Tag Archives: faith

Elijah: Faith that Acts

Committing ourselves to the Jesus way does not mean that we will be spared moments of crisis —moments when we are filled with fear and paralysis. However, we must be prepared and make use of the spiritual resources that God has provided. Elijah’s experience helps us understand those resources. 

God’s directions provide us with insight. God offers Elijah, and us, three specific spiritual resources: visioning, speaking, and acting

God’s third instruction to Elijah is significant for us: Act on faith 

God tells Elijah to go back the way he came (1 Kings 19:15).  

We cannot follow in the Jesus way until we act. Peter was transformed each time he acted on what he knew in that moment. Bit by bit, Peter’s actions of faith shaped and molded him into the true person God intended him to be—when he stepped out of the boat at the call of Jesus during a storm (Matthew 14:22-33; when he declared Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God, at Caesarea-Philippi (Matthew 16:13-19); and when he began to preach to the crowds of Jerusalem (Acts 2:14-42).  

Holy Spirit power flowed though Peter when he acted on what he knew—offering the love of the resurrected Christ to all those who had rejected the earthly Jesus. Peter did not need to know it all, but he did need to act on whatever he knew at the time; and when he did so, his life was transformed.  

To follow Jesus up close, rather than at a distance, we must base our lives on the reality of faith rather than the reality of fear. We serve an awesome God, a God whose promises are steadfast and whose presence, while unseen, is everlasting. When we keep that vision of faith before us, when we declare our faith aloud giving it a life of its own, when we act on whatever faith God has provided us in the moment, we move to Jesus’ side; and we are able to walk with him in intimacy and power. 


Elijah: Are You Willing to Speak Your Faith?

Committing ourselves to the Jesus way does not mean that we will be spared moments of crisis—moments when we are filled with fear and paralysis. However, we must be prepared and make use of the spiritual resources that God has provided. Elijah’s experience helps us understand those resources. 

God’s directions provide us with insight. God offers Elijah, and us, three specific spiritual resources: visioning, speaking, and acting

Elijah obeyed God’s command and stood on Mount Sinai; and as he stood in that place of vision, he encountered God. There was a mighty windstorm; the wind was so strong that it broke rocks from the mountain. There was an earthquake. There was a fire. Then there was a whisper (1 Kings 19:11-13). Envisioning faith, keeping that picture in front of us, requires attending to aspects of life that aren’t readily apparent. God wasn’t in the wind, wasn’t in the earthquake, and wasn’t in the fire. 

 God was found in that “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12, RSV).  

The voice of God is not always readily noticeable. It is not something we always have an ear for. Yet following in the Jesus way involves attending to things that aren’t readily apparent. It involves listening for the voice of God and placing ourselves in a position to hear it often.  

My Belgian friend Mieke has lived in the United States for many years. One time she participated in a program that required her to ride along with a local police officer during an eight-hour shift. During her ride along, she encountered a police dog and heard the officer giving the dog commands—in Dutch! As she relayed the story, she exclaimed, “It was a Belgian dog!” I laughed because the thought occurred to me that here was a dog that could comprehend a language that I am completely unable to understand. A similar thought occurs to me every time I visit Mieke’s family and hear them conversing happily in Flemish—especially the children. Here I am, an educated adult, and I can’t understand a word they are saying; yet there they are—four-year-olds!—and they have no problem understanding whatsoever. I understand that I speak English because I grew up in an English speaking home. Mieke speaks Flemish because she grew up in Belgium, in a Flemish-speaking home. The police dog understood Dutch because its handlers, those who trained it from its earliest memory, spoke Dutch.  

We recognize the voices, the language, of those with whom we surround ourselves. We speak whatever language we hear regularly and often. If we are to hear the voice of God, and thus have an understanding of what it means to follow Jesus in real time, we must surround ourselves with the language and voice of God.  

If we desire to attend to the things that aren’t readily apparent, to hear the voice of God that molds and shapes our vision of faith, we must hang out in places where God’s voice can be heard, where we can consistently see people who are further along on their journey of faith and can energize us to push through in times of disruption and paralysis. God offers Elijah the spiritual resource of faith visioning in order to help him push through his state of paralysis and follow more closely: ”Stand before me on the mountain.”  

Then God offers another directive: “Speak.” God tells Elijah to find Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha and tell them about what he has experienced, anointing Hazael and Jehu as kings and Elisha as the next prophet. God’s directive to speak is a significant directive if we are going to push through our difficulties in order to follow in the Jesus way.  

If we hold an idea or belief within ourselves, it will always remain an idea; it can never become a reality. Only by speaking our idea or belief aloud, by sharing it with others, is it empowered to become a reality. In speaking, we give life to our ideas and beliefs; they begin to exist outside ourselves, becoming infectious and dynamic 

That is why the apostle Paul included both speaking and believing in his instructions to the Romans: “For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved” (Romans 10:9-10, NLT).  

Like the experience of many of us, my adolescence was rocky and difficult. My classmates spoke resistance and disruption: “Nerd,” “Brain,” “Loser”; but my mother always spoke faith: “Your day will come, you will shine, you will blossom, you will flourish.” She was like Moses in the wilderness. There was adversity all around. But Moses spoke about the land that God had promised, a land flowing with milk and honey. Speaking faith grows faith. It creates and solidifies our faith visions and those of others around us. It enables Jesus to work through us to work miracles in the lives of those around us. It moves us forward through adversity, fear, paralysis, and resistance to keep us following Jesus 

When we speak, we make ourselves accountable. We expand our sense of following from a solely internal project to an external one. As we speak faith, the vision we place beyond ourselves takes on a life of its own. Speaking faith keeps us close to the fire, enabling us to follow Jesus side by side even through periods of paralysis and fear.  

Elijah received three spiritual resources to aid him in pressing on despite his fear and spiritual paralysis. God asks him, Why are you here? And then instructs Elijah to stand before God on the mountain— to envision his faith. God also instructs Elijah to tell three others about his experience with God—to speak his faith. God asks Elijah a second time, “What are you doing here?” (1 Kings 19:13, NLT).  

I believe that is a question for all of us.  


Elijah: Do You Have a Sustaining Faith Picture?

Committing ourselves to the Jesus way does not mean that we will be spared moments of crisis — moments when we are filled with fear and paralysis. However, we must be prepared and make use of the spiritual resources that God has provided. Elijah’s experience helps us understand those resources. 

God’s directions provide us with insight. God offers Elijah, and us, three specific spiritual resources: visioning, speaking, and acting

As with our life picture, God desires us to have a faith picture 

God wants us to have a vision of faith always before us. God tells Elijah, “Go out and stand before me on the mountain” (1 Kings 19:11, NLT). When we talk about life-changing experiences, moments that have such a great impact on us that we can never forget them, we often describe them as “mountaintop experiences.” This is because mountains are places of vision. Our sightlines are expanded when we stand on a mountain. Our perspective changes when we view our surroundings from a mountaintop. When Elijah stood on the mountain, the Lord passed by; and Elijah was given a renewed vision of faith. Just as recognizing God’s picture for our lives can be difficult because we focus on our limitations, envisioning faith is difficult because we limit ourselves to what is visible at any given time.  

But that is not what faith is all about. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (NIV). “It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see” (NLT).  

Faith isn’t about the reality we perceive around us. It’s about the reality of the unseen presence and promise of God.  

When we reach points of difficulty and resistance on our faith journey, when we become fearful and paralyzed, our inclination is to focus on the visible. Elijah was focusing on the circumstances that surrounded him. Jezebel had threatened him, and she had the resources to carry out that threat as was evidenced by the visible bodies of those she had ordered killed. Our inclination is to focus on the visible. But following in the Jesus way is not about the visible. It’s about the invisible promise of God.  

It’s about realizing that nothing has changed, even though our circumstances might lead us to believe it has. God’s promise continues to be valid; God is still present with us. Everything that God has envisioned for our lives remains intact. When God made the covenant with the Israelites, gave them the law, and was preparing them to enter the Promised Land, God spoke these words through Moses: “Watch out! Be very careful never to forget what you have seen the LORD do for you. Do not let these things escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren” (Deuteronomy 4:9, NLT).  

God’s message is that it is the Israelites’ faith picture that will sustain them in their new land. It is their commitment to keeping that vision of faith ever before them that will make or break their experience as God’s people. The biblical witness shows how important this spiritual resource is. When difficulties arose for the Israelites, the strength of their faith picture was always a crucial ingredient to the outcome. More often than not, when they lost their vision of faith, when they forgot what the Lord had done for them, their difficulties increased and calamity followed.  

Keeping a vision of faith before us is critical if we are to follow in the Jesus way. We have to continually shape it and form it and articulate it in order to push through the times of resistance and disruption. God’s words to the Israelites are also for us: 

You must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are away on a journey, when you are lying down and when you are getting up again. Tie them to your hands as a reminder, and wear them on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9, NLT) 

As we rehearse our vision of faith over and over, keeping it ever before us, it strengthens and sustains us, remaining intact as a source of strength during times of crisis and resistance.  


Elijah: Paralyzing Fear vs Powerful Faith

Ahab reported to Jezebel everything that Elijah had done, including the massacre of the prophets. Jezebel immediately sent a messenger to Elijah with her threat: ‘The gods will get you for this and I’ll get even with you! By this time tomorrow you’ll be as dead as any one of those prophets.’ When Elijah saw how things were, he ran for dear life to Beersheba, far in the south of Judah. He left his young servant there and then went on into the desert another day’s journey. He came to a lone broom bush and collapsed in its shade, wanting in the worst way to be done with it all—to just die. 1 Kings 19:1-4 (THE MESSAGE)


Following Jesus is not an easy task. There is one distinct block that is particularly important to explore. If you recall Peter’s experience in the courtyard, you’ll remember that it was a very frightening time. Peter had experienced not a few dramatic events, all crammed into a short period. The Gospels record that Jesus had turned the Passover supper on its head with a foot-washing and predictions of betrayal and death. Judas had walked out on the entire project. Peter and the rest of the disciples had fallen asleep in the garden while Jesus was praying, which had led to yet another rebuke. Then Judas led a band of soldiers into the garden, confronting Jesus. Peter attacked the high priest’s servant with his sword, cutting off the man’s ear and prompting Jesus to heal one last time before they led him away. Finally Peter found himself standing in the courtyard, most likely scared to death.

It is no wonder that he lurked in the shadows, away from the fire; fear is an incredible obstacle to faith. (See Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; John 13–18.) Fear undermines. It blocks faith and achievement. It disrupts our life direction, hinders us from seeing God’s picture of our lives and discovering our life mission. Peter was sidetracked by fear that night in the courtyard.

So was Elijah when he fled the wrath of Jezebel. Elijah was one of God’s mighty prophets in the days of the Old Testament. In a time when the people of God were following at a comfortable distance, Elijah was following up close and in the thick of things. He stood with integrity and spoke with courage and boldness. Elijah knew how to depend on God. God led him into hiding in the wilderness for his safety, fed him for an entire year with food carried by ravens, and then showed him the way to a widow who was able to provide him shelter from his enemies.

Elijah understood that God was in control. He had experienced the power of God working through him to resurrect a widow’s son and bring fire to the altar when the priests of Baal were unable. Elijah was faithful, focused, and obedient. And that is where fear enters the picture. (See 1 Kings 16:29—18:45.)

When we follow in the Jesus way, we will always encounter resistance. The fire can get very hot, and there will always be disruptive events that challenge our commitment to follow. That is what happened to Elijah. He had experienced great prophetic success; but even as he sought to be faithful to God, forces of resistance challenged him, bringing him to the end of his rope. Queen Jezebel had been systematically murdering the spiritual leaders of Israel, and now she set her sights directly on Elijah. He was terrified and ran for his life. (See 1 Kings 19:1-3.) His life direction was disrupted. He was sidetracked by fear.  

I believe this is an experience common to all of us. We undergo spiritual growth and gain maturity in our devotion and success in our faith. We believe we are living out of our God picture, our life mission. But then the world throws resistance or disruption at us, or we experience a spiritual plateau, and suddenly we’re paralyzed. The forward movement of our spiritual journey is halted.

I have a friend who is a wellspring of faith and encouragement. She has been a significant source of spiritual mentoring for many people. One day, however, she stopped coming. I e-mailed her, wondering what was wrong. She would e-mail back occasionally, but she did not return to church. Over the course of several months, I lost contact with her altogether. Finally, she contacted me, wanting to talk. We met; and as her story unfolded, it was clear that she was experiencing an overarching spiritual paralysis. Despite the depth of her faith and the significance of her ministry in our church and our community, she doubted her place in the Kingdom. Her faith had been disrupted, and now she feared she wasn’t “spiritual enough.” Living in spiritual fear, she retreated from the community of faith— the very people who could support her and carry her through. The further she retreated, the greater the paralysis became. My friend experienced spiritual fear and paralysis and dealt with it by retreating from the community of faith; Elijah experienced fear and paralysis and dealt with it by running away to a broom bush, and then to the dark depths of a cave on Mount Sinai (1 Kings 19:4-9a).

Humans have developed many tools to deal with fear. One of the first tools we make use of is control. When something bad happens to us, we exercise our feeling of control and do everything in our power to keep this bad thing from happening again. My friend exercised her feeling of control by retreating. Elijah exercised his feeling of control by running away. It’s a basic human instinct.

That is exactly what Elijah discovers. He had experienced great victories in his life, but now he finds himself in a state of fear and paralysis; he can’t control the events unfolding around him. He’s under the broom bush; he can’t eat; he can’t sleep; he is so fearful that he even asks God to end his life. When you get to this point, it’s hard to hear God anymore.  

This was the case with my friend. She couldn’t discern God’s direction. She was filled with isolation and doubt. Committing ourselves to the Jesus way does not mean that we will be spared moments of crisis like these—moments when we are filled with fear and paralysis. However, if we are to continue to follow, we must be prepared and make use of the spiritual resources that God has provided. Elijah’s experience helps us understand those resources.

Elijah has traveled from the broom bush to the depths of a cave on Mount Sinai. God finds him there and asks a very important question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9b, NLT). It is as though God is asking, “Why would you come to this place after all I’ve done? Don’t you remember my power? Don’t you remember my love and care? What are you doing here so full of fear and doubt?”

God asks, but then God directs; and these directions provide us with insight.

God offers Elijah, and us, three specific spiritual resources: visioning, speaking, and acting.  

We’ll continue to explore God’s response to followers paralyzed by fear, but for now consider these questions:

What disruptions have you experienced in your faith walk where your forward motion of faith was stalled? How have you attempted to exercise control in your life?

You don’t have to live in paralysis. 

Your Cross to Bear

If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.Luke 9:23 (NLT)

Deep and authentic faith is what God desires for each of us. Deep and authentic faith is meaningful; but can be costly, challenging, even frightening. 

Jesus understands our difficulty. He never said it would be easy to follow him; in fact he warned us about the challenges when he described what it takes to be his follower—putting aside selfish ambition and shouldering our cross.

Rather than inviting us to something shallow, Jesus invites us to experience real, authentic faith – meaningful faith – by following, not at a distance, but by his side. He carries his cross, and we carry ours. How do you understand Jesus’ words that we must shoulder our cross and follow him (Luke 9:23)? How would you describe the crosses you feel you are bearing? 

For many of us, Jesus’ words about shouldering our cross have come to represent the bad things in our lives. We see the bad things that we feel to be unique to our lives as the crosses that we have to bear. To be sure, there is an element of truth in this concept of shouldering our cross. Jesus does not want us to run from suffering. We must deal with it head on and look to God for strength as we persevere. 

That truth, however, is only part of what Jesus means when he tells us that to be his followers we have to shoulder our cross. A deeper meaning lies in how we follow. We are to follow in the same way that Jesus leads. We abandon selfish ambition in favor of service in the Jesus way. As Jesus gave himself, we give ourselves. We reach out to others just as he reached out to others. As Jesus loved, so we love. As Jesus sacrificed himself for us, so we sacrifice ourselves for others. We follow by picking up the cross. Jesus’ cross becomes our cross; his love becomes our love; his sacrifice becomes our sacrifice.  

As much as Peter fumbled and bumbled in following Jesus, when he finally realized that real faith required that he follow Jesus side by side rather than at a distance, his life was transformed. It wasn’t that difficulty suddenly disappeared; it was that power suddenly appeared. 

Jesus promised the disciples the Holy Spirit. While Jesus’ followers were gathered together the Holy Spirit appeared and came upon them. Peter preached boldly and many people believed in Jesus as a result.

It can be challenging to carry the cross of Jesus. Yet when we take that risk and pick up that cross, we are promised the power necessary to meet the challenge. The power of the Spirit of Jesus enervates us, giving us not only the strength we need to carry the crosses that we encounter in our lives, but the boldness we need to live our lives fully, recognizable by all as followers of Jesus Christ.

What is your experience of power as you follow Jesus? Ask God to pour out the Holy Spirit upon you as you seek to shoulder the cross of discipleship.

What to Do with Your Shortcomings

Peter didn’t always know what it meant to follow Jesus.  

When he witnessed the astonishing event of Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah on the mountain during Jesus’ transfiguration, all he could think to do was to offer to build shrines, places for each of them to live. When he sees Jesus walking on the water he boldly climbs out of the boat, seemingly full of confident faith, yet when the wind and waves appear too much, he flounders in fear.

When Jesus offered to wash Peter’s feet, he felt completely unworthy and so declined; yet when Jesus responded that it was necessary in order for Peter to be a part of him, Peter’s love poured forth: “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (John 13:9, NRSV)

Peter was a searcher with a good heart. He stumbled but tried to follow as best as he could, always open to growing in his relationship with Jesus, even if that growth involved some pain. He was full of emotion, giving himself completely to Jesus at one moment, but then fearfully retreating from Jesus the next.

Peter was genuine in all of his interactions with Jesus. He boldly declared his belief that Jesus was the Messiah (Matthew 16:16), and then turned around and questioned and chastised Jesus for talking about the suffering that lay on the horizon (Matthew 16:22). It may have been bumbling and inappropriate, but it was genuine. Peter genuinely offered Jesus his entire being – the good and the bad. 

Peter genuinely desired to follow Jesus, even if he didn’t always know exactly what that meant; and he was willing to offer his entire self, even his shortcomings.

If you reflect on your spiritual walk, how do Peter’s various responses to Jesus resonate with your experience? How willing are you to offer your entire self to God – including your shortcomings? Peter was willing to offer Jesus his entire self – shortcomings and all – because intuitively he knew that Jesus had created safe space between them. His intuition was correct. Jesus had created safe space, because Jesus understood Peter. He knew how truly human Peter was. He knew that deep down in his heart Peter desired to follow him, even though Peter’s understanding and capabilities were dramatically limited.

Jesus knew Peter well enough to call him the rock upon which he would build his church; yet also knew him well enough to predict accurately that before the rooster crowed twice, Peter would deny three times that he even knew him at all.

We are like Peter. We too are truly human, with all of the frailties and limitations that brings. And just as he understood Peter, Jesus also understands us. Jesus knows that there are times when we want to follow; yet there are other times when we choose to shy away. But Jesus’ call to Peter was to follow, not at a distance—not in the shadows, afraid of what might happen next—but to move into the light and follow boldly, whatever came his way.

This is Jesus’ call to us as well. Jesus knows how limited our resources are. He knows that life is full of choices, temptations, complex situations where we become confused and frightened. Yet he desires our faith to be real and authentic, and he calls us to follow him anyway, closely and not at a distance.  

Do you sense a “safe space” between you and God? If not, as you enter into a time of prayer, bring that experience honestly before God. Be open to the way the Holy Spirit might move in response to your need. Step out in courage, knowing Jesus understands that you are fully human, with all the frailties and limitations (but also with all the creativity and boldness) that brings.




The Risk of Following Closely

As my ministry has unfolded, I have come to realize that although those of us who live in the United States enjoy the privilege of worshiping without fear of reprisal, that privilege has often times contributed to a profound complacency in our faith experience. For many of us, the very ease with which we are able to attend worship blocks us from recognizing the hard work and risks involved in being a follower of Jesus. Believing faith to be a risk-free endeavor, we shy away from the hard work of the soul, and thus we frequently miss out on the deeply joyful and life-changing experience of being in a dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ.

It’s not that we do not desire to follow Jesus. We want to follow, but we don’t always want to follow too closely. It’s safer to follow at a distance, never going deeper in our faith than surface religious activity; never stepping close to the fire where we might be recognized, where we will stand out because of the way we live and the commitments we make. We are like Peter, who on the night Jesus was arrested, stood in the courtyard awaiting news of Jesus’ fate. He lurked in the shadows away from the fire, trying to be invisible, trying to avoid too close a connection with the one who had changed him to his very core. Yet, for our faith to be real, for it to be authentic, we must risk moving out of the shadows. So the question is, how close to the fire will we get?  

When God became human in Jesus, it was with the promise of abundant life, a life of radical transformation and deep meaning. Are you challenged to move toward that promised transformation by stepping out of the shadows and into the light and heat of the fire, by choosing the place right next to Jesus, by following him not at a distance but by his side?

Following Jesus, truly following him, is never easy. There are risks, unexpected twists and turns, surprises and events that we never dreamed could happen. There are moments when following seems meaningful, full of excitement and joy. However, there are other times, times of difficulty, even danger, when we become discouraged and afraid, and things don’t seem to be turning out at all the way we thought they would.

Faith – real faith, authentic faith – involves a daily process of choosing. In the midst of all those unexpected twists and turns, in the midst of the meaningful and in the midst of the difficulty, a faith that is authentic requires a daily choice.

What kind of choices are you facing as you seek to follow Jesus? What hurdles have you encountered recently? What confirmations have you received that you are on the right track? Be confident that God will accompany you when you take the risk of exploring an authentic faith. 

Embracing Trust and Obedience

Our response to the Christian faith must be one of trust and obedience. In many ways, Christian faith can be better understood as trust, because often it is not what we believe that makes the difference (even though that is important), it is who we trust. It is possible to believe something rationally but still not trust the person of Jesus Christ.

Yet, faith is about trust. It is about responding to God’s gracious love with trust. We trust that God is at work in the world. We trust that through Jesus Christ God does have a plan to save the whole world, including us.

The dynamics of trust and obedience define the relational and personal dimensions of faith. We tend to treasure what we trust and trust what we treasure. In the end, whether we are Christ followers does not depend on where we live or where we worship but on whom we trust. Our trust is part of our response to God.

Trust leads to obedience, which is the ethical outworking of trust. Our response becomes our responsibility. If we truly trust God, we begin to realign the configuration of the different trusts that make us who we are. When God becomes our ultimate trust, we begin to realign all our other trusts accordingly. 

Understanding Christian faith as a centered, personal, relational response involving trust and obedience provides us with a level of clarity that is essential to authentic evangelism. As we open our arms to initiate embrace, we open them with a keen sense of humility, as those who know their brokenness. And yet we also open them with clarity, unwavering in our knowledge of the source of our healing and hope.

Standing on the essential values of humility and clarity, when we engage in authentic evangelism, we take the form of a witness. A witness is someone who tells the truth about what they have seen, heard and experienced. Often we feel we need to have all the answers about faith, but we will never have all the answers. On this side of glory, no human being will every have all the answers regarding life or faith. We may be able to have some of the answers, and those answers are likely to be helpful. But there will always be mystery.