“The faithful are not from here, and the faithful are not staying here.”Pastor Jay Greener, based on Hebrews 11
Faith is one of those things that’s easier to see in other people than in ourselves. It’s also easier to see looking into the past. And faith is by definition oriented toward the future.
In other people
The faithful are not from here: like Abraham, the faithful are travelers in a foreign land, called out from that which is known into the unknown, because there is something that isn’t yet known to be found.
The faithful know themselves to be from somewhere else: like Moses, the faithful look in the mirror and see themselves dressed in the costume of a foreign people.
The faithful are not staying here: like Noah, the faithful readily use their material resources to prepare for the coming age, when all those material things will be underwater anyhow. No sense preserving either gopher wood or social standing.
Listing off Abraham, Moses, and Noah, along with many others in Hebrews 11, gives the impression that “the Faithful” are the greats. The A-listers, the best in class But that’s not the point the author of Hebrews is making. He precludes his list of the Faithful with these words:
Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward….We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.Hebrews 10:35, 39
His point is, in speaking to believers, that we are to see ourselves as one of a long line of faithful ones, peoples who lives illustrate a dogged belief in something greater and in Someone better.
In the past
To shift abruptly into personal reflection, I’ve found it much easier to discern whether I’ve been acting in faith when there are a few years’ distance between me and my actions.
The fact that I can reflect on our missionary career (my husband’s and mine) without too many regrets is a faith builder in itself. God made it his own prerogative to see that our motivations were saturated in faith, born out of belief that he rewards those who diligently seek him.
God’s methodology in properly grounding our motivations had a lot to do with restraint. Knowing how generous he is, I imagine it was hard for him to wait to give us the rewards we were asking for. Instead, he gave us the gift of himself as a personal trainer, working with us toward a longer-lasting version of what we were requesting.
Let me speak in plain terms about our experience as campus missionaries. When we sought to establish a new ministry, we didn’t expect it to grow overnight, and we enjoyed the beginning. Starting with about 15 students (several of whom are still close friends), we added about 5 people per semester in those first few semesters. We thought that was pretty great.
We were learning a lot, praying a lot, pastoring our students to the best of our ability, and attempting to train students to lead others into the faith.
After a few semesters, we began to see some stagnation in our growth numerically, even though we were seeing many of our students grow deeply on a personal level. We were trying to establish a living, growing community, and we were living but not growing. Additionally, some of those we helped to get started in their faith had walked away from Christ shortly after. Others walked away from our community, leaving with critical words or callous indifference.
In the midst of all this, we experienced the death of two loved ones. My father and one of our young staff members.
Those years felt like tilling the hardest of soil. Although we were not fruitless and enjoyed the fellowship of many sweet students and staff, we had to work so hard for every inch of ground.
The effect of these dry times was to send our roots pushing into deeper ground in search of water. Again and again we had to ask ourselves, “is this worth it? [yes]; could someone else be doing this better? [yes!]; are we going to struggle like this forever? [maybe].” And each time, God gave us the grace to eventually remember—after plenty of bad attitudes and tears—that he is our commanding officer, and the results of our obedience are his concern. He rewards obedience, not success.
We also had to nurture the belief that faith is a seed that starts very small and grows into something expansive, but its growth is slow and mostly underground.
Had we experienced immediate raging success, we would’ve had a whole other set of temptations to fight, different lessons to learn, and a different type of battle scars. Still, we often caught ourselves wishing for that kind of struggle, the one where you try to stay humble and keep your head when everyone’s shouting your name.
Looking back, I feel at peace about our journey, and I feel great joy about the students and staff who now call our community their family.
So what does it mean to be faithful? For us, it has meant being empty and God coming along and filling us with the belief that what we see now is not all there will be.
The true reward for our service in campus ministry is not the years of simple growth and enjoyment that followed those dry years. It’s not even the individual faces that fill our minds when we remember the goodness of God.
Our true reward in the present is the water that comes up through those roots, the Spirit of God himself. And our reward looking ahead is the promise of a greater capacity to be filled. To know him as we are known.
May this day be another step towards that great day.