In my devotions last week I was struck by the juxtaposition of two very distinct chapters in the Bible: Numbers 14 and Hebrews 11. I have followed for a number of years Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s Bible reading plan. The plan he developed hundreds of years ago takes you through the Old Testament once in a year and the New Testament and Psalms twice. The plan leads one to read four chapters of the Bible daily in different Bible books.
Last week’s devotions took me through Numbers 14 after Moses had sent twelve spies into the Promised Land. The spies came back and reported on the land. Ten spies discouraged the people of Israel from believing that God would give them the land promised. Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, believed that God would fulfill his promise. The result, fear overcame faith. The people rebelled against God. And God spoke judgment upon them. None of the adults who witnessed the miraculous redemption from Egypt (plagues, Passover, parting of the Red Sea, destruction of Pharaoh’s army, manna, water from a rock, etc.) would enter into the Promised Land. Instead their judgment would be 40 years of wilderness wandering.
In contrast, Hebrews 11 is the great faith chapter of the Bible.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.Hebrews 11:1
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.Hebrews 11:6
The author of Hebrews lists example after example of faith in the Old Testament. Unlike Israel in the wilderness, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Joshua, Rahab, and on and on, took God at his Word and believed. Their faith was commended, while the unbelieving Israel was judged.
The contrast between the two chapters is striking.
The contrast got me thinking about my own Christian life. Too often my faith (or lack thereof) is like Israel in the wilderness. I’ve witnessed God’s greatness, his redemptive work, his mercy, and his provision over and over again. Yet when faced with an obstacle or an opportunity, I have failed to believe.
As I read and thought about these two poignant chapters of the Bible, the Holy Spirit convicted me. He convicted me about my faith.
What we need to understand is that believing in God is not some sort of blind leap (like Kierkegaard proposed). God does not expect us to close our eyes, shut off our reason, and believe irrationally. No, God’s invitation to believe is based on his Word and his Works.
Consider Israel, they witnessed miraculous intervention after glorious miraculous intervention for weeks and months. Yet when God gave them the opportunity to believe and take the Promised Land, they failed to believe. It was not blind faith they lacked. Rather, they looked at their surroundings (the walls and the armies and the Canaanites) and feared what could happen. They did not look at God, nor what God had done, nor what God had said.
The great examples of faith in Hebrews 11 are different. They were not more holy or more deserving of God’s intervention. It was not their holy lives that were commended, though many did reflect their faith in acts of obedience. They were commended for their faith: their belief in God based on what he had already done and what he had said.
So in my next moment of crisis (obstacle or opportunity), here’s what I’m going to try to remember and what I’m going to ask you to remember.
- Read what God has said about himself and about us. God’s Word is our primary source for God’s character, purposes, and interventions in our lives (his works and his words). Who God has always been is who God is today (see Hebrews 13:8).
- Remember what God has done in your own life. Remember God’s redemption of your soul, how he’s protected, defended, helped, and cared for you over and over again. Look back at God’s work in your own life and let his faithfulness undergird your faith.
- Reflect on God and on his Son. I’m convinced that my own failures in faith are because I’m looking around me or looking inside me. If I look at circumstances, I’ll fear. If I look at my own capabilities, I’ll faint. If I look at God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, then I’ll have faith (Hebrews 12:2).
Friend, this reminder is why we need God’s Word, prayer, and the gathering of believers in corporate worship. When we read the Bible, pray, and testify together in song and sermon about God and his goodness, we build our faith muscles.
Will you join me this week in exercising your faith?
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Looking up is always key. We learn from history.