Faith is a four letter word!
To follow in the footsteps of the faithful we will often be called to try things we’ve never done before, writes national pioneer co-ordinator Simon Goddard: faith involves taking risks
In a word association game, what four letter words come to mind when you think about ‘faith’? Ask someone like Richard Dawkins and he’d probably use the word ‘fool’. Ask a statistician and she’d probably suggest the word ‘down’ as a more appropriate way of describing how church attendance has drastically declined in recent decades. Speak to a church member and they might describe their faith as something which makes them feel ‘safe’ in the midst of a changing world.
Somehow over the years the word ‘faith’ has become sanitised – and when churches describe themselves as being ‘faithful’ they often mean that they’re keeping the doors open and the pulpit filled. Despite the lack of visible fruit they’ll keep doing what they’ve always done because that’s what it means to be ‘faithful’ – right? Wrong! Einstein defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and yet as Christians we’re in danger of making it a virtue!
Now, don’t misunderstand me, sometimes we are called to persevere. I’m aware of a church where the remaining members, four older ladies, gathered each Sunday morning to pray because they had a strong sense that God hadn’t finished with them yet – and they were right. But in another church, a few miles down the road, being faithful meant that the three remaining members graciously decided to sell their chapel to release resources for a new missional work in a neighbouring community.
Being faithful means asking what God wants, and then doing it! In Hebrews 11, when you read through the hall of fame of people credited for their faithfulness, you’ll see a different four letter word emerging: ‘RISK’. To follow in the footsteps of the faithful we will often be called to try things we’ve never done before, start things when we’ve no idea what the outcome will be, and embark on journeys with unknown destinations. It’s likely to be scary, and costly, and maybe even a little bit exciting! Abraham and Sarah, heroes commended to us by the writer of Hebrews, help us to identify four stages in any expedition of faith.
As people of faith we are called to be those who check our reality. This means making an honest assessment about the position we are in, but then lifting our sights higher, seeking to catch a glimpse of the reality God is calling into being. Hebrews 11:1 says: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” An elderly and childless couple, described in v12 “as good as dead”, chose to believe in a reality different to the one they could currently see.
Imagine the Inheritance
There are always seeds of hope which God has planted within our churches, people who long for and occasionally speak out dangerous words of possibility. Hope points to something more than what already is and can often heard as criticism and complaint. The result: hope is squashed, and nothing changes. For Abraham and Sarah their hope for children to inherit from them was instead enthusiastically stirred by the divine promise of “descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” (Genesis 22:17).
I’m sure Paul is asking for more Spirit-led imagination when he says to the church in Ephesus: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:18-19). This isn’t a survival ‘don’t rock the boat’ sort of mindset – but rather a reckless ‘nothing is impossible for God’ approach. But imagining isn’t enough – we then need to…
Say ‘Yes’ to God
Faith always requires action (James 2:26). Abraham and Sarah were called to leave all that was familiar behind, and to go on a journey to a land that God was yet to show them. That’s not easy to do, and faith is often costly – just read what the faithful faced in Hebrews 11:33-37! We need churches with an ‘even if he doesn’t’ kind of faith found in Daniel 3:18 – ‘bucket-list Baptists’ who will follow where they think God is leading, even if they die trying! A risky kind of faith that results in…
Indeed, John 12:24 reminds us that the seed needs to die in order for the harvest to come. Some things will need to end for the new things to emerge. Abraham and Sarah were experimental in their approach, and they got some things wrong, but they kept moving in the right direction and God’s word to them was eventually fulfilled. As heirs of that same promise, God also invites us to be people of faith – those who embrace the risk of becoming partners in God’s Kingdom purposes.
Banner photo by Elizabeth Lies on Unsplash
Bridge photo by Valentín Betancur on Unsplash
Baptist minister Simon Goddard is a national pioneer co-ordinator, a role he shares alongside Roy Searle
This article appeared in the Summer 2019 edition of Baptists Together magazine