Two people are struggling with cancer. Both cling closely to God, asking him to raise them up from their death bed. One person dies and the other miraculously recovers. Which one had greater faith?
The answer might surprise you.
We’ve now entered the third and final installment of our weekly series on faith. This is an important subject because the Bible clearly tells us that without faith it’s impossible—IMPOSSIBLE—to please God (see Hebrews 11:6). If you’re interested in reading the other posts, click here and then here.
The Life That’s Pleasing To God Isn’t Necessarily Defined By Answers To Your Prayers
Through childhood and even much of my adult life, I envisioned the man or woman of great faith as the person who partners with God to overcome any obstacles that stand in their way. They successfully fight cancer. Proclaim the gospel in the midst of persecution yet go unharmed. Believe that God will rescue them in their finances—and he does.
In other words, I sought to emulate the people who enjoyed the fruit of their faith. And I would be remiss not to acknowledge their great faith.
But they aren’t the only people with great faith.
In Hebrews 11:1, the anonymous writer defines faith as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Funny, the person mentions nothing about receiving anything in the present. Nevertheless, we read further in the same chapter about people like Enoch and Noah who experienced the reward of their faith in the here and now.
A little further, we read about Abraham, who abandoned the safety and comforts of home to seek a better country. But alas, we read that he and his heirs lived in tents—a sign that they never completely settled. For generations.
The Life That’s Pleasing To God Sometimes Means NOT Getting What You Pray For
In Hebrews 11:13, the writer describes great men and women of faith:
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.
Did you catch that? They did not receive the things promised. In other words, faith isn’t necessarily defined by what we receive in this life.
Further on in the chapter, we read more about other people of faith. You might find this fairly disconcerting:
Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated” (Hebrews 11:36–37).
Doesn’t sound like a modern-day example of faith. The writer concludes by saying
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:39–40 italics added).
Living By Faith Means Living From An Eternal Perspective
Not one person who really lives by faith—who lives in a way that’s pleasing to God—receives in this life what has been promised. The truest picture of faith is relying on God completely in this life knowing that the full reward comes in the next life.
Now that’s called living from an eternal perspective.
So if you’ve been praying for God to rescue you, and you’re still clinging to God, you’re a man or woman of faith.
If you’re still unemployed but you haven’t given up your faith in God, you’re a man or woman of faith.
If you’re you’re still praying for a son or daughter who has strayed from God, you’re a man or woman of faith.
I find this fact tremendously encouraging. All too often I think we formulate a picture of the life that’s pleasing to God that is totally unrealistic. Faith isn’t defined by getting what we want in this life, it’s defined by our continued trust and reliance on God throughout our lives regardless of the outcome. It’s rests on the belief that the world to come is so much better than anything in the present.
So…keep the faith!
Michael serves as co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.