Text: Hebrews 11:6
By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation, he had this testimony, that he pleased 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.
There are some verses in the Bible that stand out as strategic above other verses. All verses, of course are important, but there are some verses that hold a strategic position and are meant to be like a compass to keep us on course. I’m not a pilot, but I have always wanted to be. I could never did get up enough nerve to try it. I have a pilot friend who has a plane, and occasionally, he will fly me to a meeting. When we are in the air, and everything is all right, there are times when he will let me “drive—steer.”
We were going to Oklahoma, and it was a beautiful sunny day. The main thing I wanted to do was keep it upright, I didn’t want to fly upside down. After a while, he said you had better let me take this for a minute. I asked what I was doing wrong. He said, well I told you to watch this instrument. If you keep on going in this direction, we are going to end up in Miami, Florida. That’s why the instruments are there. It seemed to me like I was going the right direction. He said, yes, that is one of the problems. It feels like you are doing right, but you have to watch the compass. I was way off course and going the opposite direction.
You know there are times in the Christian life when you feel like you may be going in the right direction, but you have to keep coming back again and again to the instruments to check yourself to make certain you are on course. It is so easy for us to get off course. There is a way that seems right unto man, but the end thereof is the way of death. There are some verses that I think we need to come back to again and again as our compass to make certain we are on the right course.
It is remarkable that you and I can be pleasing to the Lord. He says in Hebrews 11:6: 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. I know there are some words and phrases we use so frequently that after awhile they lose their cutting edge with us. If familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, it can breed complacency. We are so used to using phrases like pleasing God that I think sometimes we fail to realize what that really means. If you stop and think about it for a moment, it is quite a remarkable feat, that it is possible for you and me to please God; God, who is holy and righteous, so holy the Bible says that he is too pure to even look upon sin, and has such an infinite moral standard. Then you realize how weak and frail and sinful we are by nature. Do you mean to tell me there is a way in which Ican be pleasing to a holy and righteous God whose standard is absolute perfection?
This is even more remarkable when I remind myself that I can’t even please men. Have you ever tried to please people? By the way, that is one of the occupational hazards of a minister, of a pastor. One of the things you must be accomplished in is pleasing everybody in a local Baptist church. They don’t have a course in seminary on that, but they should because that is what you are expected to do. Of course, I found out a long time ago that trying to please people in the church is sort of like trying to put hub caps on a car. Have you ever tried to do that?
A year or so ago we had a new car, and my wife and I had been up in Oklahoma for a meeting, and we were driving back about 1:00 a.m. in the morning when all of a sudden something went wrong. The back end started sagging and fishtailing. I pulled over to the side, and there it was. The tire wasn’t flat, it was just gone—disintegrated—brand new tire. It had just come apart. That will make you lose what little victory you have left. I took off my jacket, got the jack out and pumped the car up and got the tire off. You know how it is. You get that old black dirt all over you, and your white shirt all messed up. I threw the old tire in the truck and put the spare on. Then it was time to put the hub cap back on. I placed it on the tire and hammered it in at the bottom. It went in real nice. So I went up to the top and hammered it in—and it popped out at the bottom. I pounded the bottom in, and it popped out at the top. I tried it from another angle. I went over to the side and hammered it in, and it went in real nice. I started hammering it in on the other side, and it popped out over here. By this time, the sweat was pouring down my face and burning my eyes. My legs were aching, and I was getting frustrated. I was upset and mad at this new car and new tire that had disintegrated. I kept trying to get that hubcap on. Finally, I got so frustrated I stood up and started to throw that thing across the field into a cow pasture. Then I remembered that it cost $135 so I wasn’t going to do that. So I threw it in the trunk and went on. Do you know that the car rode just as good without it. I think the devil invented hubcaps.
Trying to please people is just like trying to put on a hubcap. You try to get crowd A over here pacified and settled down and pleased. About the time you do that, crowd B is upset. So you come over and start working on crowd B. By the time you get crowd B all settled down, crowd A is upset again, so you go back and work on crowd A. About this time, up pops crowd C that you didn’t even know was there.
I found out one day that when I was trying to please men, I was trying to do something that even God himself couldn’t do. But I realized that I could please the Lord. Isn’t that amazing? I can’t please men, but I can please the Lord so I decided to concentrate on pleasing God. I discovered that when I am pleasing to him, he is able to take care of crowds A, B, C, and whatever others may pop up. The fact is that you and I can be pleasing unto the Lord. By the way, that is the purpose for which God has created us. The epitaph upon every Christian life ought to be this: he was pleasing unto the Lord. It doesn’t make any difference what else you may accomplish in your life. I don’t care how active or busy, well liked, or applauded you are in your church. If it cannot be said of you that you are pleasing to the Lord, your life is a failure. That is the test by which you and I need to size up and evaluate our lives. Am I pleasing unto the Lord?
The method by which we please him is remarkable. He says without faith it is impossible to please him. I think if I had been writing that verse, I would have said that without going to church it is impossible to please him. Or without tithing it is impossible to please him. Or without reading your Bible it is impossible to please him. But God says that without faith it is impossible to please him. Notice he doesn’t say that without faith it is hard to please him. He says it is impossible. The tense of those words indicate that it is impossible to please God a single time apart from faith. In other words, apart from faith, there is not a single moment when my life is pleasing to the Lord– regardless of what I may do. I may preach great sermons and sing great songs and lead a great church. But apart from faith not one single thing I do is pleasing and acceptable unto the Lord. The only person or persons in this building who are acceptable unto God and pleasing unto the Lord are those people who know what it means to live in faith. Without faith, it is impossible to please him.
Well, what do you mean by faith? What do I have to believe in order to be pleasing to the Lord. One of the things that I like about the Bible is that it understands our frailty, and God always make it very clear what we are to do and how we are to do it. He opens this statement with these words: without faith it is impossible to please him. And then comes this statement: for he that comes to God must believe. Those two statements can be reversed. In other words, you could turn this verse around and read it in an opposite way, and it would still mean the same thing. You could read it like this: he that comes to God must believe for without faith it is impossible to please him. Pleasing God and coming to God are the same thing. Believing and having faith are the same thing. The phrase coming to God was a worship term. It was used of a priest as he came into the presence of God to worship and offer sacrifice. The life that is pleasing to God is that life that is lived in constant and consistent fellowship and communion with God. In order to do that, he must have faith. He must believe.
Well, what am I to believe? The writer says we must believe two basic things: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. So my sermon has two points.
1) I must believe that God is.
If my life is to be acceptable to God, and if I am to be able to look into the face of God and know that God is pleased with me and accepts me, I must believe that God is. I must believe that God is real. Now, if you just read that carelessly, you might get the idea that the Scripture is saying that we must believe that there is a God—that God exists. But that is not what he is saying at all. He says that he that comes to God must believe that God is. You see, it wouldn’t make any sense if the writer was saying, he that comes to God must believe that there is a God to come to. Friend, you wouldn’t come to him if you didn’t believe there was one to come to. Last week a friend asked me where I am going next week. I said, I am going to Spring, Texas. They had never heard of that city. They didn’t say, is there such a place. If they had, I would have said, no there is not such a place. I’m just going there anyway. The very fact that I say I am coming here indicates I believe there is such a place to come to. You see, it would be superfluous for the writer to say, anybody who is going to come to God must first of all believe there is a God to come to. That doesn’t make sense. Besides the people to whom he is writing are already Christians. They already believe in the existence of God. Folks, there are a lot of people who believe there is a God who are not pleasing to the Lord. Simply believing that God exists really doesn’t mean much. Even the devils believe, and they do more than we do. They tremble over that belief.
I want to read this two different ways, and I think it will help us to understand what he means. First of all, let’s read it like this: He that comes to God must believe that God still is, that God still is. Now, these people to whom the writer is addressing these words were Hebrew Christians. They were undergoing a terrific time of persecution. Actually, the whole passage begins back in chapter 10, verse 32. If you read that last passage, you’ll find these believers are going through a time of persecution, so much so that some of them are about ready to give up. It appears that God has abandoned them. They have committed their lives to Jesus Christ and have been trying to serve him. Now persecution has invaded their lives, and God seems to do absolutely nothing about it. They are weakening and are about to give up and throw in the towel. The writer is penning these words in order to encourage these people to hold on and be steadfast. He says, you must believe that God is. What he means by that is that God still is.
Throughout this eleventh chapter, in order to encourage these people, he is going back in times past to remind them how God has always been faithful to deliver his people. He will go back all the way to Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Joshua as examples. Listen, don’t give up, don’t lose heart, don’t faint in well doing. God has always been faithful. Remember what he has done. I think the author had the thought that even while he might be saying those things, there are some people who might be saying, yes, but that’s all history. I know God used to be that way, and God used to work miraculously and supernaturally that way. But, after all, this is a new day. We are a different people. All those examples happened hundreds and thousands of years ago. God doesn’t operate that way anymore. What the writer is saying is that you must believe that God still is. He hasn’t changed one bit. He is still the same God he always was.
I don’t know of many things that modern day Christians need more than this. We somehow have an idea that the God of the Bible is no longer the same God that we worship today. Oh, he’s the same person, but he’s not the same person in his activity. I remember sometime ago I was reading the book of Hebrews, and I came to the eleventh chapter. Over close to the end of the chapter the writer really gets to flying. He really takes off in verse 32 when he says: And what shall I more say? For the time would fail me to tell of . . . so-and-so and so-and-so. Then he does what most preachers do. He talks about what he doesn’t have time to talk about. He says that he doesn’t have time to tell them all this, and then he goes on and tells them. In verses 33- 35 he says: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again . . . .
I got to reading that and I began to soar in my spirit. About that time, that little voice that always seems to be lurking in the back of my mind said, well, of course, you don’t expect God to work that way today, do you. Immediately, I agreed with him. Of course not! We don’t expect God to work that way today. It is one thing to read about the miraculous works that God did on behalf of his people thousands of years ago, or even several hundred years ago when we hear about these great saints of the past. But, the majority of us somehow have the idea that God no longer works that way today. If we are going to get out of a mess we are in, it is going to be because of our cleverness, or our ingenuity, or our education, or our sophistication, or our new formulas or plans. We don’t really expect God to work that way.
As I sat there that night, I wondered where I got that idea and started searching the Bible. If I didn’t believe that idea from God, then I am going to stop believing it. . Do you know what I discovered? I never got that idea from the Bible. I got that idea from preachers and teachers who were trying to somehow explain away a powerless life and an impotent church. . I decided it was time for us to stop interpreting the Bible in the light of our experience and start interpreting our experience in the light of the Word of God. It is time that we tried to bring our experience up to the level of the Word of God. You and I are contemporaries with Abraham, and Isaac, and Moses, and Joshua, and Paul, and Peter.
When you pray tonight, you are praying to the same God. He hasn’t changed one bit. He still wants to do for you what he did for them. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But I know how it is when you and I pray. We pray from a position that God really has somehow semi-retired, and he has abandoned those former methods and is now working some other way. The majority of us never, ever expect God to work in a supernatural, miraculous way in our lives. What the writer is saying is this: you must believe that God still is.
I love that Scripture where he says that he is running to and fro over the face of the earth, looking for someone in whom he can show himself to be strong. I’ll tell you the reason God doesn’t seem to be doing those things today is because he can’t find anybody who will believe him for it. I think the first thing the writer is saying is this: you have got to believe that God still is.
2) I must believe that God is, even when it looks like he isn’t.
But there is something that I think is even more important. If I am going to live a life that is pleasing to God, not only must I believe that God still is, but I must believe that God is, even when it looks like he isn’t. God is. That is an affirmation of faith. That is an affirmation made in the dark when you can’t see. It is standing in the midst of the rubble of your life, when there are no visible evidences that God is anywhere around, and still by faith saying: God is, even when it looks like he isn’t.
You see, to these people, it looked like God wasn’t. Where was the evidence of God? Where were God’s miracles? Why isn’t God delivering us? Why isn’t God protecting us? To all these folks, it began to look as though God was not. I think the writer is primarily saying that the kind of faith that pleases God is the kind that says it still believes that God is, even when it looks like he isn’t.
I have news for you. There are going to be some times when it is going to look like God isn’t. Oswald Chambers wrote that there are times when God withdraws his conscious blessings in order to teach us to trust him more perfectly. I don’t think God ever withdraws his blessings, but I think there are times when God withdraws his conscious blessings where we are not as aware of God’s work and God’s presence. But the kind of faith that pleases God is the kind of faith that doesn’t need constant additional information or confirmation, but believes that God is, even when it looks like he isn’t.
One of my favorite Old Testament characters is the man by the name of Gideon. Over in Judges, chapter 6, they are under the Midianite yoke of bondage. Gideon is there one night, hiding some food, and it is a very dangerous time for them—almost at the point of famine. Gideon is risking his life out at night hiding that food. Suddenly, there appears an angel of the Lord. The angel said, hail, thou mighty man of valor, the Lord is with thee. And Gideon said, Oh my Lord, if the Lord be with us, then why have all these things befallen us? and where are all his miracles? You see, Gideon’s theology was very simple. He said that if God is with us, then nothing bad will happen to us. If the Lord be with us, then tell me why have all these things befallen us. You see, Gideon no longer believed that God was with him. Why? Because it didn’t look like God was with him. From all appearances it looked as though God had somehow abandoned him.
Do you remember what Habakkuk the prophet said? They were in a terrific situation. The Chaldeans had surrounded the city and were laying siege to it. If God didn’t intervene, they were going to be lost. You read over the first chapter where Habakkuk begins to pray to the Lord. Well, it’s not as much as a prayer as it is a complaint. He says, how long, O Lord, will I cry unto you? Lord, why don’t you do something? I have been praying and praying. Lord, the Chaldeans are at the gate. God, if don’t do something about the Chaldeans, they are going to destroy us. In verse 5 God says, I have been working, and I am going to tell you what it is, but you won’t like it when you hear it. Here’s what I have been doing. I’ve been raising up the Chaldeans. The point is that the very thing that caused Habakkuk to think that God wasn’t at work was the very work that God was doing. I have been working. I have been raising up the Chaldeans. What we need to understand, friend, is that God is always at work—whether we see him or not.
Every once in awhile, someone will come to me, and say, Oh, Bro. Dunn, God has finally started working in our church. God is always at work. What we mean by that is that God has finally started behaving himself the way we want him to behave. God has finally started doing the things we wanted him to do. Listen, God is always at work. You may not see it. You may not recognize it, but God is always at work. I am telling you that there will come times in your Christian experience when it is going to look as though God isn’t. That is going to be the real test of your faith.
I remember a few years ago we had a family in our church. One of their boys had gotten into trouble again and again.. This time he got into really big trouble. They put him in jail, and were going to bring him to trial. That father called meone day and said, I want you to go down to the jail with me. We are going to meet with the judge, and the lawyer, and the probation officer. What he wanted me to do, of course, was try to get the boy off—didn’t want him to be sent to prison. I had a little problem with that. One of his problems might have been that he had gotten by with too much. I didn’t really know the right thing to do. I went down, but I knew we couldn’t get him released because he was in real trouble. We talked, and, of course, nothing was accomplished. As we drove home, the father said, I’m just praying that God is going to deliver my boy from this. I’m believing and praising God and thanking God in advance. He did all the things the books tell you to do to get what you want out of God.
About a week later I got a telephone call, and the voice on the other end of the line said, I want you to take my name off the church roll. I asked who it was, and it was that father. They had sentenced his boy to prison and he was through with God.
You see, some of us will serve God as long as God jumps through our hoops and does exactly what we want him to do. Then when it looks as though God isn’t walking according to our schedule and marching according to our drumbeat, and we cannot see the evidence of God’s blessing, we give up But the kind of faith that God wants is the kind of faith that says, I believe God is, even when it looks like he isn’t.
Don’t ever doubt in the dark what God told you in the light. There will come times of darkness. I love that hymn that says: When darkness seems to hide his face, I rest on his unchanging grace. Charles Spurgeon said: When I cannot trace God’s hand, I can always trust God’s heart. He says the kind of faith that God accepts, and is pleasing to the Lord, is that kind of faith that remains steadfast and believes that God still is, even when it looks like he isn’t.
So the first thing that he says is that you must believe that God is real. The second is this: and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. You’ve got to believe two things. 1) You have got to believe that God is real. 2) You’ve got to believe that God is a rewarder.
We aren’t going to take time to talk about the fact that God is a rewarder, but he is. I know that there are times when we don’t like to think about that because it seems to be a little bit trash and commercial. But, folks, God makes it very clear that God is a rewarder—that God does have a reward. I think what the writer is saying to these people is this: Listen, it may look as though you are wasting your time to serve God. It may look as though you are wasting your time in seeking the Lord, but nobody ever wastes their time in seeking God because God is no man’s debtor; he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him. It is always worthwhile to turn your heart to the Lord. I don’t care what happens, how bleak the circumstances may be, it doesn’t how much it may seem that God isn’t doing anything. God is a rewarder of those who will faithfully and diligently seek him.
You remember that day when the rich young ruler came to Jesus, and Jesus told him the qualifications? Finally, he went away. Jesus said it is mighty hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven for it is so hard for them to give up their possessions. Peter said, Lord, what about us? Look how much we’ve given up. What about us, Lord?
I like Peter. He never missed a chance to make a few points. It was as though he thought the Lord didn’t know, that he had to keep telling the Lord how good he was.. By the way, have you ever noticed how much of your praying is your trying to convince God to see things your way? Analyze your last prayer. I guarantee if you are an average Christian that most of your praying is trying to get God to see things as you see them.
Jesus looked at him and said, nobody has given up houses or lands or children or wife but that it will not be restored in this life one hundred fold, and in the world to come, life everlasting. Jesus was saying, Peter, don’t talk to me about giving up. Don’t talk to me about sacrifice. You’ve not given up anything. Whatever you’ve given up, I am going to see that you get it back a hundred fold in this world, and in the life to come, life everlasting.
In the final analysis, there is no such thing as our ever giving up anything for the Lord. I have never really given up anything for him. He has given me back so much, it is impossible for me to really sacrifice for the Lord because he refuses to be any man’s debtor. He is a rewarder of those that diligently seek him.
Now, there are two things I want you to notice.
1) He is a rewarder of those that diligently seek him. Some of the other translations have left out the word diligently, and just say, they that seek him. The word translated seek there is a very intense word. It means to seek out, to keep on searching until you find it. He is a rewarder of those that diligently seek him. The Lord will not allow himself to be found, and he withholds his blessings from those who just make a half-hearted search, a half-hearted effort.
Every once in awhile, I will come back to a church where I’ve been a meeting before. Occasionally somebody will come up to me and say, preacher, when you were here last time, I listened to everything you said, and I did it, and it didn’t work. Invariably, as I talk to them, I discover that what they made was a half-hearted search.
We have had three children. When they were small, I wasted a lot of money on Christmas gifts. I wish I had known years ago what I know now about buying Christmas gifts. Around Christmastime, we would say to our kids, you make out a Christmas list so we’ll know what you want and we’ll try to get it for you. It would take a train to carry their Christmas list. Do you know what they were doing? They would sit in front of the television, and every time some game or toy was advertised, they would write it down. Even if they didn’t know what it was, they would just write it down. How do you know what your child really wants, what is really important to them, what is really a heart’s desire, or what is really a passing fancy? I discovered that my kids looked upon me as a slot machine. There are two kinds of slot machine players. I know none of you know anything about this, and I just read it somewhere. There are those that just happen to pass by a machine. They are not real gamblers and will just throw in something. Who knows? You might get lucky and hit the jackpot. Then there are those who pull up a chair between two of those slot machines, arm themselves with a bucket of coins, and go at it. Well, I discovered something. I might be sitting reading the paper, and one of my kids would come by and say, hey, dad, can I have such and such.. I would say no, and it was the last I would hear about it. I knew then that they didn’t really want it very badly. One night I was sitting in the den, reading the newspaper, and my son Steve (then about seven years old) came and asked me for something. I forget now what it was, but I said, no you can’t have that.. I went back to reading my paper. After a moment, I realized that Stephen was still standing there. So I lowered the paper, and he was standing there rocking back and forth on his heels, and just playing with his fingers. I said, son, what are you doing? He said, waiting for you to change your mind. If they just ask once and take an easy no as an answer, I know they didn’t really mean it. But when they refused to take no for an answer, and say I’m going to hang in there no matter what, I know then that means something to them.
Both parables that Jesus gave us concerning prayer emphasize that stubborn persistence that refuses to let go, and refuses to take no for an answer, and says I will grab hold of the horns of the altar, and I will cling to them until God meets my need and answers my prayer. That’s what he is talking about. It is the desire that is so intense and deep that we refuse to settle for anything less than what God has for us. I am convinced that one reason that God will delay giving us the answer to our prayer and delay meeting our needs and solving our problems is that he is testing us to see how strong is our desire.
You see, God may have rebellious children, but he doesn’t have any spoiled children. You know how you spoil a child, don’t you? By giving them everything they want too easily, and they don’t appreciate it. God doesn’t have any spoiled children. He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
The other thing that I want you to notice is that the Scripture says, he is a rewarder of those that diligently seek reward. Now, do you realize that I read that wrong? That is not what it says. It says he is a rewarder of those that diligently seek, not the reward, but him. This is crucial. Interesting thing! The Bible never tells us to seek anything other than him. Over in Jeremiah 29 the people are in captivity, but he says, you will be free when you seek me with all of your heart. He didn’t say that you’ll be free if you seek freedom. I find that today we are seeking everything else. You say if you need healing, what you ought to seek is healing. If I need financial help from God, that’s what I ought be seeking. If I need a blessing, that’s what I ought to seek. No, the Bible says he is a rewarder of those that diligently seek, not the reward, but him. It is simply the kind of faith that recognizes that God is better than anything he can give you. The Giver is greater than the gift. The Blesser is greater than the blessing. I know that there are times when God has had to withhold the blessing from us because what we have been wanting above all else is the reward.
I was in Memphis, Tennessee, a few years ago in a meeting. I got an interesting phone call from a man in that city who was a member of a Baptist church. He asked me if I would come over and anoint him with oil and pray for his healing. Baptist preachers don’t get too many calls like that. It’s not the common thing for us. He wanted the singer and me both to come over. We got there and began to talk to him and found out the man had a physical problem that had something to do with his hip and leg. He had been operated on two or three times, but he still didn’t have any relief and had to walk on crutches. Eery time some preacher came to town, it didn’t matter what brand he was, whether it was brand X or brand Baptist, he would call them to come over and anoint him with oil and pray for him. I believe God heals, but if he wants to heal somebody, he can do it. He doesn’t need 73 different men to come along. He had done everything and still wasn’t healed. I asked him, why he wanted to be healed You may think that is sort of a ridiculous question, but it wasn’t. He said, well, I belong to a prayer group. We meet every Monday night. Everybody in that prayer group has a healing testimony except me. Do you know what was happening? The rest of his prayer group was beginning to doubt his spirituality because he couldn’t get healed. I believe the reason God wasn’t healing that man was because he was seeking the reward and not the rewarder.
I talked with a woman in Mobile, Alabama. Her husband had left her five or six years ago. She said that for five years she had prayed every day and every night that God would bring him back to her.. She prayed earnestly, and believed as best she knew how to believe. She said he remarried a month ago. God didn’t answer my prayer. You know, that’s tough. I said, well, you spent five years praying and in the end God didn’t answer your prayer. Do you consider that you have wasted five years of praying. She said, oh, no, during that five years of seeking the Lord and praying, I got so much from the Lord, and learned so much about the Lord, and he has done so much for me. Oh, no, it’s not wasted. I don’t understand why God did it this way, but I have come to know him well enough now not to question what he has done.
All my life and my ministry I have preached that when you pray, God answers. I believe that. I think there are times when he does not answer because it has something to do with his will that I may not understand. But, you see, I’ve always been of the opinion that my faith feeds on those answers, and for my faith to be sustained, I have to have answers along the way. Boy, there is nothing that increases my faith like seeing God answer prayer but I believe I am partially wrong on that. I don’t think faith needs answers to survive; all it needs is prayer, whether God answers it or not. The kind of faith he is talking about here is the kind of faith that keeps on praying when God doesn’t answer.
Someone came to interview me a while back. They asked me some theological questions. I said, wait just a minute. I must confess to you that I do not know the answers. As a matter of fact, I think I know less of the answers now than I have ever known. They said, doesn’t that bother you. I said, no, it doesn’t because when I lost the answers I gained a greater knowledge of the Lord so that the answers are not as important as they used to be. When you know somebody, you don’t need to know that much about him. This kind of faith—the life that can walk with God in any situation—is the kind of faith that sings while it is in prison. It doesn’t wait to sing when it gets out of prison.
I went on reading in this eleventh chapter of Hebrews one day, and I stopped too soon. Beginning in verse 35 he says:
Women received their dead raised to life again: and others (You ought to underline those two words: and others.) were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (I wonder how some of these people that preach health and wealth are going to handle some verses like these.) (Of whom the world was not worthy: they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
You see, what God showed me there is that some people’s faith enables them to escape, but with others their faith enables them to endure. The same kind of faith that brought deliverance to some brought death to others. We wouldn’t say the second category had any less faith than the first category, would we? It’s all the same faith. You see, it’s the kind of fellowship and relationship with God that continues to believe and rejoice no matter how God works in their lives. Why? Because they are not seeking the reward, they are seeking him.
He goes on to give an illustration of this. Notice in verses 8-10 he says:
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned (lived as an alien) in the land of promise, as in a strange (foreign) country, dwelling in tabernacles (tents) with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
Now, there is a certain phrase that just leaped out at me one day. It is the phrase in verse 9 that says that by faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise. He lived like a foreigner in his own land. One day God came to Abraham and said, get up and leave. I’m going to take you into a country you don’t know about, and I am going to give it to you for an inheritance. It will be yours and your seed’s forever and ever. That appealed to Abraham because he was a man who knew a good deal when he saw one. He was already a wealthy man. Anybody would be a fool not to follow God under those conditions. So Abraham gathered his family and flock together and started out. They traveled and traveled and all this time God was drawing Abraham to himself. God never calls us to a country; he calls us to himself. It always puzzled me why Abraham said to Lot when they were ready to separate: Lot, you look out upon the land and you choose first. It takes some kind of fellow to make that kind of decision. You choose first. Take the best, and I’ll take whatever is left over. When Abraham finally got there, and God delivered him to his own country, God said, this is your home. It will be yours forever. What did Abraham do? Did he start living like a resident? Did he start living like a citizen. No! The Bible says he lived as an alien, like a foreigner, in his own land.
I believe that God wanted to call Abraham into a deeper fellowship and knowledge of himself and he had to use a carrot to get Abraham going—like he does with most of us. I think the land was the carrot that God held in front of Abraham to get him to move out. But that really wasn’t what God ultimately had in mind, not simply to give him the land. In all that time of travel, Abraham got to know God. Finally, when he got to the land, and God said, this is your land, suddenly Abraham had changed. He looked at that land and said, Lord, thank you very much. When we first started out on this trip, I thought this is it. This is what I want. This will satisfy me. I can hardly wait. But, you know, Lord, I’ve discovered something else. There is something better than the land. There is something beyond the land. Lord, I can’t live as though this land is my home because I know there is another land where you are. That’s what I’m looking for.
You see, Abraham started out seeking the land, and he ended up seeking the Lord. God’s purpose is never achieved in our lives until our chief delight is in him and him alone. He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him to love him, to love him for himself.
What if God were to suddenly turn off all the blessings in your life? Would you still praise him? You tithe because you believe, and God promises that he will supply your needs and multiply it and you will have more left with the 90 percent than with the 100 percent. I want to ask you a question. What if God didn’t do that? What if the only thing I could promise you tonight is if you gave God 10 percent of your income, you would have 10 percent less. Would you still tithe? It might be a good thing some day if the government takes away tax credits for gifts to the church. We might discover who really loves the Lord and who loves tax credits.
He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him. The life that is pleasing to God and can walk in constant fellowship and communion with God is that kind of life that says I believe God is real, even when it looks like he isn’t, and I believe it is always worthwhile to seek him. I know that he is a rewarder of those that diligently seek him. Can I come to the place tonight where I can say like Charles Wesley: Thy gifts alone cannot suffice unless thy self be given, for thy presence is paradise, and where you are is heaven. It is the Lord himself—to seek him, to know him, to love him, regardless of anything else that may happen. That’s the kind of faith that is pleasing to the Lord.
© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2006