I don’t typically like to get all King James on people, I just feel like the language is hard to access in modern world. Other translations of the bible maintain the message of God while being accessible to today’s speakers. However, every now and again, the KJV (King James Version) has some of the most eloquent wording of all the versions. For example, this is how the KJV defines faith in Hebrews 11:1:
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Wow… reading faith this way completely changes the perspective I think we mistakenly have about faith in our Western (read, Americanized) view of faith. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about faith through this year of being sick. In order to fully explain all of this I need to talk about what I USED to think about faith (and what I think many people may errantly believe about faith) and the potential pitfalls of that belief.
I’m about to bust out some Video Game and tabletop RPG (Role-Playing Game) nerd on you, but bear with me, it will make sense at the end. In a lot of fantasy themed games one of the staple jobs for characters is a magic user of some sort. A conjurer, summoner, sorcerer … a character that is physically weak, but as the game and story progresses this character develops and learns different skills and spells that heavily damage the strongest enemies in the game and greatly heal his or her friends. Almost universally these characters have a stat associated with them called MP (magic or mana points, depending on the game). Weaker attacks cost a low amount of MP, devastating attacks cost a large amount of MP. The only way to gain access to greater power. Not having enough MP means you won’t be healed or you won’t be able to defeat your enemies.
Alright, back to reality, whether you are a gamer or not, you may be accidentally subscribing to this view of faith. “Name it, Claim it” theology and “Prosperity Gospel” relegate the beauty of what true faith is to someone’s FP, faith points. If you have enough faith built up with God, He will grant your requests, if not you’re out of luck. There is an issue of “faith shaming” sometimes in our culture. If you are poor, it is because you did something wrong. If you are sick, it is because you didn’t pray hard enough. You didn’t REALLY believe God would heal you. If you had enough faith, God would heal you. God would give you a job. God would pay your bills. God does whatever you want when you have enough faith.
NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUE ESSENCE OF FAITH IN THIS WORLD.
Here’s a thought: FAITH has very little to do with YOU. Yes you need to have faith; you need to trust and believe that God is good, NOT that he will give you whatever you want. The things we want are often tainted by our humanity and our inability to see the whole picture. Faith means knowing God knows what’s best.
My and Katie’s story is a story of faith, but from the outside it would look like we were totally abandoned by God. It was by faith that I left a good job (at the time a DREAM job for me). It was by faith Katie and I took a trip to Thailand. It was by faith we walked through unemployment. It was by faith we went to a doctor and scheduled surgeries. It was by faith I took a different job in the secular world. It was by faith that we decided to move our family to Thailand. Through sickness, poverty, confusion, and fear, we had to wake up every day and say “We have gotten to this place by saying ‘yes’ to God every day. So even though it might not look like it on the outside, we are in the best and most favorable position for the Kingdom of God to breakthrough.”
The most surprising response I got from some Christian friends in November of 2013 was people who seemed disappointed in me for having surgery. Like, somehow, I had a lack of faith because I didn’t wait for God to rebuild my colon by supernatural force. CAN God do that, yes, but what every one of these people seemed to forget is that Katie and I had been diligently seeking the Lord for years about what to do and he led us to walk through surgery. He walked us through a valley of sickness and struggle, and I believe this cultivated a greater faith in us. Faith isn’t getting what you want, it is believing in the plan.
The author of Hebrews backs me up here again. This time from the New Living Translation:
“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s comm”and, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.
Hebrews than goes on to explain many great deeds of the faithful in the Old Testament, from Abel to Rahab, but picks up again in verse 32 with this:
“How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back again from death.But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.”
It is primarily verses 36-40 that stick out to me. A vending machine view of faith ignores a large part of the story of God. Many people were promised blessing by God, they believed fervently, and never saw the fulfillment in their lifetime. They are still characterized as people of great faith, even though they didn’t magically manifest their blessing.
Faith, at its core, is about believing and helping accomplish the things of God over the course of all HISTORY, not getting what you need immediately.
So, here’s what my trial taught me: faith by getting what you want is cheap. Real faith for me? Real faith was lying in a hospital bed, in the worst pain I’d ever imagined, and truly knowing in my heart that God is good. God has my best interest at heart. God wants to bring the Kingdom to earth. My job is to hope for those unseen things, no matter my present circumstance. The Fathers of our Faith proclaim this from history: Abraham, Job, David, even Jesus. All show us a story of faith that is bigger than any one man.
Be encouraged. Wherever you sit, whatever your circumstance, if you have in your heart truly submitted to God’s Will, if you believe in His great Plan to rescue his creation, if you can embrace that faith is bigger than your life and your time, then you are in the greatest place in the kingdom.
My Jesus didn’t necessarily come to make you healthy, wealthy, and famous in this life. God gave His Son to assure your eternity, and to give you a purpose and fulfilling his plan to redeem man.
That gift is way better than having a Lexus … or a colon.