One of the difficulties we must overcome in reading the Bible is that over time we become too familiar with it. We know the outcomes of the stories… and sometimes we assume the Bible characters had the advantage of that same knowledge. But no, they didn’t. We need to read our Bible remembering that. How profitable it would be if we could read it as a book we’ve picked up for the first time, and don’t know the plot or the way things are going to turn out any more than the characters themselves.
In fact, just think what it would be like if you and I were right there right then—but not knowing anything about the outcome of things the way we do now. Where would that put us? What an adventure we would be in. For it would put us in the place of having to discover very definitely what God was saying… and having to walk it out by faith.
How was it that Abraham ended up in the land of Canaan? It was by responding in faith to a word from God. He didn’t have it all mapped out for him. “By faith Abraham when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance obeyed: and he went out not knowing whither he went” (Heb. 11.9). Think of that. There’s no suspense for us; we turned the page and found out long ago; we know how things unfolded. Abraham didn’t. He didn’t know “the rest of the story” the way we do.
Yes, he had a measure of understanding as to what God was leading him into. But day by new day, step by new step, he had to search out this will of God. He had to seek to hear afresh what God was saying to him—and the times and seasons of His will. Sometimes he missed it. But his heart was right with God. And God was faithful to bring him back on track.
All those of old… Enoch, Abraham, Sarah, Noah, Moses, Gideon, David… they were involved in something that… let’s call it the birthings of faith. The true Christian walk is a walk in the Spirit that causes the will of God in Heaven to be unfolded, or birthed, here in the earth. This takes faith. This is what faith involves. Faith involves hearing from God, and responding in accordance with what we have heard.
This is what the faith chapter in Hebrews is all about. We are given many examples of people who didn’t have a Bible to read the way we do; it wasn’t all laid out before them; they had to birth by faith the word they were hearing, bring it out into open reality in their lives.
What they brought out into the open we have recorded for us now on the pages of our Bible. Because of this we can become distanced from the… the immanence, the “present-ness” of their walk of faith, the creative element, the beautiful existential quality of the walk these ones were involved in… who brought into being the hidden will of God.
The very point of all that is recorded, though, is to inspire you and me with regard to what is before us in our own lives. We have their testimony because we too are involved in the birthings of faith. There is very much yet of the will of God to unfold—very great and awesome things, as great if not greater than any recorded in the Bible.
It is just as important for us to hear His Voice and respond in faith as it was for them back then.
I think of Jesus in His day. He Himself did not have a heavenly instruction manual laying all things out before Him. He needed to pray and earnestly seek to hear what His Father was saying and doing. He lived by faith. He walked by faith. All that took place in His life was the result of the birthings of faith. The familiar story of Jesus walking on the water comes to mind. We read the story and it’s no big deal to us. We’re so familiar with it. We think He walked on water because, well… because He was Jesus. But it was by faith that the Son of man lived and walked. He couldn’t walk on water any more than you or I can. But He saw the disciples He loved out there in the storm… afraid. He was making intercession for them, and the Father put something in His heart. He responded in faith. It was by faith that He walked on the water to go to them.
What a wonder. But it doesn’t end there. Peter walked on the water as well! Let’s put ourselves out there in the boat that day. Could you or I have done that… like Peter? Peter walked on the water, too. How? He heard a single word. “Come.”
Peter birthed something by faith that night. He walked on the water by faith.
As we follow Jesus’ footsteps through the Gospels we discover over and over again that He was always looking for a certain “something” that would enable Him to release wondrous things. We read words such as, “And seeing their faith…” or, “thy faith hath made thee whole,” or, “only believe…” It was the operation of faith in different ones that birthed into the open the wondrous things He did, things we now read of and think happened just because He had the power to do miracles. No. Where there was unbelief He was greatly hampered (Mt. 13.58). Where there was faith He wrought wondrous things.
We need to know that this same Jesus continues to do great things, and wants to do even greater things now that He is exalted. But He continues to look for that divine catalyst that releases His power—faith.
Here’s an example from The Acts. Jesus has already ascended and has sent forth the Holy Spirit. Paul in Lystra sees a man crippled from birth. What a pitiful condition. But the man has something many healthy people entirely lack. Paul, “perceiving that he had faith to be healed, said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet” (Acts 14.10). I know where that Voice originated. “And he leaped and walked.” Thus the will of God in Heaven was made manifest in the earth. How did it happen? By the “mystery of faith.” Somehow the man had heard from God. Perhaps it happened the very instant he looked on Paul—a man in whom the Holy Spirit of Jesus dwelt—and connected with Jesus Himself. Or perhaps it was something God had spoken to him some time ago and he kept alive in his heart… waiting. However it happened, the man and the time and the place and the faith—and the Lord Jesus Christ—came together, and a wondrous chemical reaction took place.
I think of Abraham again. As he looked up at the night sky and saw the countless stars God told him, “So shall thy seed be.” Then we read, “And Abraham believed in the LORD…” This was no easy matter-of-fact reaction. I think it took Abraham’s breath away. I think it took all he had in him to believe so impossible a thing.
But he believed. And he was right in believing.
It is a wondrous thing, and a great privilege, to be involved in the birthings of faith. It was by faith that Sarah conceived, the writer of Hebrews tells us, when she was past the age of childbearing. “By faith Sarah received (or, laid hold of) strength to conceive seed.” How could she do this? The point is that no capability within herself could have conceived Isaac. Sarah had heard from God (Gen. 18.10). At first she laughed at the impossibility of the prospect. But it appears that eventually… maybe as she was making supper one evening, something was quickened to her… and she said more or less, “Well, Lord… if that’s what You are saying… I am saying Amen to it.”
And so let us seek to read the inspired word of God as though we ourselves were involved in the unfolding of things back then. We will get a more realistic idea of how things took place. But more than that, we will learn how we ourselves are to walk with God, and move in a realm that is not our own works. It will help us understand the process of faith, and will inspire us to anticipate the same vital birthings in our own lives.
It will inspire us to be more attentive to hear from God. For, we can’t pull faith out of thin air. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” That is the key, then—the secret of faith. Hearing from God. The word of God has a creative element in it that creates faith… if we for our part will receive the word… and then act upon it.
Let us, then—and this more than anything else—covet that hearing of the word and will of God that initiates the response of faith in our lives… and enables us to bring into being things that others someday will read about after the fact.
After reading this word I realized that I lack in faith, not having enough expectation in my heart as to what God will do through me. I know the bible says that strength is made perfect in weakness and this is like you are saying familiarity with the word and the characters that we read about. The faith that moves mountains and faith that walks on water, a faith that does things that are beyond our selves. I think part of my problem is temporary surrender when God wants full surrender. What a dilemma, I am reminded of Romans 7 oh wretched man that I am who shall deliver me from this body of sin and death. Thank God for Romans 8.
Sorry for the whining but let us all pray for one another that we all may experience the resurrection of the Lord.
I relate to what you are saying, Alden, this has been on my heart a lot. Jude talked about earnestly contending “for the faith that was once delivered to the saints.” Paul encouraged the Philippians to strive together “for the faith of the Gospel.” How much of that are we engaged in?
…I’m going to talk more about this next time.