It’s tempting to think of faith as a kind of magic formula. If you muster up enough of it, you’ll get rich, stay healthy, and live a contented life with automatic answers to all your prayers. But life does not work according to such neat formulas. As proof, the author of Hebrews presents a stirring reminder of what constitutes “true faith” by reviewing the lives of some Old Testament giants of faith (Heb. 11).
“Without faith,” the author says bluntly, “it is impossible to please God” (11:6). In describing faith he uses words such as “persevere” and “endure.” As a result of their faith, some heroes triumphed: They routed armies, escaped the sword, survived lions. But others met less happy ends: They were flogged, stoned, sawed in two. The chapter concludes, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised” (v. 39).
The picture of faith that emerges does not fit into an easy formula. Sometimes it leads to victory and triumph. Sometimes it requires a gritty determination to “hang on at any cost.” Of such people, “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (v. 16).
What our faith rests on is the belief that God is in ultimate control and will indeed keep His promises—whether that happens in this life or the next.
“We’re cutting your job.” A decade ago those words sent me reeling when the company I worked for eliminated my position. At the time, I felt shattered, partly because my identity was so intertwined with my role as editor. Recently I felt a similar sadness when I heard that my freelance job was ending. But this time I didn’t feel rocked at my foundation, because over the years I have seen God’s faithfulness and how He can turn my mourning to joy.
Though we live in a fallen world where we experience pain and disappointment, the Lord can move us from despair to rejoicing, as we see in Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming of Jesus (Isa. 61:3). The Lord gives us hope when we feel hopeless; He helps us to forgive when we think we can’t; He teaches us that our identity is in Him and not in what we do. He gives us courage to face an unknown future. When we wear the rags of “ashes,” He gently gives us a coat of praise.
When we face loss, we shouldn’t run from the sadness, but neither do we want to become bitter or hardened. When we think about God’s faithfulness over the years, we know that He’s willing and able to turn our grief to dancing once again—to give us sufficient grace in this life and full joy in heaven.
James Oglethorpe (1696–1785) was a British general and member of Parliament who had a vision for a great city. Charged with settling the state of Georgia in North America, he planned the city of Savannah according to that vision. He designed a series of squares, each having a green space and designated areas for churches and shops, with the rest reserved for housing. The visionary thinking of Oglethorpe is seen today in a beautiful, well-organized city that is considered a jewel of the American South.
In Revelation 21, John received a vision of a different city—the New Jerusalem. What he said of this city was less about its design and more about the character of who was there. When John described our eternal home, he wrote, “I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them’” (v.3). And because of who was there—God Himself—this dwelling place would be notable for what was not there. Quoting from Isaiah 25:8, John wrote, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” (v. 4).
No more death! Nor will there be any more “mourning or crying or pain.” All our sorrow will be replaced by the wonderful, healing presence of the God of the universe. This is the home Jesus is preparing for all who turn to Him for forgiveness.
Our son, Josh, is a commercial salmon fisherman in Kodiak, Alaska. Some time ago he sent me a photograph he took of a tiny vessel a few hundred yards ahead of his boat moving through a narrow pass. Ominous storm clouds loom on the horizon. But a rainbow, the sign of God’s providence and loving care, stretches from one side of the pass to the other, encircling the little boat.
The photograph reflects our earthly voyage: We sail into an uncertain future, but we are surrounded by the faithfulness of God!
Jesus’ disciples were surrounded by a storm, and He used the experience to teach them about the power and faithfulness of God (Matt. 8:23-27). We seek answers for the uncertainties of life. We watch the future growing closer and wonder what will happen to us there. Puritan poet John Keble captured this in one of his poems in which he watched the future as it drew near. But as he watched he was “waiting to see what God will do.”
Whether young or old we all face uncertain futures. Heaven answers: God's love and goodness encircle us no matter what awaits us. We wait and see what God will do!
Joan was struggling with some difficult issues with her children when she sat down for a worship service. Exhausted, she wanted to "resign" from motherhood. Then the speaker began to share encouragement for those who feel like quitting. These four thoughts that Joan heard that morning helped her to keep going:
Look up and pray. Asaph prayed all night long and even expressed feelings that God had forgotten and rejected him (Ps. 77:9-10). We can tell God everything and be honest about our feelings. We can ask Him anything. His answer may not come right away or in the form we want or expect, but He won't criticize us for asking.
Look back and remember what God has done in the past for you and others. Asaph didn't talk to God only about the pain; he also recalled God's power and mighty works for him and God’s people. He wrote, "I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago" (v. 11).
Look forward. Think about the good that might come out of the situation. What might you learn? What might God want to do? What do you know He will do because His ways are perfect? (v.13).
Look again. This time look at your circumstances with eyes of faith. Remind yourself that He is the God of great wonders and can be trusted (v. 14).
May these ideas help us gain perspective and keep moving in our faith journey with Jesus.
In the 2003 US Women’s Open, the relatively unknown Hilary Lunke secured the greatest prize in women’s golf—and a place in history. Not only did she win the US Open in an 18-hole playoff, but it was also her only professional victory. Her surprising and inspiring win underscores the fact that one of the most exciting things about sports is its unpredictability.
The unpredictability of life is not always so thrilling, however. We devise and strategize. We make plans, projections, and proposals about what we would like to see happen in life, but often they are little more than our best guess. We have no idea what a year, a month, a week, or even a day might bring. So we pray and plan, and then we trust the God who knows fully and completely what we can never predict. That is why I love the promise of Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
Life is unpredictable. There are countless things I can never know with certainty. What I can know, however, is that there is a God who knows all and loves me deeply. And by knowing Him, I can “be still”—I can be at peace.
After Estella Pyfrom retired from teaching, she bought a bus, decked it out with computers and desks, and now drives the “Brilliant Bus” through Palm Beach County, Florida, providing a place for at-risk children to do their homework and learn technology. Estella is providing stability and hope to children who might be tempted to throw away their dream for a better tomorrow.
In the first century, an avalanche of suffering and discouragement threatened the Christian community. The author of Hebrews wrote to convince these followers of Christ not to throw away their confidence in their future hope (2:1). Their hope—a faith in God for salvation and entrance into heaven—was found in the person and sacrifice of Christ. When Jesus entered heaven after His resurrection, He secured their hope for the future (6:19-20). Like an anchor dropped at sea, preventing a ship from drifting away, Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return to heaven brought assurance and stability to the believers’ lives. This hope for the future cannot and will not be shaken loose.
Jesus anchors our souls, so that we will not drift away from our hope in God.
Earthquakes are prevalent in the Pacific Rim region known as the “Ring of Fire.” Ninety percent of the world’s earthquakes and 81 percent of the world’s largest earthquakes occur there. I learned that many buildings in the city of Hong Kong have been built on granite, which could help minimize damage in the event of an earthquake. The foundation of buildings is especially important in earthquake-prone regions of the world.
Did you know that the microbes on just one of your hands outnumber all of the people on the earth? Or that millions of microbes could fit into the eye of a needle? These one-celled, living organisms are too small for us to see without a microscope, yet they live in the air, soil, water, and even in our bodies. We constantly interact with them, even though their world is completely beyond our senses.