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Category: Life Events / Topics: Christian Life Circumstances, Life Events Courage Faith God Inspiration Jesus Prayer Religion Values

Stepping Out in Faith

by Stu Johnson

Posted: May 5, 2018

Discovering the meaning of faith in stories from life's journey…

No. 18 in the Thursday Morning Guy’s group series (see list)

Once again, I report from the Thursday Morning Guys group I’ve been attending at a local church. Each week one of the guys suggests a topic for discussion. The blogs that result are not minutes from the session, but an attempt to glean useful themes, to which I may add my own insights. The topic at the April 19 session focused on the subject of faith.

THE DISCUSSION STARTER

Topic suggested by one of the guys, shared in an email the night before

In the Bible we read, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.”  (Hebrews 11:1).

As we reflect back on past decisions and/or choice of options that you, family, and friends had prayed about and then “stepped out in faith”  and resulted significantly in your life’s history.

THE CONVERSATION

Unfortunately, the one who suggested the topic was not able to attend because of illness. Had he been there, he may have related several stories from his own experience. One has been shared in two previous sessions: While working for a company in Champaign-Urbana, the home of the University of Illinois, he heard of a job at Fermi Lab, the national research lab in Batavia, Illinois, in the western suburbs of Chicago. He liked the job he had, but over time friends and his small group from church encouraged him to apply.  Stepping out in faith, he applied for the job.  He got it, and within two weeks of making that decision, the company for which he had been working lost funding and unexpectedly closed—had he stayed, he would have been without a job. The new job turned out to be very fulfilling. It’s an example of faith requiring courage and confidence in the Lord’s leading.

What is faith?  As one of the guys said, “God’s and my definition of faith may not line up.”  That may happen when we treat God as a heavenly magician to whom we bring our requests, rather than a deep dependency on and trust in him who we are privileged to serve with the life he has given us. 

I related my own experience. For ten years, I was involved in the leadership of what was then called the Vanguard School, a wilderness program for incoming freshmen and transfer students at Wheaton College. The program was based at the college’s Honey Rock Camp in northern Wisconsin. Students were divided into groups of 8, with two leaders, before venturing into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, including rock climbing and rappelling at Lake of the Clouds in Porcupine Mountain State Park.

For many of the students, that was an activity that brought out a high level of fear, though we called it “perceived risk,” because safety measures ensured that it was a safe activity. For most students who had never done a rappel, the biggest challenge was to “step over the edge.”   

High on a cliff with a valley far below and Lake Superior visible through a cut to the left, that cliff edge could be an extremely daunting barrier. Yet, the combination of two ropes—one on which you descended, the other a “belay” line tied to your waist and fed out by a buddy at the top (who was secured by rope to a short-but-tough scrub oak tree).  The life-metaphor of stepping out in faith was powerful and even life-changing for many students.  If one could feel safe, and even exhilarated by the descent once over the edge, how much more can one rely on the help of a Heavenly Father who we can trust to have us “on belay”—and anticipate the adventure that awaits us on the rest of the journey once we’ve stepped over the edge?

One of the guys went through advanced training in the military, where they rappelled from cliffs, helicopters, right-side-up and upside-down!  He remembered one big guy who was afraid to make that first step. The instructor said, “look at my nose,” and with that focus he was able to go over the edge!  That image brings to mind a faith metaphor from a number of Bible references, including the beginning of Hebrews 12:2 (NLT): “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.”
Other comments in our conversation will be used to illustrate the principles that follow.

What personal experiences or observations can you add?

PRINCIPLES PROPOSED

I have listed five. You may have others you could add.

Faith is about trust

Just as the rappeler must trust the ropes and the belayer, the ultimate point of faith is trust in God.

  • As one of the guys pointed out, Jesus’ question to Peter, “do you love me?” is really about trust.
  • Another suggested that over time demands for trust grow. Life gets more complicated, but God is building our spiritual muscles . . . “the bigger my trial, the bigger God is.”

Faith is a journey, experienced one step at a time

Even when a person has a clear call from God to pursue something with a sense of mission, that point in time still represents only the beginning of a journey into the unknown.  Most of us are guided in small steps that often don’t reveal a pattern until we’ve been on the journey for some time.

  • One of the guys related his experience of uncertainty in law school. Filled with uncertainty, he described that as a time of stepping out in faith one course at a time.
  • Another told the story of a couple who, after much prayer over three years, decided to move. After coming to the area and searching without success for some time, they were ready to give up. Then, as God often seems to do, just as they were ready to go back home, they found a house that fit their needs, with the delightful bonus that is was also close to a son and grandson.
  • In the Vanguard program mentioned earlier, students were often aware of elements of the program they would experience from brochures or stories by former participants (confidence course, hiking, perhaps canoeing, rock climbing and rappelling, solo, a marathon back to Honey Rock camp followed by a day of service).  Yet, while the leaders knew the details, the students did not. It was revealed one step at a time and could vary from group to group and year to year. Even when hiking, rather than give a two- or three-day destination, a group would be given a large-scale Forest Service map that revealed only the next rendezvous point with the leaders (who could shadow their progress in case they got too far off track—no cell phones or GPS!).  And, if they did get off course, the next goal might be adjusted by the leaders so the ultimate goal (still unknown to the group) would still be reached.

Faith is a daily wellness program, not an emergency room

  • One of the guys told how God has had to rescue him during times when he messed things up, not spending time before God in prayer; even failing to respond to his wife’s challenges.
  • By “wellness” I do not mean an absence of problems. Instead, I am referring to a perspective on life that, while we cannot escape the brokenness of this fallen world, we can find joy in relationship with God. 
    • As one of the guys pointed out, J. B. Phillips went through extreme anxiety and depression while working on his paraphrase of the New Testament.  (See Trevor Saxby’s blog “The Wounded Healer” on Making History Now).
    • Another related a proverb that tells of a person in trouble who lays his problems on the table, along with others, hoping to exchange his problems for lesser ones.  After seeing all the problems on the table, he decides to take back his own.
    • Mother Teresa, noted another, went through years of depression, but she chose belief.
    • The Apostle Paul found joy despite a “thorn in his flesh.” He looked on it as check against his own pride. (See 2 Corinthians 12:1-10).
    • Despite deep grief at the loss of his four daughters in a sailing disaster (and that after he lost a son to pneumonia and all his investment property to the Chicago fire in 1871), Horatio Spafford was able to pen the words to the hymn “It is Well with My Soul.”

      When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
      When sorrows like sea billows roll;
      Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
      It is well, it is well with my soul
      (See more in a story by C. Michael Hawn.)

Don't ask "why?" but "what now?"

When facing a crisis, our first response is often to ask why God allowed it to happen. But, as several pointed out, that is the wrong question.  

  • One of the guys had worked through the Navigator’s topical Bible memory system. When he faced a long stretch of severe cognitive impairment, the 30 verses that he had memorized were among the first things to fill his consciousness and provide strength for that difficult journey.
  • Another of the guys had to hang on to his faith during three years of health problems, wondering why God did not answer prayers for healing. Then, he related, it became clear that it was better to ask God, “what do you want to come out of this?” or “what should I learn?”
  • Said another, who has experienced a number of potentially faith-shattering experiences, “Either I believe or I don’t —if yes, I have to accept his faithfulness and goodness, believe what he says, take one day at time . . . it could be worse.”

Jesus will still be there

Even when the journey takes us to places far from him (whether into the darkness of despair or the false light of self-centered ambition), Jesus will still be there when we are ready to return to him. It is we, not Jesus, who has stepped away.  “Some children take a long time to return home.”  (This quote, which I heard this week, was attributed to Billy Graham, but I could not verify it).

As one of the guys pointed out, Jesus went through so much . . . and he did it for our salvation. His joy is in those who put their faith in him.  The rest of the Hebrews passage used earlier tells the more complete story:

We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. (Hebrews 12:2 emphasis added)

What principles can you add from what you have learned, observed, and applied to your life?

GUIDANCE FROM SCRIPTURE (God’s written Word, the Holy Bible)

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen. . .   (From Hebrews 11, which goes on with great examples of faith)
The following represent a small sample of the hundreds of passages throughout the Bible related to faith and faithfulness. While those listed here focus on the human side, a general search on the term “faith” at BibleGateway includes many references to God’s faithfulness.

  • And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith. (Genesis 15:6)
  • When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the Lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before him. They put their faith in the Lord and in his servant Moses. (Exodus 14:31)
  • The Lord protects those of childlike faith; I was facing death, and he saved me. (Psalm 116:6)
  • And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? (Matthew 6:10)
  • Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2)
  • have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus. (Acts 20:21)
  • Let me say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world. (Romans 1:8)
  • This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” (Romans 1:17)
  • We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. (Romans 3:22)
  • For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. (Romans 10:10)
  • So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. (Romans 10:17)
  • Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. (Ephesians 3:12>)
  • Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:7)
  • Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.[a] Because of the joy[b] awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
  • Dear brothers and sisters,[a] when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. (James 1:2-3)
  • Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” (James 2:13 – in a larger context about faith and works in verses 14-26).
  • These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (1 Peter 1:7)
  • Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory. (1 Peter 1:21)
  • This means that God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently, obeying his commands and maintaining their faith in Jesus. (Revelation 14:12)

About the Scripture references: unless indicated otherwise, these are taken from the New Living Translation (NLT).  Links connect to BibleGateway.com, where you can see other translations, view the broader context, listen to an audio version and find other Bible resources.  Also check the resources available in the Enrich/Faith section of this site.


Stu Johnson is principal of Stuart Johnson & Associates, a communications consultancy in Wheaton, Illinois. He is publisher and editor of SeniorLifestyle, writes the InfoMatters blog on his own website and contributes articles for SeniorLifestyle.

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Posted: May 5, 2018

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