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 asks.
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
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 God’s authority. Surely faith must require
that they sit still and wait for him to act.
A Time to Be Passive, a Time to Be Active
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 husband’s 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 be 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 16:6-7, 16:39-40).
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 David’s
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 David’s 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
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.