The Great Mystery
For we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)
Obedience to Jesus’ authority provides the key to understanding what is for many the great mystery of Christianity: faith.
Saving faith-that by which we are justified, made right with God-is a gift of God; and yes, it involves a rational process as well because it comes from hearing the Word of God. “All right”, the struggling Christian May say, “but practically speaking, how does my faith become real? How do I get that vibrant, strong faith of Christian maturity?”
That’s where obedience comes in. For maturing faith- faith that deepens and grows as we live our Christian life-is not just knowledge, but knowledge acted upon. It is not just belief, but belief lived out-practiced. James said we are to be doers of the Word, not just hearers. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor martyred in a Nazi concentration camp, succinctly stated this crucial interrelationship; “Only he who believes is obedient; only he who is obedient believes.” This may sound like a circular proposition, but many things are-in truth and practice. Faith is a state of mind that grows our of our actions, just as it also governs them.
So obedience is the key to real faith-the unshakable kind of faith so powerfully illustrated by Job’s life. Job clung to the assurance that God is who He is. Job confirmed his obedience with those classic words of faith: “Though he slay me, I will hope in him”.(Job 13:15)
This is real faith: believing and acting obediently regardless of circumstances or contrary evidence. After all, I’d faith depended on visible evidence, it wouldn’t be faith.
It is absurd for Christians to constantly seek new demonstrations of God’s power, to expect a miraculous answer to every need. True faith, as Job understood, rests on the assurance that God is who He is. Indeed on that we must be willing to stake our very lives.
Whatever we have faith in controls our actions and responses to life and it’s challenges. For instance, we may have faith in our own abilities and ingenuity. If that’s the case, any situation is faced with a process of using our abilities and ingenuity to manage it. I’ve noticed that as Americans we often use these as our first resort. As the coronavirus became known, we immediately put our abilities and ingenuity to work, trusting that we could quickly resolve the problem.
Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t use what we have. For example, we know that God supplies our needs, but He usually does that through our skills and opportunities to make a living. So while we believe that God will supply our needs, we must also act with what He has already given us. This is faith, acting upon and with what God has already provided. In the story of David and Goliath we find this picture painted well. There is a great challenge. It is so large that none are willing to tackle it. David sees it not as a human challenge but a God challenge. We read that King Saul wished David to use his armor but it didn’t fit. What David used to face Goliath was faith and what he possessed of ability and knowledge. Working together with faith(“The battle’s not mine but God’s”) and the practical(the sling and five stones), David demonstrates this principle. Coupled with faith and the practical was experience(I have slain the lion and the bear) and trust(I come against you in the Name of the Lord of Hosts).
Faith is not some feeling, some perception, something mysterious. Faith is the practical application of action upon what we believe. We have for so long separated faith from practical. It is true that many times faith collides with the practical for faith sees the situation from God’s view instead of humanity’s view and acts accordingly. Our last two devotions addressed hearing God and experiencing God personally. This is the foundation of faith. Once God has made His presence known and once we have heard His directions then everything fits itself into that which we know and hear.
In 1988, having invited a Kenyan pastor to preach at the church I was pastoring, God set a course for my life. I was content just pastoring but God spoke through this pastor that I was to come to Kenya and do mission work. I must confess at that moment, I thought that was funny. Me going to Africa, what a joke. That afternoon, sharing with Sherry, God spoke again for He had already made known and was preparing her. At that time I had no money to go, no knowledge of how to go about even starting the process. But God led and I got my passport and made plans. A visiting evangelist during that time was led by God to receive a special offering for me. He didn’t know the purpose for I hadn’t shared anything with him. We lacked a thousand dollars so I said to Sherry that it didn’t look like this was going to happen. Because God had spoke to her as well as me, she decided to go talk to our bank. The banker initially refused the loan as we already had two. Sherry says she just said to him that this trip was God ordained and that it was imperative for us to get the money and he relented and gave us the loan. Do you see how both ability and faith worked together? Everything was working together so far and one might say that at that point, the practical was outweighing faith, until I arrived in London that Sunday morning. Our travel agent had informed us that a visa was not necessary, but when I approached the British Airways desk, I was informed I couldn’t board the flight to Kenya without one and the embassy wasn’t open till Monday. First of all, I had no spare funds. I went over to a bench battling fear and wondering whether I had heard a God or just acted on an impulse. God gently reminded me of everything that had led to this moment. So I took one hand and placed it in the other and prayed a prayer of agreement. As I was sitting there, the Lord spoke to me and told me to go back to the desk. My initial thought was, “What’s the use? I’ve already done that.” With nothing to lose, I made my way back to the desk and gave them my name. The supervisor then informed me that they had been getting ready to call me up. She said they could put me on the plane and I could get a visa when I got to Nairobi. So I got on the plane and after we were airborne I thought to myself well that was stupid. Out of the frying pan into the fire. But there was no turning back. When I arrived at the airport, I went to customs. The gentleman asked me my purpose for the visit. I replied that I was there to preach the Gospel and work with my pastor friend. Turned out he was a Christian and immediately stamped my passport. I was later told that it usually took at least 2-3 weeks for a visa and that no one had gotten approved at the airport. God at work doing what I could not. After getting my baggage, I went to the terminal expecting to see the face of the only man I knew in Kenya. He wasn’t there. I sat on my suitcase asking God, “What now?” Again putting one hand into the other I prayed. A hand touched my shoulder and a young Kenyan man asked if he could assist me. I told him I was supposed to meet Pastor Francis Mungai. He said that he actually knew him and offered to take me to Elburgon to meet him. I agreed so we got into his car and off we went. Later I was told that God had been in that for there were cases when tourist were taken out into the wild and either dropped or murdered for their things. God was surely with me. Arriving at Elburgon, I discovered that Pastor Francis was not at home but another minister took me under his wings. After getting me food, he took me to a room and left me there. Now I was not only far from home, knew nobody and had no means to find my way home and all I had was my faith in God and the knowledge that thus far He had orchestrated it all. I’d like to tell you that I lay down and took a nap trusting God but the truth is that I paced the floor, prayed the same prayer over and over again and tried not to panic. After some time, a knock came at the door. There he stood, my pastor friend. In those days email and text an cell phones were not available. My letter actually arrived a couple days before I left. His story was that in anticipation of my coming, he had been out setting up meetings. God had spoke to him to return home that day even though that was not in his plans. We experienced incredible meetings where God touched many.
I hope my story illustrates what I’m trying to get across. It is the work of faith and practical effort together, not in competition but in cooperation that brings together the plans and purposes of God.
Dr. John Thompson