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The Act Of Faith

By R. Arthur Mathews

    The hymn writer who penned “What various hindrances we meet/When coming to the mercy seat!” could possibly have been thinking of the two inches of snow that had just fallen or the unexpected guests that landed on him at prayer meeting time.

    As I write I am thinking of something less tangible but no less real. For every outward circumstance that is allowed to keep God’s children away from prayer meeting there are as many inward things limiting the effectiveness of our praying. Since these are less easily discerned than the circumstantial hindrances, the Holy Spirit must alert us to them. The outward circumstances may hold us back from attendance at the meeting, but it is the inward things that cause us to fall short of God’s expectations.

    One of the inner ways in which we may disappoint God is by substituting the attitude of faith for the act of faith. Luke 8:22-25 illustrates the difference between these two concepts.

    Jesus and His disciples were crossing the lake. During the passage Jesus fell asleep. Suddenly a violent storm came sweeping down over the lake, threatening their safety. The disciples hastened to rouse their Master, terrified lest all their kingdom hopes should finish up at the bottom of the lake. Rising from His slumber of exhaustion, Jesus rebuked the storm and ended the threat.

    Asleep, Jesus demonstrated the attitude of faith. His trust was in God and fear had no place in His heart. This was an inner and personal attitude, altogether right and proper; but it had no effect on the predicament they were in. Awake, Jesus by an act of faith silenced the storm and averted the danger. Such an act was required to remove the threat from their situation and to make it possible for them to resume their course.

    I believe that the purpose of the Holy Spirit in recording this dramatic incident is not just to demonstrate the mighty power of the Lord Jesus in quelling storms. The focus sharpens on the failure of the disciples, not on the success of the Master. This is borne out by the question Jesus threw at them the moment the confusion had subsided: “Where is your faith?” (italics mine). To me this seems to indicate His surprise at their default. They could have taken the initiative, apparently, and by an act of faith saved themselves. His question implies this and expresses His concern at their cop-out.

    All training is designed to equip for adequate action. Jesus was training the twelve against the day when He would no longer be physically available to them. He knew that ahead of them were storms that would threaten more than their physical safety. The assaults that He was having to face would be concentrated on them. At that time, their ability to apply spiritual forces to defeat spiritual enemies would be tested. His question pointed from the present turmoil to the predictable tribulation of the future, as also did His sleeping. If they failed here, how would they fare when the heat was really turned on?

    Two worlds were represented in that boat – the slumber-world of the Lord Jesus and the storm-world of the disciples. Even though He may have seemed dead to their world, there was never a moment when He was not available to them. He shared their situation and was ready whenever they might need His help. However, as their Discipler, He could not but cherish the hope that their faith had progressed to the point where they would be willing to take the initiative and act.

    There are still two worlds. Even as He shared the boat with His disciples, so He is with us in our troubles, undiscerned by the natural eye but nevertheless available when we cry to Him in our need. And often, when we let some trouble drive us into the corner in default of an act of faith, He asks us the same question: “Where is your faith?” He expects us to draw out our spiritual weapons and go into action as responsible, resolute men, and not to come storming hysterically into His throne room like helpless, frightened children.

    When the pressure for action is on, the attitude of faith, justifying its hesitation to act, argues this way: “God is omniscient and sovereign. He is in control of His world and has allowed this to happen. It would be presumptuous for us to do more than just put our trust in Him and let Him work out the circumstances in His ways and in His time.”

    But it is not God’s will as Supreme Ruler to overthrow and sweep away all the forces of evil by the might of His omnipotent arm. His government is so ordered that prayer is one of its vital constituent parts. In the work of creation God needed no help. He worked sovereignly and alone. One breath of His commanding word, and the starts of heaven were formed and marshaled into their appointed places.

    However, in His redemptive activity through history God does not work alone. He no longer remains aloof in His heaven. Man the sinner can only be redeemed by man the Savior. God must partake of flesh and blood, dealing with man through men. Even as He sent the eternal Son to be incarnated as “God with us,” so He has ordained that redeemed men shall embody His will on earth.

    The continuing struggle for the triumph of God’s beneficent will over the demonic will of destructive spirits is not carried out with men sitting it out as spectators on the sidelines. Our part in the conflict is carried out in the effort of prayer – and I mean effort – as we strive to know His will, to side with it and to embody it. It is this process that unlocks the door of God’s self-imposed limitation and frees Him to move out into the situation and execute His will. To use Dr. Moberly’s words, “He bids His own work wait on man’s prayers.”         

    Our spiritual fathers were surefooted and at home in the activity of faith. One senses, however, that these words would not fairly describe the attitude of our own generation. It is our practice that gives us away, not our profession. We are apologetic, not dynamic, tending to play down the value of spiritual faith that acts. We still believe in prayer and the attitude of faith. We do not hesitate to tell God all about our particular difficulty. We describe it for Him, explain how it all happened and what it is doing to hinder His work. Then, just so that we do not exceed our prerogatives in asking Him to intervene, we attach our appendage formula, “If it be Thy will,” and send our prayer on its way.

Say Unto This Mountain

    In Mark 11:23 Jesus lays down His formula for dealing with obstacles. He specifies a case in which the attitude of faith must extend itself into an act of faith. “Say unto this mountain,” He says, “be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea.” We busy ourselves praying about the mountains. Jesus tells us that there are times when faith must be expressed in directives issued to mountains.

    Many mountains obstruct the progress of God’s work in the world today. They are there by default, and the blame is on us. As long as the mountains persist, we will never be able to see what God has for us on the other side. It would be a timely exercise for us to revise our estimates on the value of faith as a spiritual force in the work and warfare of God. Our calling and function is not to replace God, but to release Him. Nor do we have to overcome any reluctance on His part. It has been rightly said, “Without God man cannot: without man God will not.”

    “The ministry of the church,” said Watchman Nee, “includes the bringing down to earth of the will that is in heaven.” This is to be done by diligent application in prayer, through the power of God the Holy Spirit and in the name of God the Son, pressing importunately for the victorious goal of all true prayer, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”

    – Reprinted with permission from East Asia’s Millions.