By Dallas McGlinn
Faith: The Substance of Things Hoped For; the Evidence of Things Not Seen
What is faith? Faith is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see,” according to Hebrews 11:1 in the New International Version of the bible. I also like the King James Version, which says that faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” I love the word evidence being used for something unseen.
So what does faith mean in our everyday lives? It means that if we have faith, we know that something is there, even if we can’t see it. We know that God loves us, even when we screw up. We know that if we live our lives according to God’s will, we will be blessed.
But knowing all of these things and actually living out our faith can be two different things. For instance, I always worked at a job I didn’t really enjoy because it paid the bills. But I wasn’t fulfilled, and I made up for that lack by buying all kinds of stuff. I still have a lot of it – books, knick knacks, and clothes I never wear. I went out all of the time and lived each weekend as though it may be my last – and in my mind I thought that meant I should be drinking and partying, because 1) life was short, and I may as well enjoy it, and 2) it was a release – I deserved, it, right? I worked hard, so on the weekends it was time to have “me” time, to do what I wanted. The only problem is that my weekends weren’t that much fun either. I didn’t have any real friends, I drank too much, and got bad hangovers. This was a vicious cycle. Where was the faith?
But how do we really know when we are living by faith and when we aren’t? Was I supposed to quit my job, sell my possessions and live in a commune? In Matthew 6:25-27 Jesus says:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
Jesus is clear. Have faith, because God will take care of us. He wants to take care of us – He loves us! But of course this doesn’t mean that we aren’t supposed to put forth some effort ourselves. And this makes sense; anything that is given to us unearned is not appreciated. God knows this. So what’s a person to do? I guess the answer is that we have to really understand what faith is. Here are some points to ponder about faith.
1. Faith is like a muscle. The more we exercise it, the stronger it will become. If we don’t use it, it will atrophy and become useless.
I once knew someone who said that he didn’t have any need for faith, because he had everything he wanted. He had a good job, a nice family, and didn’t really feel as though he wanted or needed anything else. So he said since he didn’t really need or want anything else, he didn’t see the need for faith. But we know that no one’s life is perfect. Someday something will happen in his life that will hurt. It happens to all of us. During those trying times, I know how comforting my faith is to me. I lost my sister to breast cancer, and I have the comfort of knowing that she is in a better place, in heaven. My loss is great, but so is my comfort. I couldn’t imagine facing a loss like that without faith. So, when sometimes I’m not clear on what God’s plan is for my life, I use my faith – I exercise it so it will become stronger, so when I do need it in times of trouble, it is there, like a solid rock. 1 Corinthians 1:5 says we walk by faith and not by sight. We don’t know what will happen next, but if we have faith, we know things will be ok.
2. Faith doesn’t mean that God is going to say yes to everything we ask for. Faith means that we will receive what is best for us.
A lot of people think that faith is kind of like presenting a list of things we want, and they will be received. In some cases, we do receive exactly what we pray for. We may pray for a new job, and receive it. We may pray for a loved one to get well, and they may be healed. But we don’t always get everything we ask for. I remember praying over and over again, every night, for God to grant something I really wanted, and it didn’t happen. It took me awhile to work through that, but eventually I realized that I had been praying for the wrong thing. God knew I shouldn’t have that thing, so He didn’t give it to me. Later on, I realized that my not receiving that thing turned out very much for the best.
3. When we step out in faith, God’s plans are sometimes bigger than what we can see.
Hebrews 11 has all kinds of examples of this: Noah built the ark by faith; Abel, out of faith, brought a large offering to God and was killed for it because his brother Cain was jealous. Sometimes we step out in faith and we may not see the results we expected – but part of that faith is that we have to trust God’s great plan. I have some friends who stepped out in faith and lost almost everything they had. But I don’t think they would trade that experience for anything. Even though they lost their material things, the closeness of their family, their great memories, and all of the new people who came into their lives made it all worthwhile. Now they have a story that they can use to encourage others who may be facing financial meltdown or losing their faith. Their story has a happy ending.
4. Sometimes God is silent – He waits for some time before He tells us what He wants us to do.
At times I get so frustrated, because I want to know what God wants me to be doing, and I want the information in black and white, right now. If God showered me with everything I wanted at one time, would it be appreciated? Instead, I love to just walk on the road He has set for me, and then become pleasantly surprised at the little blessings that I see along the way. I used to go to England a lot, and I loved being there. But I loved the journey too! I would have a stack of good books and puzzles and I would sit in the airport lounges and on the plane just daydreaming, reading and praying. I had no control at that time, I couldn’t drive the plane and I couldn’t decide what time it came or went. I could only go along for the ride. So what else could I do but enjoy the journey? Having no control was very relaxing. The same is true when we have our faith in God –it’s much better to turn the reins over to Him and just enjoy the journey.
Life can be hard sometimes. I don’t know what I would do without faith. Faith is a gift from God, and I’m glad to receive it. It’s nice not having to be in control all of the time!