Contentment Producing Faith

(Heb 11:32-40 NKJV) And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: {33} who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, {34} quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. {35} Women received their dead raised to life again.

We have a history. It makes us who we are. It defines our "now" and guides our tomorrow. In Hebrews 11, we are given a fairly long, though by no means complete, list of people who illustrated for us what it means to have faith. They lived out in flesh and blood what faith is all about. Often, it is called the "Hall of Faith". At the heart of this list is the understanding that our faith was not created in a vacuum. It has been defined by those who lived it out before us.

Toward the end of this list, we are given a summary. These people, who through faith accomplished amazing works for God are highlighted for us in this chapter because of what God has done in them through their faith. The above list of accomplishments is indeed impressive. Many of us would think of such things when we talk about someone who has faith. They immediately remind us of Jesus' saying that if we have faith as a mustard seed, we will be able to move mountains. That is the kind of impressive, healing, faith of power that many seek. It is what many would define faith to be.

But hold on. We are not done yet. For faith is also illustrated in some other impressive ways. It continues:

And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. {36} Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. {37} They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; {38} of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

Well, so much for the "Health, Wealth and Prosperity" gospel preached by some. By some standards, these people did not have much faith because they were not delivered from these situations. Indeed, it illustrates in some theological constructs a lack of faith. Yet, here they are in the Bible. People who lost their lives, tortured and basically living an ascetic life of suffering for the sake of Christ. How is faith illustrated here?

Let's go back to the "definition" at the beginning of the chapter, if we can call it that. Faith is the firm conviction of what our sense cannot perceive. It is a firm conviction that affects how we live, why we live, and it reorients our whole life to the conviction of a different reality than the one we are vividly aware of around us. When that which cannot be seen but is hoped for becomes substantial and real through the grace and mercy of Christ, we no longer live for this reality alone but for God's reality. This is the reality of faith, to see beyond our world as we see it and see what it is pointing to and what its reality is in essence. Many talk of this reality, but they don't orient their lives to it which shows an underlying conflict within themselves as to what life is about and why we are living it in the first place.

A firm conviction of that reality gives one the "faith" which Jesus spoke about. A faith which moves mountains of all kinds, both physical and spiritual. It accomplishes amazing miracles and also enables us to endure sufferings and the attacks of Satan. It does these things because our hope is not here, but with God in His reality. Whether we can get rich or have to live in abject poverty is in relation unimportant. One can shut the mouth of lions or get sawn into, yet our contentment with this world gives us reason to not worry about which we get to do. We simply do what is necessary to gain that "pearl of great price" which Jesus spoke of in His parable. We "sell" everything that the world would consider of value in order to obtain the ultimate value: The Kingdom of God, that is, the reality of God.

I'm not advocating that we all dump everything and live as a monastic, though some are called to that life of prayer. Yet, there is an element of selflessness that is being described here. Since our hope is not here, we can deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus to whatever crucifixion that we may have in this life. We do not necessarily need to go looking for suffering and difficulty. God will direct enough our way to accomplish His purposes. He is the one who knows what we need. However, though most of us, like Peter, are ready to die for Him, saying it and doing it when faced with the reality of it are two different things. In little ways however, we find out if we have obtained a true mind of the martyr. We are called to give of ourselves every day, to deny ourselves everyday, to crucify ourselves each moment.

Such faith is rare to find. Most of us look within our mind or body to find a quantity of something called "faith" that will give us these great abilities. Yet, it is not what we have, rather what we are becoming through the cross that is the essence of faith. Notice that I did not say what each one of us is becoming. This is critical, for the passage yet continues:

{39} And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, {40} God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.

They have not been made "perfect" apart from us. That is, they have not been made complete and whole. Their obtaining of the promise is dependant upon our obtaining of the promise. The converse is also true here, that we cannot be made perfect apart from them. The whole salvation history of God at work building His Kingdom, adding to His Body as time marches on. To artificially isolate any one segment of the Body either by time, death, race or whatever other division that one might be tempted to use, is to make the parts "not perfect".

St. Paul speaks of the Church as having a cornerstone in Christ, and each of the saints being added in as stones beginning with the Apostles. (Eph 2:19-21) If we are not added in, then the building is incomplete. If they are not there, then we are not building on the foundation, but are like the top half of a building sitting on the ground. God is building His Church and we can be part of that. With all the saints in the history of the Church, we find out who we are and where we fit into God's whole plan. We discover that it is not just I and God, but the whole Body of Christ from beginning to end to which my salvation is connected in one way or another.

Our history is important, as I said at the beginning. The history of the saints in the Church have lived out this faith that looks not at how things are, but at what they will become in God and acts accordingly. May we each gain a greater and deeper sense of God's reality through humility and contentment so that we can gain the pure eyes of the heart to "see God" as Jesus states in the Beatitudes. Easy? No. Go ahead, take up your cross and follow Him. You will find the ability to do amazing things if only you learn to depend on Him and give of yourself.

Rick