called to obey even when it doesn’t make sense or we can’t see or picture the outcome.  The examples in Hebrews paint the picture that faith is a precursor to obedience as well as the aid tokeep us walking in obedience. It didn’t just take faith for Abraham to start walking, but to keep walking. It didn’t just take faith for Noah to start building, but to keep building. There have been many moments in my life when I’ve been faithful to step out in faith, but I often let other things carry me through (or attempt to carry me through would be a more accurate description) only resulting in tears because of the pain of sitting under a weight I wasn't meant to carry.

Most often it’s my mind that gets in the way. I love to learn. I love to study and read. I love to listen to teachings. I love resolve and answers. I don’t like loose ends, even when I know Jesus is holding all of those ends and will tie them when the timing is right. It’s one of my greatest strengths, and one of my greatest weaknesses. I think hard. I wonder if Abraham and Noah were like that. If they were, I can only imagine faith was the thing they went back to over and over to keep walking in obedience of the callings God had given them because there was no way they could have found resolve or answers. The things God was calling them to were impossible and incomprehensible to the human mind. Abraham and Sarah were far past childbearing years. The earth had never been flooded. If they could believe God’s promises for that, surely I can believe Him for the things He’s calling me to.

Their faith was rooted in knowing God’s character. They knew Him to be faithful and true; true to His promises and provision. They knew Him to be good. They knew Him to do what was best for His people. They knew God honored right and obedient hearts. Faith in all of these things carried them through to obedience and ultimately being honored for that obedience. I want to live like that. I want to live my life by faith, even when my mind can’t comprehend the outcome of what God is calling me to start walking in. If I can see or picture the outcome, faith isn’t required. But I want to live a life like the saints in Hebrews. A life marked by radical faith and obedience.

Usually I look more like Peter in Matthew 14.

And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out His hand and took hold of him saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

I’ve read this story many times but a few days ago I was spending time with the Lord and He brought this passage to mind. It was as if I was standing in front of a painting He had shown me 100 times, but this time He took a magnifying glass, pointing out details I had overlooked. I appreciate the painting so much more now.

I was praying and telling Him how so many times, especially lately, I have felt like a little baby, utterly dependent on Him alone. There have been several moments that I’ve felt like I’m in the middle of a storm, only to remember He wants me to strap myself to Him and let Him carry me through. The bummer is that I still feel all elements of the storm, but peace comes in knowing He is bigger and ultimately in control of every wave, every raindrop and every roll of thunder and gush of wind. In a moment He can say, “Peace, be still!” and they all will bow to His word. That is enough. Enough to build up my faith and help me lean into Him to feel His steady heartbeat.

I started thinking about it and asking what He wanted to teach me through these details He was showing. It was one of the sweetest times I’ve had just sitting and letting the Lord speak to me. I began writing out different things He was showing me. I’m thankful for a God that speaks clearly through His word and directs our hearts by His spirit much like a rudder steers a large ship.

Isn’t it interesting that the disciples’ first reaction to Jesus was terror? Oh my goodness, there have been far too many times to count when the Lord has called me to something and my first reaction is sheer terror, or as The Message puts itscared of my wits (But who says “wits” any more? Not me :) )!  “You want me to do what? That’s too crazy, it can’t be you! What will the people around me think? How in the world could that ever happen?” I’m sure there were moments of terror and fear for Noah…everyone around him thought he was a mad man. Imagine someone your grandparent’s age that has never had children telling you that God was going to give them a son and descendents that would outnumber the stars…cra-zy.

Faith is more powerful than terror and fear when we really let our hearts bow to what God is asking of us. Faith is a gift; given to help us plow through the fear/terror of what God calls us to. Can you imagine the initial terror Mary had when she was told she would give birth to the Son of God, and then mother His heart? I can’t imagine how Esther felt right before she walked into the king’s court to ask Him to save her people, the Jews. I can’t imagine being Sarah at her age thinking about carrying and giving birth to a baby. Terror.

Jesus’ response to the disciples’ terror? Telling them who He is. “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.” That’s all; no coercing, no begging them to believe it was Him. Just a simple “It’s me, don’t be afraid.”

Peter’s response? Much like mine would be (when I’m feeling bold enough)…”If it’s You, can you do something that could only be attributed to you? Ask me to come out where You are.” Peter knew that Jesus was powerful. He had seen Him perform miracles, forgive the unforgivable and love the unlovable. He had given up his life to follow Him. But still, he was a little unsure when he saw Him walking on water. Could this be Jesus? So, in faith he called out to Jesus and asked Him to make Himself known. He hears a familiar voice say, “Come.”

God loves to show Himself to us. I think we often feel like we are playing hide and seek with God; that He knows the best hiding spots and that we are on a never ending hunt for Him. Then we realize we have had a blindfold on and earplugs in and He’s been standing in front of us the whole time with His arms open and His mouth ready to speak.  Our blindfolds and earplugs vary from fear, sin, pride, etc depending on the day. Time to remove them, brothers and sisters. He’s right in front of us, ready to call us to come where He is.

By faith alone, Peter stepped out of the boat and began walking on the water toward Jesus. By faith, not his intellect- a human walking on water was inconceivable. By faith, not by his skill or talent- not even the greatest skill could aid someone in walking on water. By faith alone, Peter stepped out of the boat and began walking towards Jesus.

Then the wind, which I’m imagining was much stronger than a breeze, blows over Peter as he is getting closer and closer to Jesus. Suddenly, the fear seems to overshadow all that he had faith for. He starts thinking, “How in the world am I walking on water? This does not make sense.” For a moment he forgot that God’s ways and thoughts are much higher than ours.  His whole life he had never seen this be done or happen to anyone. How could it be happening to him? He’s standing in the presence of Jesus but allows his fear and thoughts to distract him and all of the sudden he feels the waves he was just plowing through to engulf him.

In that moment, Peter could have tried swimming back to the boat himself. He could have gone in the complete opposite direction of Jesus and tried his hardest to get back in the boat. But instead, Peter cries out again in faith, “Lord, save me.” All he knows to do in that moment is cry out to Jesus in hopes that He would reach out His hand.

Immediately Jesus stretches out His hand and took hold of him saying, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” I think when I was younger I always imagined Jesus saying that in almost a scolding tone, but I’m not sure that was how it went. I know there isn’t necessarily a way to tell tone by reading and I am not attempting to add anything here, but as I read it the other day I could hear Jesus’ response more like a mother responding to her child complaining because they are hungry. I’ve seen this many times with a friend of mine and my favorite 8 month old, Judson. It usually looks like this…Judson’s happy and playing, bouncing like a crazy man and all of the sudden it hits. He is hungry. Tears, crying and sometimes maybe even a little panic in his sweet little eyes. With a sweet smile she picks him up, holding him tightly, saying, “Brother, have I ever let you go hungry? I always take care of you.  Don’t you remember there has never been a day or moment when you have not been cared for? Don’t cry. I’ll feed you.“ She says this with an unwavering assurance that she knows exactly what his body needs to keep growing and maturing. There’s no anger, quite the opposite, actually. Her voice is filled with tenderness and understanding. She doesn’t think it’s crazy that he’s hungry, but also reminds him there’s no reason to panic. He just needed to remember that he has always been taken care of.

I imagine Jesus taking hold of Peter and speaking to Him in that moment in a similar way. He just saw Peter step out in faith and attempt something that he (or anyone for that matter) had never done before. Jesus knew this was huge for Peter and spoke with understanding to him. “You had little faith. Why did you doubt, brother? Have I ever failed you before? Has there been a moment you haven’t been cared for, Peter?” I love that Jesus speaks to him after He takes hold of him.  Jesus didn’t stand over him looking down saying in a demeaning voice, “What in the world are you doing, Peter? You’re faith is so little and you doubted. Of course that’s where you ended up!” Jesus took hold of him, reassuring him that he is cared for and spoke truth to him. “Peter, your faith kept you the first few steps, you just needed to keep walking it out. Don’t doubt. Now, let’s get back in the boat.”

Everyone watching, jaws dropped from the first few steps Peter took to the moment they get back in the boat, had one response. Worship. Through this whole thing their hearts were affirmed that this man, Jesus, truly was the Son of God. Peter’s falling in the water in that moment didn’t take people away from Jesus. Jesus is bigger than that. And Peter in the end still cried out to Jesus. The overall outcome? Worship and recognition of Jesus as the true Son of God. Sometimes I fear even taking the first few steps of faith to walk out something God is calling me to do for fear that I will fall or mess up in some way, leading others around me to think differently of Jesus. But Peter wasn’t like that. He stepped out in faith knowing that even if he began to sink that Jesus would be faithful to pull him up. Jesus is quick to respond to his children that are pursuing Him. Peter was walking toward Jesus and fell. He had a moment when he started slipping and his response wasn’t to stay there but to cry out to Jesus. And as all around watched they were brought to their knees and the words “Truly You are the Son of God” were on their lips.

Let it be in my life. I want there to be a line somewhere at some point  (hopefully in my own children’s journals) that testifies “by faith, Ashley…” Fill in the blank with whatever big or little thing Jesus wants to call me to. I want to live by faith.