Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 43. Visible Faith
Acts 14:9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed
As we start to draw near to the end of this particular series of meditations there is something about faith that I realise we have not touched upon: it is visible. The danger in a series like this is that it just remains theoretical, but faith is a very practical thing. We’ve seen a number of times what it is – responding to God’s word – and we’ve seen how it can vary in different people, some weak in faith over a particular issue, another strong in faith.
We’ve also seen how it can vary in respect of different areas of our lives thus, for instance, we noted that a person can be full of faith in respect of giving or hospitality but not full of faith for healing. Now both of those areas that I’ve just mentioned are visible, practical areas. Even to make sense of the sentence and to understand what I’ve just said, we have to envisage that person giving, or another person ministering healing. Giving and healing are the two outworkings of faith in that instance.
Now it is not only the outworking that is visible, it is the inner belief or assurance of what is hoped for that also becomes almost tangible. Let’s look at the verses that go with our one above: “In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.” (Acts 14:8-10) How fascinating that Paul looked at this crippled man and saw him listening attentively to what he was preaching and ‘saw’ that this man was taking it all in and was believing it. Faith was rising in this man that said, “Yes, this is true, yes I can go with this,” and that faith opened the door for Paul to command healing. In this first example this inner assurance was discerned by Paul.
Let’s consider a second example. We’ve already seen the same thing when we considered the four men bringing their paralyzed friend on a pallet, through the roof: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” (Mt 9:2) Now you might say it didn’t need much discernment to see that these four men had faith, but it’s not the point how we see, simply that it is visible to see. In that case it was visible by the acts.
To take a third example, it was clearly very visible to see by the words of the centurion who came to Jesus in Capernaum (see Mt 8:5-10). The very words were words of faith. Faith was revealed through words therefore. So it can be an inner discernment, outward acts or outward words that reveal or perhaps recognizes this faith.
When the apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians he was able to write, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ.” (Col 1:3,4) Somehow their very lives shone with faith. Now the context there rather suggests that this faith that is being referred to is all about how they responded to the Gospel and are now living out their Christian lives, holding firmly to Christ. Whereas the previous three examples we’ve given were in respect of faith being made visible on specific occasions, this reference seems to suggest a much wider application – faith that is visible, that is faith that permeates the whole life. Now we have made this point earlier in these studies that we may see specific instances of faith but we are called to live lives of faith, lives as we saw in the previous meditation focused on Jesus, but also lives that generally hear and respond to God.
Without wanting in any way to sow seeds of doubt or even guilt or condemnation, may I gently ask, do the people of my church know me as a person of faith? Is my faith visible? Twice in Acts we have descriptions of men who were clearly men of faith that was visible: “They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit,” (Acts 6:5) and speaking of Barnabas, “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith,” (Acts 11:24) Faith people have a living relationship with the Lord, I would suggest. They spend time in God’s presence (the daily ‘quiet time’) and they hear God and are blessed by God and testify to God and see God in their circumstances.
We may like to think of faith as a quiet characteristic that is just there but the apostle James would disagree with that: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.” (Jas 2:14-19) No, faith is observable.
When you give in response to the Holy Spirit’s prompting, that is faith. When you encourage someone at the Holy Spirit’s prompting, that is faith. When you enquire how someone is and they tell you of their difficult times and you pray over them, that is faith, and when you go a step further and ask them how you can help them, that is faith. When someone shares they are feeling unwell and you pray over them, that is faith. When you are praying for people and you get a picture for someone and go and share it with them, that is faith. When you sense a prompting of the Lord to invite a neighbour round for coffee (or wine and cheese) to share the Lord, that is faith. When they are looking for people to go and help build an orphanage for two weeks and you say yes, that is faith. When you sense the Lord prompting you to go after a new job, that is faith. There are a multitude of ways that faith is expressed and becomes visible.
May we be like the Colossians who could be praised because their faith was obvious to the world. Faith like this communicates Jesus in ways that words do not. We need words and actions but sadly so often our words fall on deaf ears because the heart has not been warmed by faith actions, actions coming with the love of God. May we be people of both words and actions.