|Few questions confuse us more
as Christians than what it means to live by faith. When
does it mean sitting still and leaving a need completely
in the hands of Christ? When does it mean taking prudent
initiative to solve a problem or reach a goal?
Christians assume that faith usually means the former and
not the latter. Jack longs for a new job that would make
better use of his gifts. Yet he fears he would be pushing
God by going out and looking for one. "Shouldn't I
assume that if Christ wants me in a different job, he'll
bring it along without any effort on my part?" he
Susan, who wants to be married, wrestles with
a similar question. She would like to change jobs or even
move to a different city where the prospects of meeting
someone compatible are better. Yet she wonders if this
would be taking matters too much into her own hands.
"Doesn't faith demand that I simply wait for Christ
to bring the right man directly to me?" she asks.
Both Jack and Susan would prefer to be doing something
specific toward reaching their goals, and each see clear
steps they could take. Yet they fear that their efforts
to change things would usurp Gods authority. Surely
faith must require that they sit still and wait for him
A Time to Be Passive, a Time to Be
Scripture teaches, though, that we are called to
exercise two different levels of faith at
various times as Christians. At one level we are to be
inactive and wait patiently for the Lord to move. Here
faith involves believing that Christ will bring about a
solution apart from any effort on our end. It is shown in
so many situations in Scripture where people were either
told to be still or forced to be still and wait for the
Lord to act. Examples include Joseph in prison, the
Israelites at the edge of the impassable Jordan River,
and Jesus' disciples just before his ascension when they
were instructed, "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait
for the gift my Father promised" (Acts 1:4).
Yet Scripture just as frequently affirms the faith
involved in taking personal responsibility. We find so
many impressive pictures in the Bible of individuals who,
without any divine revelation or special prompting, took
bold steps to reach a personal goal: Naomi and Ruth
moving from Moab to Bethlehem, Nehemiah courageously
organizing the Israelites to rebuild Jerusalem, Paul
knocking on many doors to find opportunities to
preach--in his own words, "making it my ambition to
preach the gospel" (Rom 15:20 RSV).
In reality, there can be just as much faith involved
in taking personal initiative as there is in waiting
passively for the Lord to provide. While Ruth would have
been commended for staying in Moab and waiting for God to
heal the heartbreak of her husbands death, she
probably showed greater faith in going to Bethlehem. By
moving forward she placed herself in a vulnerable
position where she had to trust the Lord to protect her,
to open doors and to make her venture successful.
Interestingly, it was this very move that opened her to
the relationship with Boaz, who became her husband.
It is right, then, to speak of a second level of faith that we are to demonstrate as Christians. At this level
we are active and assertive. We take initiative to find
the answer to a need. And by moving forward we force
ourselves to a dependence on the Lord that wouldn't be
possible if we merely sat still.
Taking Bold Initiative
While this distinction is interesting enough, it still
leaves the question, when does God want us to operate at
level one faith and when at level two? Let me suggest a
rule of thumb: If we are facing a seemingly
insurmountable problem--a situation that we believe we
are powerless to influence--we should stay at level one
faith. Yet if there is a reasonable step we can take to
improve things or to move toward a goal, then we should
assume that God wants us to operate at level two. Taking
this step doesn't mean we won't still have plenty of
opportunity to experience level one faith, for as we move
forward unexpected obstacles always arise which throw us
back to waiting on the Lord. But the thrust of our life
at this point should toward taking bold initiative.
If you examine most of the examples in Scripture where
individuals did the will of God, you will find that they
fit this pattern. Paul, for instance, generally assumed
that he should take initiative to open doors except for
those occasional times when God clearly closed them (Acts
We can expect, too, that taking initiative will often
require us to express our convictions clearly--even
to those who disagree with us--and that God will use our
assertiveness to persuade people and open important doors
for us. We should always listen carefully to the counsel
others give us and be open to having our insights changed
by theirs. Yet God will also use us to counsel others and
to correct their misunderstandings.
We find an inspiring example of assertiveness in
Davids discussion with Saul about fighting Goliath.
David took the initiative to propose to Saul that he
battle the giant. Saul's initial response was negative:
"You are not able to go out against this Philistine
and fight him; you are only a boy, and he has been a
fighting man from his youth" (1 Sam 17:33).
But David pressed his point with Saul: "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 delivered me from the paw of the
lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the
hand of this Philistine" (1 Sam 17:34-37).
Saul was not put off by Davids
straightforwardness but persuaded by it! "Go, and
the LORD be with you," he
replied (1 Sam 17:37). In this case, God honored one
man's efforts to convince someone considerably more
knowledgeable and powerful than himself that he had gifts
which should be put to use. An entire nation benefited
from his assertiveness.
The passage drives home a point vital for each of us.
Not only does God lead us to see new horizons for our
lives, but he also uses us as agents of change to bring these
options about. Walking in faith requires that we assert
ourselves. We can find the courage to do this if we
believe that God will honor our efforts and that others
will benefit from our initiative. David's example gives
us rich encouragement at this point.
I would simply offer two cautions about taking
personal initiative. One is that we should consider a
step of faith only if we can pursue it without frenzy,
within the time and energy limits the Lord has given us,
and without jeopardizing other commitments we have
already made. The other is that our understanding of
which steps of faith we should take should grow out of a
regular time alone with Christ, where we carefully think
through the direction of our life and what God wants us
to do. In general, individuals in Scripture were judged
presumptuous not because they took personal initiative
but because they did so without establishing their plans
before the Lord (Josh 9:14).
As we daily seek the Lord's direction, we should feel
great freedom to take bold initiative to find the best
opportunities for using our gifts and building
relationships. I remember what great relief I felt as a
young Christian when a friend suggested to me that it was
okay to do this. I hope you will feel similar relief in
realizing the freedom Scripture gives you at this point.
The fact is that God gives us much greater control to change
the circumstances of our lives than we tend to think.