I am, by nature, an optimist. That is, I default to expect good things to happen in the future, I default to thinking the best of people, and I default to being quite sure of my own plans (no matter how lacking in essential detail they may be). This is, in a large number of life situations, an asset as a disposition. But I have in my Christian walk tended to confuse optimism for faith and faith for mere optimism. But biblically speaking, faith is not simply expecting good things to happen in the future, not just thinking the best of people, and not a simple assurance in my plans for the future.
As we start moving out of lockdown, we need more than optimism offers us. So we're looking at one of the most often cited places on the subject of faith, Hebrews 11, we get crucial insight into what faith is, specifically. Let's read the opening section together:
"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible...By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore." [Hebrews 11:1–3; 8-12]
Here we are given both a description of what faith is, and examples of what faith looks like in us, God's people. I've particularly included the example of Abraham - there are many more cited in the rest of the chapter. Putting the description of faith alongside the example of Abraham, we can make some really helpful observations of what a life of faith really is meant to be like:
Faith is tied to hope, and is an assurance and conviction.
Faith is not tied to what we have yet, and it is not necessarily tied to what we see yet.
Faith is fundamentally connected to obedience to God, especially God's word, as Abraham shows us.
Faith is not connected to having a full and complete picture and understanding of things - we cannot know the fullness of how God created the world, and Abraham did "not know where he was going" when God called him out of Harran.
Faith is crucially tied to the promise of God - this is the tether that connects faith with hope, and it is exemplified in Abrahams obedience to go into a land that was promised but not His yet. And God's promise is the tether that connected Sarah's faltering assurance with the power to conceive and have Isaac even in her old age.
Faith is an action word - Faith creates understanding in us (vs. 3), moves us out (vs. 8,9), and creates in us (vs. 11, 12).
Faith deals in reality - Abraham's promised land became the actual land of Israel (even if only for a period), and Sarah's promised son Isaac became the actual nation of Israel.
Optimism versus faith
My optimism is often a feeling, can tend to be quite vague, and can be naive at times. Biblical faith is by contrast tied to the concrete, clear, and creative promise of God, and more fundamentally, to God Himself. And whilst biblical faith cannot produce all the details because biblical faith is dependent on the details God is willing to give us, biblical faith is grounded and firm in what God has said, what God can and will do, based in what God has faithfully done before.
We need more than optimism ahead
We need more than a feeling, more than vague notions, and we don't want to be naive, in looking to our future as God's people. So we need to apply ourselves to cultivate biblical faith. Nothing else will do. And nothing else will make contact with the reality that God has promised and prepared for us ahead. For, if Abraham and Sarah are anything to go by, God's word deals in concrete future realities that we can be sure He brings about. Abraham and Sarah are examples that God's history is our greatest teacher on what biblical faith is and how it outworks itself in our lives.
So how do we go forth by faith?
Firstly, we need to learn what God has promised us. And do you know what - God's promises to us are "yes" and "amen" in Jesus our Lord and Saviour. This is Paul's rock solid confidence:
"For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” 20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God." [2 Corinthians 1:19–20]
If you need a great starting point, try this list. But such lists can be quite overwhelming, to to prevent this...
Secondly, we need to focus on a promise that God is showing us is for right now. Rather than just getting lost in lists, pray and ask God - what promise from your word is for me, for us, right now. How do you discern that? Practice listening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit - we've got some posts on this from a while back (here, here, and here).
Thirdly, we need to keep the promises God gives us close at heart. This is where the biblical practice of meditation comes in - read Psalm 1:2-4 looks like and produces in our lives.
Fourthly, we act on what we know God has told us to do. Abraham obeyed and went. What is God calling you to do, and where or to whom is He calling you to go? As a church, we have been called to go to Wentworthville, and the surrounding suburbs. This is what we are doing, and will continue to, even in these unusual times. You are part of this as our church, but God also has specific assignments for you. What are they for you?
I'm pressing into this biblical faith with you in the weeks ahead!
Written by Ps. Rob