Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 13. Faith and Waiting
Heb 11:13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.
I confess to always feeling when I get to this verse that it is premature. The people he has mentioned so far have been Abel, Enoch, Noah and Abram, but there are a lot more to come. I wondered why it did not come later. It is perhaps that focusing on Abram brought this thought out into the open – for he hasn’t finished with Abram yet. He has already spoken of Abram as a dweller in tents who was looking forward to a city and perhaps it is that as he thinks about this in relation to Abram, he realises it applies to them all in actuality. Indeed, “All these people were still living by faith when they died.” (v.13a). Please note the ongoing sense of the verb here. It wasn’t a case of them exercising faith once or twice in their lives; no, they were people of faith, they believed in God, they trusted in God and they based their lives on God. Everything about them was God orientated. If we cannot say the same thing, we see ourselves as less than the New Testament expects of us. When Jesus said, “Follow me,” it wasn’t just at weekends or on months with an ‘r’ in the month. No, it was all the time. Faith is at the very heart of being a Christian, it involves 100% of our lives. That is what makes us different from the people who fill in surveys and say they are a Christian but it actually has no impact on their lives.
But then he says something quite devastating about the lives of these people he is laying out before us: “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” (v.13b) It’s like, in a desert, they saw a mirage, the place they were yearning for and they rejoiced that the reality would come to them one day. Isn’t that what it is like? We get frustrated with life. We know it could be better. We sometimes wonder what a world without sin would be like? What would my community be like if everyone was kind and considerate to each other. The world round about me may never think of those things but I do. I sense they are possibilities and I yearn for them. Perhaps it starts with my church: I sense great possibilities of the things the Lord would love to do with these people. I look at a church I know down the road and they have so many good things going for them, but there is so much more they could become if they only opened the door to the Lord more fully. But then, as we’re often told, we’re in a war and we have to contend with Sin and Satan and the ungodly world, and these ‘possibilities seem to remain just out of reach.
And then we hear teaching on sanctification and we are told we will never be truly perfect in day to day terms until we go to glory, and life is thus a mix of triumphs and disasters, times when we get it gloriously right and then terribly wrong (unless you sit in the safe shallows keeping your head down, hiding from the world).
Perhaps we are younger people and we are full of vitality, life, vibrant hopes and expectations, and yet they get tinged with frustrations as we see all that is going on around us and we see indifference to needs fuelled by self concerns for comfort and pleasure and the good life, or even injustices that no one seems to be concerned about and we think, “Why?” and we yearn for something better.
Or perhaps we are getting older and we are starting to creak and have aches and pains and we think, ‘No one told me it would be like this,’ but it is and we suffer infirmities and then start looking into the mirage of eternity and realise how much better we will then be – but we then turn to the Lord for grace not merely to get by but to triumph in the weeks, months and years we may yet have.
All of these things align us with these saints the writer to the Hebrew is talking about who, “admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.” (v.13c) The very fact that they turned to and heard God marked them out as different from the rest of the self-centred, godless world taken up with themselves, struggling and striving to do the best for themselves. No, these people sense there was something better that God had. And “People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own,” (v.14) a country that is different, better. If we put it in children’s fairytale book form, if we could wave a magic wand and change everything, how would we change it? The moment we give an answer we align ourselves with all I have been saying, we know it could be better.
It has to be particularly in respect of Abram that the writer says, “If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.” (v.15). Remember Abram had merely heard a whisper in his spirit, a whisper from God that said leave here and go to a place of my choosing and that was enough for this man who perhaps was already feeling jaded about the life he found in his homeland. He went, he left, he didn’t stay, “Instead, they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (v.16). Anyone who really thinks about this, about the frustrations of living on this Fallen World, will yearn for something better and, as they encounter the Lord, they will realise that such a future must be a heavenly one, and God delights in such people who are both aware of the reality of this present Fallen World, and who also catch sight of something better that is coming in eternity.
For much of the time we simply find ourselves focusing on the negatives of this world and we battle with them. It is only as we sit at His feet and sense His peace that we realise His world in eternity must be so much more wonderful and we realise that is our home, the place we will return to in the fullness of His time for us. Amazing! This is a faith environment, we have faith dreams, and we sense a faith mirage because a) it is unseen and b) it is future and c) it is what on a good day we hope for and d) on an even better day we are sure about. Oh, yes, this is all about faith.