The Stewardship of Faith
Hebrew 2:4—For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.
The life and authority of Christ are embraced by definite acts of faith. Our stewardship is to mix faith with everything—the good, the bad and the ugly.
We must never stop applying Scripture truth to any situation, and we must never drop the shield of faith. “The first and primary work of the church is faith in Jesus Christ.” The first time I heard Ian Murray say that, it stopped me in my tracks because that’s not what I had been taught. My thinking was more along the lines of evangelism, discipleship, or Bible instruction. So, I shelved the idea for a while until I realized that faith in Christ’s movements of grace was the birthplace of ministry functions (Galatians 5:6).
The heroes of the faith moved in faith to God’s promptings of grace and moved the gospel story along during their watch. Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice by faith; Enoch was translated by faith because of his grace to please God. Noah prepared an ark by faith because of God’s grace in a warning of things not yet seen. His faith even had some fear in it. Abraham left home by faith because of the grace of God’s call. He wasn’t sure where he was going, but he was about to see, with the eye of faith, a better city with a greater Builder than anyone he knew in Ur of Chaldees (Hebrews 11:1-10). The list goes on. This is the main idea: steward the movements of God’s grace by embracing them by faith and be Scripturally obedient to every one of them.
The story God is writing in and through your church may appear like a mountain path that makes many “hair pin” turns while approaching the summit which, by the way, you may never see before the end of your watch. Once again, I cite our heroes, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13). Yours may only be to see afar off, but believing and obeying is yours for today. In fact, God makes it clear when He says, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). A ministry that turns every movement and challenge into a treasure hunt for God will experience God’s reward. God has great plans in mind for a people who will call and pray and seek and search for Him with all their hearts (Jeremiah 29:11-13).
Sometimes our ministries do not appear to be doing that well. In fact, they may seem to be stalled or going backward—even after we have identified clear promises and directions of God’s moving by grace. During these times it’s easy to second guess ourselves or slump in bewilderment over what God is doing or not doing. The prophet Habakkuk helps us out during these “death valley” days. His book starts with a bitter lament over Israel’s condition. Godly King Josiah’s reforms have been quickly overturned by his successor Jehoiakim, and Habakkuk has some serious questions.
“O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, “Violence!” and You will not save. Why do You show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; there is strife, and contention arises. Therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds” (1:2-4).
Allow me to paraphrase, “Why, God, are You letting things go so long and get so bad without doing anything?”
God answers, “Look among the nations and watch—Be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you.—I raise up the Chaldeans, a bitter and hasty nation which marches through the breadth of the earth, to possess dwelling places that are not theirs. They are terrible and dreadful—they all come for violence—Then his mind changes, and he transgresses; he commits offense, ascribing this power to his god” (1:5-11). God basically answered Habakkuk’s question with, “I am going to do something. My plan is already in place and on the way. I am going to bring an evil army across the nation that will loot and kill and destroy. He will then add insult to injury by setting up idols and worship centers to his false god and give him the credit.”
This answer so stunned the prophet that he got very quiet and cautious and said, “I will stand my watch and set myself on the rampart, and watch to see what He will say to me, and what I will answer when I am corrected” (3:1). He did the right thing. His questioning turned to listening. His pacing turned to standing still. His way forward was to stop. Sometimes the best movement of faith is to not move at all and yet believe in the character of God. I was once invited to take over a very troubled ministry. After a short assessment, I told the leadership, “We must call this ministry to a complete stop.” I was giving them permission to rest from striving and trying to make things happen.
Back to our friend, Habakkuk—Patrick Morley says it best: “There was the God that Habakkuk wanted and there was the God that was, and they were not the same.” Often in our ministries, God doesn’t seem to behave as we would like. Our call is still to believe. In fact, if I could condense this chapter into one sentence, it would be this. When God can’t be understood, He can be embraced by faith, and that makes Him very happy. Habakkuk’s name means “one who embraces.” At times we must do the same.
The healthy dialogue between the prophet and God yielded three answers from God that provide pillars for the faith of any believing servant of God during any conditions.
1. “—But the just shall live by his faith” (2:4). This signature verse repeated three times in the New Testament lets us know that, if we are going to live with God, we are going to live by faith.
2. “—For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (2:14). Someday everybody will get it, but it doesn’t all have to happen today or through us.
3. “—But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him” (2:20). In other words, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah” (Psalm 46:10-11).
God knows we are in ministry, and He is as pleased with our believing hearts as He is with our working hands. You may have to say to some of the anxious folks around, “This is a time for us to stand still, be still, and listen.” Give then permission to only believe.
Through this experience, Habakkuk came out with a new song (Habakkuk 3:17-19)—one written from a real-life experience. These are the lyrics:
Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.
So, after some great movements of grace when expectations soar, don’t be surprised if the landscape looks bleak. Remember, if God can’t be understood, He can be embraced by faith. And if you will lay down any pride and believe the best is yet to come because the Lord is in His holy temple, you too may sing a new song and tell a new story of faith which only brings more grace.
Finally, Jesus Himself gives us instruction to let faith in Him be our first and primary work. In John 6, we find Jesus being pursued by the multitudes. He knew they were only “bread and fish” followers and told them so when He said “Ye seek Me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.” He then challenged their values by saying, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life—” (v. 27). They responded with this question, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God??” (v. 28) Jesus answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” (v. 29)
Jesus considers our faith in Him to be our greatest calling and priority work. Everything flows from that. He loves it when we really believe that what we believe is really real. In ministry, if we are going to live with God, we are going to live by faith. Paul said, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). When the stewardship of faith becomes the lifestyle of our church, there will be a growing core of believers who discover Him to not only be their salvation but also their sufficiency and satisfaction.
From Belief to Behavior
1. Review how the heroes of the faith embraced their call of grace.
2. List your present circumstances as a church which must be embraced even though not understood.
3. Thank the Lord for the trial of your faith.
4. Believe God together in prayer verbalizing your trust.
5. Pray for wisdom.