Today’s New Testament lesson (Hebrews 11:13-22) continues my time in the great “Faith Chapter” of the Bible, and it reminds me that several of the sermons and Bible studies with which I’ve been engaged recently are built on they key idea that faith provides the “firm footing” that makes “walking with Christ” possible. Faith allows us to be “anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6) — as one of our mid-week Bible studies has emphasized. And faith makes it possible for us to “get out of the boat” (Matthew 14:28-30) so that we can take risks, overcome obstacles, and deal with failure — as our current sermon series has suggested.
And yet, I think it’s fair to observe that in much of our teaching about faith (including, for better or worse, my own) we tend to highlight faith’s power and potential by sharing stories where the promises in which we’re trusting get fulfilled. Because of faith, prayers get answered; relationships get restored; healing comes. And while we can thank God that this is, in fact, the way that some stories end; we should acknowledge that such happy endings aren’t always forthcoming. And very significantly, that doesn’t mean that there was anything “wrong” with the faith of those involved — nor with the promise in which they trusted.
After listing many of the Bible’s faith heroes, the author of Hebrews makes this important statement: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth” (verse 13). Let’s pay close attention to that. All these heroes were “living by faith;” and yet, they didn’t receive the things promised. In fact, if we keep reading in this chapter, we learn that many heroes not only didn’t receive the promises; they also suffered along the way: “Some faced jeers and flogging…they were put to death by stoning…they were killed by the sword” (Hebrews 11:36-37). How then, are we supposed to hold tightly to faith — even when we become aware that it may not bring the blessings for which we’ve hoped?
The answer, of course, is that we make sure our faith is in the “Promiser” rather than in the promises alone. Admittedly, such faith can be far easier to claim than it is to practice. But ultimately, our hope and trust aren’t placed in the good things we want God to provide (although, in His mercy, God provides many good things). Instead, our hope and trust are placed in God Himself. And as long as we have Him, we have everything we need.
The psalm from which I preached last Sunday put it like this: “You, LORD, are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living” (Ps. 142:5). May we trust deeply in the Promiser today; and may those promises that are fulfilled in us make us yearn all the more for His presence.