This morning I was trying to wake up a bit. Jersey Girl, our dog, needed to get up more than I did, but she won. As a result, I struggled a bit more to clear the cobwebs from my head. The prayers were long, and I was not sure what I was going to read, and I came across a verse in James 1 that lead me to James discussion of “Testing of Your Faith.”
I ended up reading the first chapter of James and bounced around a bit in other books of the new testament. Hebrew11:1-3 was one that came as I pondered all that I had read and prayed this morning. Chapter 11 is called the faith chapter in Hebrews.
I love the opening of chapter 11. It is one of those truths that are often taken for granted. But do we have it or is it simply easy to agree with without thinking about it too much? It is easy enough to do that James dedicated a chapter to testing it. What Is faith?
Hebrews 11:1-3 (ESV) 1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
Now when I meditate on these words my attitude toward faith, changes. If I believe as the writer of Hebrews says what is there that my God cannot overcome? He spoke the universe into existence. But James warns that our faith will be tested, and we should count that as joy.
James opens his book with an introduction, and the first words he writes are about trials, but he does not complain. He reminds us that we must “Count it all joy'”
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
For a long time, I did not understand this passage until I had my first serious health problem that ended up putting me on disability. It was a pretty emotional time. I was confused and frightened at times and all kinds of thoughts of how it might have gone ran through my head. But something amazing happened that changed my view.
I could not do much the first few weeks I was home. But this Bible Study I had ordered a couple of weeks earlier arrived in the second or third week. I could not do much. I slept a lot. Things were just strange, so I decided to do this Bible study, and God consumed me with it.
It was a 12-week study, and I would do a week a day. If I was awake, I was studying and praying. I finished the 12-week study in 14 days. It would have been 12 days but in the last week I started rehab at Cardinal Hill and the first two days of Rehab just wore me out so I was not up to studying.
The thing is during that period I began to understand what James said in verses 2-4. I moved from frustration to looking at my health issue as a blessing. I was overwhelmed when this became clear. God did not cause my Stroke. That came from years of high stress and hard living, but He used that trial to draw me closer to him.
For me, the stroke started out making me feel very isolated with no real purpose left. But God showed me that I was not alone, and He revealed the purpose He had for me.
He reminded me how wonderful my wife Pat is and He showed me the need for my church family, and suddenly I was surrounded.
My Heavenly Father reminded me that I was not alone in fact I was surrounded and in that my faith grew. I became overwhelmed. Thinking this morning about all that history, I remember the content of my prayers. They came from verses 5-8
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
I asked for many things in those days, not the least of which was wisdom. I wanted to understand what was going on, but as I think about it this morning, I realize how long it took before I prayed in expectation. The adversary will use anything he can to deceive us, and he tried to convince me that I did not deserve answers to my prayers. But every day, through that study that guided me through His Word, God showed me I did.
I continued reading this morning, and I got stuck on 9-11. It took prayerful thought as I read it several times.
9 Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
I realized that before the stroke I did believe. I had a faith, but pride was getting in the way. I was the rich man, not that I had a lot of money, but I had a good job, and I was a workaholic. I realized that I had come to define myself by striving to be the best at what I did; even at risk to my health. In fact, I did “fade away in the midst of my pursuits.”
There is one thing about a guy like I was, and Jesus speaks to the disciples about that guy in Matthew 19 and those verses, I found more hope.
Matthew 19:24-26 (ESV) 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Verse 26 is one burned into my heart. Not because I still carry that attitude about my work, but because of exactly what Jesus said in that verse and what He did for me. Now humbled, I can do nothing but praise Him and do all I can to bring Him glory.
I read the rest of chapter 1 and pondered all the things that had changed in my life. I thought about whether I was a hearer or a doer. I know all good gifts come from God, even those that are first not to be a gift.
This morning I give thanks for it all and am reminded of 2 Corinthians 5:7
7 for we walk by faith, not by sight.
I know I still struggle sometimes with that verse. I will find myself out ahead of God on things rather than waiting for His guidance. I will sometimes pray and doubt that He might answer. But then I have a day like today, and He reminds me how foolish that is to doubt and struggle. But when it comes, and it does, I remember this last passage and the example of my Savior Jesus Christ and the example of faith that He showed me and let that be my prayer this morning.
Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV) 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.