By faith, we can see and accomplish great things in God. Consider the happy testimony of Hebrews 11, the great recounting of faith, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”:
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection.
But here the paragraph takes a turn, toward other things–other great things–that people have accomplished in faith that we might never wish to see:
Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
The amazing thing is, the author of Hebrews goes right from the first things to the last things without any sort of pause. He consider them all great things that God has accomplished through people who believed in Him. And so they are. Sometimes faith in good times may make a lot happen; sometimes faith in bad times makes it, but through the kinds of trials that would leave the faithless person in a lot worse shape. Both are impressive; both are miraculous. Both come from the same faith in the same God.
This means, first of all, that we can practice faith in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, for whatever circumstances may come around the bend. So times are good: Attempt great things by faith in God. So times are bad: Attest to the God who can get you through even this. The God of all love, power, and wisdom has what it takes for whatever comes next, and so can we: Faith in Him.
Second, this should shape how we think of others and their faith. It’s easy to think better of ourselves when it looks like we’re doing better because our circumstances have been easy. That haughtiness tends to be cruelly mistaken. Through faith, some saved thousands. Through faith, some were abandoned by their spouses and did not abandon God. Through faith, some left their families for the mission field. Through faith, some cared for their families through sickness and senility. Through faith, some gave millions. Through faith, some lived on nothing. Through faith, some raised godly families. Through faith, some rejoiced in singleness. Through faith, some lost children, and did not curse God.
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.