For the umpteenth time, I tapped the weather app on my phone, and once again saw an Air Quality Index (AQI) of over 170– unhealthy. I dropped my phone glumly and planned for another day confined to the walls of my house.
Typically, September is one of my favorite times of the year. Our scorching valley heat starts to wane and the mornings are delightfully cool. I take my mug out after the sun spreads its meager September light for some quiet mommy time. I plant mums. I eagerly await the start of autumn.
Not this year.
As I am sure you know, California wildfire season has raged more furiously this year than an any point in recent history. And the Creek Fire has hit very close to home as it tears through the local mountain community. We know many people who have been personally affected by the fire, and I have been to my local evacuation site to offer the little that I could.
So many people are suffering serious devastations from the Creek Fire, and the battle is not over yet.
I realize that being confined to my house because of hazardous air quality is nothing compared to the displaced and those suffering serious losses.
But in a pandemic that has already placed serious restrictions on where I can go and what I can do (though I understand why), facing weeks of an even tighter confinement really got me down.
I prayed for God to contain the fires, and then I had to admit to Him that I wanted them contained for myself in addition to the mountain community. Selfish as it sounds, I asked that he clear up the air so my family could go outside again.
And in my prayer I told God that I know blue sky is up there, and I had full faith that I would see blue sky again.
What a day that will be! I thought. I will praise Him with all my heart when I see that blue sky.
I will praise Him with all my heart when I see that blue sky?
Let’s put a pin in that statement and revisit it in a bit.
THE MANUAL FOR FAITH
I read the book of Hebrews for my September reading, and my pre-reading investigation led me to understand that the unknown author is trying to convince Jewish Christians that Jesus is greater than all that they hold dear from the Torah.
Jesus is compared to angels, to Moses, to priests, and to sacrifices, each time making the case for why Jesus surpasses them all.
And then the final chapters of Hebrews meditate around the idea of faith. In fact, our pastor refers to Hebrews as “the manual for faith.” And it is this subject, these verses, that sauntered into my heart and took up residence there while I battled the gloom of the smoky skies.
Chapter 11 starts with two definitions of faith:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen.Hebrews 11.1, ESV
The definition first pairs hope with assurance that our hope will manifest.
The second definition is the certainty or belief in things we cannot see, or at least we cannot see yet.
So, if we go back to my example about the blue skies, it stands that I had faith in that moment. I hoped for blue skies and felt assured that I would see them again. And though all I could see was a smoky sky, I was certain that the smoky sky would been replaced by a blue one.
And yet… (it seems I always have an “and yet”), I was saving my praise for the Lord until I saw the results I wanted.
Is faith complete with suspended praise? I would argue probably not.
Making praise conditional on the end result is a faith half-baked.
Does God only love us when he sees results? Certainly not.
So why would I hinge my faith on results?
And so, rather than waiting for the blue skies to say God you are SO good because you answered my prayer, I need to say Him, amidst to the smoky skies, God you are SO good. Always.
It’s hard to do.
Radical faith is the catalyst for unimaginable goodness.
TO WHOM SHOULD WE LOOK AS MODELS OF GREAT FAITH?
The author of Hebrews uses almost an entire chapter (11) to recount some of the hall-of-famers of faith in the first five books of the Bible (the Torah)— the text this particular audience will value.
And for each faith role model mentioned, I started asking myself questions:
- Did Abel wait for God to reward him before offering the firstborn of his flock? (Gen 4.4; Heb 11.4)
- Did Enoch only walk with God after God had blessed him with many sons and daughters? (Gen 5.22-24; Heb 11.5)
- Did Noah wait for the rains to start before building his ark? (Gen 6.11-22; Heb 11.7)
- Did Abraham wait for the bestowment of the promised land to be obedient to God? (Gen 15.18-21; Heb 11.8)
- Did Sarah wait until Isaac’s arrival to delight in the blessing of a child? (Gen 18.12; Heb 11.11)
Spoiler alert: the answer is no— a resounding no to all of the above.
These faith role models exhibited the important byproducts of faith: praise, obedience, and a close relationship with our Lord. Incomplete faith waits on results, whereas complete faith waits for nothing.
Incomplete faith waits on results, whereas complete faith waits for nothing.
The chapter goes on to list many more examples of great faith in early believers: Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jepthath are all mentioned for their great faith. All of these individuals are what the author calls the “cloud of witnesses” as he/she begins the next section.
WE LOOK TO THE PERFECTER OF OUR FAITH
The first two verses in chapter 12 are so rich in poignance that I had to create a graphic for them:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely,
and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy that was set before him
endured the cross, despising the shame,
and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12.1-1. ESV).
The fourth line holds so much for us to unpack. First, Jesus is the founder of faith in that before him, salvation came from adherence to the law. Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians that “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law…So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3.24-25).
Faith is the gift that was bought and paid for by the body of Christ. Faith is a gift; the least I can do is not take it for granted– not continue to offer incomplete faith. And this fact ushers in the next part of that line: Jesus is the perfecter of our faith. Faith isn’t a black-or-white entity; it is not always “you have it or you don’t.” We can improve the faith we have. We can make our faith whole and complete.
And how do we perfect our faith? The answer is in that same fourth line– we look to Jesus.
And how do we perfect our faith? We look to Jesus.
We remember what he endured in faith to atone for our sins and save our souls. We remember this when we are enduring a long race– even when the road ahead stretches farther that the eye can see.
We remember Jesus’ endurance when the smoky skies settle heavy for days on end with no hint of blue above.
Ash may be falling from the sky, but we need not let it coat our hearts.
with His love,