Faith in the Hallway
The Christian life is full of risk taking. Simply being a Christian has often been cause enough for the executioner. But even where the cost comes short of shedding our blood, our lives--lived faithfully--will at some point beg the question, “What is the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15)? Implicit in this question is a life lived counter to the path of least resistance; that kind of life requires risk and courage--sustained, plodding courage. I’m nearing the middle part of my race to glory, and finding here that the courage needed is not so much about jumping into new adventures, but actively waiting on the Lord for the fruition of risks already begun. Maybe you can relate. You’ve given the money, moved to a different continent, had the kids, or identified as a Christian in academia, like Peter you’ve already left the boat, and now you feel the wet waves pound on your courage as you wonder, “What have I done? Will this work out? Or will I be put to shame?”
Many saints of old have experienced the same, but often as we encounter the narrative portions of Scripture we find the conflict wrapped up in just a few short chapters or verses. It is easy to miss the fact that the person living out the story did not know the outcome. Take the familiar story of Esther for example. Mordecai, trusting God’s promises, knew his people could not be wiped out, but he and Esther did not have a personal promise that they would be the means. When Esther committed herself to intercede for her people with that famous line, ““I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish,” she did not know that 5 chapters later, 75,000 anti-Semitics would be dead instead of her.
Her story is a microcosm for all of us. What was it like for Esther between the moment the king first spotted her in the forbidden throne room and the moment the golden scepter went up? If she had walked into her death decked out in her royal robes, would we have thought her a fool and a cautionary tale rather than a hero? How do we wait when we have taken a risk for the kingdom, like Esther, but the hallway of suspense seems very long? Just like all the saints before us, we take each step, one at a time, by faith.
One of our pastoral interns recently preached out of Esther. In the course of one of his sermons, he made the important observation that Esther did not say, “Whatever happens, happens.” She said, “If I perish, I perish.” These are two very different sentiments. When Christians say “by faith,” we do not mean a vague feeling that some good will come about because we felt brave. Waiting on the Lord by faith is not a fatalistic or passive endeavor. Neither do we mean that faith is a set of good deeds we use to secure God’s grace and favor. Faith is the gift of God. When we say “by faith” we mean that when asked the grounds for our hope and courage while living a cross-bearing life, we are free to grant that in the eyes of the world our lives might look pitiable. “But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead.” (1 Cor 15:19-20a)
The faithful saints of Hebrews 11 died without having received the promise, but now we have received it. We have, in history, the physical death of Jesus, His resurrection and ascension, his session, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit for all believers. When we, not knowing the future, risk wealth, energy, time, and blood, we can do so in confidence that we will not be put to shame because Jesus was put to shame for us. God did not risk his Son, he sacrificed him; and then, justly, He raised Him from the dead. We are not in our sins deserving death; our faith is not futile (1 Cor 15:17).
So I preach to myself, and I urge you, to keep going. Don’t look back longingly on what seems like it could have been an easier life. Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt. And don’t give up in the middle like Joash, shooting only a few of your arrows, as if you need to hedge against the One who has given you his Son (2 Kings 13, Rom 8:32). Do not be afraid to “open wide your mouth,” even if for the moment, you look like a fool while you stand there gaping. Believe God when he says, “open your mouth wide and I will fill it.” (Ps 81:10)