“Who through faith conquered kingdoms…”What a line with which to start the day!
It makes me think of Joshua, I suppose, and the faith that met the challenge and potentially mind-numbing fear of “giants in the land” with the deep assurance that God would see him through.
It’s a quote from Hebrews 11, that amazing picture of what faith is and what it does. Here’s the context: [There are those]“Who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again.” (Hebrews 11:33-35)
“Living by faith” sounds like a perilous enterprise!
Of course, anyone can have “faith” when the sun is shining, and you have plenty of money in the bank, but the language here is rather of conflict and victory. Look at those verbs: “conquered… gained…shut… quenched… became powerful.”
So who are they? Who are those “who through faith conquer kingdoms”?
Faith has been badly misunderstood. Many would agree with the little boy who said, “Faith is believing what you know isn’t true.” Or they think faith is the opposite of rational thought, as if faith is nothing more than positive thinking or wishful dreaming. Many people make the mistake of confusing faith with feeling so that if they don’t “feel” it, it must not be true.
The writer knows all this. So he introduces us to men and women whose lives of faith may inspire us. And almost always they are those those whose faith has been made strong through hard times. Faith that has never been “through it” is only a notion. But right now, I don’t need a theology book about faith. I need to know how it works.
And so I read this chapter and think, “God, help me to live like that!” The disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5). And I just want to agree. And do life that way.
Sometimes, we think that “faith” is a sort of ticket of entry, a moment at the beginning of our Christian lives; and after that, we just figure things out using brains and bank balance, like everyone else.
But the Bible tells us that, “The righteous will live by his faith,” (Habakkuk 2:4), and we are told that the gospel reveals a righteousness that is “by faith from first to last” (Romans 1:17). It’s all the way through!
All that we do, we do by faith. And so we read Hebrews 11 as a list of those who lived against the current of their times and who sought God and His promises. And although they were separated by time, nationality, gender and personal circumstances, one common factor links them all up: “These were all commended for their faith.” (Hebrews 11:39)
Now down deep in our hearts, we believe a lie that this sort of stuff is restricted to a few “special” people and we could never qualify to have our names added to this list. But that’s the very reason this chapter is in the Bible, so that we would know that these are ordinary men and women who did extraordinary things simply because they had faith in God. They are made of the same stuff as us. The life of faith is within the reach of every believer. If we desire it, we can live like this too.
As Merton put it: “You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”
And that’s what God is waiting for. He’s waiting to see that spark of push and to say: “Yes! That’s my boy. That’s my girl! Those are my kids. They all belong to me.” I think that God simply loves it when his people dare to trust Him. He loves it so much that he bears witness to the world that His people belong to him.
So what is it, to live by faith? It is to be brave and take risks! You don’t have to have it all figured out to move forward. You just have to know the one who walks with you. In The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom wrote:
“This is what the past is for! Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see… Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”