This article was originally published in the January issue of HomeLife.
Have you ever asked God to increase your faith? As the Twelve once asked Jesus, we, too, readily and rightly ask for it, but do we know what it asks of us? If we receive it and live in it, how will our lives be different?
Faith is the belief that God does what He says He will do. Perhaps nowhere is this message more clearly communicated than in Hebrews chapter 11, where the record of those who lived by faith is kept for us. Neatly summarizing Israel’s history, the author of Hebrews points us to the example of those who looked toward a dimly lit hope, who clung to the whispers of a deliverer generations before he appeared. From Abel to the prophets, we’re reminded of the faithful who placed their hope in a shadow of what was to come.
Often, our concept of the life lived in faith is that we would pass our days in serene contemplation of and surrender to God. “If I had more faith,” we muse, “I would sail through trials. I would navigate difficult decisions with peace in my heart. I would effortlessly receive and apply instruction from the Scriptures.” By this understanding, faith is a feeling or an attitude, almost a Zen-like equanimity. But the faith portrayed in Hebrews 11 is something altogether different.
“Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen” (v. 1). Assurance. Conviction. As an older translation puts it, faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (KJV). Faith isn’t a mere feeling. It’s a thing of substance, a piece of evidence that testifies to the truth of a claim. Faith reveals itself in substantive, evidential ways. Rather than an emotion or a state of the mind, faith is defined and demonstrated in Hebrews 11 as an act of the will. It’s a conscious decision to trust what is invisible, and not merely to just trust, but to act according to that trust. Arguably, Hebrews 11 is a leisurely exploration of the assertion of James that “Faith without works is dead” (Jas. 2:26). We see in its history lesson how faith compels its bearer to act.
Thus, Abel’s faith expresses itself in the action of the pleasing sacrifice. Thus, Enoch’s faith expresses itself in the action of righteous living amid an unrighteous generation. Thus, Noah’s faith expresses itself in the action of building a boat in the desert. It’s Moses acting in defiance of Pharaoh, Abraham acting on God’s command to leave Ur, Rahab acting sacrificially to save the spies, Gideon acting to overthrow Midian against all odds. Be careful about asking God to increase your faith. Increased faith implies increased sacrifice. It implies not only assent to God’s will but costly action that corresponds to bringing about His will on earth as it is in heaven.
Hebrews 11 doesn’t paint a portrait of the good life, as the world understands it. Rather, it shows us great faith working itself out through great adversity; great faith clinging to hope even when story lines don’t resolve neatly before the person in question is “gathered to his people” (Gen. 49:33). Witness Joseph’s faith in action: dying in exile, he whispers, “carry my bones up from here” (Gen. 50:25). Behold Abraham, promised descendants innumerable, going to his grave with a single heir to his name.
The faithful in Hebrews 11 were willing to endure suffering, uncertainty, and persecution in this life because they had dropped anchor in a future hope. They understood that this world wasn’t their home, that a better city awaited them. They were students not in the art of Zen, but in the art of delayed gratification. Faith expresses itself most Christianly when it defers present comfort for the sake of present steadfastness; when it defers present ease for the sake of obedience that pleases God.
Though the faithless demand to be given a sign, the faithful recognize faith itself as the sign. Evidence. Substance. A visible testimony to an invisible truth, expressed in action. The faithful don’t merely feel, they obey. So, by all means, ask God to increase your faith. Ask with the expectation that Hebrews 11 speaks to you, that with increased faith you will receive increased opportunities for costly obedience that pleases the Lord. But you will also receive increased desire to please Him. Without faith it’s impossible to please God (11:6), but with faith it’s possible to please Him!
An increased faith yields an increased desire to please God that crushes any desire to please man. It yields prayers populated with fewer requests for outcomes and more requests to be conformed to the image of Christ, no matter what. It yields boldness in uncertainty and patience in suffering. It waits on the Lord and it foregos present ease willingly. Yes, ask for increased faith. It will mean the abandonment of pursuing the good life. It will also mean the wholehearted pursuit of something better.
Want to explore more biblical truths from the Book of Hebrews? Grab a copy of Jen Wilkin’s new 10-session study, Better. You’ll walk through Hebrews verse by verse and explore how God “provided something better for us” in the person of Jesus Christ (Heb. 11:40). Learn more at Lifeway.com/Better.