Ok, so let’s say that you’ve been a follower of Jesus for a while but you’ve been starting to have some doubts about this whole Christianity thing. Perhaps you’ve been mistreated by someone in the church or maybe God hasn’t been working in your life quite like you expected Him to. Perhaps it was a relationship that didn’t work out or maybe you just feel like your life isn’t going anywhere. You’d like to believe God for great things but you just don’t seem to have enough faith. And what exactly is faith anyway?
Well, a dictionary* definition of faith is “a belief in or confident attitude toward God, involving commitment to His will for one’s life.” Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “…faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Perhaps the best Biblical example of someone who lived out these definitions is found in a man named Abraham.
If you check out the Old Testament, you’ll find the main accounts of Abraham’s life sprinkled throughout the book of Genesis from Chapter 11 through Chapter 25. Abraham lived approximately 2000 years before the birth of Jesus and when he was 75 years old, God called him to leave the country that he was living in and go to another land that God Himself would show him (Genesis 12:1). Not only that, God promised Abraham, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2 NIV).
Now all this must have seemed a little unbelievable- after all, Abraham (and his wife) were a little old to start having the children that would form a great nation, right? But Abraham took God at His word and Genesis 12:4 tells us that, “Abram (as he was then called) departed as the Lord instructed him…” He traveled along the merchant routes and finally reached the land that we know today as modern-day Israel.
This was a good place to be -it was a place that God would later describe to Moses as a land that was “…flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). However there was one small problem: the land was already inhabited- and the inhabitants were not very welcoming.
For example, one group of people living in that area was known as the Canaanites, a nation that was devoted to worshipping false gods named Baal and Ashtereth. Then there were the Amorites, a barbaric, war-like race. Finally, there were the Philistines. The Philistines were relatively peaceful during Abraham’s time but let’s face it- they probably weren’t willing to get out of town any time soon.
So here we have a 75 year old guy who is a long, long way from his former home. He is in an unfamiliar environment. He is surrounded by hostile neighbors. He has few friends and many potential enemies. But what he does have is the promise of God- a promise that included making this elderly man into the father of a great nation. Despite all the challenges that Abraham faced, Genesis 15:6 tells us that “…Abram believed God; then God considered him righteous on account of his faith.”
As you read along in the book of Genesis, you’ll find that Abraham’s wife did eventually bear him a son which he named Isaac (Genesis 21:2). This son turned out to be the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. But then there came a time when Abraham was presented with perhaps the ultimate challenge to his faith. You can find the story in Genesis 22: 1-12:
“Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied. Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.’
Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.’ Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife.
As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, ‘Father?’ ‘Yes, my son?’ Abraham replied. ‘The fire and wood are here,’ Isaac said, ‘but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’ And the two of them went on together. When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, ‘Abraham! Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied. ‘Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.'” (NIV).
Pretty good story, huh? Actually, this is a very important part of Scripture when it comes to faith. For example, notice how God strings Abraham out here- He says to him, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and sacrifice him as a burnt offering…” And if the sacrifice of his own son was not enough, think about what this sacrifice actually required.
First, Abraham had to chop the wood to broil his own son- then Isaac has to carry it himself! Next, God had the father and son travel three days to the site of the execution. Abraham couldn’t just take Isaac out in the back yard and get it over with- no, he has three long days to think it over.
And if all that wasn’t enough, notice that Isaac apparently started to get a little suspicious about the whole situation. He said in effect, “Dad, we’ve got the fire and the wood- where’s the sacrifice?” How do you think that you would feel if you were in Abraham’s position and your son asked you that question? But Abraham’s answer was tremendous- he said, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” It seems that Abraham’s faith in God was such that he believed God would keep His promises, even if it meant having to bring his son back from the dead.
This kind of faith is important in a Christian’s life because “…it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.'” (Romans 1:17 NIV). But remember- real Biblical faith is not “having faith in your faith.” Nor is faith something to be turned off and on when necessary. Faith is not a way of simply getting what we desire. Author Josh McDowell once explained real Biblical faith like this:
“The value of the Christian faith is not in the one believing, but in the One being believed in…it doesn’t matter how much faith you have, but rather who is the object of your faith.”
The Biblical kind of faith doesn’t put the emphasis on how much faith we have (see Matthew 17:20) but puts the emphasis on God “who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think…” (Ephesians 3:20 NKJV).
So when those dry spells hit and you feel like your spiritual life is lacking, try asking God to help you believe Him for those things He wants to do in your life. Remember, Hebrews 11:6 says, “You can never please God without faith, without depending on him. Anyone who wants to come to God must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely look for him.”