You and I both know that faith is more than a feeling. It’s action. Steps. Moving forward. Progress.
Wait…is it all that?
And are all of those so easily defined without feelings? After all, how do you know if you’re making progress? And what if it takes more faith to wait than to act?
I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we’d have to admit that faith and feelings get pretty tangled in our hearts. And that sometimes we don’t really do faith at all; we are content to simply feel faith without changing our actions.
So what does doing faith look like, with or without feelings?
Think of the great faith heroes of the Bible and history. I’m pretty sure Abraham wasn’t “feeling faith” as he climbed Mount Moriah with Isaac. And I’m going to guess that Gladys Aylward wasn’t “feeling faith” as she led one hundred children across Communist territory while she was burning with fever.
Not only is faith more than a feeling, but it isn’t defined by feelings. Will you read that sentence again?
Faith isn’t defined by feelings, and they aren’t required for it to be faith.
So if faith isn’t a feeling, what is it? Or more specifically, what does it do?
We like to think of works of faith as brilliant moments of achievement. We see the shining legacy of a life and forget that these were the labors of a lifetime.
Take William Carey, for instance, who pioneered missions work in India. When he died, he left at least portions of the Bible translated into forty languages. Because he was gifted, right? Brilliant? Blessed in his faith?
He certainly was those things. But his own comment was more mundane: “I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.”
Doing faith is when you are willing to trudge forward without immediate results because you know you are following God. “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
I like to think of Moses whose faith-filled prayer, “I beseech thee, shew me thy glory” (Exodus 33:18) allowed him a stunning glimpse of God’s glory.
Yet, when Hebrews 11 records Moses’ faith, it doesn’t so much as refer to that moment in his life. Rather, it says, “By faith…he endured, as seeing Him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27).
Sure, glimpses of God’s glory are incredible, but real progress happens in the day-by-day endurance of “seeing Him who is invisible” through faith.
What I love about Hebrews 11 and the mini biographies it records is how imperfect these “heroes of faith” were.
Think of Sarah, for instance—the woman who laughed at the words of the angel who said she would miraculously conceive a son (Genesis 18:12).
Hebrews 11, however, records nothing of this. It simply says, “Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised (Hebrews 11:11).
Faith considers the faithfulness of God and, perhaps in spite of previous doubt, receives His strength to do His will, staking all on His trustworthiness.
Faith doesn’t take a “Prove it first, and I’ll respond” posture, but neither does it take a mindless one.
I love the example of Mary in this. She received God’s will for her with faith-filled surrender (Luke 1:38), but she continued to “ponder these things in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51). She considered and watched and wondered and meditated on what God had promised and how that might all work together with His previous promises and His future will.
Even before the promise is fulfilled, it rejoices. Here again, we see Abraham. Even when asked to do something that appeared directly contrary to God’s promises, Abraham believed that God would make good on His promise.
“By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure” (Hebrews 11:17–18).
Did you know that waiting can be as much a verb as walking? It was for Joseph. From the time he first received his dreams from God to the time they were fulfilled, was at least thirteen years—filled with slavery, pain, rejection, and loss. Yet, even through these, Joseph continued to wait by faith on God to fulfill the word He had given Joseph through dreams.
How do we know this? In part, because when Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams, he said to Pharaoh, “And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass” (Genesis 41:32). Who else had a dream doubled? Joseph—whose faith had only grown during his years of waiting.
I think I always thought of “walking by faith” as huge, momentous decisions—like opening an orphanage in a foreign country or giving every penny you have to your name away. But sometimes walking by faith is the courageous decision to put one foot in front of the other in pursuit of God, even when you don’t see where your path is leading.
I’ll never forget the night some years ago when I flopped across the couch in an empty house and cried until I had made myself sick. And then laid on the couch again and cried until I was too exhausted to cry any longer.
When I remember that night, I remember the emptiness and confusion of it. I remember lifting my arms and praying “Lord, there is no path forward from here. What do I do now?” Crying on the couch for the rest of my life didn’t seem like a good option, but neither did wandering through the fog I felt enveloping me.
With the kind of clarity that only comes from the Holy Spirit, He brought a phrase of Scripture to the consciousness of my troubled soul: “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
Faith doesn’t live on the couch—it walks.
The details of that night don’t matter anymore, but I have remembered the lesson God taught me many times since. Faith walks—it simply takes the next step.
We could look at so many more verbs. Faith obeys, serves, gives, invests, prays, witnesses…but the heart of it all is that faith is a verb. Or at least that it takes verb actions.
Do you have big plans of faith? Are you excited for the opportunities for faith in front of you? Or perhaps you are enveloped in darkness or bogged down in the minutia of what you thought would be exciting?
In any case of where your feelings lie, could I remind you? Faith does.
It moves toward God and in obedience. Why? “…because she judged him faithful who had promised” (Hebrews 11:11).
Faith looks past feelings and trusts in the faithfulness of God. And it responds. It always responds.