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|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?
Many 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, a woman 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 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 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 which 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 16:6-7, 16:39-40).
We can expect, too, that taking initiative will often require us often 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 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 greater control to change
the circumstances of our lives than we tend to think.
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Copyright 1997 M. Blaine Smith.