Do You Really Have Faith?

The king declared to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, “Are you able to make known to me the dream that I have seen and its interpretation?” Daniel answered the king and said, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.” -Daniel 2:26-28

Nebuchadnezzar gave Daniel an impossible request: Tell me what I dreamed. As I read this story this afternoon, I was struck by Daniel’s incredible faith. Of all the responses he could have crafted for the murderous king, an attempt to tell him the dream and its interpretation was clearly the riskiest–falsifiable and deadly.

Yet, Daniel walked up to the king and told him what God had revealed to him, because he really believed that God had done so.

Faith is an essential element of the Christian faith. Evangelical protestants, in particular, have emphasized the (glorious) truth of Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” Our focus on faith (and the grace of God to save one simply through faith) is good and right; however, our intellectual assent to “salvation by faith alone” doesn’t always increase our faith.

Sometimes it does just the opposite. We are so sure that we believe salvation comes through faith that we often assume we have faith (two different things, like believing that hybrid cars are great and driving a hybrid). We often focus on a transactional faith event, like an altar call or the sinner’s prayer, both of which are appropriate expressions of true faith, but neither of which are inherent indications of it. We often teach our children that the reason they are already saved is because of faith, not what true faith would look like if they developed it. All this is to say, we don’t necessarily have the faith we assume we possess.

True faith in a political ideal would be more than passing a social studies midterm on that chapter of your textbook. It would be writing to your local officials, staying informed, convincing others of your views, and perhaps running for office.

True faith in Jesus is more than convincing others how much you know about God. It’s more than an ability to pass a true/false test on theology.

Typically, we see the symptoms of true, false, strong, or weak faith in our actions. Daniel (much like Esther), spoke up (faith), risking his position and his life (strong faith). The unnamed widow in Mark 12 generously gave (faith) the last of her money (strong faith). Stephen told others about Jesus (faith) even as he was being martyred (strong faith).

Which brings me to my question for the day: When was the last time you did something that required faith? Daniel had no choice; he reached a fork in the road without space for a u-turn. You probably do have a choice; you most likely can live:

A) A life without faith
B) A life with faith that doesn’t require faith
C) A life with faith that does require faith

Option B is like living with a classic car shut up in the garage. If you have it, you’re wasting it, and I’m not fully convinced you do. All of us live in the world of Option B from time to time, but today is a great day to wake up and take our faith for a spin.

There are countless opportunities in our world to test, build, and enjoy true faith, particularly caring for the poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed. From the outside, it will probably look like sacrifice, but to the one truly acting in faith, it’s a bargain for a hidden treasure. So what will it be? How will you exercise your faith today?

Fear and Faith

In downtown Seattle, just a couple blocks from Pike Place Market and the rest of the seawater-smelling tourist destinations, there’s a store called Columbia. Towering plate glass windows are set in the faux lodge exterior and long banners proclaim sale percentages; 12-foot adventurers forever pose in the most exciting moments of white water journeys and snowcapped summits. I’ve walked in before, to find the familiar clothing racks of all the other downtown stores, the main differences being the prices of their jackets and the slough of “heat technologies” advertised on every tag. If I were to buy one of those jackets, I could put it on, walk back onto the streets of downtown Seattle, and it would doubtless keep me warm. Yet, that’s not all it was made for. It was made for a blizzard, and for all the cold and confusion, I’m sure that a blizzard would be where I’d finally discover this jacket’s real utility and delight. After a few such encounters, that jacket would likely become a dear friend of synthetic fabrics when I opened the closet each morning.

Faith is a blessing in the streets of the city, but it’s a gift and a shield for more than that. I’m learning that in times of fear, we discover the true utility and delight of faith. I commend Philippians 1–Paul’s declaration of faith and faithfulness in the midst of prison, suffering, and immanent death–to every high school freshman who will consider it; the passage deeply changed me as a 14-year-old. Yet, I also commend it to pastors, professors, VPs of sales, because perhaps you’re actually afraid. You may have read of faith before, you may have even received and practiced it to the extent that you were able, but have you taken up faith for today? Have you considered faith for the things you’re afraid of in your church, your job, your home?

Last night, Annie and I were talking about the future. She told me that she was sure that God would work things out. “What do you mean?” I asked. “What do you mean by ‘work things out?'”

“I believe He’ll help me find meaningful work,” Annie replied.

I thought about that for a few moments and considered how to respond.

“Why?” I finally asked. “Why do you think He will provide that? When I say that God will work things out, I just mean that He will work things out for us to survive.” The cynical side of my worried that she would respond, There’s no proof we’ll survive either; God’s people starve all over the world.

To my surprise, Annie went the opposite direction. “I believe He’ll give me meaningful work because He is faithful and He wants the best for us. He might not give me the work I want, it might be hard, but whatever He gives us it will be for our good.”

The good He intends for us may be the opposite of what I currently want, but today, faith in His goodness means pushing back against that fear that distrusts His plan. I’m thankful for this conversation with Annie, because it is a reminder to trust God in a way that goes beyond logic and the apparent. I’m afraid these days, and I need God’s people around me, my wife in particular, to remind me what faith is and what it might look like in December 2012. At 14, I intellectually wrestled with hypothetical death; this morning, I’m struggling with the real possibility of run-of-the-mill debt. Perhaps this is a smaller concern than the persecution I see in Philippians, but it’s manifested itself in my heart in a much bigger way than my fears have before. I’m showing my hand here–I am yet to shed the cowardice that comes with a charmed life–but I am not the point. The point is, the God in whom we put our faith will be faithful in this and so much more. Only in times of fear can God teach us that we have nothing to fear. His perfect love casts fear out.

Today is a day for faith. You may not always feel like your faith has grown over the months and years, but as you look forward at the rest of 12/13/12, will you make space for your faith to grow in the circumstances God has placed you in?