A friend recently mentioned to me that he wished he had faith like mine: to willingly pursue long-term missions and forgo my career in marketing and comfortability at home. But for some reason, his statement deeply grieved my heart.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the underlying wrestle behind his comment, what I’ve come to conclude is this: those who decide to do overseas long-term missions are seen as men and women of extraordinary faith (‘super apostle’ even)– as if we have a different caliber of faith that propels us into our calling. This type of faith is seen as something to be attained, earned, even gifted. To many, it is not something that every believer can achieve– only the select few.
As I reflect on the past 23 years, all I see is that my life has been riddled with small and meager yeses. Nothing out of the ordinary. But in the midst of these small yeses, Jesus has moved in extraordinary ways to bring me from glory to glory. Some might say that kind of boldness to obey in and of itself is great faith. So what I want to dissect is simply this: what exactly is faith and what does it take to reach an extraordinary level of it?
The Foundations of Faith
Oswald Chambers writes, “Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One Who is leading. It is a life of faith, not of intellect and reason, but a life of knowing Who makes us ‘go’.”
I used to consider myself to be a woman of faith, but in this season of waiting to get launched back into the mission field, I’ve realized I’ve been fooling myself. What I considered to be ‘faith’ was actually masked fear. I always thought, “I have faith because I am willing to go to any country that God will tell me to go to.” But God asked me, “Tiff, are you willing to pack up your bags and leave right now even if you don’t know where you’re going?”
As the months back home have continued, I’ve hungered to have a faith that is fearless, reckless, and childlike. I want a faith without abandon. I want a faith that is extraordinary. But where does that begin?
Faith is instructed to us as confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (Heb 11:1). We must hold fast to the promises of God with an unwavering resolution to have faith. What must be done for that to take place? I believe it boils down to three things: knowing fully who God is, knowing fully who you are in Christ, and knowing His promise of eternity.
1. Know Him
It’s hard enough to believe in a God we cannot see. It’s even harder to trust in a God that we don’t even know. The first step into true, unadulterated faith has to be that we know who is leading us– and by know, I mean know fully His character and His power.
In Luke 8: 22-56, we can see that Jesus, God in the flesh, displays complete dominion over physical circumstances, spiritual entities, and our physical bodies. He is a God who has complete control over everything.
Control over our circumstances
Jesus first tells his disciples that they will travel together to the other side of a lake. But as they get into a boat and set sail, a storm wreaks havoc on the lake and the boat starts to flood with water. The disciples cry out to Jesus in the chaos for Him to rescue them, but in their despair, Jesus rebukes them after immediately calming down the wind and raging waters.
He says to them, “Where is your faith?”
I can only imagine Jesus staring at them with disheartened compassion in His eyes, a longing in His heart for them to truly trust that He is who He says He is. Almost a loving disappointment. Jesus had just promised them that He was going to travel with them across the lake, but in the storm, the disciples completely forgot that Jesus was in control– just because He was sleeping.
How often do we, especially in a time of waiting, think that God has suddenly lost control of the universe He has created? Just because things are not according to our timing, expectation, or plan, we begin to lose our faith in the trustworthiness of God and run around like a chicken without a head. “God, where are you in the midst of this chaos? Why are you sleeping while everything around me is falling apart?”
Jesus is able to rebuke the wind and waters to an immediate stillness. Instantaneous, without hesitation, the circumstances around the disciples are calmed. Jesus will continue to ask us, “Child, where is your faith?”, as if it is something like a tool that must be brought out when situations require it. By faith, we believe that God has created the world we live in, and by faith, we must trust that He has complete authority over our circumstances.
Control over the spiritual realm
After Jesus and the disciples sailed across the lake, Jesus restores a demon-possessed man. Even the demons in the man know who Jesus is, calling Him “Son of the Most High God.” This man had been tormented for a long time, shunned and probably labeled as the town’s “crazy person”. And the text says that Jesus “gave [the demons] permission” to leave the man and go into pigs; and the man was fully healed and in his right mind.
This short excerpt is a powerful display of who Jesus really is. Even the demons recognize Him and ask for Jesus’ permission to leave instead of being blasted into oblivion. We see here that Jesus, even in His mortal body, has complete authority over all spiritual forces.
Control over our physical bodies
And lastly, we see Jesus display His authority and control over our physical bodies. Jesus returns to the town and a synagogue leader, Jairus, pleads with Jesus to heal his dying 12-year old daughter. But on his way, a woman who had bled for 12 years came up behind Jesus and was immediately healed because she touched the edge of Jesus’ cloak. This woman believed that Jesus was who He said He was – thought maybe not fully understanding He was God incarnate -, but she knew He was a powerful man. “Just a touch”, she thought. “Just the hem of His robe will be enough for me to be healed.” And in the presence of witnesses, she tells her testimony of why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Jesus turns and says to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.”
Seeing this miracle, knowing that his own daughter was dying, probably stirred up Jairus’ faith. “If He can fully heal this unclean woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, then He can also heal my 12-year old daughter.” Can you imagine the faith that was stirring up in Jairus’ heart, the apprehension upon hearing Jesus tell him “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed,” even though his daughter had just died? Jesus displays again the complete power He has over the physical realm, and He commands the dead child to get up, and she rises.
The art of surrender
To have faith, and even grow greater faith, requires us to surrender control and know Who is in control. We have to relax and know that while we cannot expect to control the unexpected, God is in control of everything; and therefore we can expect that he will be faithful to the promises he has given to us. He promises to lead us through the lake, but He never promises an easy journey. He promises to heal and deliver, but it’s never according to our own timing. Having faith requires us to know that He who has created the world has complete control over all things and trust in His goodness.
2. Know Yourself
I believe the second key component into having a greater level of faith is knowing your true identity in Christ. Do you know that you are truly a child of God, an heir to His kingdom (Rom 8:17)? Do you believe that He has adopted us into sonship through Jesus Christ (Eph 1:5)? Again, faith is the assurance about what we do not see, and the assurance of our sonship is through the deposit of the Holy Spirit that resides within us (Rom 8:16).
When you truly believe you are a son and daughter of the living God, fear subsides and hope steps in (1 John 4:18). Our eyes are unveiled to who our Father really is: a Father that always provides, always protects, and always loves. Luke 11:5-13 displays the nature of Jehovah Jireh, God who provides:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
As children of God, we have the ability to move our Father’s heart. Our prayers can move His hands. Our laughter can move His smile. Our sorrows can move His tears. We can come before Father God in all our brokenness, and He will still call us blameless, clean, washed new by the blood of Jesus. He does not look upon us with disdain or condemnation, but He calls us higher into the royal priesthood that has been declared over our lives since the beginning of time. You are fearfully and wonderfully made in the very image of God to reflect his holiness, beauty, fearlessness, and creativity. You are His child, and nothing can take that away.
When you know your sonship by knowing your Father, fear and passivity bows to make way for courage and boldness in faith. You can ask for anything in His name and it will be given to you. For if you know God is on your side, who and what could possibly stand against you?
3. Know His Promises
And lastly, we can have faith by knowing what His promises are and hoping He will fulfill them. Romans 8:24 says, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees. But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
We see in Hebrews 11 that the ancients who were commended for their faith seized the very promises of God and held steadfast to them, even though many of them did not see the fulfillment of these promises in their lifetime. However, they believed that God was good and faithful to His word, they knew they were called by Him and were His children, and in turn, they were able to do crazy exploits for His name.
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.
By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
By faith Moses chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.
By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.
By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.
By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword;whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.
Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection.
Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
All of these great men and women of faith in Hebrews 11 have one thing in common. What pushed them to trust in God even when circumstances didn’t make sense? What caused them to still say yes to where God led even though it meant they would be propelled them into greater depths of uncertainty? What encouraged them to live a fearless life, no matter the persecution and possibility of death?
The common denominator of their faith is this: an eternal perspective of hope in the things to come.
Looking to What is Ahead
There is an account of a stoning of Paul in Acts 14:8-20 that always blows my mind. Paul and Barnabus heal a man in the name of Jesus, but the people instead worship them as their gods instead of God himself. And although Barnabus and Paul tried to stop them, the people would not listen. Instead, they stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he just got up and went back into the city.
The first time I read this, I sat there thinking, “What kind of man just keeps on preaching after being stoned to near death? What propels this kind of faith in a man?”
And I am reminded of how Jesus encountered Paul. Paul, known as Saul, was an infamous Christian murderer, but Jesus stopped Paul on the way to Damascus, blinded him, and told Paul to get up and go into the city and wait for instruction. And Paul went without knowing what was next. In Ephesians, Paul described himself as “an ambassador in chains”, asking for prayer to declare the gospel fearlessly, as he should.
Paul was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, imprisoned, but he never stopped doing what Jesus told him to do: preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. Noah, Moses, Abraham, Sarah, David – the ancestors of our faith- were also able to live lives of courageous faith because their perspective wasn’t focused on their present situation and struggle: they were focused on the long-term. They were saying ‘yes’ to things they didn’t understand at that time, but they knew it was unto something greater.
It’s so easy to focus on the here and now, but our faith requires us to be assured in the things unseen. Our faith requires us to take great leaps into the unknown, to look towards what is ahead, and to cling to the promise of eternal joy that is coming. And that prize is Jesus himself.
When we have an eternal perspective, everything makes sense. That job/relationship/school/ministry/calling/family/dream God wants you to give up to follow Him– it is painful at the time. But in the light of eternity, your sacrifice will change the course of generations to come because our hope is not in the present situation, but our hope lies in the return of our King and bringing heaven down to earth.
This is why martyrs will gladly give up their lives for Jesus. This is why missionaries will gladly give up their jobs to fulfill the Great Commission. Each and every sacrifice made in His name is unto the ushering of His return.
There is a song by Matt Gilman called “The New Jerusalem” that sums up this heart cry, and I invite you to listen to it. Church, there will be a day when the Bridegroom returns to marry His Bride. There will be a day when every longing in our hearts will be fulfilled because we will return to oneness with our Lover.
When every tear will be wiped away. There will be no sorrow or pain. There will be no more night. All things will be made new– it will be a brand new day. And in righteousness, He’ll reign. And the Lamb will be the light.
Behold! The tabernacle of God will be man, and He will be our God. And we will be his people. And the bride, she will marry the Lamb. But until that day, I’m longing for the New Jerusalem.
As the Lord calls us out of where we are and into a greater measure of faith, there is a transformation that needs to occur. An eternal perspective changes every fiber of our selfish being and aligns us into agreement with the work of the Spirit. It radically propels us into a deeper and greater measure of faith, and this type of extraordinary faith will come at a cost.
The Price of Faith
There’s that saying, “If it’s easy, it’s not worth it.” And I think it’s very applicable to our walk with Jesus. If our faith has been easy, it’s probably not growing. And if what we’re doing seems comfortable and easy, it’s probably not the right direction.
There’s a difference between thriving in difficult situations that the Lord has brought you into versus living the status quo and feeling like you’re being tossed and turned by the waves of life. An easy and safe life means that we’re following something that is in accordance with our own desires and fits our own skill set. But God is a God that challenges our brokenness. He doesn’t allow us to sit in our sin or passivity. He actually likes to make us really uncomfortable– just so that we can grow.
I’ve found that the key to living a life of extraordinary faith is being willing to live in extraordinary discomfort.
Because the life of extraordinary faith requires an extraordinary amount of surrender, so extraordinary that it cannot come from our own human will but from the strength and will of God himself, you must be willing to walk through the fire and trust that He will lead you through it unscathed.
The life of extraordinary faith requires complete and utter trust to go when he calls. But you cannot trust a God you do not fully know. And you cannot go follow a call if you don’t know who you are. And you cannot endure if you do not have an eternal perspective.
Church, if you want to live a life of extraordinary faith, we must be willing to surrender. We must be willing to admit that comfortability and ‘stability’ in our finances suffocate surrender. We must be willing to surrender our careers at any given point in time so we can be ready to go when He calls.
Because one day, God might call you to leave your career to do a 6-month training program.
He might call you to give up tens and thousands of dollars away to other missionaries while you’re unemployed and in need of money as well.
He might call you to serve in a country that seems dangerous and impoverished so that you follow His leading and not your own comfort.
He might call you to walk through heartbreak to learn that marriage is not the end-all, but to realign you to the truth that Jesus is the end-all.
He might call you to leave your newfound community and go home to mend the decade-old broken relationship within your family.
He might call you to a completely new church family, to start building friendships from the ground up and ask you to simply wait for His release.
He might call you to long-term missions as you get settled back into your career.
He might call you into greater depths than you’ve ever imagined for your life.
The question is, are you willing to give Him your yes?
The cost of living a life of extraordinary faith is the death of ourselves. We must be willing to die to ourselves, our every desire, and to take up the desires of Jesus. This type of surrender and discomfort takes time, but as your small ‘yeses’ become more frequent, you will find yourself treading and leaping off mountain ledges because He has strengthened your feet to be like Hind’s feet (Hab 3:19).
Loss of Self, Gain of Christ
So consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (Jam 1:2-4).
The costly life of extraordinary faith is one that is worth every ounce of surrender that you can muster up because He who we follow is worthy of every sacrifice. It’s time to get uncomfortable. It’s time to dust ourselves off and dive into the unknown, hands fully embraced by the Father who never abandons.
Living a life of extraordinary faith is scary. But I’ve learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Phil 4:12-13). We are able to give up anything and or everything in this world because He is trustworthy, good, and faithful.
There are things God has placed on your heart – dreams, visions, prophecies – that you’ve wanted to pursue but were just too scared to. Friends, it is time to say ‘yes’ to Jesus and to let go of the shore for Him to lead you into deeper waters. Everything in this world, we must consider a loss for the sake of knowing and gaining Christ.
So church, as we continue to say ‘yes’ to Jesus wherever He leads and live uncomfortable lives of extraordinary faith, let us sing,
I love the day of your appearing.
I want to hasten your return.
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come for your beloved one.”