Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 2 : Faith in the Unseen?
Heb 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
In our first study we considered, from the so-called ‘hall of faith’ in Hebrews 11, that faith is being sure about something, about being assured of something. We went on to use James’ opening teaching to show how it must be without doubts. We concluded with noting that our verse above has another whole side to it – the ‘hope’ and ‘unseen’ parts which we will now consider.
If I buy a new car and pick it up from the dealers, I know that the dealer will have filled up the tank and done everything to ensure the car will drive. The fact that I had a test drive in it before I actually bought it means that for me to now get into this car and drive it away is NOT going to be an act of faith. There is nothing unseen about this.
Now suppose one day I have a dream and in it I see a neighbour drop in and ask me to heal him (or her) from some particular affliction. I wake up and the dream still seems so vivid. I ponder on it and wonder if it was God speaking to me. Then there is a knock at the front door and it is that neighbour. I am astonished. They come in and we chat and in the course of our conversation they share they have this particular affliction. I say, “That’s interesting. Did you know in the Gospels in the Bible Jesus healed someone of this same thing?” “Wow,” they respond, “I wish he was still around.” “Well, he is in one sense in that I am his representative. Would you like me to pray and ask him to heal you?” I reply. My friend looks a bit uncertain but replies, “Well, yes, if you would,” so then and there I simply ask Jesus to set my friend free and I command the affliction to go. I open my eyes and they have tears running down their face. “I’m healed! How wonderful. Thank you.”
That was faith. Let’s examine the components of what happened. I ‘heard’ God in a dream. At least I thought that was what it might have been. But then the dream starts happening as my neighbour turns up. I am now alert. But even more, my neighbour starts talking about the very affliction I saw in the dream. I am now really on edge. This has to be God! Something is rising in me. I test the water a little more and talk about Jesus in the Gospels. How will they take that? Are they ready for this? Yes, they are! I step out of the boat and pray for healing and of course, they are healed.
Faith doesn’t come in a vacuum. Yes, the object and outworking may be things you can’t see yet with your physical eyes, but often the Lord paves the way by speaking and then by lining up the circumstances. What was the ‘unseen’ thing here? Their being healed, for it was still future up until the moment I prayed. In that situation the key was the Lord speaking to me through the dream. It was then strengthened by the circumstances lining up, but it still required me to step out and do something that in any other circumstance people would call silly or presumptuous. I mean I can’t heal anyone but I BELIEVE that God can and does. Why do I believe that? Because I’ve read it many times in the Bible, and I believe the Bible is one form of God speaking to us and faith starts with God speaking.
When the writer to the Hebrews said it is about “being sure of what we hope for” he nailed the crucial thing about faith – it is about action in respect of something that either is not yet or has not yet happened. It is a future thing. Faith acts now to enable God to move and change a future thing. I am sure I’ve given this example before but it is so strong in my mind, please forgive me for reusing it. It happened many years ago when my wife and I were leading a two week summer mission for Scripture Union.
We had just taken over leadership and would have a team from around the country of about fifteen to twenty young volunteers. However the accommodation that had been used in previous years was no longer available and we enquired and enquired but could not find living quarters for one, let alone for this number. We had rung the local Tourist Information Office and they told us that because it was peak holiday season all accommodation across the area was already taken. However one day I was walking into work in the City when I sensed the Lord speaking to me. Out of the blue crossed my mind, “In my Father’s house are many rooms, I have prepared a place for you.” As a young Christian I knew Jesus spoke such words in John 14:2 but this was an inaccurate quote and so without more ado I thought back, “But Lord your word says I go to prepare a place.” Back came, “Son, I have said what I have said. I HAVE prepared a place for you.”
I shared it with my wife that evening and decided we needed to write to all the volunteers (before e-mail!) and explain that we had no accommodation but believed God said He had provided it, so we were going. Would they check with their parents and if they felt happy about it, join us on the start day on the Welsh Coast. My wife and I set off twenty four hours early to see what God was going to do. Yes, there was nothing around but when we checked in on one of the smaller caravan sites on the edge of the village, the owner said, “Well, we are renovating two old buildings out back, turning them into future holiday chalets, one is complete and the other mostly complete, we could let you have those for the fortnight if you like, and we do have one rather old caravan that doesn’t usually get used but is serviceable that you could have.” Wonderful! Most of the team sorted! We tried the biggest caravan site in the area who said, “Well yes everything is booked up but we do have one that for some reason isn’t taken.” Done! When the team arrived at midday we were able to accommodate them all. Interestingly that first caravan site with the two holiday chalets became our home for the next seven years.
I wish I could say I have faith like that every day but the thing about faith is that it is often scary and uncomfortable and, as John Wimber famously said, should perhaps better be spelt R-I-S-K. Nevertheless it is a key element to the Christian faith, as we shall go on to consider more in the coming days.