Having dealt with the unbelievably destructive power of unbelief, we now consider ‘THE UNBELIEVABLY CONSTRUCTIVE POWER OF BELIEF!’ Here follows Part 2 of what has grown into a trilogy (wink)…
Again, we’re talking about faith in GOD, who has so graciously revealed himself in creation (‘the first Bible’); human conscience; and history, i.e. in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth who lived among us, died and rose from the dead! All this, in immense love to rescue us from ourselves, sin, and self-destruction and then to bless us with an eternal love-relationship with himself. [Reminder: we’re not talking here about the power of positive thinking (Norman Vincent Peale), nor ‘faith in faith’ (Kenneth Hagin and his ‘word of faith’ heresy), nor innate ‘belief’ (‘new ager’ Oprah Winfrey and panentheist Fr. Richard Rohr)]
(1) To clarify biblical faith, we turn firstly to Luke 7:1-10, the historian’s account of a very special Roman centurion serving in Capernaum on the North West shore of Galilee, who came to believe in the Messiah. Roman centurions were seconded for administration purposes during a very turbulent period in Palestine’s history. It’s interesting that all 5 Roman centurions mentioned in the NT are men of standing and visible integrity, picked for their character and strength (Dr. E.M. Blaiklock). It’s not strange to find this particular officer attracted to Judaism and its lofty views of God and stern moral conduct – many Romans had long discovered the unsatisfying nature of the Roman and Greek gods. This man seems to have gained some insight into the arrogance of so many Jewish leaders, suspicious of the Nazarene’s messianic claims. In fact, he sees something of the worth and wonder of Jesus’ person – thus he comes to seek him with courtesy, reverence and trust, on behalf of his beloved dying servant. He certainly understood that Jesus had come not only for the salvation of Jews but also Gentiles who were receptive to him. He asks some Jewish friends to approach Jesus for the healing of his servant. In glad response, Jesus had almost reached his house when the officer sends new messengers to Jesus not to bother coming to his home, feeling unworthy of his sheer presence. As a military man of some experience he understands how authority works, so he says: “Just say the word, and my servant will be healed…” When Jesus heard this, he was mightily impressed… He turned to the following crowd and said, ‘I tell you, even in Israel I haven’t found faith like this.’ When the centurion’s emissaries returned home, they found the servant fully restored to health! (v. 6ff/CEB). As South Africa’s superb exegete of yesteryear, J. Norval Geldenhuys, has said (commenting on the centurion’s deep, humble and whole-hearted faith in Christ), ‘Today this is still the only way to receive the divine blessings – we must realize our own utter unworthiness, but at the same time cherish a steadfast faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord.’ In the context of this post, a clear example of the unbelievably constructive power of belief in God!
(2) Biblical faith comes in the context of a great prior, divine love. Here we think of the apostle John’s story, beautifully elucidated in ch. 3 of his testimony to Christ. Many years ago as a young man I heard the renowned American evangelist Dr. Billy Graham preach in Johannesburg South Africa, packing out the Wanderers cricket stadium with folk spilling on to the grass pitch right up to the podium. This was during the Apartheid days, the evangelist bravely insisting on addressing a multi-cultural audience – fortunately our government relented because of popular demand! At that time a popular movie, ”Love Story,” was doing the rounds. Dr. Graham entitled his message, ‘The Greatest Love Story Ever Told,’ basing it on John’s pivotal Jn. 3:16 text. As a believer I was deeply moved by that simple message – on the other hand a fine family member I had invited along, was impressed but remains indifferent to Jesus’ loving claims to this day. His response confirms the message of Pt. 1, i.e. the unbelievably destructive power of unbelief in the face of Jesus’ glorious revelation and his loving call.
(3) Let’s take a glimpse at the great apostle Paul’s theology of saving faith: writing expansively about ‘The Faith of Abraham’ (Rom. 4:1-25), we read that the aged ‘Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact his faith grew stronger (his was a growing faith), and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises…’ (v. 20-21/NLT). To this kind of persevering faith, as Abraham’s spiritual seed, we too are called.
By way of practical application, let’s take a look at the faith of two outstanding figures in more recent Church history. They and their devoted families were certainly flawed (as we all are), but hugely faithful and fruitful!
A) Adoniram Judson (1788-1850), American Baptist missionary to Burma, today Myanmar. Of him John Piper wrote ‘He died a thousand times and lived!’ In tropical Burma he and his loved ones suffered multiple diseases such as cholera and malaria. His wife had to take care of their young children when Adoniram was imprisoned for his preaching. Judson underwent total burn-out as a result of his demanding ministry, to the point of digging and sitting beside his own grave. Happily married three times, his wives lost more than seven of their children to disease and weakness. Judson, having married a third time, himself became severely ill, dying alone and unknown at the age of 62, his coffin let into the ocean off the East African coast en route to America. His ministry and that of those following in his footsteps left a massive harvest: 3,700 congregations, 617,000 members and 2 million affiliates! (portrait below)
B) So also Englishman Dr. James Hudson-Taylor (1832-1905) and his family, founders of the famed China Inland Mission. Called to China at the age of 21, Dr. Taylor sailed for that great land to share the Good News at all costs. He learned the power of faith and prayer from his mother and sister. His mission motto was, ‘God’s work done in God’s way will never lack his supplies!’ By faith alone he planted 20 mission stations, enlisted 840 missionaries, and raised some $400 million from the Western Church for the work. It’s estimated that his ministry resulted in 125,000 converts of whom he personally baptized some 50,000! All this while suffering poor sight and sickness, many robberies, depression, his wife’s many illnesses and the loss of 4 children. [A missionary friend of ours in Hong Kong is presently writing her Ph.D on Taylor’s Song of Songs meditations – I learned something of their richness at a silent retreat in our metro some years ago]
From these two faithful mountain-movers, back to Jesus. His frustrated disciples, when confronted with a demon-possessed boy whom they were unable to help, asked the Master why they couldn’t cure the lad: “Because you have little faith… I assure you that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed (so tiny), you could say to this mountain, ‘Go from here to there,’ and it will go. There will be nothing that you can’t do!” (Mt. 17:20/CEB). I don’t know about you, but this statement embarrasses me and (I believe) much of today’s Church no end! Hence in Pt. 3 we’ll think about how to ‘grow our faith’ under God, in our present post-modern world.
[In the mean time, I’m sure you’ll identify with the soulful prayer below]