Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 1 : So what is faith?
Heb 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
I need to start this new series of meditations with a confession, well, perhaps two confessions. The first confession is that I have often sat in church services and wondered, “What about this is faith?” Now that wasn’t always a negative denunciation of sterile ritual, but an honest desire or appraisal to know what, in what we were doing, was genuinely faith and, as we’ll see as we go on, I have been surprised that there was more of faith in our services than I had thought. The other confession is that I sometimes sit and ponder and wonder how much faith plays a part in my own life and that has had more negative overtones, and yet by the very fact that I am writing these meditations suggests an element of faith, which we’ll see in the days to come. I’m not sure where this is going but I suspect we may need to look at what is faith, why is faith important, how does faith come, is faith static or does it grow, and no doubt a few more things about ‘faith’.
The starting place has to be the so-called ‘hall of faith’ in Hebrews 11 and the writer’s opening statement, our verse above. Faith he says is being sure about something, about being assured of something. There is a confidence about faith. There is a sureness about faith. It is not wishy-washy half-hearted wondering. To reflect on that more fully we perhaps need to turn to the apostle James’ letter.
The apostle James, while not actually using the word faith in the opening part of his letter, clearly has it in mind when he speaks about our needing wisdom: “5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (Jas 1:5-8)
Verse 5 builds faith as he says we need to ask God for wisdom because he says God gives (a) generously, (b) to all and (c) without finding fault and (d) He will give it when we ask. Do you see that? God is a generous giver, you don’t have to earn wisdom, He’s got lots of it and is very happy to give it away. Moreover He is very happy to give it to anyone who comes to Him asking, “to all”. Further He is not going to interrogate you to check to see if you are good enough or up to it, He isn’t looking for faults in you that will put you off getting His wisdom, He simply will give it when you ask.
Now after you have read that verse, hopefully you are feeling confident about asking God for wisdom (the knowledge of ‘how to’). It may be that there have been other negatives in your life that quench belief but in the absence of those things, something will have risen in you that says, “Yes, I CAN ask God for wisdom.” That is faith, a sureness about a course of action which has been brought about by the word of God (James’ writing) and no doubt prompted and confirmed by the Holy Spirit as I encouraged you. When you go away and ask the Lord for wisdom for some aspect of your life now, that is faith. It came by God’s word, it stirred the truth in you, witnessed by the Holy Spirit in you, and brought a confidence on which you act.
But James knows that not everyone is open like this, hence verse 6: “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” Doubting has no place in asking and getting, doubting has no place in faith. Remember the two key words at the beginning – ‘sure’ and ‘certain’. You cannot be sure and certain AND doubt. If you doubt, nothing is going to happen. God responds to faith – He responds to you responding positively to His word coming to you, bringing in you a sureness. You see, to take the example above, when you ask for wisdom but are uncertain about it, you spend more time thinking about your doubts than taking notice of thoughts that may be coming from God. It’s not that God doesn’t want you to have the wisdom for the situation; it is that you clutter your mind with doubts (unbelief) and so CANNOT hear God. When you are sure and certain, you ask God for it and then listen and, with an open, believing heart, suddenly ideas start flowing in your mind and you realise you have the answer to your problem that needed wisdom. You HAVE the wisdom!
You can recognize faith when you are alert to these sorts of things. You have faith when you suddenly know “It’s true!” or “He’s here!” or “Yes, I can do it because He’s said so!” You suddenly recognize a confidence that wasn’t there previously. You have a gift from God (which we’ll see some way down the line) and it is a confidence in Him; what He says IS true. That is faith Now of course there was another whole side to our starting verse – the ‘hope’ and ‘unseen’ part of it, and we’ll look at that in the next meditation.