After talking this morning with a friend who has been out of work for almost a year, I was thinking about faith. Through the years, I’ve asked myself many questions about faith, such as “What is faith? Why does it matter? What makes it so important?” Hebrews, chapter eleven, verse one gives us a definition: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
I once heard a speaker talk about this verse in Hebrews and he focused on the words “assurance” and “evidence.” At first I didn’t understand his focus because whenever I read this verse in Hebrews I thought that faith was something that might be true or might happen if I hoped enough. It seemed like the outcome was dependent on some kind of performance I had to do such as prayer or good behavior– that I had to pray enough or correctly enough or believe just right. But these words say that faith is assurance (substance), something tangible. It’s something we can count on. Something we can trust.
If faith was somehow tangible then it occurred to me that I must be looking at it from the wrong perspective. So I turned faith around in my mind and asked myself, what is that I am trusting in, what is the object of my faith? I realized that without an object of the faith there would be no faith. If I am going to sit in a chair, I believe the chair will hold me up. If I go out to start my car, I believe the car is going to start. If I want to get saved from my sin, I believe Jesus is going to save me.
In each of these examples about the object of my faith, I can see two things that are important about each one: (1) How reliable is it? (2) How well do I know it?
If I am going to sit down in a chair, it better be a chair with four strong legs and a stable seat. I can’t go by appearances—the legs might look strong but really be loose and ready to break. But if that chair is in my home or I know the owner, I most likely will not think too much about sitting down.
Cars can be even less reliable than chairs, but most all the time, we expect our car to start and it does. We know if our car is reliable or not, and may be wary of an unknown car, not quite so likely to trust it. So we don’t need a large amount of faith to sit in our chairs or drive our cars. We operate that faith almost without thinking. But trusting God is another matter for most of us. For that don’t we need a large amount of faith? And if that’s true, the questions arise, “Do I have enough, and if not, how do we get more of it?”
As I talk to people about trusting God, I sense that they do want to have more faith and want to trust God, but simmering underneath their fear of trusting Him is the question of His reliability, even though I’m not sure that’s what they’re thinking consciously when they’re not sure about God. Their questions such as, “Will He do what He says, Will He take care of my problems, meet my needs and heal my wounds?” are very real. These areas of trust are much more important than deciding which chair to sit in or wondering if my car will start this morning. These issues are about life and death.
These life and death issues make it easy to wonder when our faith will be large enough and strong enough to say faith is “assurance” and “evidence.” How can we know He is reliable enough to place our lives into His hands? If as Hebrews 11:6a tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please Him,” and Romans 14: 23b says that “whatever is not of faith is sin,” then it seems important to know how we can increase our faith. We can answer that question at the same time we look at the second question above:
We get more faith by getting to know the object of our faith.
Long ago I heard a Pastor from Texas, Ron Dunn, tell a story that illustrates how to increase our faith by knowing the object of our faith. It went something like this:
I went to northern Michigan to do a conference. A friend wanted to drive me out to a nearby lake. As we drove along the lake, I noticed fishermen, sitting on the ice, out in the middle of the lake. They had cut holes in the ice and had dropped their lines into the water below. Since I am from the Southwest, I could not imagine sitting on ice to fish. Suddenly my friend turned toward the lake and told me he was going to drive out on it. I panicked. How could anyone drive a car out on to the lake? I was not about to go out on the lake in a car. I did not even want to walk out on the ice. When I nervously questioned my friend as to how all these people could do this, he quickly answered, “They know the ice.”This story helps us see that if we want to know that God is reliable and we want to have more faith to believe “faith is assurance,” then we can do this by getting to know who God is and what He is really like. Let’s look at some ways that we can get to know Him better.
One of the first ways I got to know God better was by reading the Psalms over and over. In them I could see God’s character. I didn’t focus on what some teachers call “the wrath of God,” but rather focused on all the places the Psalms talk about His loving kindness, His mercy, His provision. As I studied the New Testament, I saw His grace and love poured out through the Lord Jesus. We can know Him by the believing what the Scriptures say about Him.
Another way I got to know God was by learning to talk to Him about everything and getting to know His voice. I also listened to people who already knew Him and trusted Him. In other words, I got to know God the same way we get to know anyone else—by looking at His face instead of His hand—by loving Him for who He is not for what He does. As my knowing grew, it was easier to step out and take some risks to see if He really was reliable. Like Indiana Jones, I walked to the edge of all the light I had—and took one more step. He kept His word and I found Him to be reliable.
Each new step of faith I took showed me how the people fishing and driving on the ice in northern Michigan could trust it to hold them–they knew the ice–how thick and strong it was. And like those who can drive their cars onto the frozen lake, the more I knew God, the more I trusted Him. In the same way I would not trust a stranger to take my child for ice cream, it’s difficult to trust God if I don’t know Him. But I would trust a close friend with my child. Now it’s easier to trust Him and see how “faith is assurance and evidence” because I know the One who is asking for my trust.
Eventually I came to understand that Faith is a Person, Jesus Himself. I didn’t really need “more” faith, I just needed to know Him who is my faith. Faith is tangible because He lives in me, He is reliable and I know He keeps His word. I’ve settled my definition of faith to be something like this: “Faith is saying and acting on whatever God says about something—and whatever means whatever.”