Real faith, right now
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
–Hebrews 12: 2
Faith is not the ability to believe that God will do some particular thing or answer some particular request, but rather it is the ability to believe that God will always do what is best.
There will come times when, as a believer, and particularly as a leader, we may await an answer to a prayer, or when we take action based on a complete confidence in God, and, much to our dismay, things just don’t work out, and it appears that God has let us down. We must understand that appearance and circumstance are by no means the best indicators of God’s will or of His favor. Indeed, we may very well encounter situations in which we may seem to be at a loss, while in fact the favor of God remains upon our lives.
And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance. (Deuteronomy 21: 22-23)
Hundreds of years after the Law was first proclaimed to Israel, this law had become well-known and deeply entrenched in the minds of the children of Israel. Thus in the Jewish culture of the Late Antique Period, it was widely known that God’s word declared anyone who is hanged to be accursed of God. To the Romans, crucifixion was a death fit for thieves, murderers, and enemies of state, and it was also frequently during and after a conquest to declare Rome’s supremacy and instill fear throughout conquered territories. One who was crucified was, to the Romans, beneath contempt, and to the Jews, cursed by God. Thus it would have surely appeared to many that the great Prophet who had healed the sick and maimed, opened blind eyes, cleansed lepers, cast out devils, walked on water, and raised the dead had suffered a total defeat, that He had been crushed under the iron heel of the Roman Empire. Yet we who call upon the name of Jesus Christ know that the cross was not a defeat, but a triumph by which many have been raised to everlasting life (Colossians 2:13-15).
There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 8: 14)
Is is quite possible for bad things to happen to good people, and for right actions to be rewarded with wrong results. We must, however, never mistake this as necessarily being defeat, because some must indeed endure terrible things for the sake of the Gospel (e.g., Acts 9: 15-16).
There’s persecution, but there are also consequences of bad decisions
Sometimes there are afflictions which come for righteousness’ sake, but there will also be times when God will allow us to endure the consequences of our own mistaken, misguided, or knowingly wrong decisions. While God will, in His mercy, spare us of some of the consequences of our poor decisions, He may also permit our mistakes to cost us, even dearly. Some of us will proclaim such an absolute “faith” that God will fix whatever mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, and I can personally say that He has done so for me on quite a few occasions. However, there have also been times when I have had to endure the lasting harm brought about by some of my worst decisions, some of whose effects were still evident for years.
In either case it would be a terrible mistake to believe that God has abandoned us, or that we have fallen into His disfavor.
My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth. (Proverbs 3: 11-12)
There are presently many who preach that God does not teach us through suffering, and that suffering is surely caused by disobedience, but such doctrine is purely demonic. How do we know this? Christ suffered, and the Bible tells us that He learned obedience through the things that He suffered (Hebrews 5: 8). If the disciple is not above his master (Luke 6: 40), then we must understand that though our faith may please God, He may yet elect to instruct us through suffering, although we may sometimes suffer unnecessarily because of our own choices.
Real faith is an absolute assurance of God’s good will, not a license to be irresponsible.
So many Christians today handle their personal lives and their financial matters irresponsibly, claiming faith as their blank-check excuse, and this ought not to be so. I once knew a pastor who decided to take a few weeks off from his job to devote to prayer and fasting, and was fired from that job. Why? He had never even called them to let them know he wouldn’t be coming in. Whether God called him on that fast or not, as an employee he was under authority, and ought to have at least notified his employer. Recently, I met with a loan officer to obtain a mortgage for the purchase of a home, and he told me that he would have never guessed that I was a Christian minister by looking at my credit report, because preachers usually have very poor credit, while my credit was good. I know that there are some among us who will shout that God can get you a house without good credit, and that He can even enable you to buy a house without a mortgage. This can be true, but at the same time, it s not God’s will for us to be irresponsible. Your credit rating is an assessment of your character: it evaluates your history of financial responsibility, and there are many people who cannot purchase a home or even get a better job because of their credit. Faith doesn’t mean you go an get 15 credit cards and max them all out when you don’t even have the means to pay off one of them. This is simply not the responsible thing to do. We will get into much more detail on this particular subject in Module Five, but for now let it suffice to say that real faith will cause you to be a good steward who wants to develop good habits because he believes that God is going to trust him with more resources in the future.
The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again: but the righteous sheweth mercy, and giveth. (Psalm 37: 21)
It is wicked not to pay your bills when you are able to do so. It’s one thing to suddenly lose your income to job loss, disability, tragedy or disaster, but it’s another thing to disregard your responsibilities. One of the most wicked teachings that has come about in this generation is the teaching that people ought to be “sowing” their bill money, grocery money, etc., on a regular basis. God might command us to sacrifice here and there, but is clearly not His desire for us to ignore our responsibilities. As leaders we must repent of such teaching if we have been a party to it, because it is in truth just a self-serving doctrine designed to raise money regardless of the harm that may come to the saints in the process. It is good and right to give, but expecting people to constantly give beyond their means is selfish, unkind, and downright wicked.
Real faith as a leader will inspire creativity in handling your ministry’s finances, and it will cause you to want to maximize what your ministry has rather than burden God’s people. Faith will cause you to see potential where others see problems, and it will move you to develop your people so that they can not only disciple others, but also become better able to give as their personal economy grows. Real faith will give you the courage as a leader to not resort to the snake-oil salesman chicanery to which so many Christian leaders have succumbed. It will cause you to seek God for wisdom in how to accomplish your vision.
Faith believes that God will keep His promises, and therefore takes action.
When I was thinking of moving to Texas, I had no job prospects there, very little money in the bank. and absolutely no idea how I would set about establishing a ministry in a place where I had no friends, no family, and no ministerial contacts. As my wife and I discussed it, one day she said to me “Pray about it one more time.” Honestly, I didn’t feel like it, but I did, and the answer came in the form of two words: “Trust me.” We immediately packed our clothes, gave away our furniture, and left New Jersey behind. When we got to Texas, I couldn’t find a job, and so started my own business. My business didn’t make any money for months, and it seemed like we were in constant danger of running out of money. Yet whenever we were almost broke, something always occurred which resulted in income, and the bills always got paid. There was nothing happening in terms of ministry either, yet the Lord always provided, and that year my income was more than twice that of the previous year. This wouldn’t not have occurred had we not obeyed, because faith without works is dead (James 2: 26). God’s thoughts toward us are of peace, and not of evil (Jeremiah 29: 11), and so there is no need to play games, or rub shoulders with the “right” people. Since our knowledge of God’s purpose is only partial (1 Corinthians 13: 9), there may very well be things which will occur that we may not understand, or which may appear to contradict our understanding of God’s will and His ways. However, real faith will cause us to fully trust Him, and to conduct ourselves according to His Word, which will keep us in His will, which is the safest place in the whole world.
Faith with works is met with by the power, presence, and provision of God
As the old saying goes, God may not come when you want Him, but when He comes, He’s right on time. In November of 1998 a growth appeared on my jaw, against the inside of my cheek, and came out through the flesh of my face. It was unsightly, painful at times, and even oozed blood and pus from time to time. Its cause was unknown, but that it had supernatural origins became apparent over time. I would disinfect it, drain it, pray over it, fast about it, and seek prayer from other men of God concerning it, but all to no avail. I made a decision, however, not to seek the help of a doctor, because I was determined to yield it to the Lord. Years went by, and sometimes the growth would increase to about the size of a dime, being fleshy in appearance, and there were times when it caused pain that made the right side of my face feel like it was burning, but I continued to believe that God would take care of it.
On three separate occasions, in frustration and anger I literally tore the growth off my face, which made a bloody mess. Each time, it grew back within a few seconds. Sometimes it would shrink for a time, only to grow again, producing a series of “false alarms” in which thought I was going to be healed, only to find that it was not the case. Regardless, I continued to pray and believe that God would come through. During these years I had seen people set free from sickness, disease, addiction, and even severe demonic possession when I prayed for them, and in some cases when they had just touched me, yet it seemed that this one thing could not be overcome.
One day, I began to pray about it yet again, and felt God’s authority in me, and found myself becoming angry at this evil growth with a holy anger. I commanded it to die and to recede. I noticed no immediate change and went about my business. Some days later, my mother saw me, and commented, “That thing is shrinking, Sammy.” I looked at it, and it had shrunk considerably. It continued to shrink over the next week or two, then receded to the same level as the skin of my face, and finally disappeared, leaving a small flat scar, which I wear as a badge of honor and testimony to fact that God is faithful.
No matter what it looks like, trust God, believe His Word, and conduct your affairs according to His principles.
Points for Discussion:
- Think of some instances in which you moved in faith and were met with disappointment. Evaluate these events in light of this lesson. What are some ways in which you could handle such situations now that would be different?
- What are some of the characteristics of men and women of faith in the Bible? Evaluate the lives of Abraham and Joseph, comparing how they conducted their affairs and the relationship between their faith and their works.
- Paul writes in Galatians 2:20 that he lived by the faith of the Son of God. What does this imply for the contemporary Christian?