For we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)
The whole issue of faith is possibly one of the most challenging we will ever encounter, and yet it is the foundation of our identity in Christ. It appears over and over again in the Bible, is defined through various situations and examples, and we are exhorted to have faith, live by faith, walk by faith, believe…the list goes on. Yet, for all of us at some point, it’s rather like the proverbial cake of soap in the bath. Just when we thing we have a firm hold on it, it shoots out and vanishes into the bathwater, and we’re left feeling and fumbling and fumbling around for something that seems to constantly defy and elude us.
There are a few reasons for all of this, but perhaps the most obvious is that it contradicts the rational, challenges the ‘normal order’ – that safe and logical process of reasoning that sets comfortable boundaries and defines the world in which we live. Faith is a concept that breaks the rules. It scoops up reason and common sense and tosses them out the window. It sweeps aside conventional wisdom and all things safe and reasonable and overturns all the assumptions and preconceptions by which we understand and govern our lives. In short, it vividly conjures the essential difference between the Kingdom of God and this world. It defines the inevitable conflict between the two, and so often finds us with one foot in either camp, struggling to do what appears, on the surface to be impossible.
Another remarkable – and exceedingly uncomfortable – truth about faith is that its essential meaning and relevance only emerges when we need it most. How easy it is to ‘have faith’ when things are going well, when all is good and rosy and simple, when His light is shining bright and a song of joy is in the heart. Yet is this really faith, or is it the manifest assurance of the presence, the grace, the love and the fullness of God? We find it easy to praise and worship and be thankful because we ‘see’ the evidence. In my view, this isn’t ‘faith’ by definition.
Let’s look at the accepted definition in Hebrews 11:1. Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Based on this, it seems evident that what we experience or feel in the ‘good times’ is not faith. Our response is based on what is manifest, not on what is unseen. Yes, we may have faith for the answer to prayers or things in the future, but it is a faith that is natural and simple because we are surrounded by the evidence, the good things that often seem to define the presence of God with us.
True faith – the kind that James describes as producing perseverance – is a faith that emerges in testing. Faith evidences itself only when we need it, and to the degree that we need it. This ‘partnership’ with perseverance reveals the essential nature of faith, that quality that sets it apart from the comfortable assurance we enjoy during the good times. Perseverance really means to keep trying until we succeed, to keep trying even though we feel like giving up, to do the same thing over and over and over until the desired results are achieved. This, quite obviously, is very different from ‘milk and honey’ faith. We could, perhaps, describe it rather as ‘manna,’ which opens the concept up to the relevance of today’s passage.
Two remarkable things emerge when we consider the workings of God, the ways of God that He reminds us constantly are not the ways of man. The first is that His ways are supernatural, i.e. they exist and operate outside of the limited logic and order that governs the world. Having said that, they are also immensely practical. Keep in mind that the cycles, seasons and ‘rules’ that govern nature are put in place by God. The ‘natural’ ways are directed and controlled by the supernatural ways. We live in an ordered, logical universe that God has created, but are called to live in a supernatural way, by faith. Supernatural means above and beyond – to manifest the nature, power and glory of God by walking in faith, according to a higher law.
The practical aspect is one that is critically important to us. Our God hasn’t thrown out a challenge that is impossible to meet because He has already provided the means and the resouces to equip and enable us to do so. The issue of faith wonderfully exemplifies this practicality. It’s not some larger than life super-spiritual hype that sweeps us onto another plane. It’s a daily, one foot in front of the other, moment by moment, step by step walk.
Faith is, by grace, a gift from God. When the darkness descends, when the floods of calamity rage and the winds of adversity roar, and absolutely nothing seems to make sense at all, that is when faith finds its full meaning and purpose. When we have no clue where we are going, when it seems we can see no further than the step we have just taken, that’s when faith operates. It’s a this moment, this step kind of thing. ‘Right now, I only need to take one step in faith.’ It’s not about this afternoon, tonight, tomorrow or next week. This hour is what is relevant. No race is ever won by miraculously going from start to finish. No mountain is ever climbed except by this step by step principle.
The encouraging truth is that God doesn’t expect us to have faith ‘down pat.’ He knows the nature of it, and He knows that we will slip, fall, slide and struggle. There will be moments of unbelief, when the rocks seem too slippery or the surface unstable, when fears creep in and we second guess every step. Those are the moments when we fix our eyes on the light we know is ahead, even though we cannot see it. They are the moments when we dig deep for what He has placed in our spirits. When we take hold of His Word and hold fast to the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit within us for the courage and strength to take the next small step in faith.
Faith is one of the few good things that grow in the dark. It is an essential foundation for our lives in Christ, the tap root of our existence. Faith governs, directs and feeds every single aspect of our lives. It’s a remarkable fact that if we were to utterly sever the tap root of even the most enormous oak tree, the tree would inevitabley die. We look at trees, shrubs and flowers and see a stem, leaves, perhaps breathtakingly beautiful flowers and abundant fruit, but the critical part, the root, grows underground. It grows in the dark, is buried, as it were, yet still instinctively and unerringly seeks out the nourishment and stability the plant needs. Put the root above ground and it might grow a little, but certainly not enough to fulfill it’s purpose.
The darkness has a divine purpose. It’s creates, grows and strengthens what supports our life. But it doesn’t happen instantly or overnight, so be encouraged. It grows step by step, little by little, and as it digs deep and uses the darkness for divine, supernatural purpose, so the visible life manifests the glorious fruit that can only come from true faith.
Thank You, Lord, that Your ways are supernaturally practical, that what we Have in You is eternal and unfailing. Help us, Lord, in our times of darkness, to fix our eyes on You, on Your constant, abiding light, even though it seems we cannot see it. Grant us the grace we need for each small step, secure us with the knowledge that each step is bringing us closer to You and to your divine purpose in our lives.