Life is filled with words, both spoken and printed. Words are essential and thus, very powerful. By the use of words, I give voice to what I believe is true or false. I give voice to the hope or despondency I have come to hold in my heart. With words I reach out in love, hate, or indifference. Words, are powerful in the engendering of faith, hope, and love or corrupting and destroying them.
But communication is not simply the equivalent of using words. Communication involves understanding. The speaker and the hearer, although they are hearing the words the other is saying, may not be communicating. Verbal communication requires more than hearing. Communication requires listening on the part of the recipient. But the speaker is also key to communication. He or she must intend to be understood. There is an effort required of the speaker to choose words carefully and speak them deliberately so as to make understanding easier if possible. The old adage is applicable:
“I know you think you understood what you thought I meant by what I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you understood is not necessarily what I really meant.”
Have you ever been involved in a conversation (written or spoken) in which the people involved were using the same words but, at least in your estimation based on the heightening intensity and obvious frustration, meant very different things by them? Or, have you been in a situation in which the two parties were so entrenched in their convictions and need to change the other person that any meaningful communication was impossible?
My experience is that such situations involve a struggle and have a disappointing result. Agreement on the meaning of words in the Body of Christ is, therefore, of great importance. It is, therefore, worthwhile to take the time and make the effort to discover and use carefully the words that communicate the content of my deeply held convictions.
Communication is a choice. It is a choice to be open. It is a choice to reach out and to allow someone else to reach in. I believe that real communication (which involves coming together rather than choosing to stay apart) is fueled by the desire for right and good will to triumph over evil. Communication, when I have experienced it in this way, has been for me and others the source of much confidence regarding the building and maintaining of life-giving relationships.
I would like to examine several aspects of the meaning of a word we use a lot in the course of our discipleship – FAITH.
What is faith? Faith is the marriage of trust and love living and expressed in the heart and lived life of the disciple of Christ Jesus. The New Testament says:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the men of old received divine approval” (Hebrews 11.1-2).
First, faith is a confidence about the trustworthiness of God. Underlying the “assurance of things” and “conviction of things” is confidence regarding the reliability of God. Faith is a choice. It is a choice to believe that God made not only the heavens and the earth but ME and YOU! It is the conviction that He hasn’t left us to suffer some evil fate. It is the conviction that God cares… Faith is the “lived conviction” that God is real, that He is good (to me/you in particular) and is involved our life with the intention to give and fulfill all things that are good and perfect. God will do what is right and good will triumph over evil in the end because of someone, not a set of agreeable circumstances or even theological statements. “I AM WHO I AM”, God, is the source of our confidence regarding the course of history globally and locally.
God responds when we reach out with gestures that reflect our faith over against the character of our circumstances. The key “reaching out” that we make toward God based on His character is, to quote Brennan Manning, “ruthless trust.” I trust that God, because “He is Who He Is,” sends the light of His faithfulness into the shadows of suffering and pain in the form of – “the light of His mercy and grace”. God says that the more hopeless your circumstances appear to you the more likely you are to have the opportunity to stand upon, turn to, and depend on Him “ruthlessly” for all you truly need for life and joy. The greater your cares are, the more the opportunity to cast all your cares upon God, for “He cares for you” (1 Peter 5.7). The darker things become, the greater the opportunity for Christ Jesus, who is the “light of the world”, to illumine your life with the light of His mercy and unconditional favor towards you. The place of extremity where we reach the end of our self-confidence and resources is the place where we can meet Christ Jesus personally. Circumstantial extremity is the place where we can learn not through theoretical propositions but the genuine experience of the intersection of our “ruthless trust” and God’s provision. His help is near and always available. We walk not according to the character of circumstances but according to the character of God – by faith and not by sight.
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4.14-16).
Thus, faith is a “substance” and an “evidence” in the form of identifiable moments of “ruthless trust” for what we, at the moment of our trusting “hope for” and is, as yet, a thing “not seen.”
But faith has a second dimension. It is not only the conviction that God is trustworthy and truly involved in a reliable way in my life and yours. It is also the conviction that because God cares, He will provide us with everything that is good and perfect. Faith is the confidence that God loves me. I know – as a lived reality that God loves me because He became human and identified in love with my pain, suffering, brokenness, and helpless bondage to sin and death. I know that God loves me because He has not only identified with me in my circumstance but in doing so, healed my brokenness and conquered my enemy(ies). Christ crucified and risen from the dead, the fulfillment of the prophet’s vision, is the love of God. the substance of the things for which we hope and the evidence that what we do not see yet, will come to pass.
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…” (Isaiah 53.4).
Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful…” (Hebrews 10.19-23).
So, faith is the union of trust and love. It is a choice to receive the trustworthiness and love of God. Faith involves a response in kind. The response of faith is one – trust and love. We give what we have received.
So, third, faith is a statement about our character and what we are willing to do – our response. Faith is a catalyst of ongoing transformation within our hearts and prompts those who posses it to action. There are, therefore, things required of us if we would receive the benefits of God’s blessing by faith. But, what is required of us is, by grace, just what generated the faith in the first place – trust and love.
First, we must trust that God loves us and desires to provide what we truly need. Second, we must ask for the provision on the basis of a genuine trust that it will be given. And third, we must cooperate in with the fulfillment of God’s power and plan in our life. God has made promises to those who trust (have faith in) Him:
“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7.7-8).
“…this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day” (John 6.39).
“In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name. Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16.23-24).
So, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matthew 7.11).
As Max Lucado says so eloquently:
“When arks are built, lives are saved. When soldiers march, Jerichos tumble. When staffs are raised, seas still open. When a lunch is shared, thousands are fed. And when a garment is touched – whether by the hand of an anemic woman in Galilee or by the prayers of (the faithful in this room) – Jesus stops. He stops and responds.” He Still Moves Stones
It is worth our time to make the effort to discover and use carefully the words that communicate the content of our life in Christ. Faith is a good example. It is a word with tremendous content that can be beyond the reach of the disciple is not communicated effectively. Next time you hear the word “faith” used kept these three facets of its meaning in mind – trust, love, and response in kind. My prayer is that you will find you will have an insight to offer that will result in a blessing for those involved. God bless you with an ever-maturing FAITH.