How does anyone just have faith?

Written by Charles Ekong

27/12/2021

Hang around Christians long enough, and some well-meaning person is going to tell you to “just have faith” when you’re in a quandary. Is it just me, or are there others who find that a little vague? Faith in what? That what I want to happen will happen? I know we’re meant to walk by faith and not by sight [2 Corinthians 5:7], but how exactly do we do that? How does having faith work? For years, I couldn’t find satisfactory answers to these questions. Maybe it’s my bent, but I struggle to adhere to instructions I don’t understand, even when the integrity of the source is undeniable. As my ignorance turned into frustration and ambivalence, I figured living by faith was impractical. But, I have a different perspective now. So, I thought it’d be worthwhile to share some things I’ve found helpful.

First, what exactly is faith? The Bible explains that faith is the confidence that what we hope for will happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see [Hebrews 11:1]. Additionally, without faith, we cannot please God. Anyone who comes to God must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him [Hebrews 11:6]. Scripture says many other things about the importance of faith, but what I found most pertinent was that faith, my faith, is the key to any victory I seek in this world [1 John 5:4]. These three verses emphasised the centrality of faith in experiencing a relationship of note with God. I also realised that my faith authorises God’s indomitable power to act on the situations I face. That power produces extraordinary results in a believer’s life.

Consequently, I was determined to understand how faith works. I want to know God, walk by faith and experience the extraordinary. Thankfully, the Bible has numerous examples of faithful people who achieved remarkable things with God’s power. I found their stories helpful because they laid out a pattern for living by faith. One of these patterns is showcased in the story of King Jehoshaphat when an alliance of three nations attacked Judah [2 Chronicles 20]. Jehoshaphat was facing an imminent existential threat to his life and his kingdom, and he was utterly helpless. That resonates with me because I know what it’s like to receive a bad report and be utterly powerless to do anything about it. I’ve experienced the dread that ensues when disaster is imminent. 

Scripture records that, like me, Jehoshaphat was afraid,  but I find his response very instructive. Upon hearing the imminent threat to his kingdom, Jehoshaphat declared a national fast. He didn’t call his generals or allies. God was his first and only resort. His prayer in 2 Chronicles 20:5-12 is worth a study. Not only did he magnify and exalt God above his situation, but he also reminded God of His promises, His integrity and His justice. He made it clear to God and everyone else that he had no plan B. That was an illustration of humbling oneself under God’s mighty hand [1 Peter 5:6]. After he finished praying, he waited. He did nothing else until he got a response from God [2 Chronicles 20:14-17]. 

As I studied the prayer, it was evident that God had to respond. When the response came, it was a comforting prophetic message assuring Jehoshaphat victory over his enemies. He wouldn’t even have to lift a sword. Rather than doubt the implausibility of what he heard, the king and his people fell to the ground and worshipped God, and afterwards, they broke out in praise. God showed up spectacularly for Jehoshaphat. He annihilated the advancing enemies without Jehoshaphat or his men lifting a finger. It took the king and his people three days to gather the booty left behind by their vanquished foes. The victory demonstrated God’s power, and it was also a reward for Jehoshaphat’s faith [Romans 10:11]. It also serves as an object lesson in practical faith in times of crisis. 

As I mentioned earlier, I found a pattern in this story that helps me understand what walking by faith looks like and how to put it into practice in my life. These are the steps I found:

One: Jehoshaphat’s first step was to turn to God. That showed his conviction that God exists and could help him in his hour of need [Psalm 46:1]. He was so confident in God that he didn’t seek help elsewhere even though calamity was imminent. I’d probably have sought a backup plan, just in case plan A fails. But living by faith means putting your complete trust in God alone regardless of circumstance because, like Jehoshaphat, you understand that when God shows up, you don’t need anyone else. Jehoshaphat’s prayer explains why he didn’t need anyone else. He believed his God was infinitely greater to his enemies, and because he knew who he was before God, he could pray to God with boldness [Hebrews 4:16]. So, it’s not enough to know who God is. We must also know who we are to Him. These revelations give us confidence in adversity. How big is your God? Do you know how much He values you?

Two: Jehoshaphat waited until he received a response. Here’s where I often wobble. Waiting is hard, and typically, the passage of time makes situations worse. In those moments, I want to help God along, even though I know that rarely ends well [Genesis 16:1-4].  What we genuinely believe is tested in the waiting. We’re time-bound, God isn’t, but it takes faith to believe that God can redeem any situation. Wouldn’t a sovereign, omniscient God also have impeccable timing? I’ve also realised that waiting to hear is crucial because faith comes by hearing from God [Romans 10:17]. Without hearing from God, there’s no basis for faith. Therefore, we need to be able to hear God as individuals and also as a church community. Many of us try to outsource this aspect of our Christian walk. But how can you have a relationship with God if you don’t hear from Him? Is this an area of your Christian walk you need to examine? We know from experience that it’s impossible to have a healthy relationship with anyone without two-way communication. 

Three: Jehoshaphat’s response to the word from God concerning his predicament. It’s striking how the disposition of the people shifted from trepidation to praise and worship when they heard from God. The circumstance hadn’t changed, their enemies were probably closer, yet the people were jubilant after the word came [2 Chronicles 20:18-19]. That was a clear demonstration of faith. The word of God seldom changes my disposition. I usually remain browbeaten by my circumstance despite a comforting word from God as I vacillate between belief and unbelief. Jehoshaphat understood that what God says must happen [Isaiah 55:10-11], and no one could thwart God’s purpose [Isaiah 14:27]. That’s why the people responded with worship and praise. Can I demonstrate the same confidence, or do I have to see things change before I believe, worship and praise God?

Four: Jehoshaphat did as God instructed. God’s word to us in adversity often comes with instructions. It might be “go wash in the Jordan…” [2 Kings 5:10] or “walk around Jericho…” [Joshua 6:3-4] and so on. These instructions typically bring the answer to our prayers. However, they may require us to do things that seem silly or hurt our pride. We’ll require child-like faith in the One who has instructed us to obey promptly and perfectly and leave the outcome to Him. How often do we neglect the instruction that would have brought us victory because we didn’t believe God’s word? How often does our pride prevent us from obeying a simple instruction?

These four steps give me a pattern I can apply to decisions in my life even when there’s no threat of calamity. We’re to walk by faith at all times. They also reveal where I’m falling short in my Christian walk and why I’m yet to experience some results. But crucially, I’m no longer perplexed when someone says: “…just have faith”. I can go through my checklist: have I surrendered the situation to God in prayer? Have I heard back from Him? If I haven’t, I continue to pray until He answers [Matthew 7:7-11]. It’s worth saying here that we’ll usually find what God wants to communicate in His word, and anything we believe God has said must align with His written word. Once I’ve received the word, do my actions show that I believe it? Are there any instructions I need to obey? Once I’ve done my part, I wait on God based on His faithfulness and with the understanding that God’s integrity backs His word [Numbers 23:19]. With God’s help, this is how I intend to live by faith.

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