Live by Faith
Hebrews 11:13—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.
Those of us who end up in any kind of leadership role in the vineyard must abide in the Vine. If we become defective in our abiding, we will also become defective in our leadership and lose our influence in helping others to abide.
It should be apparent and thrilling by now for us to have observed that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all engaged in vineyard husbandry church work! As influencers, we have the eternal God-head team in whom we can abide, with whom we can participate, and in whom we can trust. And it all starts with faith which continues in obedience and manifests itself in love (John 15:1-11).
This entire project has been to keep faith in the Father. As leaders, we must exhibit that faith and encourage the faith of His sheep. Remember the heart of the Father is fully fixed on our ministry, and His hand intimately invades it even when we are clueless as to what is going on. As I said before, it takes much faith to shepherd a flock, and shepherds must again be diligent and faithful to verbally encourage these matters of faith to move the flock beyond information about God, beyond mental assent to God, to personal trust in God.
As I said earlier, the unconventional ways of God swirl around three themes in the human experience: sonship, total dependence, and the trial of our faith. God is often bringing us to the end of ourselves that we might learn to trust Him more. After a while, we learn that our most powerful and relatable messages are birthed in our most uncomfortable times. Those treasures from our life’s message become a vehicle for the gospel to those to whom we are sent.
Psalm 107:23-32—Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters, they see the works of the LORD and His wonders in the deep. For He commands and raises the stormy wind, which lifts up the waves of the sea. They mount up to the heavens. They go down again to the depths; their soul melts because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end. Then they cry out to the LORD in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses. He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; so He guides them to their desired haven. Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness and for His wonderful works to the children of men! Let them exalt Him also in the assembly of the people and praise Him in the company of the elders.
This certainly is a nautical theme for land lovers to bring us to the end of ourselves again and again. Truly there is a “god syndrome” in all of us that must be purged out, and a Christlikeness that must be built-in. God alone knows where we are and what we need. God alone tailor-makes the test and knows the end-product. Notice the progression in the passage.
We choose to do business with God. Ministry is doing life with God on great waters (23,24).
He commands the stormy wind which lifts up the waves (25). This is nothing less than sovereign testing (25).
We see and experience His wonders, our soul melts, we stagger and are brought to our wit’s end (24-27). The Psalmist indicates that all their wisdom is swallowed up.
We cry out to the Lord (28a).
He brings us out and calms the storm (28,29).
We are glad (30).
He guides us to our desired haven (30). God, through the storm, takes us to the place we wanted to be all along.
Then we talk and talk about His goodness and wonders (31,32). We talk to the Lord and give Him thanks, we talk to people in general, we talk to the assembly—the church, we talk to the elders who are the governing officials, and we talk to the children. This is how we pass the good news along from one generation to the next (Psalm 145:4).
All this marvelous witness is birthed by God when He meets us at our wit’s end. Being at our wit’s end and watching God’s work, whether it is the caliber of a Red Sea experience or as simple as a still, small voice, gives us something to talk about. When there is general apathy in our lives and ministries, we have no good answer for the question, “What is God doing in your life?” But when He brings us to our wit’s end and then brings us out, we overflow with goodness of God and can articulate, often in detail, the precise providential happenings that can only be explained by God.
How Then Shall We Live?
So how are we as branch-leaders supposed to abide in faith and influence others to abide in faith while being tossed about on stormy seas as our Green Thumb-Father Husbandman exercises His unconventional ways in the vineyard? We feel like saying what the disciples said when Jesus was sleeping in the boat, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38-40) After this, of course, Jesus rebuked the wind, the waves, and then the disciples for their lack of faith. So, what are we to do?
Interestingly, there is a very familiar passage in the book of Romans that gives precise instruction to those of us who ride the gospel boat down the Romans River. As you know, Paul systematically builds the case for the gospel like a skilled lawyer. His case is airtight. He ends chapter 8 with the assurance of God’s forever love. In chapters 9 to 11, he explains Israel’s need for the gospel which includes several strong statements about God’s sovereign work, and in chapter 11 and verse 32, he seems to hit a wall when he says, “For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.” His next word is “Oh!” This master theologian and consummate missionary has one answer for all mysteries—that His judgments are unsearchable and His ways past finding out. All things are of Him, and through Him, and to Him (Romans 11:32-36).
Immediately Paul gives instructions to us on how to live with this uncontrollable and incomprehensible God. Here, now, is a breakdown of Romans 12:1,2 as we now navigate our wit’s end:
Constantly consider the mercies of God. Review the scriptures; review your life. His past expressions of mercy will secure our minds for future hope.
Constantly present your body to God as a worship. Surrender your rights and enjoy His holiness.
Don’t let the world system tell you how to think or live. Neither hedonism, materialism, nor narcissism are good escape routes.
Constantly renew your mind with scripture. Create truth paths for your thinking (John 8:31-36).
Find your treasure in the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God. Then talk about it to everyone.
God doesn’t operate on explanations but rather promises. Everything about God is a mystery. His creation, the flood, the Trinity, the birth of Jesus, the resurrection, the ascension, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, all believers in one body, and the second coming are all foreign to our sensibilities. Thus, the first and primary work of the church is faith in Jesus Christ (John 6:29) and branch-leaders are called to encourage the faith of their flock (II Corinthians 1:24).
When we think of branch-leaders and faith, we must think about Habakkuk from whom we receive the inspired words, “But the just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). These, of course, are related in the New Testament books of Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews which all reinforce the truth that if we are going to live with God, it is going to be by faith.
I believe the chapters of this short prophecy give us a plan for stewarding well the difficult times in ministry.
We start with sighing (chapter 1). It’s okay to be honest and lament as long as we turn to God in humble exhaustion. There was a God that Habakkuk wanted, and the God that was, but they were not the same.
Then we watch and listen to see if there is something we are missing (chapter 2). This, of course, can be a form of praying, a time of silence. Prayer stands as a place where God and human beings meet. Most of our struggles in life and ministry circle around two main themes. Why God doesn’t act the way we want, and why we don’t act the way God wants. Prayer is the precise point where these themes converge.
This is a healthy dialogue between God and the prophet. Complaints offered in respectful submission allowed Habakkuk to hear three strategic realities.
The just shall live by his faith (v. 4)—not by his pride.
The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD (v. 14).
The LORD is in His holy temple (v. 20).
After we hear from God like Habakkuk, then we can sing a hymn of faith like he did (Chapter 3)! The prophet was allowed to review and remember God’s past victories in order to be assured of His future glories. If our enemy can keep us in the arena of the mind, he will win, but if we take him to the arena of faith, he will lose.
Is there a way for us to put this message in one sentence so that we branch-leaders can rest and sing in the midst of troubled times that are being allowed by our faithful Father-Husbandman? I think there is, and I believe the answer is found in Habakkuk’s name which means to embrace. Here it is. When God can’t be understood, He can be embraced by faith. That makes Him very happy and allows us to sing.
Leaders must be effectual abiders.
The Trinity is intimately involved in our ministry.
Ministry is a faith project.
Being at the end of yourself is God’s work
Our greatest witness is birthed in desperate times.
God instructs us how to navigate rough waters.
God operates on promises, not explanations.
When God can’t be understood, He can be embraced by faith.
The apostle Paul calls faith a shield. The man of faith can walk at ease, protected by his simple confidence in God. God loves to be trusted, and He puts all heaven at the disposal of the trusting soul.
The Tozer Topical Reader, p. 198