Faith Comes First

It was prayer time, and Peter and John were doing what they usually did.

It was prayer time, and the lame man was doing what he usually did.

They were going to pray. He was going to beg. No one expected anything out of the ordinary. Isn’t that how it often feels when God begins to work?

Acts 3:1-10.

When the lame man saw Peter and John passing through the Beautiful Gate, he asked them for money, just like he did everyone else. I imagine there was a blank look in his eyes, like the injured mother with a baby I once passed on a street in South Africa, her sore leg blocking the sidewalk so I couldn’t help but stop. The lame man looked at them but didn’t see them as people. They didn’t look at him. That’s how we interact with beggars, isn’t it? Within a second, the lame man had already shifted his absent gaze on to the next group of people, asking out of habit far more than expectation.

But then Peter and John stopped. They looked the man directly in the eye, and they asked him to return their gaze. Now this was unexpected.

Did Peter know what he was
going to say before he stopped?

Did Peter know what he has going to say when he stopped there at the gate? Did he actually see the lame man afar off and begin praying/thinking about what to do? I think the Holy Spirit must have compelled him to stop and speak because his words are so bold.

Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.  –Peter in Acts 3:6

Stand up and walk.

Here’s the thing: Peter hadn’t healed anyone since Jesus sent the twelve out into the towns of Israel (Matthew 10), and we don’t have any documentation of what actually happened during that time. Sure, he’d been with Jesus when Jesus healed, starting with his own mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31). Sure, he’d walked on water when Jesus told him to step out of the boat (Matthew 14:22-33). But Peter himself hadn’t healed since long before Jesus left. There was significant risk in speaking aloud.

Was Peter’s voice shaky?

Was he even a little doubtful?

Did he hesitate before that last word…before he said, “walk”?

His confidence in Jesus’ power and the Holy Spirit’s work was growing exponentially. Still, I wonder if he took a deep breath before speaking. I would have.

If Peter hadn’t spoken, the miracle wouldn’t have happened. Peter had faith first. He believed God would work through him before he knew it as fact.

But that’s not all. Take a look at the next verse.

Taking him by the right hand, [Peter] helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  –Acts 3:7

Note the order of events. The lame man took Peter’s hand, then he started standing up, then his feet and ankles were strengthened. Do you see it?

He made the effort to stand
after a lifetime of not standing.

The man had to believe first. He had to grasp Peter’s hand and make the effort to stand…after a lifetime of not standing. He could have been skeptical. He could have demanded evidence of the miracle before he acted on it. He could have sat there, saying, “I don’t feel any different.”

But he didn’t. He had faith first. He believed Jesus, through Peter, was healing him before he felt the muscles growing in his legs.

Clearly, Peter had taken on the authority the gospels show so often in Jesus…that attitude which drew everyone around to believe Him even before they saw miracles. Okay, not everyone, but remember the lepers who left Jesus to report to the temple, then on the way were healed (Luke 17:11-19)?

Maybe even Peter was surprised by the authority in his voice and the immediacy of the miracle.

Faith comes first.

Faith is believing what we do not see, and the reward for this kind of faith is to see what we believe. –Saint Augustine (quoted in Streams in the Desert July 24)

When the writer of Hebrews contemplated examples of faith through the ages, he (or she!) said,

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  –Hebrews 11:1

Confidence…assurance…unbounded by sight.

Because we fundamentally trust
God, we can act on unproven faith.

This verse applies to the big things, like our assurance of a Heaven we haven’t seen, but it also applies to the small things, like speaking a truth you can’t yet touch, like sharing your story with that wayward teenager. Honestly, sometimes the big, far away things are easier. Yet, because we fundamentally trust God, we can act on unproven faith…faith that will be proven in the next ten seconds or ten minutes, not just faith that’s proven at our deaths.*

I’m not talking about some kind of name-it-claim-it gospel here. I’m talking about heeding the Holy Spirit even when you have no logical basis for it, about trusting that God will act in a situation to which He has specifically drawn you. It doesn’t matter which side of the situation you are on.

Peter opened his mouth and commanded a healing into existence.

The lame man began trying to stand before he could see or feel any difference in his legs.

There aren’t a whole lot of miracles anymore. I wonder if part of the reason is because we don’t let faith come first.

Prayer time on a random day of the week, and three guys were just doing what they usually did. Until God did something extraordinary in and through them. My #faithinGod is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Have you been there? Have you had no certainty of an outcome, but God provided or created one? Want to share that story with us in the comments? Want to say something else? I always like to hear from my readers, and I respond to every comment!

*You’ll see this same idea in Jesus and Martha’s conversation near Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:23-26). Jesus is the resurrection for that moment, not just for the end times. More about this in Dwell: Mary, Martha & Lazarus.

Related: Faith is in the Gap*

Advertisements

Abraham: Obedience Over Outcome

We’re wired to make plans, to expect results, to accomplish goals. (I think it’s a Western thing, actually.) Our wiring makes it difficult for us to obey God.

God says, “Jump.” We say, “How far?”

God says, “Go.” We say, “Where?”

God says, “Be still.” We say, “Why?”

In every command from Him, there’s an unspoken affirmation: “Trust Me.” But we don’t trust.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us of a guy named Abraham (Hebrews 11:8-19). Maybe you’ve heard of him? Continue reading

More Than One Way to Move a Mountain

Since before I wrote Walls and Weapons in October, we’ve been singing “Do It Again” from Elevation Worship at church. (The first line is about walls. It’s an obvious connection.) The bridge goes like this:

I’ve seen you move, you move the mountains, and I believe I’ll see you do it again.

Well, the walls I described back in that October post are still standing. The mountain that needs to move isn’t gone. As we sang this song again on Sunday, I mentally reminded the Lord that, while I absolutely believe He’ll “do it again,” we’re still waiting. Immediately, this phrase came to my mind:

There’s more than one way to move a mountain.

I stopped singing. My mouth may have hung open. The wheels in my brain started turning, and images began to cycle…images of the many ways mountains can be moved.

Erosion

07-15 trip to Cherokee (8)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, NC (c) Carole Sparks  (My Grand Canyon pics are on film. Sorry!)

The Grand Canyon is the product of erosion. So are most cave systems and the smooth tops of the Appalachian Mountains. Slowly and steadily, wind and/or water wear away at soil, rock, and everything else, turning jagged edges smooth, wearing towers down to nubs. You can’t watch it happen, but you can clearly see evidence of it.

05-28b Cumberland Caves (36)
Cumberland Caverns (c) Carole Sparks

Sometimes our problems very gradually dissipate as “springs of living water” (Revelation 7:17, also John 4:14) flow in and around us. The key is to keep the water flowing, that is, to stay close to Jesus. We’ve seen the smoothing of some rough edges on our mountain, making it a little easier to manage every day.

Equipment

12-27 Table Mountain (11)
A long way down – from the cable car station atop Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. (c) Carole Sparks

I love heavy equipment! (How could I not have any photos?!?) A bunch of bulldozers and dump trucks can roll in and remove a mountain in a matter of weeks. It’s not pretty and may not be good for the environment (e.g. strip mining), but it’s possible.

We can move our spiritual mountains through the application of human resources, too.

  • Doctors and medicines
  • counselors
  • friends lending their services
  • charity organizations…

all help us tackle the mountains in our lives. After praying for God to move our particular mountain, He has guided us to some heavy equipment to tackle part of the job.

Environment

04-24 Tarangire (51)
In Tarangire, the river grows wider due to erosion and animal traffic on its banks. (c) Carole Sparks

The mountain’s environment: Beavers chop down trees to make dams that back up streams. Birds carry away twigs for nests and deposit seeds that become trees. Moles tunnel through the ground, loosening soil that the wind blows away. Men clear space for roads and fields. Many factors alter or remove small parts of the mountain.

05-28c Bean Station overlook (3) lake hills view bridge
TVA dams turned mountains into hills and islands. (c) Carole Sparks

As our environment changes, our mountain changes. It wears down. It loosens up, making erosion easier. Some small things have changed, some small steps have been taken so that the mountain is looser. It’s a little easier to live here now, and it may come down more quickly in the future.

IMG_0096
Mt. Kilimanjaro is the snow-capped peak on the right. We were about 100 miles away. (c) Carole Sparks

The believer’s environment: It’s also possible to simply move away. Maybe the mountain doesn’t need to move as much as we need to move out of its vicinity. A change in our environment produces the same results as moving the mountain. Mount Kilimanjaro doesn’t look quite as impressive from one hundred miles away.

We’ve changed a few things around here (and stood firm on a few other things) to get a better perspective on our mountain. While we can’t move, we’ve learned to simply look in a different direction occasionally by getting away for a vacation or holiday.

Earthquake

Very rarely, the earth shakes and the mountain crumbles—gone in a matter of minutes. That’s entirely the hand of God. Earthquakes are dangerous for miles, the land often racked with instability and aftershocks. (Kinda thankful I don’t have any first-hand photos of earthquakes.)

When Jesus talked of moving
mountains, He was thinking
about motives, not methods.

It seems I was looking for the earthquake or some miraculous disappearing act—a heavenly sleight of hand—that would solve our situation without much work or patience on my part. Clearly, that’s not God’s only way to work.

When Jesus talked of moving mountains, He wasn’t worried about methods, just motives.

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.  –Matthew 17:20

So I’m willing to wait and watch, knowing God has a purpose in the methods He’s using for us. Because God does move mountains, one way or another.

Or perhaps, one way and another.

God does move mountains—one way AND another. This #mountainmoving is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Have you seen a mountain move in your life? Please encourage me by sharing a bit in the comments below. I really would LOVE to hear from you!

Random connection: Good fiction about moving actual mountains

Podcast Interview

IMG_9369
Chester doing the interview at our dining room table. He makes house calls.

I recently sat down with Chester Goad on his Leaderbyte podcast to talk about the creative process, writing, faith, and some other fun stuff. Chester made it interesting and easy to talk–even about myself. Still it’s #NotAboutMe, as you’ll hear.

If you want to know more about me or where I’m coming from, listen to this. Continue reading