“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” Hebrews 11:6
What are we hoping to achieve in 2017? Have the events, all of which seem to feature a newly elected leader, cause us to have or lose hope? Do we hope that we will experience peace through, despite of, or beyond our pain? Do we hope to see loved ones, long separated from us again? Do we hope to get our children into the right school? All of these seem worthy hopes … hopes that we may even pray about, but what part does hope play as we seek to live out our lives in faith? 2017 is a year when as the Free Churches Group we are supporting the initiative Prison Hope. Last Sunday I was preaching in a prison on the subject of Hope, with hope being the stuff that faith is made of (Heb 11:1) … but what do we picture when you hear the word hope?
Is it a picture of a child standing on the stairs waiting eagerly for his dad to walk past the bottom, then shouting “Dad catch me” a fraction of a second before hurling himself into mid air … in hope? Or is it a picture of a drought-devastated villager praying for rain in the sun with waterproofs to hand … in hope? Can we trust that our dad is powerful enough to catch us if we jump? Can we trust that the character of the God of the universe is good enough to bring rain?
We all hope that the Father will always catch the son, and that after the drought will come the rain. In doing so our faith rises and we are equipped to climb the stairs or walk out into the heat again … and again … and again!
That’s what we know faith to be - putting our belief and trust in something or somebody outside of ourselves, and then acting on that belief. Thinking about the examples given in Hebrews 11:1-40, for instance, Abraham, venturing from his home to the unfamiliar, trusting a promise that wouldn’t materialize for decades. How about that same patriarch, placing his beloved son, Isaac, on the altar, trusting that somehow God would either provide an alternate sacrifice or raise his son from the dead? Or think about Moses, choosing to leave behind the pleasures and power of the pharaoh’s palace to shepherd a group of grumblers out of slavery into the Promised Land. Step by step and day-by-day Moses acted on his faith in a promise that wouldn’t even completely materialize until after his death. The writer of Hebrews recounts these and many other examples of trust in this chapter.
Of course, acting on faith isn’t always easy. It calls us to step away from what is comfortable and safe and, like a child halfway up the stairs, look into unknown and unfamiliar circumstances. We are living through disturbing times in the Prison Service. Increasingly we are seeing violence, self-destruction, unrest and we wait on the Lord for answer to prayer. And as we wait, we act in faith! The questions we face are as simple as the question in the child’s heart when he’s on those stairs. Can we trust that our Father is powerful enough? And do we trust that He is good? The answer to both questions if we understand and believe the teaching of God’s Word, is a resounding “Yes!” Our all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present God can handle every situation we face; He is not surprised to see the horror of a prison in riot or another brother who has felt that hope has totally deserted him and that he cannot cope anymore, and because He is the very essence and definition of what is good, not only does he weep, but he acts; and he often acts through us. He will always do what is right and we can trust Him to ultimately not let us fall or fail. When those without hope or faith around us are in darkness or pain, we hope and we continue to have faith. And He acts. And we act.
What I like best is that Hebrews 11:6 tells us that hope and faith trigger a response of pleasure in God’s heart. As we demonstrate our trust in Him, He is not apathetic or indifferent, but actually delights in our belief in Him. In fact, as His children, the writer says, we cannot please Him without faith! It is impossible.
I don’t know what “step” you are standing on today. But I do know the character of the Father who is calling you to act on your faith in Him. I invite you to the pleasure of trusting Him today.