Uncertainty & Unbelief

In the church today, especially progressive wings of the church, it is all too popular to conflate uncertainty with unbelief. It all gets muddled under the word “doubt.” Christians these days like to say things like, “It’s okay to doubt. It’s normal and natural.” But do they mean, “It is okay to be uncertain?” Or do they mean, “It is okay to live in unbelief?”

Uncertainty is a normal and natural part of a life of faith. Unbelief, however, is a toxic poison to the life of faith. So what kind of “doubt” are we talking about? The Bible is really clear about the toxicity of unbelief.

In Luke 1, when Zechariah didn’t believe the word of God spoken by the angel Gabriel (who appeared to him in the Temple), Gabriel didn’t say, “It’s okay…doubt (meaning unbelief) is a normal part of the Christian life. I’ll celebrate your deconstruction process and give you space to find your truth.” Can you imagine?

Nope.

Gabriel was stern with Zechariah and said, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words…”(Luke 1:19-20).

Unbelief is so toxic that Gabriel would rather silence Zechariah than have him spread his unbelief through his spoken words.

Hunting on the Frontier

I went with my oldest son out to west Texas on a hunting trip. It was our first. The purpose of the trip was to celebrate my son’s graduation from elementary school and entrance into the preteen years. It was a coming-of-age trip. While there, we had a morning hunt and an evening hunt each day. We awoke at 5:45am to get to the deer stands before first light. In the evenings we were at the stands before sundown. This means for four days we saw every sunrise and every sunset on the west Texas horizon. It was amazing.

One lesson I learned from this experience was that frontier living is different than living in the comforts of home. What might feel “extreme” back home is a necessity out there. For instance, all the hunting gear seems unnecessary when you are purchasing it back home. But when you are sitting in 27 degree weather for two hours, in the dark, before the sun rises, you discover the true purpose of all that gear.

One might think, “Why do we need boots and hunting pants? Won’t shoes and normal pants be sufficient?” And the answer is, “No.” But you don’t realize it until you’re hiking through west Texas terrain full of spikes, thorns, and cactus. It’s not a walk in the woods out there. On the frontier, everything is trying to sting you, stick you, or bite you. Boots and hunting pants protect you from constantly being stuck.

And who really needs a sidearm when you have a rifle? It seems like overkill produced by gun-happy NRA advocates. It seems excessive back home. But it’s not out there. There are mountain lions and black bear that roam the same area as the deer. When you are hiking through the dark to and from a deer stand, it’s difficult to have a rifle ready if you were to be attacked. A sidearm protects you from these predators. On our trip we saw a momma black bear and her cub getting into one of the corn feeders. We had to go chase it off and shoot guns in the air to scare it. The danger from these animals is real out there and the need for a sidearm is equally real.

Likewise, cruising around the Target parking lot does not exactly demand 4-wheel drive vehicles. But out on the frontier, 4-wheel drive vehicles are the only ones that will make it over the rocky mountain roads. On the way to the hunting lease, one goes from highway (70 mph), to gravel roads made of caliche (25 mph), to rocky trails (5 mph). Having a 4-wheel drive vehicle is not an attempt to flaunt ego, it is an absolute necessity for getting anywhere.

I saw this pattern over and over again. What seems excessive back in the comfort of suburban life was needed for survival in the terrain of the frontier of west Texas. And it got me thinking about how this is true in the Christian faith. If you dare to live on the frontier of faith, entering the untamed wilds of the kingdom of darkness in order to bring about the Kingdom of God, you will do things, say things, and live in a way that seem extreme to those satisfied to stay in their comfort zone of faith. If you want to plunder the kingdom of darkness, one must be willing to live in the borderlands, the badlands, where extreme faith, radical power, and pioneering risk-taking are not the exception but the rule. What seems like extreme faith is really just faith on the frontier. What seems like extreme obedience is really just obedience on the frontier. They are what is necessary to live, survive, and thrive.

Suddenly

Ben-Hadad king of Aram mobilized his entire army and marched up and laid siege to Samaria. There was a great famine in the city; the siege lasted so long that a donkey’s head sold for eighty shekels of silver, and a quarter of a cab of seed pods for five shekels…

Elisha replied, “Hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Lord says: About this time tomorrow, a seah of the finest flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.”

The officer on whose arm the king was leaning said to the man of God, “Look, even if the Lord should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?”

“You will see it with your own eyes,” answered Elisha, “but you will not eat any of it!”

2 Kings 6:24-25; 7:1-2

The king of Aram had laid siege to the capitol city of the northern kingdom of Israel. The army surrounded the city and didn’t let any food or other products in or out of the city. Eventually the people ran out of food and money. Donkeys were considered an unclean animal and, not only were they eating them, but they were in high demand. Cannibalism had even set in. Hopelessness and despair were crushing the people of the city.

The king of Israel asked the prophet Elisha to seek the Lord for guidance. Elisha declares that their situation would change so suddenly that not only would they have food but they would have an overabundance. Prices on all goods would dramatically drop because of the outpouring of provision. Not only that, but all of this would happen within 24 hours.

One of the chief officers of the king couldn’t believe what Elisha was saying. He was a practical kind of guy. He reasoned that even if the siege somehow miraculously lifted, it would take weeks and months to get back to normal. Then it would take another set of miracles for crops to do well and for there to be an abundance. As this officer did the math, practically speaking, even if Elisha’s prophetic word came to be true, it would take months and months to happen. It was impossible for it to happen so suddenly.

Yet, that is exactly what happened. In the middle of the night, while the city of Samaria was asleep:

…the Lord had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army, so that they said to one another, “Look, the king of Israel has hired the Hittite and Egyptian kings to attack us!” So they got up and fled in the dusk and abandoned their tents and their horses and donkeys. They left the camp as it was and ran for their lives.

2 Kings 7:6-7

So within 24 hours, the Israelites had an overabundance of food, clothing, gold, silver, horses and all the other items that the Aramean army left behind. The Israelites could not have predicted what God did nor how He did it.

Over and over again in scripture we see that God is not only a God of process but also the God of the “suddenlies.” After a lifetime of having no children, Abraham and Sarah suddenly have a son. After a lifetime of deceptive actions, Jacob has a night of wrestling with the Lord and suddenly becomes Israel, the father of a nation. After 400 years in slavery, the Hebrews were suddenly set free. After 400 years of waiting for the Messiah, Jesus was suddenly born. After 30 years of living a normal life, Jesus suddenly gets baptized and starts His public ministry. After waiting 40 days from the time Jesus resurrected, the disciples suddenly experience an outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. After persecuting the early church, Saul, who becomes the apostle Paul, suddenly encounters the glorified Jesus on the road to Damascus. After being a faithful, God-fearing Gentile, Cornelius hears the gospel and suddenly has a life-changing encounter with the Holy Spirit.

We worship the God of the suddenlies. There seems to be a period of waiting before every suddenly of God. But when God decides to act, things move quickly. Things change faster than what a normal process would allow for. Things fall into place in rapid succession. Through the prophet Isaiah, God describes His tendency to act in this way:

I foretold the former things long ago,
    my mouth announced them and I made them known;
    then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass.

Isaiah 48:3

Notice that there is often a prophetic word first, then a time of waiting, then a sudden action from the Lord. This is a biblical pattern that happens over and over again in scripture.

I believe we are living out this pattern right now with the COVID-19 crisis. As the coronavirus was first hitting the U.S. a number of prophetic voices said that this thing would end suddenly. In other words, they were saying that it won’t take a year to get back to normal. Right now, many of the experts would disagree with those prophetic words because they are doing the math on how long normal processes would take. But what if God is about to do a “suddenly?”

Just like the people of Samaria, I have no scientific evidence to suggest that there is a “suddenly” coming. All I have is the word of the Lord delivered by prophetic people who may or may not have heard the Lord correctly. But I am choosing to lean into faith and believe that a suddenly of God is right around the corner. I don’t know if that means months, weeks or days. But in the waiting, I am going to choose to believe. Count me among the foolish ones who are choosing to live by faith and not by sight.

Lord, may your sudden action surprise and delight us all, and may Your Name be lifted up and glorified through it all!

Simple Faith

 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.

Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

2 Kings 5:9-14

When we read about the life of Elisha, almost everything he did was a foreshadowing of Jesus. This event was no different. Naaman, the commander of the armies of Aram, had leprosy and traveled south to Israel to seek healing from Elisha. When he arrived at Elisha’s house, we was told to simply go wash in the Jordan River seven times and he’d be healed. But the simplicity of this act was offensive to Naaman.

The Jordan River was not impressive back then nor is it today. Dipping in the Nile or the Euphrates may have seemed significant. Even the rivers of Aram (Abana and Pharpar) made more sense than the Jordan. Naaman was expecting a magical display of Elisha’s power. The healers and witch doctors of that day all had ceremonies and herbs and incantations for practicing their healing arts (as they still do today). They all had strict and complicated rituals for a person to follow in order to be healed. But God through Elisha didn’t need all of that. The power of the Spirit was enough to heal.

Notice that when a person has been taught their whole life that to get right with God, to get well, to get clean, one must work for it, simple grace is offensive. Earning one’s righteousness through works, though a heavy burden, comes with it the feeling of control. It comes with it the ability to retain one’s pride and self-sufficiency.

But receiving simple grace requires humility. It requires giving up on earning our righteousness, our healing, our cleansing. It demands simple obedience in receiving the grace of God. It means laying down my self-sufficiency and my control. This is why the simplicity of dipping in the Jordan was so offensive to Naaman. It was too easy. It displayed too much of God’s grace and not enough of his own works. Many people react the same way to the message of the gospel.

But if we want to be cleansed from the inside out, it requires something very simple. We only need to receive the grace of God through Jesus Christ. That’s what this weekend is all about. Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday are the once and for all declaration that God paid the price for our sin so that we wouldn’t have to. He sacrificed Himself so that we wouldn’t have to work for our righteousness. We could simply receive His righteousness, a righteousness that we don’t deserve in any way.

By believing Jesus, entrusting our life to Him, we lay down our attempts at saving ourselves through good works. We lay down our self-sufficiency and pride. Humbly, we come before the Lord and repent for our sin. And in doing so, we are given the free gift of grace. We are forgiven for all past, present and future sin, and we are given a new heart. The very Spirit of the Living God comes to dwell in us and begins to transform us from the inside out.

Naaman dipping seven times in the Jordan was a foreshadowing of the simplicity of baptism. We are washed clean from our sin, not by complicated religious rituals and incantations, but by simple faith in Jesus Christ. What He did for us was enough. We need only to believe it. We need only to take Jesus at His word.

Have you been spending your life trying to be a good person on your own merit? Apart from the transforming work of Christ, that kind of life only leads to failure and disappointment. If you haven’t already, receive the free grace of God, purchased for you by the death of Jesus. And receive a new heart, a new life, a life won for you by the resurrection of Jesus.

Don’t be offended by the simplicity of it all like Naaman was. Let go of the pride and self-sufficiency that would keep you from surrendering your life to Jesus, and invite the Holy Spirit to come and dwell within you. Pray something like this:

Father God, thank you for sending your son Jesus to take my place on the cross. Please forgive me for my sin and my selfishness. I receive your grace today. I know I don’t deserve it. I know I can’t earn it. I know Jesus did for me what I could never do for myself. I surrender my life to you, Jesus. I am yours. I ask You to come and transform my heart. Wash me clean. Make me new. Holy Spirit, I invite you to come and dwell in me and give me new life. I ask you to transform me from the inside out. I lay down my pride and my self-sufficiency. And in its place I receive your love and your peace. I ask all of this in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Valley Victories

The next spring Ben-Hadad mustered the Arameans and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. When the Israelites were also mustered and given provisions, they marched out to meet them. The Israelites camped opposite them like two small flocks of goats, while the Arameans covered the countryside.

The man of God came up and told the king of Israel, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Because the Arameans think the Lord is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the Lord.’”

1 Kings 20:26-28

Aram was just to the north of Israel. The king of Aram, Ben-Hadad, had come down in order to try to conquer the kingdom of Israel. But as they fought in the hill country, God gave Israel the victory. The armies of Aram had to flee for their lives.

However, Ben-Hadad wasn’t done. He decided to spend the year rebuilding his armies so that he could attack again. He thought that Israel’s “god” was the god of the hills and not a god of the valleys. That was Ben-Hadad’s explanation for why they lost the first time. So his strategy this time was to fight Israel in the flat part of the valley.

A prophet came and told all of this to the king of Israel. God’s intention was that Israel would once again defeat the Aramean armies in order to show conclusively that the God of Israel is the Lord and that He is the God of the hills and the God of the valleys.

I couldn’t help but be encouraged by this truth as we continue to face this global pandemic. God is God over the hills, the mountains, and the heights. But God is also God over the valleys, the plains, and the low places. God is able to give His people victory in the hills and victory in the valleys. Even when we feel surrounded and outnumbered, as the army of Israel was, the Lord is able to bring victory out of the most hopeless situations.

Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Psalm 23:4-6

Season of Uncertainty

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1:5-8

For we live by faith, not by sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7

Doubt and uncertainty are not the same thing. Too often, especially in the church, these two terms get muddled together as if we are talking about the same things. But they are very different. Doubt is the antithesis of faith, whereas uncertainty is a natural part of faith.

That feeling we are all feeling right now is uncertainty. Uncertainty is that feeling of not knowing and not being able to predict with any reasonable accuracy what will happen next. We don’t know what will be closed. We don’t know what the governor will order to be shut down. We don’t know when schools will reopen. We don’t know if our friends and loved ones will get COVID-19. We don’t know how all of this will play out. Not being able to see what’s next is the soil where faith can grow. This is why we walk by faith and not by sight.

Uncertainty is very different than doubt. Doubt isn’t just being uncertain about when schools will reopen; it’s not trusting that the school board will make a wise decision. Doubt isn’t just being uncertain about what the government will keep closed; it’s not believing they have our best interest in mind. Do you see the difference?

When we translate this into our relationship with God, the difference between doubt and uncertainty is glaring. Having moments of uncertainty in our faith just means we don’t have all the answers. It means we still have a lot to learn about how God operates in the world and what part our sin has to play in the outcome. Uncertainty is a normal and natural part of a life of faith, but doubt is not.

The Bible never celebrates doubt. It never says that doubt is normal and natural. In fact, it says the opposite. It says that doubt is destructive and corrosive to a life of faith. Doubt isn’t just being uncertain about various aspects of the Christian life; it’s calling into question the nature and character of God. Doubt causes us not to trust that God is good, loving, and kind. Doubt causes us to not trust that God is forgiving, just, and gracious to us. While uncertainty questions circumstances, doubt questions God’s character. In humility, uncertainty admits our limited understanding while doubt tries to put God on trial.

It’s been popular these days in some Christian circles to celebrate doubt, but this is toxic to a life of faith. Faith is more than believing in God. Faith is more than believing a set of theological truths about God. Faith is believing God. Faith is trusting in the nature and character of God. It is believing in His goodness and faithfulness to us. Faith is trusting God, whose goodness is unchanging, even when our circumstances change.

We are living in a season of uncertainty. But uncertainty doesn’t have to lead to doubt. Uncertainty can be the rich soil where faith blossoms. Faith is choosing to look at the world through the lens of trust when our physical eyes can’t yet see. When we let uncertainty lead us into doubt, doubt soon becomes cynical unbelief. Cynicism is a sure sign that the roots of doubt have dug into a person’s heart.

I have found that seasons of change bring uncertainty, but they also bring upgrades. Birthing is like that. Pain and uncertainty precede new life. Last fall, my 2005 Honda Accord broke down. I had so many good memories in that car. It was harder to let go of that car than I thought it would be. But God gave me an upgrade. God provided for me a much better car that has greater seating capacity and more power. This car analogy is just a shallow example of a deeper truth. The pain and uncertainty led to an upgrade. Good Friday preceded Resurrection Sunday. This is what God will do if we let Him.

The Willing

“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

Matthew 21:28-32

I met with a Methodist pastor the other day who is not only engaging in the gifts of the Spirit but is also equipping his church to do the same. He is creating space in the Methodist liturgy to give words of knowledge, pray for healing, and give testimonies of those who have been healed. Before he was a pastor he had a career in computer science.

I’m meeting with an Anglican guy today who wants to engage his church in the things of the Spirit. He’s a post-doctoral research scientist at Johns Hopkins University in Applied Physics.

It may seem strange to some that individuals with very rational and intellectual backgrounds who are from mainline protestant denominations are engaging in the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. We have tended to relegate the things of the Holy Spirit to the Pentecostals and those “crazy” charismatics.

But this is a pattern that I see emerging in the Church right now. God is taking men and women who are highly intellectual–Ph.Ds, medical doctors, scientists, professors–and He is taking men and women from denominations not known for emotionalism or hype, and He is pouring out the supernatural gifts of the Spirit upon them. It is easy enough for our snobbish superiority complex to write off a trailer park guy from a Pentecostal church when he tells us about a supernatural encounter with God he had. But trying writing off an Anglican scientist who has a Ph.D from Hopkins. Our smug rationalism doesn’t know what to do with that.

Jesus told the parable above to remind us that He is less interested in what people will say they will do and is more interested in what people will actually do. Tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the Kingdom ahead of the ones who knew the Jewish law so well.

Today, Methodist computer scientists and Anglican Ph.Ds are engaging in the Spirit of God ahead of many others simply because they are willing. They are willing to step out in faith and risk. They are willing to believe in the supernatural things of God. And so they are seeing people get healed in their churches, they are seeing people activated in the gifts of the Spirit, and they are seeing God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven simply because they are willing.

It doesn’t matter what denomination is on the church sign out front. It doesn’t matter if you call yourself charismatic or Pentecostal or “spirit-filled” or nondenominational. If you aren’t willing to step out in faith and believe in the supernatural, if you aren’t willing to engage in and practice the gifts of the Spirit, God will find those who are willing.

I don’t want to be like the second son who said that he would do it and then didn’t. I want my story to resemble the first son. Though at first I wasn’t sure about these supernatural experiences and supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit–maybe at first I was hesitant and too scared to step out in faith and give a prophetic word or a word of knowledge or pray for the sick–but eventually I decided I had to be obedient and do it. The question still stands, “Which of the two did what his Father wanted?”

No matter what our educational background, no matter what our denominational tradition, are we willing? Are we willing to explore and engage in the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit? If not, God will find those who are, and they will experience the Kingdom of God ahead of us!

The Toxicity of Unbelief

“Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” … Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 

John 12:36-37

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 

So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

Hebrews 3:12 & 19

Living in a culture that celebrates doubt can cause us to forget all the warnings from Jesus and from the rest of the New Testament against unbelief. Scripture does not paint unbelief as something that everyone should embrace as a “normal” part of life. Instead, unbelief is regularly warned against as something that is toxic and damaging.

Imagine you are in an ancient army, fighting a foreign enemy for the sake of your King and the Kingdom to which you belong. Battle can become wearisome. Armor can get heavy. There are always casualties of war and that, by itself, can be discouraging. But imagine you press through all of this to continue to fight valiantly for your King.

Now imagine as you enter the battlefield one of the soldiers behind you says, “You know, I’m not sure I believe in our king anymore. I’m not sure we even have a king. Further, I don’t think that army over there is real either. I have serious doubts that we are even in a war. This army that you talk about us fighting against, maybe it’s just a figment of your imagination. Yesterday I was talking to this nice merchant who sells furs, I think her name was Lucy, and she told me she’d pay me a bonus fee to go home. I’m tired anyway, so I think I’m going to take her up on her offer.”

What is your response to your fellow soldier? Are you inclined to coddle them with, “Oh, I totally understand. It’s normal to question whether the King is real and whether that army over there is just a fictitious mirage. Take your time and go home. We’ll be here bleeding and fighting if you ever think you might want to return.” Is that what you’d say? I hope not.

My guess is that most of us would tap into our inner Master Sergeant and begin to challenge our fellow soldier to stay in the fight. We would remind him not to be deceived by Lucy’s lies and not to give up. We’d remind him of how much we need him supporting our flank and how being tired should never lead us into unbelief, no matter how tired we get. The King has called us to war and the Kingdom needs us to be all in! It’s a privilege and an honor to be in the King’s army, even when it’s hard.

Let’s call unbelief what it really is. It is deception. And the end result of unbelief is cowardice. It’s choosing the comfort of the couch over the challenge of the battlefield.

Proven Faith

Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel… “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”

“Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” 

David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

1 Samuel 17:8, 10-11, 26, 28-29, 32

Faith in the Living God and courage to do what He’s called you to do often looks like arrogance and conceit to those who live consumed with fear and doubt. David did not have faith in his own abilities; he had faith in the God of Israel and God’s ability to use David. People with this kind of faith come across as arrogant to those who struggle to trust God and don’t believe God can use them for great things.

But David had more than faith in God and confidence that God could use him. He had experience in trusting the Lord and seeing the Lord use him.

Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

1 Samuel 17:33-37

It wasn’t just that Eliab struggled to trust God. It wasn’t just that Eliab doubted how God could use him (In other words, he didn’t have an identity grounded in the Lord). But it was also that Eliab didn’t have experience trusting in the Lord in difficult situations and seeing the Lord come through for him. David did.

For David, this wasn’t blind faith. This was proven faith. God had proven Himself faithful time and time again as David stepped out in faith. Goliath simply represented the next step of faith, not a “giant” leap.

The problem with many of us is not that we don’t possess “giant level” faith. The problem is that we haven’t been taking the smaller steps of faith behind-the-scenes when no one else was around. We haven’t been taking the smaller risks to trust in the Lord and see Him come through. This is what prepares us for the day of battle–the day where giant faith is needed.

In other words, the real issue isn’t that we don’t have the faith to face a Goliath. The real issue is that we haven’t been taking the smaller steps of faith to go after a lion or a bear. We haven’t been willing to take those risks when we were in charge of sheep, and we wonder why we can’t take charge of an army and face a Goliath.

David was full of faith and confident in how God could use him because of all the risks he took leading up to this moment. Goliath was simply the next logical step. What seemed impossible to the rest of the army just seemed reasonable to David.

It’s not blind faith that makes the impossible seem reasonable; it’s proven faith. Tested and proven faith–faith that’s been seasoned with real experience–is what is able to face down impossible situations. Proven faith is something that grows in the life of a person willing to continually take risks that require trust in the Lord. It’s a lifestyle, not something that is mustered up in a crisis.

Stepping up and stepping out with proven faith will often look arrogant to those who have confused doubt with humility. For too many Christians, humility looks like uncertain timidity, waffling doubt, and the fear of what other people will say. But is that the humility we see Jesus live out? Is that how we would describe Jesus? Timid? Waffling in doubt? Afraid of what people will say? No way! And yet Jesus walked in absolute perfect humility.

What David did to face down Goliath took tremendous humility because it required him to trust not in his own strength and ability but in the Lord. So what looked like an act of arrogant conceit to his brother was actually radical humility on display. This teaches us that radical humility may, at times, look like meekness, yet at other times it will look like bold courage. David’s action was radical humility in bold courage form. David had to trust that the Lord would come through for him. He also had to trust what the Lord said about him. He had to trust that God could use him powerfully. David risked his life based on that trust. That’s true humility.

I’ve seen this same accusation of arrogance and conceit in the Christian community launched against people stepping out in proven faith and bold courage for the name of Jesus. We have whole churches, and sometimes whole denominations, full of Eliabs. Timid uncertainty–waffling doubt–is not humility. Most of the time it’s a symptom of unbelief.

Eliabs mask their fear and unbelief by calling it prudent wisdom. They only want to do what seems reasonable, measured, safe. Is that how the New Testament describes the life of following Jesus? Safe? Reasonable? Measured? Not even close.

I don’t want to be an Eliab. I want to be a David, don’t you? I want to walk in bold, proven faith. I want to step out and take risks for the name of Jesus regardless of the whispers and gossip it creates around me. I want to lay my life down and trust the Lord. I want to believe what He says about me in His word, and I want to trust Him for big things. Don’t you?

It doesn’t start with Goliaths. It starts with sheep. It starts with lions and bears. What risk is God asking you to take? What steps of radical faith is He requiring of you in 2020?

Bringing Breakthrough

Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”

“Do all that you have in mind,” his armor-bearer said. “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.”

Jonathan said, “Come on, then; we will cross over toward them and let them see us. If they say to us, ‘Wait there until we come to you,’ we will stay where we are and not go up to them. But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the Lord has given them into our hands.”

1 Samuel 14:6-10

Israel was at war with the Philistines. Jonathan, King Saul’s son, decided to take a special ops mission to attack a Philistine outpost located on the edge of a cliff. No one in the army knew of this special mission.

First, notice that Jonathan went boldly because of his confidence in the Lord. It wasn’t confidence in himself. It wasn’t even confidence in a promise from God or a word from the Lord. Jonathan wasn’t guaranteed victory. His confidence was simply in the nature and character of God. Jonathan’s view of God was that the Lord’s heart was, at all times, inclined to give victory to His people. This bold move of faith, as many are, was grounded in a trust of the goodness of God–the faithful nature of God.

Secondly, notice that while the regular army didn’t know Jonathan was undertaking this special ops mission–even his own dad, the king, didn’t know–Jonathan didn’t go alone. He was stepping out in faith and he needed someone to believe in him. Jonathan needed a partner in this mission who trusted him as much as Jonathan trusted God. His armor-bearer was that person. The armor-bearer didn’t know the outcome of the mission or even all the details, and he didn’t need to. He knew Jonathan and trusted him with his life.

The third noteworthy component of this special mission was that Jonathan and the armor-bearer waited for confirmation before attacking. Though they were not directly sent by a command of the Lord, they still waited for confirmation that the Lord was with them. They knew two men had no chance against a Philistine outpost. Their confidence wasn’t in their fighting ability. Their confidence was in the Lord. If He was with them, they knew they would be okay. If the Philistines invited them to come up, that was their sign that the favor of the Lord was on them for victory. And that is exactly what we see happen.

Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre.

Then panic struck the whole army—those in the camp and field, and those in the outposts and raiding parties—and the ground shook. It was a panic sent by God.

1 Samuel 14:13-15

Jonathan and his armor-bearer were spotted by the Philistines and then given a mocking invitation to come up the cliff so the Philistines could kill them. Little did the Philistines know, this invitation was the sign from the Lord that Jonathan would have the victory that day.

Jonathan was faithful to do his part. He trusted the Lord. He stepped out in faith with great risk to himself. The armor-bearer was faithful to do his part. He trusted Jonathan and followed his lead. Then we see the Lord step in. God was faithful to do His part. Not only did He give Jonathan and his armor-bearer favor as they fought, but He also sent the rest of the Philistine army into a panic.

Saul and the main army saw the chaos and joined the battle. What started as Jonathan’s victory became the whole army’s victory.

This is how breakthrough happens in the Church today! One person is willing to step out in faith–a faith that looks crazy to everyone else–not because they were guaranteed an outcome by a word from the Lord but because of their unyielding trust in the character and nature of God. They have someone by their side who believes in them even when no one else does. And the Lord honors their radical faith in such a way that not only does that person get the victory, but the whole Church then is able to step into that area of faith and experience the victory as well.

We see examples of this throughout church history. Martin Luther looked crazy for his time. He was willing to step out in radical faith and trust that we are saved “by grace through faith…not by works”(Ephesians 2:8-9). This was radical, even dangerous, for his day. His bold faith not only created a breakthrough for himself but for the whole Church. We all now embrace that truth with ease, as if it had always been obvious to all believers at all times, but it took someone with radical faith to pioneer a way forward.

This is also true for those who pray for the sick. There are those who pray for healing for diseases that have never, or have rarely ever, seen healing. When people in our skeptical generation do that, they look foolish. They look crazy. At times, they are even called “dangerous.” But what we are witnessing is radical, pioneering faith. We are witnessing a Jonathan who is willing to climb a cliff that no one else would dare climb. We are witnessing someone with bold faith in the nature and character of our good Father.

When healing comes for that disease, there is often a breakthrough for the whole Church. Suddenly people around the world hear the testimony and begin to believe. Faith rises, and the outpost of the enemy that seemed invincible suddenly looks vulnerable. The enemy panics, and the whole Church begins to see breakthrough in that particular disease.

Burning in my heart is a desire to be a Jonathan (and if not a Jonathan then an armor-bearer to a Jonathan). As the Lord looks throughout the earth for those who would trust Him, I wanted to be counted among them. As the Lord looks for those who might be willing to step out with radical faith, I want to be among those who say, “Yes.”