Great Faith, Part 6
If you are just jumping into this blog series, I would encourage you to read at least part 5 in this series. The context for the remaining posts will be this: Great Faith works through Great Love. From Hebrews 11, we discussed that faith has substance. Substance indicates that faith can be seen by the physical manifestation of action or a lifestyle. Faith without love as the hub will have as its substance a cold, systematic process of connecting belief dots to get to a desired outcome. In this system, a relationship with God is only necessary to the extent that one needs to understand the principles of His Word. This is in essence the definition of theology - the “study” of God- textbook faith. Faith that is rooted and grounded in love will have as its substance a relationship that is anchored in the passionate pursuing Love of God for His children. This is why the scriptures say that love NEVER FAILS (1 Cor 13), because God is Love and God cannot fail!
We have also established that faith as a seed must be planted in the right soil to grow. The seed is perfect in every way (the seed is Jesus) and the substrate of the soil is made up of love that never fails, so what could possibly go wrong with the seed-to-harvest process? It looks like God has taken care of everything needed for great faith to be an effortless, natural process of just planting and sitting back and letting God bring the increase. God in His infinite wisdom has designed this process to be a partnership between Heaven and Earth, between His heart and the human heart. The Word of God always works in us...as long as we are willing to work the Word. Adam and Eve, in all of their glory in the Garden of God still had to WORK with God to bring forth fruit (Genesis 2:15). They would have faced the same gardening regiment that we face today - tilling, weeding, watering, pruning, etc. That was God’s intention then, and it remains His intention now. So what does it look like to cultivate and keep the garden of our hearts - the new garden of Eden?
In the previous post we left off with a challenge. Hebrews 11:13-16 contains 5 cultivating responsibilities of great faith gardening. Did you find them? Proverbs 4:23 admonishes us to guard (cultivate and protect) our hearts above all else, for it determines the course of our lives. These 5 disciplines are critical to the cultivation process. They may not be too obvious, so let’s dig into these verses to help define what tending this garden looks like.
From Jesus’ parable in Mark 4, humanity enters into the story as the receivers of the seed that is being sown (spoken, preached) by Jesus, the sower. Sowing is the process of throwing or broadcasting seed in a generous and all-inclusive way. In Jesus’ illustration the seed was landing on all types of soil, including hard, crusty, non-receptive types. God is no respecter of persons. All people have equal access to receive the seed being sown. The Word of Salvation is for any and all who will choose to accept it. It is what happens after the seed is sown that determines if it will grow and if any fruit will be produced.
In the natural process, the seed that was sown was now lying on the surface of the soil. If it just sits there it will never grow. The seed must be planted, which means that the seed must get from the surface to the subterranean layers of the soil where the miracle happens. The natural principle must connect us to the spiritual principle in order for faith to grow. How is the seed, the Word of God, planted into the soil of our hearts? Here is how Jesus explains it: “But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown." [Mat 13:23 NIV emphasis added]
Jesus mentions two things that are necessary in this process- hearing and understanding. Everyone has the ability to hear the Word of God. The book of Romans states that God is speaking to humanity even in His creation so that no one can say that they have not encountered God on some level (Romans 1:20). Spiritual hearing implies that the words have gone into the ears or the images have gone into the eyes and have passed into the brain for processing. It is in this processing where the seed either enters into the heart or is rejected and thrown away. So, everyone CAN hear and see, but only those who understand will benefit from the power within the seed.
What is Jesus referring to when He states that only those who understand the Word can benefit from it? Does it mean that we need a degree in theology to fully benefit from God’s Word? The Gospels of Mark and Luke also contain this parable and they use a different word to describe understanding. Mark uses the word “accept” and Luke explains it as “holds fast.” What all of these words are pointing to is a decision to receive into the heart (soil) whatever Word proceeds out of the mouth of God. It is a firm and final decision that the Word of God will become embedded into the very center of the heart. It is analogous to the fertilized egg of a new human life being embedded into the soft tissue wall of the womb. This is where the seed finds all the necessary environmental conditions for new life to grow. Jesus summed it up in His statement, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that is proceeding out of the mouth of God.” This brings us to the first of the 5 soil conditioners.
In Hebrews 11:13 the first sentence simplifies what this process looks like in action. This portion of scripture is highlighting how some of the people of great faith from the past lived their lives. They all accomplished different things but they all had 5 things in common that enabled them to accomplish their purpose for being on this planet. There are various renderings of this verse but they all say the same thing: All these people died in faith, still believing what God had promised, even if they did not receive the full manifestation of the promise while they were alive.
The phrase, died in faith, is where we must start. In order for the seed to ever have a chance at growing and bearing fruit it must first “die” in the soil by giving itself completely to the process. Jesus said, unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it remains by itself, alone, bearing no fruit (John 12:24). It must surrender its autonomy and become fully incorporated into the soil. It must allow the warm moisture to soften its hard shell exterior and split wide open rendering the precious contents of its life to a greater purpose. It must stay put in the deafening silence of darkness without fully understanding what is going on. It must remain buried in obscurity for an unknown time with days, and even weeks going by with seemingly no signs of life. It must be completely convinced and forever trusting that the decision to die in hope is better than to live in the small, self-preserving shell of wishful thinking. In essence, starting with a decision to die is the beginning of life for the seed.
For our purposes in developing a simple process, I will call the first step, SETTLE IT. We must settle, once and for all, whether we will plant the seed of God’s Word into our hearts and remain in hope, even if we don’t ever see the full manifestation of what we are hoping for in our lifetime. We hope for what we don’t yet have. Faith is the manifestation that hope is alive and well in our hearts. Faith will create action that defines and displays to the world around us what we believe in. Faith is the motion picture of hope. Hope is born the moment we settle it!
Settling an issue implies that we are finished with discussions and debates. We have considered the options and have concluded on a course of action. It implies that there is no going back to dig up the issue and rehash the what-ifs. It has decided, once and for all, that moving forward demands not going back to second guess what was settled. Settling an issue means that all other options are now off the table, you have signed the contract, you have pulled the trigger, you have jumped in with both feet, you have reached the point of no return on the runway, you have made the decision to “die” to any other choice other than the one that was made to live only for trusting God that His Word will work if fully embraced through a life of hope against hope. After all, isn’t this what the father of all the faithful, Abraham, had to do in his decision to trust in God's promise for offspring?
“In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, "SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE." [Rom 4:18 NASB]
Hope against hope is what is what settling it is all about. Leaning all your hope against God’s Word opens the door to the miraculous process of the seed. Dying is truly the door to life. Step one - SETTLE IT!
The remaining 4 steps are all focused on keeping the seed in place until the growth that is about to spring forth is manifested. It is very tempting to want to dig up the seed every now and again to see what, if anything is happening. A good farmer knows that this is a sure way not to get a harvest. Faith and patience obtain the promises (Heb 6:12).
Your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to take some quiet time with your heavenly Faith and make some decisions about the seeds He has sown into your life. It is time to settle some things, once and for all!
So stay tuned, and tune in...
by Pastor Jim Anan