Happy Easter to you all!
We began a series of articles last month on why faith is so important in our lives. We defined faith as being fully persuaded that what God has promised, He will perform.
This means that regardless of what we think, see or hear, true faith chooses to believe in and trust in God's Word. True faith is being convinced that no matter what happens in our lives, no matter what we understand to be true and no matter how we feel, God will be faithful to perform His promises to us in His timing and in His way.
Job had this kind of extreme faith. After losing his children, his family, his home, his health and his business, Job looked to God and said, "[Even] Though You slay me, yet will I trust You." (Job 13:15) In other words, even though everything in his world was crumbling and falling apart, he still chose to have faith in his God.
Job's kind of faith is called naked faith . It's faith that is built upon nothing else (neither feelings, circumstances nor any other thing) but the person of Jesus Christ.
This kind of unshakable faith is God's goal and purpose for each one of us. He wants us to have this kind of faith so that we might experience His abundant Life and enjoy His presence. There is no other path to intimately experiencing God.
Job was not the only one in Scripture who embraced this kind of faith. Abraham in the incident with Issac also experienced naked faith, and there were Moses, Joseph, Paul and many others who put their total trust in Christ despite their circumstances. These men loved God more than they loved their own lives and, thus, were willing to allow Him to do whatever He needed in their lives to conform them into His image.
Where are you in this divine process of transformation? Have you grown closer and more intimate with God because of what He has allowed in your life, or have you fallen away from Him because of the various trials and testings?
Faith Is Not a Feeling
Our faith is developed over the years by the many trials and tribulations that God allows into our lives. As we mentioned earlier, God ultimately wants us to experience (because of these night seasons) faith like Job and Abraham. He wants us to have the unequivocally strong conviction that no matter what happens in our lives, God will never leave us nor forsake us . Many Christians, however, have wrongly chosen to associate their faith with their feelings. This kind of emotional faith can only survive as long as life is understandable and within their control, but what happens when the rug of human understanding is pulled out from under them and events in their lives turn chaotic? These Christians will then sink because their faith is built on emotionalism and not the solid rock of faith in Christ.
Faith is not a feeling: it's simply the power to believe and the ability to see everything through God's eyes. The only way our eyes ever get dim is by sin and self. This is why Scripture always exhorts us to walk by faith and not sight. Through faith everything will eventually be turned to sight and understanding. Only faith allows us to become freed of things "seen."
Only through faith can a human being leave his familiar comfort zone and move out into the realm of the unknown. Hebrews 11 is a powerful chronicle of those who faithfully stepped out into the unknown by listening to and obeying the voice of the Lord: By faith Noah prepared an ark...by faith Abraham went out...by faith Sarah received the ability to conceive...by faith Moses kept the passover...by faith the people of God passed through the Red Sea...by faith the walls of Jericho fell down...by faith Rahab the harlot did not perish.
Only faith can give us the strength to lay aside our own agenda and stand on the solid foundation that is Christ. Noah laid aside his reputation to build the ark; Abraham laid aside his wealth and property to follow God into the desert; Moses laid aside the treasures of Egypt to pursue his destiny; and Rahab laid aside her cultural identity to seek refuge with the people of God. In every case, these men and women chose to follow God in a completely "unreasonable" route, allowing their faith to silence all protest coming from their own thoughts and emotions.
Faith is letting go of the familiar and consenting to the new and the unknown. Faith is what integrates the knowing and the unknowing. Faith is learning to leave ourselves in order to find ourselves. It's deliberately choosing to move off of ourselves and to stand on Jesus. Faith is synonymous with abandonment to God's will, and that means being "obedient unto death." (Philippians 2:7-8) It's looking away from ourselves and looking only to Him. Job did this. Abraham did this. Sarah did this. Can we do it?
"Though You Slay Me, Yet Will I Trust You"
Listen to an incredible account by Joe Halett, a dear saint who struggled with AIDS for ten years, who looked away from himself and looked only to Jesus:
"I have laid on the couch struggling with nausea and pain wondering what good could come out of all of this. I wondered where God was in the midst of my sorrow, pain and grief. I know that He promised to be with me in the midst of everything. But I couldn't feel His presence, and prayer was a towering obstacle that I could not overcome.
"I am reminded of Job (though I am not on his level) and how he suffered. The only thing he had was his life and he was loathe to keep that. He lost his family, his wife, his wealth, and his community standing. He even lost his health. Think of scratching off boils with a potchard! His neighbors accused him of being a sinner. They reasoned that since he was suffering so much he must be a deeply sinful person. Throughout the whole book, Job longs to see God vindicate him.
"Then God comes; but He never answers Job's question. He simply says that He is God. Job, however, is completely changed by this encounter, 'Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know...My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.' (Job 42:3b, 5-6)
"It is the same way with me. I don't know why God is allowing me to suffer as I am. But in the midst of it I trust Him, though like a child, I do kick and scream now and then. I know enough about who God is to realize that no matter how it looks, He is using my circumstances for my good and the building up of my spirit, all for His glory.
"So, come celebrate with me the faithfulness of our God! For ten years he has kept me not only alive, but He has given me hope in the middle of a very difficult situation."
Let None of These Things Move Me
In another one of Joe Halett's newsletters, he goes on to say: "I have a love-hate relationship with God. He asks things of me that no sane, reasonable or rational person would ever ask. It really annoys me. This God of ours keeps asking me to hope in the impossible. He invites me, or rather commands me, to push through to a place that is completely beyond my understanding and my experience - a place of scalding and naked brilliance. Oh, He's gentle and polite about it, but He's still inviting me to lay down my life. He's still asking me to die."
How accurately Joe describes our human reaction to the words of Jesus in John 12:24 and 25, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die , it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal."
Faith is trusting in God's Love even when we've been stripped of reputation, comfort, family, position, finances and even our last ounce of understanding. Faith is getting to the place where we can vow and mean, "[let] none of these things move me," even when that means letting go of all that we hold dear. (Acts 20:24)
The Lord brought this Scripture to my heart a year and a half ago and I made it my life verse. God knew that I would really need it for what He was about to allow in our lives.
Our Beloved Chip
In August 1998, God allowed one of the biggest tests of our faith ever - probably the hardest thing we will ever have to face. As we sat around the dining room table eating dinner one Saturday night, we got that "dreaded" phone call: "We are very sorry to inform you, but your son, Chip, has just died."
Our beloved "Chip," our firstborn son - Charles Jr. - had died suddenly of a heart attack while out jogging. He was only 39. He left behind a beautiful wife, Elizabeth, and two precious little girls, Emily and Madeline. Chip had not seen a doctor for five years because he was in excellent health and had no prior medical problems. He had "run" for pleasure all his life, from high school races to recent city-wide events and had never had a problem.
There is no logical reason why this tragedy should ever have happened. There is simply no human understanding for it and we could spend years trying to figure out "why" God allowed it. The fact is that He did, and only He understands the full ramifications of "why." We have chosen to leave all our "whys" and all our "questions" at the cross, and by faith we have chosen to trust Him in it.
We have cried, we have grieved and we have cried some more. Words are inadequate to describe the depth of how much we loved our son. He was the "hub" around which our family lived and laughed and moved. We miss him beyond words. But God has supernaturally carried us through, filling us with a peace that passes all understanding. Somehow, in God's overall scheme of things and from His eternal viewpoint, this was Chip's time to come "home."
What Chip's death has done for me personally is to bring heaven and earth closer together. I now have one child in heaven waiting for all of us to come home, and three children here on earth, waiting to go home. The reason death is so difficult for so many of us, I believe, is because we are so preoccupied with the here and now. We see only our 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 etc., years here on earth. God, however, sees the "whole picture," and that includes our life in heaven. Thus, when He says "all things work together for good," He is figuring in the heavenly perspective, something we are totally incapable of doing.
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. - 2 Corinthians 4:18
As Erwin Lutzer states in his excellent book on death, "What is life, but [simply] preparation for eternity."1
Several people have asked me, "Are you mad at God?" I must answer them honestly and say, "No, I actually find myself closer now to God than ever before." (I don't know how else one would survive something like this without Him carrying you through.) I am experiencing more of His Love and more of His peace than ever before, probably due to the fact that I've had to trust Him to a deeper level than ever before.
I constantly have a choice: either to believe that God somehow is in these circumstances and knows exactly why He has allowed them, or to crumble in doubt and anger and fear that this is all just a cruel joke and that life has no meaning at all.
If I choose to doubt God's Love for me in all of this, then I immediately crash and burn and experience overwhelming depression. I become emotionally wiped out, not only for the moment, but also for anything I might do in the future. My faith affects every choice, every thought and every action I take, not only for today, but also for tomorrow . When I choose by faith (not feelings) to believe and trust that what God says in His Word is true, that He loves me and that He will work these circumstances out in my life for His glory, then I'm able to experience, once again, His presence and His peace.
It's a fact that our faith is never more alive then when what we are experiencing in our spirit contradicts what our senses are saying. Faith is trusting that God loves us and will work out every detail of our lives for His glory, even if our senses are screaming just the opposite.
Chip's death has also forced me to determine in my own mind exactly what I believe. Do I really believe what the Bible says about eternal life? Do I really believe that one day we will be with our loved ones who have gone on to heaven before us? Do I really believe that the "present" is only a precursor to what "real life" in the future is going to be? The answer is an unequivocal and resounding, yes! Because God's Word says it's true, I choose to believe it.
Of all the thousands of loving cards, letters and poems that we received at the time of Chip's death, one particular anonymous poem has really ministered to our hearts. I'd like to quote it for you here because to me this message sums up everything:
When I am gone, release me, let me go. I have so many things to see and do. You mustn't tie yourself to me with tears. I gave you my love, you can only guess how much you gave to me in happiness. I thank you for the love you each have shown. But now it's time I traveled on alone.STRONG>
I won't be far away, for life goes on. Though you can't see or touch me, I'll be near. And if you listen with your heart, you'll hear all of my love around you loud and clear. And then, when you come this way alone, I'll greet you with a smile and say "welcome home."
Soon we will be with our beloved Chip, and it won't be just for 39 years, but for an eternity. This I believe with all my heart.
Someone Who Holds Us
When we study the lives of Abraham and Moses and Joshua, we quickly understand that faith is not something we hold onto, but rather Someone who holds onto us! True faith steps out of the crowd that's still clamoring for understanding, lays itself humbly at the foot of the cross and whispers, "Though You slay me, yet will I trust You."
"There was a time in my life when I thought He was a hard Master," wrote George Mac-Donald. "But now that I have learned a little more of what He means with me...how He would make me pure of sin, clean from the very bottom of my heart to the crest of my soul...truly, I am no more content to merely submit to His will. Now, I cry out in the night, 'Thy will be done, Lord let it be done, I entreat Thee?' and in the daytime I cry, 'Thy Kingdom come, Lord, let it come, I pray Thee!'"
Faith is giving God permission to penetrate our souls with His fire of Love and burn up all that is not of Him. Faith is opening ourselves up to the true depths of reality - not only believing and trusting in what God does through us, but also believing and trusting in what God does towards us. Faith is simply submitting to the confusion and the darkness, standing still in it and trusting God anyway. Psalm 18 seems so appropriate here:
I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in Whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower,
I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies. The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.
The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God: He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry came before Him, even into His ears.
Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved... He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and darkness was under His feet...
He sent from above, He took me, He drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me...
He brought me forth also into a large place; He delivered me, because He delighted in me....
My heartfelt prayer for you this Easter is that God might bring you forth into a large place (to broaden; to open up wide; to bring freedom) and that you might come to know Him by faith like you never have before.
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To be continued next month: Part 3 of "Why is Faith So Important?" This article has been excerpted from Chuck and Nan's new book Faith in the Night Seasons.