Monday, March 4, 2013

What faith looks like

Years ago I spoke with a missionary whose fundraising wasn't going very well. Keeping Proverbs 18:2 and 18:13 in mind, I asked questions to try to understand her situation. In doing so, it sounded like she had a lot of the basics down and had a winsome personality to boot. So at first I was having a hard time identifying what might be the source of her trouble.

Then I asked about how she planned fundraising trips (since her support team was spread out over many states.) She said, "Oh, I don’t plan support trips, really. I just do it all by faith. I ask God where I should go and then I show up and see what He does."

That surprised me a bit and I wrestled through that idea for many weeks afterward. What she called faith some might call foolishness. Yet the Scriptures also say:
God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29 ESV)
So which is it? Did my friend have great faith or was she missing something?

My first conclusion is that I don't know. There are many times when I've been certain that someone was acting out of fear instead of faith when it actually turned out to be quite different than I'd thought. So I try to be much slower to make that judgment now.

However, I was helped greatly in my thinking on this point when I noticed a seemingly small detail in one of my favorite Scripture passages:
And David said, "The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." And Saul said to David, "Go, and the LORD be with you!" . . . Then [David] took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd's pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine. (1 Samuel 17:37,40 ESV)
David, the faithful hero-shepherd who had a heart after God's own and from whose line the Christ would come, picked up five stones. Why did he do that?

I have heard it said that it was because of Goliath's relatives (mentioned in 2 Samuel 21.19-22). This theory says that David expected retribution from those relatives should he defeat Goliath and thus he came prepared with extra ammo. That's a reasonable explanation, though it is noteworthy that the author of 1 Samuel 17 doesn't mention these relatives at all in that passage.

A better reason for having five stones, I think, is simply that David expected that he might need them. There can be no doubt that David expected the Lord to win the battle (1 Sam 17:46), but he did not necessarily expect that it would be easy. He was already working from Plan B, since Plan A involved wearing Saul's armor that hadn't fit well. Those extra rocks were most likely Plan C.

We can thus learn a few things about faith from this passage:
  • Faith doesn't assume you get it all right the first time. Rather, it hopes in Someone who does. "Your heavenly Father is perfect." (Mt 5:48)
  • Faith doesn't assume that things will be easy. Rather, it trusts in a yoke that is. (Mt 11:30)
  • Faith doesn't assume that you will be victorious. Rather, it looks to Him who is (Rev 19:11-21; cf. 1 Sam 17:44,46)
I might therefore conclude that perhaps my friend does have great faith - indeed, greater than mine - yet Biblical faith is an informed faith and a faith that calls us to action. If I were to speak with her again, I'd commend her trust in the Lord but still suggest that she set aside more time for planning.

I suggest the same thing for you and I!