Four times the Bible says: “…the just shall live by (his) faith” [Habakkuk 2:4], and elsewhere, it also says: “…for we (believers, or the just) walk by faith, and not by sight” [2 Corinthians 5:7]. These are just some of the many verses in Scripture emphasising the truth that faith is an essential virtue in the Christian walk. It’s one of the very few terms explicitly defined in the Bible [Hebrews 11:1], and it’s a non-negotiable if we desire to please God with our lives [Hebrews 11:6]. Time and again, Scripture reminds us that God never gives the believer the whole picture, He makes promises, and the believer takes a step based on His word [Romans 10:17]. Often in those Bible stories, the circumstances of the believer were unfavourable. Yet, without guarantees, they intentionally moved their focus from what they saw and placed their trust in the One beckoning them to take a leap of faith.
Recently, I heard a sermon on faith, and the preacher seeking to emphasise his point said: “Faith is spelt R-I-S-K”. Such statements are best understood through the lens of experience, not intellect. However, it’s essential to grasp his emphasis: “you will have to risk something if you want to obey or follow God”. Until recently, I never understood this principle and being a risk-averse person with a propensity to be very logical, I never willingly took a leap of faith when the stakes were high. Unfortunately, something else was equally true about my Christian walk: I never experienced God coming through for me when the stakes were high either. I don’t know any Christian who wouldn’t want to experience God come through for them in an undeniable way. But sadly, too many of us lack the requisite faith to take the risks which would make such experiences a reality.
Jesus often bemoaned His disciples for possessing little faith or lacking faith altogether. His encounters teach us that just having faith isn’t sufficient; the quality of our faith matters too. Essentially, the greater our faith is, the greater the exploits we will accomplish. Therefore, it’s essential to grow our faith. As with any virtue, faith grows as we exercise it. We can appreciate that becoming a person of great faith doesn’t happen overnight, and in truth, few people ever display great faith. During His earthly ministry, Jesus only identified two people as possessing great faith [Matthew 8:5-13, Matthew 15:22-28]. However, Scripture holds up Abraham as the model of faith [Galatians 3:6-9]. I’ve recently been studying the inception of Abraham’s story, and I find so much encouragement in the realisation that Abraham didn’t start with great faith.
In Genesis 11, we read that Abraham emigrated from Ur with his father and nephew, initially heading for Canaan, but instead, he settled in Haran [Genesis 11:31]. There’s nothing particularly unusual about that verse, but seen in context, it reveals something about the beginnings of Abraham’s walk with God. Genesis 12:1-3 reveals that God had instructed Abraham to leave his country, his kindred, and his father’s house to a land He would show him. Stephen tells us in Acts 7:2 that Abraham received that instruction while he was in Ur before he moved to Haran. However, Genesis 11:31 reveals that Abraham only obeyed one of the three instructions he received. He emigrated with his father and nephew when God called him to go alone, and he settled in Haran even though God hadn’t told him that was his inheritance.
Further on in the story, Abraham eventually leaves Haran after his father’s death. When he arrives in Canaan, God speaks to him a second time, revealing Canaan as Abraham’s inheritance [Genesis 12:4-7]. While in Canaan, a famine ensues. Instead of staying in the land God had promised him and trusting God to provide for him there – which would have been an act of faith, Abraham went looking for greener pastures in Egypt. That decision resulted in a moral failure which compromised his wife [Genesis 12:10-20]. There were further consequences as that foray into Egypt is most likely where Abraham acquired Hagar. Hagar later became Abraham’s concubine as his patience waned and bore him Ishmael, whose descendants fight the children of Abraham’s promised heir to this day [Genesis 16].
Yet, Abraham’s failings didn’t deter him from exercising his faith. By Genesis 22, we find the same man willing to sacrifice his only child, whom he’d waited a century to meet, because of his great faith in God [Hebrews 11:17-19]. He’d later be called a friend of God and a man whose faith made him righteous [James 2:23]. Abraham’s story shows that we can start where we are with God, with our little faith. Every time we take a risk to obey God because of our confidence in Him, we please Him and invoke a promise [Hebrews 11:6]. And every time we experience God’s faithfulness when we place our trust in Him, our faith grows. Abraham’s story is also a story of God’s faithfulness. God never gave up on him and never counted his faults against him. When his story is recounted in Hebrews 11:8-19, you might be tempted to imagine a man who flawlessly obeyed God, and he did in one sense because God chose to forget his failings [Psalm 103:10-14].
If you find yourself amongst those of little faith, take courage. God gave us Abraham’s story as a template to emulate, not a one-off. He started as an idol worshipper [Joshua 24:2], so if you believe in Jesus, you already have a better starting point. Risk it; take that leap of faith you’ve been dreading, and watch the God of Abraham come through for you.