I recently attended a meeting at which a woman shared insights about a very difficult situation that she’d been forced to endure. She was held against her will by a repressive government for more than a year in circumstances that would threaten to overwhelm even the strongest individuals.
At one of the darkest moments early on she recalled that someone had once told her that faith is the opposite of fear. As she struggled with the very real fears that were confronting her, she reflected on the fact that although she never needed any guidance on how to be fearful, she’d never really been taught how to have faith, especially when it was most needed.
When you think about it, fear is both natural and necessary. From almost the moment we’re born we learn to fear things that can harm us. For example, the first time we place our hand too close to a flame we learn that fire causes burns and that burns involve a great deal of pain. We learn to fear the pain caused by flames and thereafter avoid placing our hands into fire. We also learn from the mistakes of others. This is known as learning vicariously. If we witness a friend get too close to a snake and get bit, we see the results. Wanting to avoid this ourselves, we learn to keep our distance from snakes.
Fear has everything to do with consequences. As we grow, we learn to fear that which brings very negative results. The remarkable thing is that faith also has to do with consequences.
It’s interesting that unlike many other words, the term faith is actually defined in the Bible. Hebrews 11:1 teaches us that faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of that which we don’t yet see. The remainder of the Chapter goes on to offer examples of how faith was lived out by various individuals. Several examples are offered. This is the reason that many refer to Hebrews Chapter 11 as the “Hall of Faith.”
One thing the individuals named in Hebrews 11 have in common is that they took action based on God’s clear leading or promises. Whereas the definition of faith offered in verse one describes a concept, the examples given all have to do with actions based on decisions. Biblical faith, then, involves discerning what God would have us do, and trusting God to handle the consequences.
One of the examples in Hebrews 11 involves Moses. Although born a Jew, through extraordinary circumstances Moses was raised as part of the Egyptian Pharaoh’s family. He thus enjoyed many benefits associated with power, wealth, and fame. At a critical moment in his life, Moses chose to forsake all these pleasures in order to associate himself with his fellow Jews. He did so knowing the consequences, and eventually learning to trust that no matter how difficult it may be, honoring God is always the best plan. This is true for the small decisions in life, and those that are very consequential. At times following God may result in very real losses. These may involve money, your reputation, and relationships.
Just as with physical fitness and strength conditioning, exercising one’s faith is the best way to make it stronger. Honoring God in the little things and in private will help you do the same with big decisions that involve serious consequences and other people.
One of the most important aspects of living out biblical faith is knowing what God wants. The very best way to discern this is to spend regular time in His Word, in prayer, and cultivating the ability to listen to God’s leading. This is spoken of in Romans 12:1-2. In the NIV these verses read:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Knowing God’s will and promises involves drawing close to Him. The closer you learn to walk, the more clear His way becomes. As you live like this another spiritual principle starts to operate. The more you give in to fear, the more difficult it becomes to stand firm in faith. Conversely, the more you exercise faith, the clearer God’s will becomes and standing firm despite the cost seems more normal than it once had been.
Are you facing any great or small life decisions that need to be made soon? As you do so, are there ways that seem right in the culture of today’s world, yet that you know are not pleasing to God? If so, consider placing your faith in God and doing the right thing. Although there may be negative consequences in the world, standing firm and honoring God will build your faith and eventually result in good. The more difficult and consequential the decision, the more your faith will grow.
Despite being treated with extreme harshness by the government holding her against international law, the woman I mentioned at the beginning of this post was granted an amazing request. She was allowed to have a Bible. She spent countless hours drawing near to God through reading His Word, in prayer, and in listening for God’s guidance. In this way she learned to exercise the amazing faith that saw her through a very long and difficult ordeal.
This woman and countless others are examples of how faith can overcome fear when doing so involves honoring God. We pray that each of us would learn this important lesson as we face the very real challenges of life.