It’s a simple five-letter word, yet it defines every pastor’s calling: faith. God wants us to stand, walk and live by faith, which is the opposite of self sufficiency. Faith is the ultimate piece of our ministry because “without faith it is impossible to please God.”
Scripture says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
I must confess: I get lost in that definition. So, here’s my best shot at making it clear:
Faith is following a God whose audible voice we’ve never heard; loving a Savior whose wonderful face we’ve never seen; obeying a Bible that’s forever under attack; and planning an eternity in a place we’ve never been.
Nevertheless, faith needs a yardstick to measure whether we’re successful, a laboratory where it can be proven, a head-lock to see if we can break free. In every generation, the world gladly has provided vice-grips for our faith to be tested. For starters, here’s a half-dozen illustrations:
During Rome’s era of insatiable excesses, it was faith that led Augustine to forego the riches of his father’s inheritance and surrender himself to serving the poor and the outcast—much to the embarrassment and displeasure of his family.
During the church corruption of the fifth century, it was faith that led John Chrysostom to speak out against the arrogant authority of those in power—much to the displeasure of the clergy who had been paid to water down the gospel.
During a time of biblical ignorance and church indulgences, it was faith that caused Martin Luther to nail 95 criticisms of the church to the Wittenberg Castle door—much to the displeasure of the Pope Leo X and Luther’s superiors.
During a time when Christian and Apartheid were considered synonyms, it was faith that caused Andrew Murray to chastise a wayward church and its stranglehold on a segregated continent—much to the displeasure of the status quo.
During a time of theological neglect, it was faith that caused Charles Simeon to withstand the ridicule of church members and the mockery of fellow faculty—much to the misguided delight of unruly Cambridge students who pelted him with rotten eggs.
During a time of Jewish extermination, it was faith that caused Dietrich Bonheoffer to proclaim boldly a nation’s sins and to shame the churches that sat idly by—much to the displeasure of a maniacal dictator and apathetic church leaders.
Faith can be a costly commodity. The death certificates of members from the Bible’s Hall of Fame includes the words torture, mocking, scourging, chains, imprisonment, stoned, sawn in two, tempted, abandoned, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated, wandering in the desert, hiding in holes in the ground, banished to the mountains and put to death.
It’s doubtful any of those words appear on our bios.
They knew faith—real faith—comes with a price tag. It lives outside the norm. It’s heavenly focused. Real faith is seen in every deed of kindness and heard in every sermon.
Real faith believes in a God who defies human logic. Abraham barely had strength to blow out his 75 birthday candles. Yet when God told him that his 65-year-old wife would bare a son, he believed…even though it didn’t happen for another 25 years. That’s faith!
Real faith believes in a God who appears counter productive. Moses was told to stand before Pharaoh and “perform all the wonders which I have put in your power.” Then God trumped those powers by hardening Pharaoh’s heart, who then refused Moses. Yet Moses didn’t flinch. That’s faith.
Real faith is never governed by what’s seen. The terrified armies of Israel saw Goliath while David only saw an obstacle. The army’s cowardly conclusion was, “You can’t hit a giant!” However, David thought, “You can’t miss a giant!” That’s faith!
In today’s vice-grip, a pastor is the poster child for a church’s faith. As the people see it in us, they’ll follow; as we live it, so will they.
No one enjoys being in this head-lock, but this squeeze is what validates our message.