Words do not stay the same. The definition or influence of a word can change over time. Sometimes they are overused and lose their power. Words that were once quite meaningful can become meaningless. Christianity is a religion that relies on certain words. The Bible is a story, and you cannot tell a story without words. Some of these words are essential to Christianity, and yet Christianity is a religion that has been around for many, many years. Christians have clung to important words while also dealing with an ever-changing world where the meaning of words can change.
Faith is one of the most significant words belonging to Christianity, but what does it mean? Over the years, many have equated it with belief. For these individuals, faith is the same as mental assent, but I believe a careful reading of the Bible will prove this definition to be inadequate. Certainly, belief is an element of faith, but it goes deeper than what a person may hold to be true.
Several times in the Gospel of Mark, faith is contrasted with fear (Mark 5:36). One of the most famous stories where this occurs is when Jesus calms a storm (Mark 4:35-41). You can imagine how frightening it would be to be on a small boat in the middle of a lake during a storm. Your boat could be capsized by the wind and waves. You would be susceptible to lightning strikes. You would essentially be helpless until you could reach shore. This is the situation that the disciples found themselves in. They were scared, and through it all Jesus slept. Finally, they decide to wake him. He calms the storm, and then says, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40).
If faith were merely belief, then fear would have no power over it. It’s possible to believe and at the same time be afraid. Faith is more closely related to trust. When we trust, fear goes away. This is what Jesus was looking for in the boat. The disciples were believers, but they did not have trusting faith. If they would have had faith in Jesus, then they would not have been afraid.
The contrast between faith and fear that Mark provides is helpful in evaluating our level of faith. It might be difficult for some to gauge their commitment to God adequately. We are great at critiquing others and not so great at self-criticism. However, if we think of fear as the opposite of faith, then it is much easier to identify areas where we are afraid. Wherever we find fear, we will likely also find a lack of faith. If we fear the political future of America, then we need to trust that God is sovereign over all. If we fear our neighbors who do not look like us, then we need to seek to love them all the more while trusting that God has created all people in his image. If we fear what will happen to the economy or where our next check will come from, then we need to trust that God will provide.
Radical faith is when we put our trust in God even when the future seems uncertain. We see this in story after story in the Bible beginning with Abraham. What we discover from Scripture is that God is always faithful. It would be difficult to trust in a chair that looks weak and fragile, and that has never been set in by you or someone you know. There would be no reason to trust the chair. However, if you saw a big sturdy chair that always provided a safe and secure seat for anyone who rested in it, then you would have no problem trusting the chair. God gives us every reason to trust him. We can always depend on God.
Scott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications. Scott’s blog, Resurrected Living, can be found HERE. Follow him on Twitter @tscott_elliott.
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son … Romans 8:29
This is a statement that digs into the mystery of the things God knows. Many theological treatises have been composed to try to explain predestination and the consequences of the foreknowledge of God! I’m tired after just typing that, honestly. True, there is a place for deep theological discussion. I’m not dismissing that. But what is it that God knows?
In a word, he knows us. He knows those temptations that trip us up every single time. He knows the pattern of thoughts we revert to when we’re stressed or angry or sad. He knows the battles we face with bad habits and addictions and behaviors. Knowing all that, his one desire is that we be conformed to the image of his Son. He also knows we do not have the power to do that.
Acting out of love for us, God moves to powerfully shape our hearts so that they look more and more like his Son Jesus.In a battle we were certain to lose, Jesus steps in and saves the day. While the threat of complete spiritual failure looms all around us, God calls … justifies … and even glorifies (Romans 8:30). It’s hard for me to see it in myself, but God knows.
God knows we win because he sees to it. If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31). And God knows that no enemy is powerful enough to reverse his victory. That’s why we’re not just conquerors, we’re more than conquerers through him who loved us (Romans 8:37). God already knew the outcome when he stepped into the battle to save us.
On a day when you don’t know if you can do it any longer … when you feel defeated and discouraged … stop thinking about what you know and consider what God knows. Remember he does know. And he loves and saves anyway.
I was in the cemetery at my grandmother’s resting place. This particular memorial park was an exclusively flat-stone only grounds, and each stone had a metal vase that you twisted out of the middle of the stone and turned over to display flowers. My aunt had tried to pull it out for Mother’s Day, but it was stuck. I was down on my hands and knees using a pocketknife trying to pry the vase free, it wasn’t budging! I look over and my daughter is on her knees with her hands folded. I asked what she is doing and she responded, “I’m praying that God will help you get the vase unstuck.” Frustrated and very sweaty, I was baffled because I was sure the good Lord had more important things on his plate than helping me turn a vase over…I mean, God doesn’t really work that way does he? When I returned to my car, I was blown away that at the very moment I was working, prying, and feeling defeated by a gravestone, my seven year old was praying.
Sometimes the things we perceive as strengths can become our most restrictive shackles to our faith. I think the ancient story of Adam and Eve plays out in us…you see, I was reminded in that moment and many others that I have chosen to feast on the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Moreover, I have studied the Bible and with that understanding comes the “shackle” of trusting myself to define not only if something is good or evil, but if God is likely to act or not act in a given situation. I think there is too many times where my familiarity with God through the Bible allows me to arrogantly move without an element of trust—to serve before prayer, as if God already affirms what I have decided to do.
As I reflect on this type of “faith,” I think it is why I tend to accomplish only the things I am naturally good at doing, never venturing into the unknown, uncomfortable, or uncontrollable. Those ministry opportunities or missions are just too sizable for my skills…it would take more than what I have. I believe that true faith gives LIFE (like the other tree in the garden) and often moves beyond our knowledge, skills, and experience.
Products of a fallen and broken world, I think that all of us come to God with a shackled faith of some sort. And I must admit that I like my shackles because they provide me with a way of understanding faith and they allow me to know that I am growing in faith.
Whenever I ask the question, “Does God really work that way?” I am beginning to see that question as a growth question because it is a direct attack on my knowledge and experience. When I reread the scriptures asking the question, “What does the Bible really say about this?” I see this question as a challenge to my study and the past interpretations. And when I finally take an opportunity to trust God and lean on God, when I find myself on a plane to Africa, having dinner with a stranger, opening up a Bible study, or praying that God would intervene in our heroin crisis…I realize that God is in the process of breaking my shackles and setting me free to trust him more.
We all have shackles, and God calls us anyway. As I think about what it means to live an unshackled faith, I think about the New Creation described at the end of Revelation. I think about all of the brokenness we have, all of the obstacles that make us cry to God to increase our faith, relieve our doubts, and give us greater perseverance. But there is great day coming when our faith will become sight.
John says that God will, “…dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
Today we battle our shackles, but we learn to trust God, to believe God, and one day our hope is to be unshackled, face to face with God Almighty, Creator of the unbroken world!
Prayer: Creator God, call us to greater works and allow us the opportunity to trust in You more and more as that great day gets closer and closer. Our desire is to be set free from the shackles that hold us back. I pray that you reveal to me the limits of my faith so that I can identify my shackles and receive healing and wholeness from You. Come Lord Jesus, so that our faith can become sight and our brokenness can be fully restored. Lord God make all things new and that includes me, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Jonathan Woodall serves the GracePointe Church of Christ in Elizabethtown, PA. He is married to Hayley and they have two children. Jonathan spent ten years in campus ministry at Soma Memphis serving the University of Memphis and served as a worship minister at the White Station Church of Christ. Jonathan has a desire to see the church reach the next generation and is particularly drawn to the communication of God’s story through preaching and teaching, especially as it pertains to our contemporary context. Jonathan’s blog can be found at www.jonathanfwoodall.com and the church website is www.gracepointechurchofchrist.org (PS – if you are coming to Hershey, PA for a vacation or whatever, come worship with us!)
Who am I to do such a thing? I’m not good enough. I don’t have what it takes. Someone else would do it better. When you have visions of great things you’d like to do for God, are your visions followed with thoughts like those above? If so, you are not alone. Those are the kinds of statements made by some of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament, just before God used them to do incredible works. Men like Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah were normal people of faith being unshackled to do amazing things empowered by an awesome God. I believe it is one of the tasks of faith to name the shackles that bind us and keep us from the things we would like to do for God. In naming them, we identify the reality and pry apart the grip they have on our lives. What is keeping you from doing something for God that you have dreamed of but never taken steps toward? EXCUSES. If you are like me you get defensive when someone identifies your perfectly good reasons as ‘excuses’. We need to be honest with ourselves. Are we making up excuses so that we do not have to experience the potential of failure as we try to do something great for God? I don’t know how to speak because I’m only a child. – Jeremiah 1:6 SHAME. Maybe we think that if we try – and fail – in service to God that somehow this is a terrible thing. Jeremiah preached for forty years without a single recorded positive response to his messages. He struggled, but he didn’t quit trying. I’m a man with unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips. – Isaiah 6:5
SIN. The biggest shackle of all. We feel unqualified because we wrestle with sin – and maybe one ‘besetting sin’ – that just won’t go away. As we attempt to glorify God in our lives how easy it would be for someone to point out our flaws. They could paint us as a hypocrite. Sin takes feelings of shame and rationalizing excuses and forms a weapon that destroys our hearts.
Who am I… What am I supposed to say? – Exodus 4:11,13
I encourage us all today to stop letting our shackles keep us from an exciting journey of faith. Yes, we need to name our shackles and identify them as weapons – weapons our enemy is using to diminish our work for God. No weapon fashioned against you will succeed, and you may condemn every tongue that disputes with you. This is the heritage of the Lord’s servants, whose righteousness comes from me, says the Lord. – Isaiah 54:17 Read again the powerful armor God has provided every Christian to withstand the weapons of the enemy in Ephesians 6:10-18. Remind yourself of the power of the cross and the assurance of the resurrection to defeat sin and give you new life. Ultimately everything we do for God is not controlled by our hands. He uses us in ways we couldn’t have guessed. His surprises keep us attentive as we walk by faith. We will be gin to notice that we are not, by our efforts, directing God’s work. When we walk by faith we are falling into His works in such a way that the old excuses, shame, and sin are remnants of the shackled life that is now free. Be mindful that no one does this perfectly. Don’t ever let a failure keep you from taking the next step with God. He’s never used anyone who wasn’t a failure in some respect or another. Remember that you do not have to see the end of the story, you just need to walk in the story. We live by faith and not by sight. – 2 Corinthians 5:7 Thanks for reading, John Dobbs
It was one of those moments. Jesus challenged his disciples to show forgiveness to others, even if it means forgiving them seven times in one day. The disciples saw the challenge and responded: “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5)
I’m not entirely sure what they hoped to get from Jesus, but I suspect they recognized the gap between Jesus’ teachings and their own abilities.
So Jesus responded by saying that faith doesn’t have to be huge; even a tiny amount can move mountains.
Then he told them a parable:
“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’ Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” (Luke 17:6-10)
I think he was saying, “You don’t need more faith; you need more faithfulness.”
In other words, theirs wasn’t a head problem. It wasn’t an intellectual need. It wasn’t even a lack of commitment. What they needed to do was put their faith into action. Or, more specifically, put their faith into obedience.
Hebrews 11 is the great chapter on faith. We read about Abel, Enoc, Noah, Abraham, Sara, Isaac, Jacob, and the rest. In almost every case, when we read about their faith, we read about something they did. We see their faith in their faithfulness.
Faith is more than an emotion. It’s more than an intellectual exercise. It’s something that you can observe. Faith is belief in action. Faith is being willing to listen to God and follow his lead, no matter what.
Faith leads to action. I can believe that a man is a doctor, yet still have no faith in him. But if I do have faith in a doctor, then I will follow his instructions. It is no special credit to me if I do what the doctor tells me to do; it is merely a symbol of the faith that I have in him.
If you’d like to have greater faith, then I believe the key is to take what faith you have and put it into action. Find ways to serve others. Tell people about what God is doing in this world. Meet needs and better your community.
Because you may not need more faith at all; you might just need a bit more faithfulness.
Timothy Archer has coordinated the Spanish-speaking Ministries for Hope For Life / Herald of Truth Ministries since 2006. Tim’s latest book, Church Inside Out, helps churches motivate their members to be actively ministering to the community around them. You can follow Tim’s personal blog at: http://www.timothyarcher.com/kitchen/.
and our once full throated song can become a half-hearted tune that we push through as we become absent minded about the glorious light of our faith.
How can we cope with these times of the “doldrums” in our walk with God?
How can we encourage the sweet wind of the Holy Spirit to blow through us to re-kindle our inner fire?
Our faith is a precious treasure, a gift that should be nurtured in the best of times, so we might thrive, but also so we might navigate the storms ahead without losing our way.
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you O God. ~ Psalm 42:1
This week, as I was considering the images of our faith, I was attracted to Claude Monet’s series of paintings on the Rouen Cathedral.
Monet was the founder of the 19th century French Impressionism movement. He was controversial for his time because he became fascinated with capturing on canvas the effects of light on one subject. To do this, he left the sanctuary of his studio and went directly to the outdoors to experience the changing effects natural light would have on a particular scene.
The National Gallery of Art describes this series of paintings as Monet’s desire to capture the “effects of light and weather” and he does this by painting the facade of this church some 30 times over many months as he rented rooms across from the Cathedral in late January of 1892 and stayed until spring.
This got me thinking about how many ways we use the word light to represent our faith and how our understanding of it can change over our lifetime.
Light represents seeing
It can also symbolize hope
A knowledge of a great truth…something that defines us and gives us purpose.
Our understanding of Light, gives us an impression of God.
Our attention to the light can fill us up until we overflow
Experiencing the warmth of God’s light tells us we are loved by our creator.
What do you think of when you talk about God’s light?
When I look at these paintings, I’m impressed and inspired by the thought of his devotion to capture the beauty of the light day after day.
Like Monet, I believe, that often what it takes to thrive in our spirituality is to stop-look-and listen- every day.
I want to encourage you to commit to a regular time of devotion to our Lord. Here are just a few ideas of things I have discovered along the way that rejuvenated my devotional time:
Rise early: Easier said than done, but try going to bed earlier so you can set your clock an hour earlier to spend time in prayer and devotion with our Lord. If the tasks of your day keep rushing in, make a quick to do list, then set it aside. It will be there when you are done and your time in prayer will help you remain in God’s peace as you enter your day.
A special place: whether it is in your home or office, create a special devotional space and fill it with items that will help you look forward to your quiet time with God. Perhaps you will light a candle or maybe you will have your special mug and favorite blend of coffee, these things can heighten your senses and help you relax allowing you to become more present as you attend to God’s voice.
Keep a prayer journal: I have always struggled with maintaining regular prayer practice, until I started writing my prayers. Now it is more of a conversation. I allow myself to write in a free form flowing in and out of prayer and regularly making note of where I noticed God in my day. You can also jot down Bible scriptures or favorite quotes. I’m always amazed at how writing something down helps me to hardwire the passage and meditate on a personal meaning for me.
Amazon Wish List: Start a wish list on amazon of all the books you would like to read. Anytime you hear about a book from a friend on Facebook or Twitter you can automatically add it to your list. Goodreads and Spotify are also wonderful social networks that can help you find recommendations for books and music to keep your devotional time fresh and inspiring.
Silence: Resolve to ask God questions and follow it by a period of silence…you will be amazed at how God will speak to your heart and open your eyes to new insights, discoveries and people all around you.
“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” ~ Isaiah 26:3
“Solitude is the practice of being absent from people and things to attend to God. Silence is the practice of quieting every inner and outer voice to attend to God.” ~ Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality p. 161
“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry we do not lose heart…For God, who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4: 1, 6
Like Monet, may we attend to the light of our faith so that we might notice all the beauty and all the little details of His divine love in our lives each day.
“To me the motif itself is an insignificant factor…What I wanted to reproduce is what exists between the motif and me. ~ Claude Monet
May God’s light and peace be with you, J
Jennifer Rundlett, founder of God thru the Arts ministries, maintains a presence in the community with her active lecture and concert series highlighting the spiritual connections throughout the arts. Author of My Dancing Day: Reflections of the Incarnation in Art and Music, and The Joyful Sound: Reflections on the Life of Christ in Art and Music she regularly posts devotional blogs on God thru the Arts at http://www.jrundlett.wordpress.com and has been a speaker at the Pepperdine University Bible Lectures in Malibu CA, Tulsa Workshop in Tulsa OK, David Lipscomb University Summer Celebration in Nashville TN, Rochester College Streaming in Rochester Hills Michigan and Fort Detrick Prayer Breakfast in Frederick Maryland. Here are just a few words about her latest book The Joyful Sound: Reflections on the Life of Christ in Art and Music
This book is filled with beautifully written devotionals that will move you through the life of Christ, awakening your senses and your faith. Enhanced by poetry, musical selections, devotional prayers, and journaling suggestions, this book will rejuvenate your private prayer, Bible class discussion, and enhance your journey of spiritual formation.
“Through art and music [this book] engages your soul and senses. Enjoy and embrace this profound and passionate experience.”
—RICHARD BECK, professor of psychology at Abilene Christian University and author of Reviving Old Scratch
“The Joyful Sound is both a walk through a gallery of art masterworks and a refreshing, reflective journey through the soul—lovely and transformative.”
—DAVID HAZARD, author of Rekindling the Inner Fire series.
“Jennifer Rundlett invites us to experience the stories of Jesus through the arts, and provides a rich resource and guide for visualizing, embracing, and hearing those stories in fresh and new ways. If you want to feel the stories of Jesus anew, practice the exercises in this book and learn to sing a new song.” —JOHN MARK HICKS, professor of theology Lipscomb University and author of Come to the Table