1. Living Faith
a. The word of God
b. Our reaction
i. God speaks, we believe, God acts
ii. God speaks, we believe, we act on what we believe, God acts
2. Waiting for the Lord
a. Waiting for a word from the Lord
b. Waiting for the spoken word to come to pass
3. Righteous judgment and trust
The Bible describes many varied concepts when it talks about the subject of ‘faith’.
For instance, in Acts 6:7, we see the word used as a label that encompasses the entire christian walk while, just a verse later, we read that faith is quantitative and that Stephen was full of it. Contrasting this, in Phil 1:27, we see that faith (specifically the ‘faith of the Gospel’) is an object worth striving for - where the recipients of the letter are not the unsaved but those who are already continuing in ‘the faith’.
Even in today’s religious society, we hear of people who have ‘lost the faith’ - which must mean that the people have been very careless for it conjures up something in my own mind like leaving one’s gloves on the bus and forgetting what one did with them - I’ve never been absolutely sure as to what that means, seeing as the concept changes from one individual to the next.
Upon closer examination, I often wonder if they had ever been walking ‘in faith’ or ‘in the faith’ at all - ‘faith’ here seems to represent some sort of mind belief that has little or no outworking in their lives and, what ideas and beliefs were held, seem to be far distant from Biblical teaching and sound doctrine.
There’s also the phrase ‘men of little faith’ which I noted on my web page dealing with Mtw 16:8 as meaning something a little different from the literal meaning which we often impose upon the phrase.
So, far from being a label used to describe just one subject and concept, it tends to get used for a wide variety of ideas both in the society in which we live and in the Biblical narrative. Here, though, we shall confine ourselves to that which was called in my early years as a christian as ‘living faith’ - a much misunderstood subject in today’s Church (judging by some of the things that I see and hear around me) but one which needs coming to terms with, standing, as it does, as a necessary requirement of initial salvation and of the continuing walk.
By that, therefore, I confess my intention from the outset not to fully deal with all the different types of ‘faith’ which are part of the believer’s experience and trust that the reader will understand my reasoning if I narrow my concern down to that type of faith which ‘saves’ but which also should be a part of the continuing experience of the disciple.
God must have faith.
He created man in His own image, like Himself. So, as He is, we are.
It’s the type of faith that spoke all things into existence. In Gen 1:3 we read that
‘...God said “Let there be light” and there was light’
God didn’t doubt when He spoke that what He commanded would come to pass. Of course, the ‘faith of God’ is going to be, in one significant point at least, different to that which we will be discussing concerning man - mainly because, as will be seen, man’s faith begins with a word from God, whereas the word that God speaks is in faith already. But, apart from this, our description of faith should be almost the same.
It’s the same faith which Jesus spoke of in passages like Mtw 17:20 where He says
‘You will say to this mountain “Move...” and it will...’
and Mark 11:23 where events will come to pass for the disciple if they are
‘[believing] that what he says will come to pass...not [doubting] in his heart...’
It’s also the type of faith that Jesus exercised on this earth - He spoke, believing it would come to pass, and it did (Mtw 8:13, 8:26, 9:6, 9:25). With regard to Jesus’ earth walk, though, again the idea is a little different to the faith of God. Though Jesus was God in human form, He restricted Himself to operate on the level that mankind operates on while still being fully God, and so was reliant upon the word of God being spoken by the Father before He stepped out on it. This will be seen to be identical with the ‘living faith’ that we will shortly discuss.
Faith, an attribute of God, is also available to man.
We’ve previously quoted Jesus’ words above from Mtw 17:20 where Jesus notes that disciples will ‘move mountains’. If this is a proof of our participation in Christ, then we’d best ask ourselves how many mountains we’ve moved recently! But, before you rush out to some area where there are great mountain peaks and try your hand at it, read the following pages for an explanation of how to accomplish this relatively simple task (according to Jesus)...
And, just as an aside, we read in the same verse that to accomplish the act of a mountain moving from one place to another, all we need is
‘faith as a grain of mustard seed’
If that phrase is used by Jesus to indicate the size of faith needed for such an action (and the mustard seed was considered to be the smallest of all the seeds) then what do you think could be accomplished with faith the size of a coconut?
Faith was also a trait of the early Church, one of its defining characteristics.
Their faith (that is, belief in action) made things happen (see, for instance, Acts 16:18 and 13:9-11). Today, we don’t appear to be in that same state universally that whatever we say comes to pass - though believers in some nations (particularly the ‘non-western’ ones such as places in Asia, Africa and South America) experience such occurrences.
We simply don’t experience the faith of God as a reality in our everyday lives, speaking out a word that brings with it an immediate miraculous effect, advancing or establishing the Kingdom of God around us and seeing God’s name glorified.
As you read these following pages, I hope that you’ll see what this missing part of our christian experience is - something that’s not unknown to us if we’re really saved for, in that first moment that we believed the truth of the Gospel, we exercised it. Many of us have, unfortunately, put that initial experience to one side and forgotten that following after God and enforcing His rule demands that we must continually live by the experience of ‘living faith’ operating in our lives.
1. Living faith
a. The word of God
‘Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes from the word of Christ’
Living faith has its roots in what God has said or, rather, what He’s saying. When we primarily think of what constitutes the ‘Word of God’ our minds tend to think about the current usage of that phrase within the churches we attend where the phrase is a label employed to describe the Bible. However, it’s such a rare occurrence within the Biblical record of ‘word’ referring to what’s written, that we need to grasp afresh the Biblical concept behind that phrase (see here ‘The Creative Word of God’ in the subject ‘Creation/Restoration of Creation’).
When the Bible refers to the ‘Word of God’, it’s normally not the written but the spoken, anointed and living word of God that it’s referring to. It’s that word that has the breath of God upon it (the breath being the life that gives power to the thought behind the speech).
Unfortunately, we’ve so conformed the usage of the phrase to refer to what is recorded in Scripture, that we often fail to grasp the force of the words we read, interpreting sentences and passages according to our pre-conceived belief, imposing meaning upon them that’s a far cry from what the original authors intended.
If we do pull verses randomly from the Bible (thinking that the ‘Word’ is Scripture) and make ourselves believe them for our own situation, this is not faith. The verse that we began this section with rightly says that faith begins by the word of Christ (or ‘Word of God’ in some versions) but if we begin with a wrong understanding of what that word is, then we shall arrive at a ‘faith’ that’s also the wrong item.
There are a number of Bible versions around that, in the introduction, say such things as
‘When you’re feeling lonely read (such and such a verse)’
but that may not be God’s word to you. Though the passage cited may have much to say to the lonely and broken-hearted, it may not be the specific word that God wants to speak to you so, accepting the one, we exclude the other. Scripture that we read can also be as dead as the dodo, with no anointing of the Spirit upon the words, but we often struggle to extract some grain of hope from it to apply to our situations and so gain comfort.
Yet, on the other hand, when God anoints a written word and brings it alive by His Spirit, we have the ability to receive that word. Instead of the words being dead records of God’s previous dealings with men and women, they become living and active words that make you sit up and take notice.
I know that what I’m about to write will be widely misunderstood, but I shall write it just the same. The Bible in itself is of no use to us unless it is interpreted by the Spirit. That is, unless the Holy Spirit of God is active along with the word. Many have promoted a Bible that has its own inbuilt anointing, rather than see the testimony of Scripture proclaim that it’s authoritative and leave it there without going one step further and too far.
God never intended that we should magically rely upon reading the Bible for God’s word to us in the anointing of the Holy Spirit - but that we should rely upon Him to speak to us through whichever channel that He desires to use (even the odd donkey - Numbers 22:28-30 - and it was a pretty odd donkey).
The Bible is inherently authoritative but not inherently anointed. When we’re looking at a ‘Word’ from God that we can react in faith to then we’re looking for no dead written word but a living one that comes directly from the mouth of God and which is the specific word for the situation that we find ourselves in.
When we read Mtw 4:1-11, we see Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Instead of using any random Scripture from the Bible, He replied using the right Scripture for the right occasion. Even though He was God in human form, He didn’t use His divinity to rebuke satan but rebuked him in His humanity. When He perceived the word that God the Father was speaking in to the situation, He used that anointed, living Word from God that pierces soul and spirit (Heb 4:12).
We know that the city of Jerusalem was defeated by invading armies because of the nation’s sin against God. But part of the reason why they never listened to the prophets that came to them speaking the word of God was that the false prophets of Jerusalem prophesied what the people wanted to hear - it stimulated Israel’s ego to hear from their mouths how much God loved them, was caring for them and was desiring to bless them by pushing back the armies that were coming against them. But what they effectively did was to hide Israel’s sin behind words that were deceptive (Lam 2:14).
The true prophets, on the other hand, told the people what they needed to hear under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit but it cost their hearers too much - it cut them like a sword and they were more eager to listen to those who even managed to speak in Scriptural language (Ezek 33:23-24, Jer 8:11).
Indeed, if any of the Lord’s people should ever wrongly perceive that they’re being beset by the evil one, they could quite easily justify themselves in believing from Scripture that God’s anointed prophet is opposing God’s work by claiming that the opposition being experienced is none other than the hand of God Himself and that it’s their own actions which are the work of the evil one - even though it could also be seen correctly that what’s being said is God trying to make His people see that their sin is undermining what He’s wanting to do.
Such was the case in Jerusalem - the false prophets cried ‘Peace’ on account of the covenant while the true ones shouted ‘war’ on account of that very same covenant! So, shouting what’s Scriptural is not sufficient - we need to know which verse applies to us, and we can only know that by listening to the Word that’s being spoken at that time by God.
In two verses in Proverbs that sit side by side, we get a good understanding of this need to hear directly from God. In Prov 26:4, we’re told that we shouldn’t answer a fool according to his folly (foolishness) but in Prov 26:5 we’re told that we should! The Bible’s certainly not contradicting itself here as in different situations we’ll follow the advice of the one above the other, but we must know which applies - and that cannot be ascertained by grabbing one at random, but by hearing directly from the mouth of God.
When I first read the Book of Job, very many years ago, I was struck by the condemnation that Job’s comforters received at the hand of God. When I read what they had to say to their ‘friend’ all I could see was good advice and spiritual truth that was confirmed in other parts of the Bible and the question came to me as to why God so critically rebuked them for that they’d said.
But, although his comforters spoke a lot of truth, they wrongly applied it to Job’s situation - in fact, they were making it seem as if Job’s situation had come about because of some hidden sin that he was unwilling to confess and be rid of.
While some plights of mankind may be a result of sin (like ‘cause and effect’), Job’s case was different. In a very real sense, Job was standing against satan to achieve victory over him (even though he was quite oblivious to it) and show to all who are to follow in later generations that a man may love God for who He is rather than for what he can get out of Him.
Therefore, Job’s comforters receive condemnation from God - not because they’re speaking lies but because they’re misrepresenting the will of God in the situation that Job finds himself in (we shall be looking at a passage from Job in a later section and dealing with the truth therein). Even though the speaker is condemned for the advice given, the condemnation is based upon wrong application and not because it’s inherently inaccurate.
One further point which comes as a consequence of our discussion here - it’s not enough to preach a Scriptural sermon if it’s not what God wants to say at that particular time. Every preacher who stands up to share ‘God’s Word’ must be concerned not just to speak what’s in accordance with Scripture, but that which is also what He’s saying to his hearers at that specific point in time.
Summarising, then, the ‘Word of God’ should be defined as what God wants to convey to someone at a specific moment in time. Receiving that living and active word of God is the first step before we can react in faith.
b. Our reaction
‘Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’
Once God speaks (see the previous section), it’s our responsibility to exercise faith. Primarily, though, faith begins with God speaking and it’s nothing that we summon up from within us and apply to situations to change them at will. Faith is dependent upon God first moving and that through the declaration of His will through His spoken word.
Faith is believing what God has said even when we don’t see the reality of those things in our situations (Heb 11:1). For instance, we believe the doctrine of Creation without evidence (that is, if you do indeed believe in a six-day Creation!) and so exercise faith in what God has said happened (Heb 11:3). Faith needs no evidence, it simply believes what it’s been told.
When you finally get to the subject ‘Creation/Restoration of Creation’ (if you’re reading through these articles systematically), you’ll see that I’ve deliberately neglected to provide the reader with scientific evidence to prove my contention that God created all that we see around us in six days. It’s not that there isn’t evidence available (though I do consider myself unqualified to argue some of the points) but that our confidence in the Scriptural account should rely upon what God has said rather than what we can prove (a fact which seems incredibly apt for adherents of macro-evolution as well).
We have no problem believing what God has recorded as happening in Genesis chapter 1 (in spite of evolution propaganda tv programmes to the contrary) because His Spirit tells us that it happened that way. If God hadn’t anointed it to us by His Spirit, we would have probably ‘interpreted’ it in the light of scientific research. So proof only supplements what we believe by faith and, on occasions, the witness of our eyes may even contradict what we believe with our minds.
Kids have incredible faith because they believe ‘because dad said’. It’s only kids that enter the Kingdom, as Jesus said, because they believe what their Father tells them in simplicity (Mark 10:13-16). Though there’s probably more to that Scripture than meets the eye, faith in the words of the parent (or in the words of what a school teacher says) is one of those characteristics that make their example so refreshing. And it’s probably one of the main reasons why it’s younger people that the Lord appears to use on the whole to see miraculous events occur - because they’ve not yet grown into the cynical and unbelieving people that we often are!
Faith is the catalyst that sparks God into action. Without it, we won’t receive the reality of the promises of God.
I’ve included two sequences of events here to show the change that our faith brings about. Sometimes, God moves upon our response of faith (example i) while, at other times, when part of the answer lies within our own grasp, we have to step out and show Him that we indeed believe the Word that has been spoken to us (example ii).
i. God speaks, we believe, God acts
Gen 15:1-6, Rom 4:16-21.
The principle example of this kind of reaction of faith which is sandwiched between a move of God has to be in the life of Abraham for it not only gives a clear description of the three principles but it demonstrates how other factors would have sought to bear their influence upon him.
1. God spoke
To Abraham, God’s words that his reward would be great seemed groundless (Gen 15:1) as he’d no heir to pass on his inheritance to and to perpetuate his name in the earth. This, of course, prepared the way for the discussion in which God promised to Abraham a son who would be born to him directly and who would multiply his descendants on earth so that they would no longer be able to be counted.
2. Abraham believed
Abraham had already heard God speak to him on previous occasions (Gen 12:1-3, 12:7) and seen Him move on his behalf to protect both himself and his wife in Egypt (Gen 12:10-20), so it wasn’t as if he was believing someone whom he’d had no experience of.
Even so, Abraham takes a giant leap of faith here and chooses to believe what God has just said to him.
3. Abraham refused mind-evidence
We read that Abraham remained strong in his conviction that God would fulfil the promise that He’d made even though there were a few problematical situations that he had to disregard. Abraham, it appears, had already given up hope of ever having a child who would be his heir because, not only did he consider himself too old to produce offspring (which was obviously not the case - Gen 16:4), but Sarah was barren.
Presumably, if he considered himself incapable of producing offspring, then Sarah’s barrenness was based upon both her inability to produce children while younger and the fact that her menstrual cycle had come to an end.
Abraham never doubted when he received Ishmael through Hagar either, neither was he disobedient (Gen 16:1-4). Abraham simply made the mistake of tying God down to act through his own plans and according to his own will. Though his mind had tried to work out the way that God was going to fulfil His promise to him, his faith remained present and active that the promise would be fulfilled.
4. Abraham was considered righteous
He had ‘right-standing’ with God. It’s only through faith that we can please God (Heb 11:6). Notice Rom 4:16,23-25 where this type of faith is directly related to the type of faith that’s needed for ‘salvation’ or ‘initial conversion’. When a person comes to know Jesus, it’s because God has first spoken into that person’s heart the truth about Jesus and then they’ve responded in faith - at this point, God will act and save that person.
Notice here about the concept of ‘trust’.
In a later section, ‘trust’ is discussed in connection with ‘Righteous Judgment’ (when there’s no obvious revealed divine will to go by) and, though ‘trust’ is an integral part of a faith response to God’s word, I’ve refrained on the whole from using that word here to try and not confuse the matter.
This ‘trust’ is ‘total reliance upon God’. When God speaks into our situation, our response of faith includes a total reliance upon the content of what God has said. Thus, faith in the work of Christ means that the individual is relying solely upon Him to be saved. Similarly, faith in the word of God that instructs us concerning a course of action means that the individual is fully relying upon that Word - that it’s the correct procedure to follow.
A person who has a bit of Buddhism in their life, a bit of Hinduism and who seek to have a bit of Christianity as well is living a deception - Jesus Christ will be all or nothing. He’s to be fully relied upon or He will not be fully reliable (humanly speaking). He will not contribute to part of a belief system but He will be the whole. God will not be mocked (Gal 6:7).
5. Abraham’s belief became a reality
If we believe what God says, He’ll act - even though it will be in God’s time and not our own. All He wants us to do is to believe His word to us without exception. It’s our failure to do so that stops God working in our lives, not a lack of desire on God’s part to fulfil His purpose.
ii. God speaks, we believe, we act on what we believe, God acts
Acting on what we believe is an important characteristic of our faith. Acting on what God has not said is not faith. Believing God is going to do something that He hasn’t said He will, is either hope or presumption (see section 4), it certainly isn’t ‘living faith’.
When Joshua came face to face with the river Jordan in flood (it was the time of the final rains which swell the course of the Jordan and strengthen its flow - Joshua 5:10 indicates the time of the year as being early Spring) he realised that he didn’t have the ability to get the people of Israel across the Jordan in his own strength. Though he may have been able to get a few individuals across (Joshua 2:1-2), to actually get the estimated two million with all their possessions would have been an impossibility.
But, instead of remaining passive to the word of God, he did all that he could - he prepared (Joshua 1:2,10-11), telling the people that they were to be ready in three days to pass over the Jordan into Canaan. If my reading of the subsequent Scriptures is correct, Joshua got the timing wrong for it was at least four and maybe even longer before God had answered the demonstration of his faith.
The point is not that Joshua incorrectly estimated the time but that he did something about what he’d heard - his faith caused him to do something.
But, though Joshua did what he could, he didn’t go overboard in trying to bring about God’s will by, say, building boats along the edge of the Jordan and thinking that God would take the people across using his method. He looked to God for the answer but knew that the people must be ready to move out of the camp at a moment’s notice.
God always does the impossible but He expects us to do the possible. Joshua also refused mind-evidence because the Jordan was in flood at that time of the year as previously noted. There wasn’t anything that Joshua could have been relying on except the word of God that had promised him that the time had come for the Israelites to begin to take possession of the land that God was giving to them.
Very shortly, the word became a reality (Joshua 4:1).
To give a personal example, when I’d received the promise from God that I was going on a year long job helping the Church wherever I was sent around England (provided only with a sleeping bag and money enough for coach tickets), I had to prepare to be able to leave at a moment’s notice even though the initial response from the organisation was that they had no vacancies and that my age and time of application was not what they were looking for. I packed everything away anticipating being gone for a year. Within a short amount of time I was taken on.
Also, when I had the promise of going to the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem - but not the finance - in faith I still renewed my passport and put down a deposit for the tour. God eventually sent the money at the right time when the next instalment had to be paid.
Faith apart from works is dead (James 2:26). We often quote John 3:16 or Acts 16:31 to try and justify our insistence that it’s only passive acceptance (mind belief) of the doctrine of the cross that’s necessary for salvation but that’s only half the truth - in fact, it becomes something to us that’s worse than believing you can’t be saved at all, for we’re deceived into thinking that the doctrine we hold is Truth.
But we’re told to compare Scripture with Scripture. When we read John 3:16, it should be read in conjunction with James 2:19-20 because God expects us to do something about His anointed word. Static and stagnant belief has never saved anyone - and never will.
We must, rather, live by what we believe and not rely upon some enlightened head knowledge that hasn’t found it’s way into the outworking of our lives.
Rom 1:17 informs us that
‘the righteous shall live by faith’
All believers are called to ‘live by faith’ - not just those who have no regular income. To live by faith is to be actively doing what God wants us to do (Luke 6:46, Mtw 7:21), not just the belief that Jesus has been exalted over all rule and authority as His hearers were in danger of doing.
Whatever mindset we have, however Scriptural is our doctrine or our thoughts, these must find expression in the way we live in order that they may demonstrate the reliance we have upon them, that they may demonstrate our ‘faith’.
A note must be added in conclusion about ‘being saved’/‘converted’. In the last study, we thought about the concept of ‘Repentance’ but ‘Faith’ must always accompany it in the sense that to be ‘converted’/‘born again’, repentance and faith must both be the experience of the individual.
Indeed, as we think about the entire concept of ‘repentance’ we can’t help but see the necessity for ‘faith’ to be working alongside in such an area as ‘seeking God’s forgiveness’ for how can God be sought unless one believes that He exists and that He can be sought?!
Even from the outset, when God first speaks the word of Christ through His servants that brings conviction to the individual as he hears the message of the cross, man must react with ‘belief’/’action’ by turning, from his own way, to serve the living God.
Remember, though, that this word is a living one - as previously noted - and that the message is not one of legalism with little or no provision of God upon it. The word of the Gospel must be spoken with the anointing of the Holy Spirit and so come to the individual with full conviction.
The new birth is then received when God moves upon the individual, though its reception is more akin to hitting the right button on the keyboard of the computer to launch the program rather than in demonstrating faith in the program about to be received. It’s what precedes the ‘change of heart’ that’s considered to be faith.
Repentance cannot stand on its own and faith needs an object in which to believe, rely upon and actively experience. Repentance and faith are therefore inseparable when it comes to the act of being converted.
2. Waiting for the Lord
From what we’ve seen in the previous sections, we must conclude that faith, grounded in God’s word, is dependent upon receiving fresh revelation. With no fresh revelation, there will be no moving onwards in Christ and no exercise of living faith.
It should be no surprise, therefore, that one of the greatest necessities for a Christian is to ‘wait for the Lord’. Evangelism is carried out with little success, congregations stay at the same numerical level and spirituality, preachers preach but with no anointing and no change in their hearers - all because we haven’t waited for God to tell us what to do. It’s only when we receive the word from God that we’re in a position to act upon it in faith - then we’ll see great results like the early Church did.
With no new word, we begin to stagnate and starve spiritually (Amos 8:11), we lack the vision that’s necessary to achieve anything for the Lord and begin to wander aimlessly through our lives, aiming at nothing and normally hitting it.
The word, then, is fundamentally important for the Church to realise its potential on the earth - not a lifeless dead set of guidelines that we try and apply to the situations we find ourselves in, but in the living and now word that has provision and power upon it and which acts like a catalyst to our faith, sparking it in to action.
Waiting for the Lord to speak, therefore, is a crucial task for the believer when he has no direction and is seemingly aimless. To hear the word brings the opportunity for us to step out in faith and achieve radical targets for God.
Waiting for the Lord is not just a necessity with regard to receiving His initial word to us (Chart 1 - God speaks) but also when we need to see Him act and fulfil His word to us (Chart 1 - God acts). In both instances, it’s too easy for us to rush ahead of Him when actions don’t need to be performed at the time and then consequently, in our impatience, we fail to see God’s power demonstrated.
Faith, a word of action, must be tempered with patience - waiting for God to speak or act. These two, like repentance and faith, go hand in hand and balance one another to provide the believer with an effective life in which ‘things happen’.
When the Israelites were being besieged by the Assyrians, they sent to Pharaoh in Egypt that they might have troops for war and be delivered from their hand (Is 30:1-2), but God pointed out to His people through Isaiah that such a reliance upon physical strength would never end in success when the people didn’t trust in deliverance from God (Is 30:3-18). It was in returning to the Lord in sincerity and with continued faithfulness and in resting in His provision alone that they would find deliverance for themselves. It would be in quietness and in trust where their strength lay - not in action devoid of God’s will and purpose (Is 30:15-17).
Therefore God says through Isaiah (Is 30:18) that
‘...blessed are all those who wait for Him’
Action devoid of faith in the word spoken to them could never deliver them from the oppressing army, but in returning to God to hear from Him and in waiting for Him to both speak and act they would have found deliverance.
In contrast to the Isaiah passage, we see Jehoshaphat desperately seeking the Lord when an enemy army was coming against him to drive the Israelites out of Canaan (II Chronicles chapter 20 esp v.3-4). When they’d received the word, the following day they went out to watch God fight on their behalf rather than to enjoin battle.
The psalmists consistently spoke of waiting for the Lord to act or speak (Ps 25:3, 25:5, 25:21, 27:14, 37:7, 37:9, 37:34, 52:9, 59:9, 62:5, 69:3, 69:6, 104:27, 123:2, 130:5, 145:15). A believer’s strength lies in the amount of time he spends waiting for the Lord and His word - it has nothing, initially, to do with either service or action.
Other Scriptures that are worthy of comment are Is 40:31 (the context being v.27) where we witness that a believer must wait for God’s hand of deliverance and not try to win the battle themselves. This is where we gain strength - by waiting for Him to act and not by rushing on in to a situation thinking that we have all that’s necessary to solve the problem.
Ps 25:1-5, 25:19-21, 123:2 also point towards the fact that, in every situation, we’re called by God to wait for Him in order that we may work hand in hand with Him. We may be working with His best interests at heart or even think that we’re doing the Lord’s will by intervening, but it’s only as we perceive the way that He wants to move that we can harmonise our actions with His (John 5:19-20).
Finally, Is 64:4 comments that God works for those who wait for Him. This just about says it all...
Specific examples of waiting for the Lord
a. Waiting for a Word from the Lord
Chart 1 - God speaks
The first step before faith can kick in and believe is to receive the word that faith will focus on - and that means that, even though the word may be delayed, we should still wait for it.
David enquired of the Lord before he went to battle (II Sam 5:19). In this way, he saved himself from ever suffering defeat. He was able to have faith that the victory was assured when the enemy didn’t look as if they could be defeated by the army he could muster. On occasions he was even given the right strategy that he was to employ to secure the victory (II Sam 5:22-25).
Habakkuk, in contrast, was a man who was perplexed by the things he saw around him. The ‘chosen people’ had become wicked in God’s eyes and Habakkuk realised that the state that the nation was in was also displeasing to God.
Being troubled by what his physical eyes were witnessing, he petitioned God and asked him why He wouldn’t step in and do something about it (Hab 1:1-4). Yet he was even more troubled by what his spiritual eyes were telling him (Hab 1:5-17)!
Then Habakkuk waited and watched for the answer to his question (Hab 2:1) which eventually followed (Hab 2:2). Strangely enough, God’s answer to him also spoke of the need for patience and of waiting for it to come to pass (Hab 2:3).
When Joshua arrived in the plains of Jericho after crossing the Jordan river miraculously (Joshua 5:10), God’s word came to Him (6:2) to give Him the tactics for victory (6:3-5). By exercising faith and carrying them through, God acted and gave it to them (6:20). Here, though, note that Joshua was patient when he received the word for it involved seven days of marching before the victory was to be won. If he’d rushed in to battle in the normal way, building siege ramps and trying to gain access to the city in his own strength then, even if the victory had been won, the nature of the victory would have been lost.
However, the next city to stand in the way of the Israelites’ advance was Ai (Joshua 7:2-3). Flushed with the success of Jericho, Joshua thought that he could do it from then on without waiting for God’s word. He was wrong (7:5)! Had he waited on the Lord, he would have heard that there was sin in the camp and that it had to be dealt with before they would be able to effectively come against the next enemy (see Psalm 37:34 here also. Waiting for the Lord and doing what He says is one of the necessities for possessing the land).
Another Scripture worth considering is Mtw 8:5-13. The centurion who had a paralysed servant at home sought Jesus for a word from Him because he knew that this was what His faith hinged on. He knew that when a word was spoken by a man of authority, the manpower resources that are at his disposal will readily obey his will and carry it out. So, too, if Jesus, who he recognised as carrying with Him authority over sicknesses and diseases, were to speak a word of command, then he was assured in his own mind that His command would be carried out for Him by heaven.
The centurion, by approaching Him in this manner, was effectively saying
‘If God speaks, I have the faith to believe Him’
Finally, when Saul became impatient, he forfeited his kingdom being forever established by taking the offering to God and sacrificing it himself when he knew from the Law that this should not be done by him (I Sam 13:8-14). Saul should have learnt by his mistake, but in I Sam 28:6-7, when God didn’t answer Saul quickly enough (and it may be true to say that, by the time this incident took place, God had decided not to answer him at all), he was again impatient and sought out a way to get the wisdom needed to win the battle that was shortly to take place - the battle which eventually brought him to his death.
See also Ps 69:3 and 106:13 at this point for God may keep us waiting a long time. We must be patient until that word comes to us, however. If we’re truly relying upon God for direction and purpose then we may need to wait for some time before it finally comes. In Ps 130:5-6, the psalmist says that he waits for a word from God
‘more than watchmen for the morning’
If that is meant to be a direct reference to the time required by the psalmist to hear the Lord’s voice then we’re talking an inordinately long time by today’s standards which demand that
‘if we want it, get it now’
Summarising, when we do not know the Lord’s will in a certain situation, we should wait for a word from Him so that we know what He requires. Our faith will then be exercised in what God has said and victory/success will be assured us in every situation that we find ourselves in.
b. Waiting for the spoken word to come to pass
Chart 1 - God acts
When the promise of God by His word has been received, but the reality of that promise has still not been realised, there’s a need for us to wait for God to act and to fulfil His promise. Though we may need to demonstrate our faith by the things we do, there may still be the necessity for us to wait God’s timing to see His promise come to pass.
David had to wait for the Lord to act so that the promise concerning him being king would be fulfilled (I Sam 16:1,13, II Sam 5:2). Even when David had opportunity to fulfil the promise himself, he refused to take it, preferring to wait for God to exalt him (I Sam 24:4-7, 26:6-12).
Prov 20:22 summarises the attitude of David well here. Even though Saul mistreated David, he waited for the Lord to repay evil and wouldn’t put his hand to murdering his adversary when he was still heading the kingdom of the Lord’s people.
What we often find so hard to conceive of is that, should we get an opportunity to make the promise of God come about, we may have to let it pass us by and wait for God to fulfil His plan in different circumstances and at a different time that may be many years further on than where we’re currently standing.
Morally, we must make the right choice or we could find ourselves with a partial fulfilment of the promise worked out in our own strength, but not the reality of the blessing and presence of God upon our lives (if you’re in to Shakespeare, then consider the playlet ‘Macbeth’).
Abraham’s experience is a point in question here. Having been promised a child (Gen 15:4) who would be the heir of all the things that he possessed (including the promises of God), he tried to bring it about in his own strength when he had the opportunity to do so (Gen 16:1-4). But God pointed out to him that it wasn’t to be through Ishmael that his descendants were to be named (Gen 17:15-21). This Ishmael then went on to become the father of the Arab nations (Gen 25:12-18) who, today, are severely persecuting Abraham’s descendants through Isaac.
That was quite some situation that Abraham unwittingly created for himself by trying to make God’s will come about in his own strength!
Another example of waiting for the word of God to come to pass is in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Having received the promise that the Holy Spirit would be poured out upon them (Acts 1:8, Luke 24:49), they waited in the city of Jerusalem until the day of Pentecost came when it happened (Acts 2:1ff).
At the same time as they received the promise, they’d also been commanded to be Jesus’ witnesses and to preach the Gospel from Jerusalem outwards to the ends of the earth but this couldn’t have been achieved had they not first waited for the provision of the Holy Spirit.
We read in Isaiah 64:4 that God
‘...works for those who wait for Him’
This mirrors the experience of the disciples - they waited for the promise of God to be fulfilled to them and then, when they went out to proclaim the Gospel, they found that God worked alongside, confirming the message by the signs and wonders that accompanied their words (Mark 16:17-18 - whether the reader accepts or rejects this passage as being part of the original Gospel of Mark is irrelevant here - the early Church experienced what is recorded for us as a reading of Acts will show).
Concluding, then, when we have a word from God for a particular situation, we should exercise faith and believe that it will happen or that it will be received (Mark 11:23-24). There may be a need for us to step out on the strength of that word and do something that actively demonstrates our belief in it, but we shouldn’t think that we’re to make it happen in our own time.
Rather, we’re to wait God’s timing and allow Him to bring it about.
3. Righteous judgment and trust
There must come a time - and that time comes more often than not - when we don’t receive a direct word from God for our situation having sought one from Him and not through our own personal negligence. It’s in these types of situation that God would have us use Righteous Judgment in that situation.
‘Righteous Judgment’ is a made up label that I’ve found no other author use in their writings - neither does it appear in the translations of the Bibles I read - but it seemed the best phrase to use to help us remember the concept! It can be defined as
‘When we have no specific, obvious or realised Divine guidance, we rely on Righteous Judgment that’s based upon our understanding and love of God, His will and His word firstly in the Scriptures and secondly through our own experience.
As we become more acquainted with God, our judgment will become more accurate’
Conditions for Righteous Judgment in the believer
Though Job’s comforters were rebuked by God (Job 42:7), they spoke a lot of spiritual truth that, as we read it, we can say ‘amen’ to. The problem was not that they knew something erroneous about God that they were trying to share with Job, but that they were wrongly applying truth to him and his situation, thinking that he must have done something very wicked and evil for him to be afflicted in the manner he was.
As we know now, Job’s condition had nothing to do with personal sin but with whether a man would follow after the one true living God even if he went through a situation where material blessing was not part of the relationship.
Therefore, when we come to the passage Job 22:21-28 and read the word’s that Eliphaz spoke, we could just dismiss them as being devoid of Truth - but that would be to do Eliphaz a great injustice. His words here in a different context make sense by comparison with other passages in Scripture. For instance, he says (22:21)
‘Agree with God, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you’
‘...return to the Almighty and humble yourself...remove unrighteousness far from your tents...’
and, even at the end of his reasoning (22:29)
‘For God abases the proud but He saves the lowly’
which imply that he sees Job as being in the state of tasting the consequence of his own sinful actions. Therefore, leaving aside the context of Eliphaz’s words as applied to Job, we can see how God would have us to live before Him when we have no specific Word from Him.
Job 22:28 is part of the conclusion of what precedes it (the full conclusion running from v.26) and gives us a concise definition of Righteous Judgment. It runs
‘You will decide on a matter and it will be established for you, and light will shine on your ways’
Our plans being established by God are dependent upon two things according to Eliphaz. Firstly, in Job 22:23, we see that the image of God is to be lived out through our lives.
A believer must return to God in areas where they seek their own pleasure and benefit. A heart that’s set on pleasing itself won’t have the capacity to make a decision that’s pleasing to God (Rom 8:7-8). If we live according to the flesh rather than in the strength and power of the Holy Spirit then our lives become hostile to God and we don’t have God’s best intentions at heart - unrighteousness is the image that we’ll portray into the world rather than the character and image of God that’s been implanted within.
A life that’s lived to reflect the character of God into society is one that’s concerned with doing what God requires and is therefore in a position to make a good calculation of how it should decide upon a matter.
Secondly, in Job 22:24-25, a believer is to have nothing more precious to them than God and their relationship with Him. Although this is very hard to distinguish from the previous point, the difference is that this is the root cause of an individual wanting to live out the image of God into the world. A good relationship with God is the first step to wanting to live before him in this world in righteousness.
We shouldn’t glory or boast in anything except that we understand and know God (Jer 9:23-24) - neither material riches, strength nor wisdom. All these things are transient and will pass away, but a heart set on God disregards basking in the glory of what he has around him (or within him), knowing that the most important possession of all is a good relationship with the One who created all things.
It’s only a relationship with God that we can take out of this world (John 17:3) - it’s the possession that guarantees eternal life to us. When you find it, everything pales into insignificance and is worth forsaking for that one object that’s beyond worth (Mtw 13:45-46).
When our desires and aspirations are tied up with the establishment of God’s will and purpose on the earth rather than our own, our perception of a course of action will be coloured with the sense of needing to please Him.
What’s needed, therefore, is, firstly, a relationship with God (even though Eliphaz mentions it last) that, secondly, reflects itself in the way an individual lives out his life.
Out of our love for God, then, our desires will be solely to see God’s name honoured in all that we do. We’ll make decisions and plans so that, in our understanding of the issue, it will be God who will be pleased with us, not man.
Though Job did try to judge righteously in situations, in this instance God was testing him to see if he would still follow Him regardless of material possessions. Therefore, sometimes the judgment of our own minds will fail and not accomplish the intent we have - sometimes, like Job, we may need to be tested. But in the majority of cases, God would have us make decisions for Him when we don’t have a definite word but having asked Him for it and having waited for a response.
The Three-fold plan
See Chart 2
God often tests us by giving us no specific word. When this happens, He’s able to test us to see whether or not we’ll do what’s pleasing to Him. A child can be trained up to follow in his father’s ways and know that, while he’s young and needing to be looked after, the eyes of his parents are never far from him.
But it’s only when that child grows up and throws off parental guidance and correction that we really see whether all those years of instruction have been accepted or gone unheeded.
In a similar manner, there are times in our lives when God stands back from us to see what our reaction will be in situations - to see whether we’ll put His interests first or whether we’ll choose our own way. In the Kingdom, this is part of growing up into maturity.
In these situations, Ps 37:5 contains a three-fold plan that we need to put into action.
a. ‘Commit your way to the Lord...’
‘Our’ way is based on the understanding we have of God. At all times, we need to determine what’s pleasing to the Lord so that, as sons, we’ll have His interests in mind in all our decisions (Eph 5:10). In prayer, we should lay our plans before Him so that we share with Him our intentions - but also be prepared for God to correct our plans.
I remember a time when I was in the south-west of England and we’d been told of a situation that we needed to pray about. In those days I was a bit more bold in opening my mouth to pray and began by making some desperately vague petitions and seeing what happened. I thought that I was praying generally into the situation and that it was ‘going well’ until I was interrupted by the voice of the Holy Spirit (the cheek of it!) speaking to me a Scripture that was relevant in the situation and which contradicted what I thought was God’s will.
So I shut up in mid-sentence, directed everyone’s attention to the verse and then committed it to the Lord. Even our best intentions, sometimes, can be wrong - but the Lord will correct us.
ii. ‘...trust in Him...’
in the plans we’ve made, that He’ll be with us in those things. If we’re deciding on an issue on His behalf then it’s still God who must establish our plans - we’re often powerless to bring about what’s seemingly simple to carry out. Again, we must be prepared for God to correct our plans by refining them or showing us the better way.
The decisions we make sometimes have ‘risk’ written all over them that can conjure up images of the way things are bound to go wrong now that we’ve stepped out into a particular course of action - but God will take our worries and fears (Ps 55:22). We need to settle ourselves knowing that He’ll not let us be moved or the plans that we’ve made on His behalf.
iii. ‘...and He will act’
Let God act in the situation and establish the plans we’ve made on His behalf. When we trust that God will act, He will - by His power - bring to pass all that we’ve committed into His hands (Prov 16:3).
There are other places in the Bible where ‘Righteous Judgment’ is demonstrated by individuals.
In the parable of the talents (Mtw 25:14-30), the recipients of the talents received no specific word from the master as to what to do with them, but two did what they knew would be pleasing to him. Their actions were determined by what they knew the master to be like whereas the one who did nothing but bury his gift hadn’t even been careful enough to consider the master and what he would require from him when he returned.
Perhaps (and this is probably reading too much in to the story) it would have been better that the servant had at least tried to have increased the gift and failed rather than to have done nothing with it.
We also see a demonstration of Righteous Judgment in the life of the apostle Paul. Acts 16:6-10 is the only place where Paul specifically received Divine guidance to tell Him both where and where not to go in a very short space of time. It would seem that at other times he committed his way to the Lord and then went (see Rom 15:24 where we read of his intention to visit Rome in passing as he took his journey to Spain - a journey that he never made - and I Cor 16:5-9 where he reveals his plans concerning Macedonia and Ephesus. In both instances, Paul would have been open to a ‘sudden change of plan’ by God in directing him in a different way).
Our study on faith wouldn’t be complete unless we briefly looked at what often passes for faith in today’s Church. This phenomenon, which we’ll label ‘Presumption’, doesn’t spring from the revealed will of God as made known to individuals and congregations by a specific anointed word from God but it’s often (if not virtually always) based upon Scriptural reasoning and precedents, sometimes even based upon Scriptures that may or may not be taken out of context to apply to our experiences as we see fit.
It’s no surprise that hardly anything comes of this ‘faith’. It’s more of a surprise that God sometimes decides to honour it and empower the resources to achieve what His people are presuming upon.
In Presumption, we see prayers going unanswered and actions falling short of what they were intended to achieve (often with spiritualisations from those ‘in the know’ that, in reality, a lot was achieved and ‘we should be grateful that it has been such a great success’ rather than say ‘we missed the mark - are we sure this was of God?’), all because God isn’t asked what He wanted done in the situation. Even worse, things happen that are totally against our prayers.
A quote from Finney here is well worth the length it runs to which is recorded by him as having happened shortly before he was converted. He writes concerning a group of believers that he was attending
‘I was particularly struck with the fact that the prayers that I had listened to, from week to week, were not, that I could see, answered. Indeed, I understood from their utterances in prayer, and from other remarks in their meetings, that those who offered them did not regard them as answered.
‘When I read my Bible I learned what Christ had said in regard to prayer, and answers to prayer. He had said
‘“Ask, and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened”
I read also what Christ affirms, that God is more willing to give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him, than earthly parents are to give good gifts to their children. I heard them pray continually for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and as often confess that they did not receive what they asked for.
‘They exhorted each other to wake up and be engaged, and to pray earnestly for a revival of religion, asserting that if they did their duty, prayed for the outpouring of the Spirit and were in earnest, that the Spirit of God would be poured out, that they would have a revival of religion, and that the impenitent would be converted. But in their prayer and conference meetings they would continually confess, substantially, that they were making no progress in securing a revival of religion.
‘This inconsistency, the fact that they prayed so much and were not answered, was a sad stumbling-block to me. I knew not what to make of it. It was a question in my mind whether I was to understand that these persons were not truly Christians, and therefore did not prevail with God; or did I misunderstand the promise and teachings of the Bible on this subject, or was I to conclude that the Bible was not true? Here was something inexplicable to me; and it seemed, at one time, that it would almost drive me into scepticism. It seemed to me that the teachings of the Bible did not at all accord with the facts which were before my eyes.
‘On one occasion, when I was in one of the prayer meetings, I was asked if I did not desire that they should pray for me. I told them, no; because I did not see that God answered their prayers. I said
‘“I suppose I need to be prayed for, for I am conscious that I am a sinner; but I do not see that it will do any good for you to pray for me; for you are continually asking, but you do not receive. You have been praying for a revival of religion ever since I have been in Adams, and yet you have it not. You have been praying for the Holy Spirit to descend upon yourselves, and yet complaining of your leanness...”’
Though Finney knew that God should be with His people and be answering their prayers, he couldn’t, nevertheless, see it happening. I think that, reading the context of his life upto this point and the subsequent events that transpired, it was only because he was in great earnest to get right with God that he ever finally did come to know Jesus - and that not because of God’s people but in spite of them!
Presumption can fall into anyone of the following attitudes or statements (and many more besides!)
‘We’re going to believe God to do this or that’
‘If we believe hard enough then God will do it’ (that is - faith healing or believism)
‘If we do this then God will honour our faith’
‘If I fulfil the conditions, God will give me the promise’ (legalism)
‘If I speak it, I’ll get it’ (positive confession)
All such attitudes come from the assumption that man can do it and that God will fall in to line with our way of running things when we need Him to. But man’s will is notoriously impotent and his perception of what’s required in situations is dependably nearsighted that it’s no surprise to see failure more often than not. Even yesterday in a matter which was purely natural, I interpreted a situation totally incorrectly - if that should happen to us with earthly situations, how much more will it happen when we approach heavenly matters?
If we contrast Presumption with Righteous Judgment (above) we see many similar aspects that may lead us to conclude that they could possibly be one and the same thing. But the difference is that the latter springs from a heart that’s earnestly seeking the Lord’s will and whose desire is to hear God in a situation and to perform His will, whereas the former springs from a heart that’s self-dependent and eager to do something for themselves - whatever spiritual language is employed to try and prove otherwise.
In ‘presumptive’ healing, many people wrongly believe that when they get to a point where they have enough faith they’ll be able to believe God to heal them. But this is faith-healing, dependent upon man’s will and exertion instead of God’s will and purpose, and it doesn’t come from God - what the person really needs is a now word from God to cling onto and accept with faith.
You need probably only look around your own congregation at its history and see how many of God’s promises that were ‘stood upon’ failed to materialise even when the promise was quite obviously for the time they were ‘spoken’. Similarly, I can’t remember a small congregation that I’ve visited who hasn’t had some sort of promise telling them that soon large numbers would be coming in to the congregation - even that revival was about to begin in earnest in their area. Scriptures such as Zech 4:10 seem to be given by God to nearly every small fellowship under the sun but He never appears to fulfil them!
While it’s true to say that God isn’t in the redundancy business, it’s also true to say that passages such as the one quoted often mask underlying problems within a fellowship and, rather than address them or call God to do something about them, we cling on to a word that’s no word and fail to see the reality of our presumption.
Faith is an acceptance of what God has said, not an expectancy that God will do what we want Him to do. We must return to wait for the Lord so that our entire lives will be ones that are grounded in revelation and the fulfilment of promise.
If a fellowship is small, remains small and has no realistic avenue through which it can grow, then it’s time to sit down before the Lord and wait for Him to speak rather than to rely upon a word that every other small church has ‘received’.
Presumption, then, is not faith because it’s based upon man’s will and exertion rather than upon the spoken word of God.