Faith And Patience

This is a reblog of an article that my daughter recently posted on her blog, “My Soul Found Rest”.  It is an essay that she wrote for Honors College at Belhaven University on Dietrich Bonhoeffer  (used with her permission). It dove-tailed so perfectly with my own recent post, “Holding On To Hope”, that I felt it was worthy to be reblogged here. My daughter is only twenty years old. I didn’t reach this kind of understanding until my late forties. What a blessing to see that what her father and I have worked so hard to instill in her is bearing much fruit.

Faith And Patience

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”     Hebrews 12:1-3

The road of faith, though ultimately rewarding, is often very difficult. It is not for the faint of heart or those easily discouraged. Time seems to stretch on as the thing you are waiting for seems more and more unlikely. But if you believe that what you are waiting for is the will of God, then you must see it through. Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed this with all of his heart, and he had many opportunities to practice his patience as he watched his plans, whether for the Confessing Church, the assassination of Hitler, or his own marriage, be delayed or fail time and time again. In one of his circular letters to the brethren of the Confessing Church, he wrote on the subject of faith and patience. Bonhoeffer points out that faith and patience are interwoven. We cannot stand in faith for something and be impatient about it at the same time. Impatience causes us to lose heart and question whether or not what we are doing is right.

To have enough patience to carry you through difficult times, you must be certain that what you are hoping for is the will of God. F.F. Bosworth said, “Faith begins where the will of God is known.” Until you know that what you hope for is God’s will, how are you to stand in faith for it?

Once you are sure, the battle begins in earnest. While it is true that Satan will try his hardest to make sure that we are sufficiently distracted so that we cannot hear God, he also has plenty of opportunities to play on our fears and make us waver once we have heard God’s voice. There is often a gap (that feels far too long to us, to be sure) between the time of God’s promise and the time of its fulfillment. This time is particularly vulnerable to attacks, especially of impatience. Bonhoeffer states the following:

“…our impatience always wants to play nasty tricks on us, by giving itself out as a special sort of obedience, and leading us into unfaithfulness… We think that we are acting particularly responsibly if every other week we take another look at the question whether they way on which we have set out is the right one. It is particularly noticeable that such a ‘responsible reappraisal’ always begins the moment serious difficulties appear… Dear brethren, our real trouble is not doubt about the way upon which we have set out, but our failure to be patient…” (Testament of Freedom 443).

As the days (or weeks, or months, or years) pass by without fulfillment of the promise, it is easy to get impatient! Nagging doubts continue to pop up, and no matter how much you think you have squelched them all, new ones continue to surface. Nothing but the grace of God strengthening your faith will enable you to stay faithful during this period. There is a reason why faith and faithfulness have the same root. Being faithful requires that you stay in faith. If you entertain doubts, toy with them, give them room to roost in your spirit, you are not being faithful or obeying what God has asked you to do. He told you to believe, so believe you must.

That being said, we are human. We make mistakes, and we can, and frequently do, hear God incorrectly. There are times when an honest appraisal of the situation is necessary. But if, once you have earnestly sought the Lord, you come to your original conclusion that whatever it was that you were believing for is God’s will, then you must stand. Be assured: the promise will come. Unlike us, God is always faithful. There has never been a time when He forgot, or failed to carry through. “[He] is not a man… that he should change his mind” (Num. 23:19).

It is inevitable that once you deal with your own doubts, other people will begin to doubt for you. Some of them will mean well, and some won’t. The first is almost always more difficult to deal with, especially since they are usually your closest friends, and are trying to protect you. Although they are genuinely concerned and are trying to help, their friendly concern usually only serves to exacerbate the problem, as it is difficult to deal with others’ doubts when they begin to trigger your own again. Others that mean well add in a hint of scorn to their questions. They may be trying to help, but underneath is an element of arrogance that shows they really think what you believe is foolish. Whether or not they realize this, it is evident, and you must be prepared for your reputation among your friends and acquaintances to suffer if you are standing in faith for something unlikely or perhaps unpopular. Of course there will always be people who truly wish you ill, and will openly criticize you for your faith. While this is irritating, it is sometimes easier to deal with this sort of criticism, as you may not care nearly as much about their opinion of you as you do about your friends’ opinions.

One way to avoid such discouraging conversation is simply to not discuss the matter with others. It is understandable to want to talk it over with others, but if you know that the people to whom you are talking will not be receptive to your belief, then don’t talk about it! Some things that God commands us to do are meant to remain private.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) for us, sometimes the fulfillment of the promise doesn’t always look like we think it will. Bonhoeffer is exactly right when he says, “…we simply cannot be content with the fact that God’s cause is not always the successful one, that we really could be “unsuccessful” and yet be on the right road. But this is where we find out whether we have begun in faith or in a burst of enthusiasm” (Testament 443). It takes absolute trust in a sovereign, good God to believe for something, wait for it, and sometimes still see that it is not as you expected, but to know that God is working things out perfectly.

When God calls us to do something or to believe for something, nothing should move us. No matter what happens that seems to prove such a thing hopelessly impossible, no matter what scorn is heaped on you, no matter what feelings or doubts may arise within you, nothing should move you. “For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom. 8:24, ESV).

Author: My Soul Found Rest


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Copyright © 2011 by Susan E. Johnson
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He Is Risen Indeed

“Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them,came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  And it happened, as they were greatlyperplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’” And they remembered His words.  Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.   It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles.  And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.   But Peter arose and ran to the tomb; and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lyingby themselves; and he departed, marveling to himself at what had happened.” 
Luke 24: 1-12 (NKJV)
“Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice:  
 “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
      To receive power and riches and wisdom,
      And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: 
“Blessing and honor and glory and power
      Be to Him who sits on the throne,
       And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”
Revelation 5:11-13 (NKJV)
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed.” Romans 3:23-25 (NKJV)

Holding On To Hope

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NKJV)

So the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.” Joshua 6:20 (NKJV)

Hope is the desire of something good, with the expectation that it is obtainable.  I believe that most Christians, including myself, frequently relegate hope to the realm of mere wishing. We fail to understand that true hope is built on the foundation of God’s nature and ability, not on what we think or on an emotion. Our God, who many have turned into a celestial “Santa Clause” or a “Daddy” whose lap we can crawl up into, is the same God who spoke this universe into being with His Word.  Our God is Holy, Righteous, and a Consuming Fire. Our God is beyond comprehension, and yet our finite minds try to find some way to turn this infinite God into what can be understood, thereby stripping Him of His power and authority.

The generation of Israelites that God brought out of slavery in Egypt, lost out on the rich blessings of the promised land because they focused on the giants in the land, instead of the power of God in their midst. That generation of Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty long years because they were unwilling to place all of their faith and hope in God. They all had to die before God would allow Joshua to start taking possession of the promised land by marching around the walls of Jericho.  God required something of the Israelites before those walls ever fell: their faith and obedience. Obviously, the mere act of marching around a city seven times, sounding some trumpets, and shouting, would not normally bring down a city’s defensive walls.  It was the Hand of God, in partnership with their faith and obedience, that brought those walls down with a crash.

Had the Israelites not done exactly what God had asked them to do, in the order that He had asked them to do it, we would likely be reading a very different story. I am sure that when Joshua related God’s “game plan” to the Israelites, there must have been a few doubts and questions. But according to the Scriptural account, they obeyed the Word of the Lord and accomplished what God wanted done: taking the city of Jericho.

What if they hadn’t done exactly as He commanded? What if they had completed the right elements, but not in the right order or at the right time? Would they have achieved the same results? I think not.

Occasionally, God asks us to do something that makes no logical sense.  And because we do not understand how important this is in our lives, we do not move forward to obey. God always has a reason for what He asks us to do and how He asks us to do something, even if it makes absolutely no sense to us at the time that He asks it.

We have good friends, who a number of years ago were going through a very difficult financial season. They had been renting the house they were living in, but felt God was telling them it was time for them to build a house of their own–with a very specific purpose for God’s kingdom. There was only one problem, they had no money to move forward, as James’ law practice (not his real name) was not doing well at that time.  His wife, Penny (not her real name, either), felt that God was impressing on her that they needed to move forward in faith and sign the contract for the house. She believed God was saying to her heart that, if they would commit to that house, He would then provide everything that was needed.

This is totally backwards from how the church thinks or teaches. We won’t usually move forward until we have what it takes to get the job done. Of course, if we can see how something can be accomplished, this doesn’t require much faith in the God Who asked it of us in the first place.

After some days of intense prayer and discussion, they decided to move forward with their committment to that house and obey God to the best of their ability and understanding. Even if it cost them everything else they had, they were willing to take that risk, rather than being disobedient or faithless.

Several days after the contract was signed, James received a call from a prominent corporation requesting his services as their legal counsel, a position that he holds to this day. During the course of a very intense first year in this position, James earned enough to, not only pay off all of their outstanding financial obligations, but also to completely pay the home’s mortgage in full.

I also stepped out in faith where my husband was concerned. I sensed strongly in my heart that this was the man who God wanted me to marry, but initially, I was not sure how this could work. Among the doubts that I wrestled with were: I wasn’t “in love” with him (a requirement, I thought); he was slightly younger than I was (an insignificant ten and a half months); he lived in Boston and I lived in Chicago (not exactly conducive to the engagement that he was suggesting); he was still working his way through college (while I had already graduated); and I did not have any support from friends or family (they were not terribly enthused about my choice).  Logically, I could not see how this made much sense. I wrestled with doubts about having heard God correctly. I was terrified of making a decision of this magnitude without the support of anyone else.  What if everyone else was right and I was wrong? And yet, I knew deep in my heart that if I didn’t marry him, I would be making the biggest mistake of my life.

So what would have happened, for both our friends and for me, had we not done what God had told us to do? What blessings would we have missed had we been too afraid to act? How would our lives have been different? What would we have lost had we not been willing to step out in faith and hold on to the hope that He was watching over the results of our decisions?

Most of us live our lives as if we believe we get to choose how we live them. We may give “lip service” to the fact that we want to obey God in every area; that we would follow Him where ever He led.  However, when God asks us to do something that is a bit out of the ordinary, we usually will reason out what we believe God is telling us to do, trying to make some sense out of it all before we act.

I wonder how many of the important life decisions we struggle to make are actually dependant on the fact that we haven’t moved forward in faith and obedience to what He has already spoken to us about. We are waiting for things to “make sense.” We are waiting for God to show us how He is going to put all of the pieces together. We are actually waiting for all of this to be easier.

God requires faith and obedience from us before He will move; our faith and obedience please Him. When we exhibit faith in Him, we can have hope that what we are believing for is obtainable; that He will provide a way where there seems to be no way. This hope will sustain us as we wait for the complete fulfillment of His words to us. And, as in the game of Dominoes, moving forward in faith and obedience will be like that tipping of the first tile. It will result in so many other areas of our lives falling into place.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (NKJV)

I foresaw the LORD always before my face, for He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; moreover my flesh also will rest in hope.” Acts 2:25-26

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Copyright © 2011 by Susan E. Johnson
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Bittersweet Blessing

“I have taught you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in right paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hindered, and when you run, you will not stumble. Take firm hold of instruction, do not let go; keep her, for she is your life.”  Proverbs 4:11-13 (NKJV)

I recently returned from a trip to visit my daughter at Belhaven University. She had asked me to come and visit with her for several days prior to the Spring Faculty Dance Concert in which she had been given a solo.  It was a bittersweet couple of days as I realized that, in just one short year, she would be graduating from college. It seems like only yesterday that my husband and I started this grand adventure known as parenthood.  Where did the time go so quickly?

This past week, my daughter introduced me to many of her professors and instructors. Each of them was generous in their compliments about her and her contributions to the dance department.  Their obvious respect for her left no doubt in my mind that they saw her as more than just another student. They saw her as an adult.

This is, of course, what we work so hard for as parents: to instill in our children those values and character traits that we deem important. We hope to see our children grow into fully functioning adults who will exhibit wisdom in their relationships and in their life’s decisions.

All that being said, however, I struggled far more this past week, while watching her in class and rehearsal, than I ever did when she first went away to college. I found myself often overwhelmed with emotion as the enormity of what I was seeing and hearing began to sink in: this beautiful girl who her father and I raised, was no longer a girl. She had grown into a beautiful young woman. And I knew once and for all, with certainty, that this young woman was going to leave me behind as she walked into the call of God on her life. Now mind you, I have always known that she was going to grow up and leave us, and have spent many years working toward this very goal for her life, but I was still woefully unprepared for the reality of it.

I know every parent must come to this point. Our children grow up and become adults. The passage of time cannot be stopped. My husband and I have always encouraged our daughter to think for herself, make her own decisions, and take responsibility for her actions. We have been there to back her up, or pick her up, depending on the decision and its outcome. This too is what parents are supposed to do. It is our job to equip our children to grow into maturity, not only physically and intellectually, but more importantly, spiritually. And when they come to this place of maturity in their lives, it is our responsibility to let them go, with our blessing.

I have been wonderfully blessed. This young woman, for whom I have been parent for the past twenty years, has become someone whom I can call friend.

“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward.” Psalm 127:3 (NKJV)

Copyright © 2011 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved

Wisdom Is Calling

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  Matthew 7: 13-14 (NKJV)

Somehow it seems appropriate to speak about wisdom on April Fools Day.  It could be said that wisdom is in increasingly short supply these days.  We have embraced Secular Humanism in all facets of our lives and culture and moral relativism  appears to be the order of the day. We lack real moral or ethical standards, so pretty much anything goes.

“The fool has said in his heart,
         “There is no God.”
         They are corrupt,
         They have done abominable works,
         There is none who does good.” Psalm 14:1 (NKJV) 

The bottom line is that, the more we remove the Light of the Gospel from every area of our lives, the darker and more clouded our minds become. The more ignorant we are of the Bible, the easier we are to fool.

The foundation for all wisdom is truth. So if we desire wisdom, we must go to the source of all Truth: God and His Word. There is no other way around it. We won’t gain much wisdom from watching our favorite television shows, attending sports events, going to movies, reading novels, or any other of the hundreds of things we watch or read on any given day, even if there isn’t anything inherently wrong with these. We must seek Him where He can be found.

“Wisdom is the principal thing;
      Therefore get wisdom.
      And in all your getting, get understanding. 
      Exalt her, and she will promote you;
      She will bring you honor, when you embrace her. 
      She will place on your head an ornament of grace;
      A crown of glory she will deliver to you.” 
      Hear, my son, and receive my sayings,
      And the years of your life will be many. 
      I have taught you in the way of wisdom;
      I have led you in right paths. 
      When you walk, your steps will not be hindered,
      And when you run, you will not stumble. 
      Take firm hold of instruction, do not let go;
      Keep her, for she is your life.” Proverbs 4:7-13 (NKJV)

If we value wisdom at all, we must make gaining it a top priority in our lives. Every decision we make in our lives will be based on something, either wisdom or foolishness.

Wisdom always provides better outcomes.

Wisdom always makes our daily walk easier.

One might think God knew what He was talking about when He told us to get wisdom.

Fancy that.

“To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding, to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgement, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion–a wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 1:2-7  (NKJV)

Copyright © 2011 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved