Faith

The Eleventh Chapter of Hebrews begins with: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen

Faith is not meant to be something ethereal and ephemeral. It is meant to be rock solid. The word “assurance” derives from a word meaning a foundation. It brings to mind the ideas of steadfastness, firmness, solidarity and certainty. So then the faith the Bible talks about is the certain solid immovable foundation for hope.

So how do we arrive at this point where we are absolutely convinced of God’s salvation, God’s ways, God’s Kingdom? How do we get to a point where we implicitly trust both God and Christ personally?

The physical world teaches us a lot about reality – namely you cannot see much of it. The density of pure ice is less than that of fresh water and so only about one-tenth of an iceberg is above water. The shape and size of the iceberg underwater can be difficult to judge by looking at the portion above the surface. This has led to the expression “tip of the iceberg”. Dark matter cannot be seen directly with telescopes as it neither emits nor absorbs light or other electromagnetic radiation at any significant level. The properties of dark matter are instead inferred from its gravitational effects on visible matter, radiation, and the large-scale structure of the universe. Dark matter accounts for 84.5% of the total matter in the universe. Dark matter, like the tip of the iceberg, is a clue to the nature of the universe – namely, that the unseen world is more important than the seen world, the powers by which we say that something is visible or tangible are at best frail and puny. So to conclude that just because we cannot see or touch something it doesn’t exist is a folly. If the physical world is dominated by things that cannot be seen – then it cannot be such a problem to believe in an unseen God, an unseen Jesus Christ, and an unseen future Kingdom.

Seeing is Believing

All these and more are part of the great unseen world! We are people who can perceive these things. But not all see it the way we do.

Believers see the world one way. Unbelievers see it another, although they are looking at the same thing. It has been said that “If you believe, you will find evidence everywhere. If you don’t, no amount of proof will convince you.” And it seems never the twain shall meet. To illustrate I quote an unknown atheist who said: “I am a devout atheist – nothing makes sense to me. I must admit that I am bewildered by those who in the face of the obvious believe in a mystical God”. People believe what they want to believe or at least what they can actually see. Paul on the road to Damascus could see Christ. All that his companions could see was a bright light.

Unbelievers have a very limited vision or sensory capability. They see a very small portion of the ‘e-m spectrum,’ and they hear a very small portion of the sound spectrum. So then unbelievers have a very small window by which they view the universe so as to draw their conclusions. Basically they have less than a keyhole to look at the universe.

Men armed with such miniscule powers of perception, nevertheless, claim to be all-seeing and all-knowing, declaring that they cannot believe in God because they cannot see him, or sense Him in their world.

But there is a simple reason for that says our Bible: “the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” (2 Cor 4:4) Fortunately we do not see the world their way. This is because of a very special reason: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (v6 ESV )

We learn from these few sentences that there are two categories of people:

  • Unbelievers who have been blinded by the god of this world.
  • Believers, into whose hearts the gospel has shined.

One important thing this tells us is that our vision – our faith – is God given (cp Romans 12:3) Paul in Romans says we would never have believed unless God had initiated the process. This is his argument when he says, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom10:15–16 ESV ) In other words, we would not have believed unless God had sent them a preacher; the gospel message is the voice of the silent universe.

The idea that God can close and open eyes is a theme of the prophets. When the disciples who met Christ on the road to Emmaus broke bread with him, the Scriptures tell us “their eyes were opened, and they knew him”. It is said in Hebrews that the fathers “died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” And of Moses that “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.” (Heb 11:13,27)

Seeing the unseen and being convinced of it brings success whereas losing sight of the unseen and focusing on the seen brings failure. The Israelites who experienced the crossing of the Red Sea failed: they lacked faith. They lacked the ability to see God at work: they had hardened hearts that lacked sensitivity to God’s unseen world.

Cultivating the Vision

How do we make progress in our faith? The Psalmist reveals the secret of prosperity when he states “ Blessed is the man… (whose) delight is in the law of the LORD, and in his law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.”( Psa1:1–3) This thought is confirmed in the Book of Joshua where it reads: “but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” (Josh 1:8 ESV )

The New Testament carries similar advice. Paul tells Timothy: “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine… Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all” (1Tim 4:13–15)

Here Paul invites us to give ourselves wholly to meditation and reading. We are not to be half-hearted as it is so easy to be. We must immerse ourselves in God’s Word. Live in it. Walk around in it. Rehearse it. Think about God’s greatness in the past, and think about what He will do in the future… think about all its possibilities; what things will look like in the future, what things will feel like. We need to think about how the Word of God impacts upon us, and what our responsibilities are. We need to be persuaded so that we can embrace and value them like a friend.

Prayer and reading, are the avenues to the assurance and conviction we crave. Consequently Paul advises us: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col 3:16), that is, luxuriously – make the word welcome – be hospitable to it – favour it over other visitors to your mind. Do not put it down in the garden shed. Instead give it the best seat in the house.

The Hidden World

In ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe‘ by C. S. Lewis, four children happen upon the land of Narnia, a magical place filled with fantastic creatures and talking animals, by walking through a coat-filled wardrobe in an English mansion.

Just as the world of Narnia was ever so close to those children – so the world of our God is ever so close to us: “he is not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)

When we read the Bible and meditate, it is like stepping into that wardrobe. We enter another world. We can do it at a moment’s notice; a sort of spiritual day-dreaming! We can escape the troubles of this life and find mental energy and rest that reinvigorates us for this life.

So then we have been given a wonderful gift – the eyes to see God’s world of the future:

  • Its nearness
  • Its reality
  • Its stunning beauty
  • Its warm companionship
  • Its purity and holiness
  • Its peace and serenity
  • Its freedom from sin and death

Take your favourite passages and bring them to life inside your heart. Spending time thinking about what is, and what will be, will ever so often produce a crop of joy, excitement, exhilaration as suddenly our minds sweep away our dullness and finally we will feel the full reality of what is to happen.

“Your procession is seen, O God, the procession of my God, my King, into the sanctuary.” (Psa 68:24 ESV) Here we see Christ entering by the East gate of the temple of the future. There is music. There is pomp. There are apostles from Galilee and Jerusalem and the Apostle Paul.

Ponder these words: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!” (Psa 100:4 ESV) Put yourself there and feel the joy.

There’s a secret life, or hidden life that we have with God. It’s going to be in that place that you will find the strength you need whenever you get weary. It’s going to be in that place where you will find direction for the day. It will be in that place where God will give you inspiration for the future. The Divine life in the believer is this hidden life that we need to cultivate with meditation, with prayer, with reading and with focus. Paul says to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:16–18 ESV) It will help us greatly if we can enter the world of our God-given dreams and explore their length and depth and height and experience its beauty, its colour, and its holiness. In so doing we will create a hidden reality that will help us through diffcult times. When we are having problems in this life we can retreat to the alternative world to escape the harshness of life. It will also motivate us to act in the way God wants us to.

This is exactly what the Lord Jesus did: “for the joy that was set before him (he) endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Having a strong dream or vision enabled the Lord to go through his crucifixion.

Focusing on the unseen world is the secret to success. But there are many things which get in our way.

The Age of Noise

Alders Huxley in the ‘Perennial Philosophy’ mused:

“The twentieth century is, among other things, the Age of Noise. Physical noise, mental noise and noise of desire – we hold history’s record for all of them. And no wonder; for all the resources of our almost miraculous technology have been thrown into the current assault against silence.”

Huxley was talking about the radio and the newspaper, the carriers of noise at the start of the 20th century, but his words could just as well have been written today. Today, silence is a thing to be shunned, with the social ecosystem of apps and devices ready to help you do just that. Noise is so much a part of our life that we have become dependent on it for our wellbeing. So many of us derive our sense of vitality from sound, and we feel empty in silence.

If noise was an issue in Huxley’s era, today with the literal explosion of modern technology, CDs, headphones, iPods, and what not, clearly the noise level has been upped a thousand degrees. Technology and media have steadily advanced and engulfed our society, reducing quiet moments and places to a precious few.

In such a culture, silence is not valued, it has negative value! To remain in silence is to be “disconnected”, to miss out on something. Silence is so unbearable that whenever we are on the go we have got to pull out the iPod, plug in earphones and murder that cruel torment of silence with the sweet torrent of noise! In many homes the soothing sound of the TV set helps keep silence at bay.

Silence is the only time when you can truly think, yet this is the time we are often destroying. What are we afraid of? Is being trapped with your inner voice truly so terrifying – or worse, so boring? Silence is the absence of noise – not just your typical noise the city makes, but noise aimed at your mind. The absence of these outside stimuli, force you to look within and listen to your inner thoughts.

Instead of thinking of silence as the enemy, think of it as a most valuable resource. Instead of shunning silence, shun the myriad of interruptions in your day and the incessant noise that goes with them. So what are we to do? Make a start. Instead of being a victim, why not try silence for a while? Make a break with these ingrained habits. Ultimately, as you become more comfortable with yourself and your silence, you will find it easier and somewhat rewarding.

Being Quiet in Prayer

The first line of Psalm 65 in the King James Version – “Praise waits for thee, O God, in Zion” quite literally means “Silence is praise to You, O God, in Zion.”

When we finally turn from our self-reliance, rest from our striving and practice prayers of quietness and trust, we find the help and strength we need. The ‘prayer of quiet’ is a prayer that makes room for God’s presence and His thoughts. When we are quiet, we have finished doing our own thing, finished insisting on our own way. We are ready to make room for God’s voice, for God’s guidance, for God’s way.

Let us often heed the request of our Lord, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place” (Mark 6:31 ESV)

Importantly Jesus’ life was punctuated with such times of prayer.

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35 ESV )

As we retreat from the banality of this world, and dwell amid the solemn shadows of Gethsemane and the solitude of Calvary, we will come to know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings. Serious meditation leads to understanding God, gaining inner strength, gaining inspiration and motivation, and to calm and composure. It enables one to face trials, temptation, pressures and challenges of life, victoriously.