How faith works
The calm silence of the evening was broken by the faint sound of a child sobbing. Immediately, and instinctively, the father sprung to his feet and bounded, several stairs at a time, to the upstairs bedroom, homing-in on the heart-rending cries of distress coming from a child who should have been asleep long ago. The obvious question follows, as the father enfolds his son in a comforting embrace:
‘What is the matter? What is upsetting you?’
Through heavy sobs, the small boy explains what has kept him wakeful and distraught: ‘The big football game against the other school is a week on Saturday. Everyone in my team says they will be wearing football boots for that game, but I only have trainers. I’ll be the only one….’ His voice breaks again, as the fear of humiliation continues to haunt him.
The father responds with words of reassurance and promise:
‘You needn’t worry. Before that game you will have a new pair of football boots of your own. I promise you. By the time a week on Saturday comes, I promise you will have your very own football boots to wear.’
The weeping diminishes, the young boy smiles, snuggles back under the covers and within a couple of minutes is sound asleep. Sobs are replaced by the soft snores of a reassured child.
So how did such a swift transformation take place? How did a distraught child move from desperate unhappiness and fear, expressed in inconsolable weeping, to carefree snore-filled slumber? The answer is that the father had given his son a promise and the son had rested in that promise. The son believed the father, and so, whilst his circumstances had not actually changed (he was still without football boots), yet he trusted the promise of the father, as if it was already kept (he believed he would get boots when they were needed).
That is how faith works in the Christian life. We rest in the promises of God; we believe all He tells us in His word.
There is an important passage in Hebrews 11 which describes this:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1
This is not an exhaustive definition of faith, but (more helpfully) a description of how faith works. It works by trusting in promises of God even when those promises may not yet have been fully realised in our lives, or in the world around us. The writer to the Hebrews is telling us that faith is characterised by a hope in things that are not yet - just as the little boy had a firm and confident hope that the promise of football boots would truly be realised because his father had so promised. Our heavenly Father has promised us many things in Christ Jesus, which we may not yet see, but because He has promised we can trust and hope in those promises, as if they had already been realised. The JB Philips translation of that verse runs:
Now faith means putting our full confidence in the things we hope for, it means being certain of things we cannot see
The writer to the Hebrews goes on to give examples of how this faith worked in the lives of the hearers of faith described in the Old Testament. So Abel displayed his faith in the way he brought a genuine heart of devotion to God in worship; Enoch displayed faith by the way he walked with God day by day; Noah showed his faith in the way he lived according to God’s Word. These are all ways in which faith should show in our lives. In other words faith is not something you measure or quantify, so much as made visible in the totality of a life lived for God. When someone says ‘She has lots of faith’, what do they mean? That she has 3kg? Surely faith is not computed like that; it is lived out. Faith is the response of our entire lives to the promises of God. In such promises we find rest.