Living by Faith in an Uncertain World
by Dr. Ray Pritchard
I received an email from someone who is struggling with some decisions that have not worked out the way they expected. The details don’t matter except to say that the person took what seemed to be a step of faith and the result has been a great big mess.
“What did I do wrong?”
That’s a natural question to ask when life rewards your courage with nothing but trouble. The truth is, it’s entirely possible that this person did nothing wrong. Or maybe they did, but their current troubles are not proof that they were wrong in the first place.
That’s a hard truth to accept, especially when you’re the one in the middle of the mess, after you’ve done what you thought was the will of God. There are a lot of things that might be said at this point, but perhaps this one needs to be mentioned first.
Join the club.
What club is that? The International Fellowship of Faith-Walkers Who Feel Like Failures. The bad new is, we’re all a member of that club at one time or another. The good news is the membership includes every major Bible hero. Peter is a charter member. And so is David. And Gideon. And Noah. And Sarah. And Job. And Jacob.
The list goes on and on. Hebrews 11 offers us a long list of men and women who obeyed God even when things didn’t always work out they way they expected. The names written there are like a biblical hall of fame: Abel . . . Enoch . . . Noah . . . Abraham . . . Sarah . . . Jacob . . . Joseph . . . Moses . . . Joshua . . . David. Different people, different stories, widely separated in time and space. Stories that span thousands of years. Stories that encompass murder, natural catastrophe, family treachery, physical weakness, failed dreams, missed opportunities, sibling rivalry, and military conquest. The men and women whose stories are told in this particular chapter differ in every way but one. What they did, they did by faith.
All of them had moments when they must have wondered, “What did I do wrong?” Yet God considered each of them worthy of mention in this great chapter. Our focus in this message is on the man we often call “Father Abraham.” In the Bible he stands as the preeminent example of a man who lived by faith. Hebrews 11:8-10 tells how he obeyed God’s call at great personal sacrifice. It tells us what he did; more importantly, it tells us why he did it. And it clearly shows us that obeying God doesn’t always work out the way we think it will.
Let’s begin with some brief facts about Abraham. When we meet him in the Bible, he is living 4,000 years ago in a far-off place called Ur of the Chaldees – on the banks of the Euphrates River, not far from the mouth of the Persian Gulf. No doubt he and his wife Sarah worshiped the moon-god Sin. He is a prosperous, middle-aged man, successful by any human standard. Life has been good to Abraham and Sarah. Certainly they have no reason to complain.
It is at precisely this moment that God speaks to him – clearly, definitely, unmistakably. What God says will change his life – and ultimately alter the course of world history.
So what does it mean to live by faith in an uncertain world?
Truth #1: Living by faith means accepting God’s call without knowing where it will lead.
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). There is only one way to describe Ur of the Chaldees. It was a world-class city. Archaeologists tell us that in Abraham’s day perhaps 250,000 people lived there. It was a center of mathematics, astronomy, commerce and philosophy. People from outlying areas moved to Ur because they wanted to be part of that great city.
No doubt many of Abraham’s friends thought he was crazy. Why would anyone want to leave Ur? Obeying God’s call meant giving up his friends, his career, his traditions, his home, his position, his influence, and his country. More than that, it meant risking his health and his future on a vague promise from an unseen God to lead him to “a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).
When Abraham left Ur, he burned his bridges behind him. For him there could be no turning back. Once he left the walls of Ur, he was on his own, following God’s call into the unknown.
You say, “He gave all that up?”
Please don’t miss the point. When God calls, there are no guarantees about tomorrow. Abraham truly didn’t know where he was going, didn’t know how he would get there, didn’t know how long it would take, and didn’t even know for sure how he would know he was there when he got there. All he knew was that God had called him. Period. Everything else was up in the air.
You want a long life? So do I.
There’s nothing wrong with those desires. All of us feel that way. But living by faith means no guarantees and no certainty about the future.
I was once approached by a Christian ministry asking if I would consider a particular position in their organization. I met the people, liked them very much, and was very impressed by what they were doing. As I investigated further, I found that they take very good care of the people who work for them. I liked everything I learned about the people and their ministry. But when the moment came, I decided to say no. This isn’t how I put it to them, but it’s how I said it to myself.
I couldn’t hear the bells ringing.
You either understand that or you don’t. If you don’t, there isn’t much I can say that will be helpful. And if you do, there isn’t any explanation that is needed. But I will add this much. All of us come to moments in life when we say yes or no to certain opportunities simply because it’s the right thing to do at the time. Sometimes we take a job because we need to pay bills and take care of our family. It’s hard to get more basic than that. And young people take jobs in various places as they are building their careers. I just read an article that suggests that the average worker in the US may have as many as 10 jobs by the time he is 40 and will make 3-5 career changes by the time he retires. People make moves and change jobs and relocate and start over again for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes you are forced to make decisions for reasons beyond your control. In these tough economic times, people scramble to take whatever jobs they can find. But there are moments in life when you have a choice, a decision, and you can stay where you are or you can do something different. I don’t know of any failsafe way to know in advance how things will work out.
Abraham heard the bells ringing (not literally – that’s a symbol for a sense of God’s calling), and so he left Ur of the Chaldees. If you truly want to do God’s will, sometimes you will find yourself exactly where Abraham was – setting out on a new journey that doesn’t seem to make sense from the world’s point of view. How would he ever explain his decision to leave the comfort of Ur for the uncertainty of a long trek across the desert? The only certainty he had was that God had called him and he must obey. The rest was shrouded in mystery. That fact makes his obedience all the more impressive. The NIV version of Hebrews 11:8 says he “obeyed and went.” There was no greater miracle in his life than that. Everything else that happened flowed from this basic decision. God called; he obeyed. That truth was the secret of his life. He stepped out in faith even though there were no guarantees about his own personal future.
Let me put it another way. Living by faith means stepping out for God and leaving the results to him. It’s no guarantee of long life and good success. You may have those blessings. But you may not.
The life of faith means, “I am going to be the man or woman God wants me to be, no matter where it leads. I don’t know the future, but I’m trusting him to work out the details. In the meantime, I step out by faith and follow where he leads me.”
That brings us to the second great truth about living by faith.