How to Live by Faith

“Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.”

Hebrews 11:1 (Common English Bible)

Harold Blake Walker writes, “We live by faith or we do not live at all.  Either we venture or we vegetate. If we venture, we do so by faith, simply because we cannot know the end of anything at its beginning.”i Walker applies this principal to marriage, the pursuit of a career, and the challenge of overcoming any of life’s difficulties. There is little certainty in life. Either we risk obtaining what we desire or we remain single, fail to realize what our potential may be, and are stopped by any resistance that places itself between us and what we want. Once we accept the veracity of Walker’s premise, the question becomes, “How do we proceed with an act of imaginative faith?

We begin by paying attention – paying attention to the object of our desire. I first noticed the woman that I would eventually marry in Hebrew Language Class. She was attractive, clearly intelligent, and was engaging with other students. As many men have said before me, any notion of a romantic relationship with her would be a reach. Yet, I refused to simply dismiss the possibility. I paid attention to her. I looked for opportunities to engage in conversation with her. Then I looked for clues that she may be responsive to a friendship, moving to a deeper engagement and finally, the most terrifying risk of all, asking her out on a date. She could have politely refused. Clearly admired by both students and faculty, this was a risk.

This same dynamic is at play in any arena of life. If we desire anything, we begin by paying attention to the small things, gathering clues here and there for the next step that we will take. We make a mental picture of taking possession of what we want and strive forward toward it. That is what this passage from Hebrews means by “Faith is the reality of what we hope for” – we strive forward as though what we desire is now a reality – that we have already taken possession of it. Yes, moving forward may meet with failure. That woman in Hebrew Class may have said “no” to my request for a shared dinner. But the answer was located on the other side of faith – on the other side of taking the risk to ask.

The Book of Hebrews does not minimize the difficulty of faith. An easy faith is a contradiction of terms. Faith, as we have acknowledged, carries an element of risk. And great faith has always had to reckon with great doubt. We possess faith only as we fight for it each day – keeping our eye on the object of desire and recapturing its allure each day. Then we must doubt our doubts and move steadily forward in the direction we wish to go. Yes, the burden of doubt occasionally presents struggle and strain. All great ventures of our lives require struggle and strain. But triumphs are not won without an unquenchable belief that we can achieve what we desire. It all begins with one step forward. That is living by faith



Earl Nightingale, Transformational Living: Positivity, Mindset, and Persistence.  (Shippensburg, PA: Sound Wisdom, 2019) 77.


Prayer and Responsibility

“Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord. Then Isaiah said, ‘Prepare a bandage made of figs.’ They did so and put it on the swelling, at which point Hezekiah started getting better.”

2 Kings 20:2, 7 (Common English Bible)

Theodore Roosevelt, our nation’s 26th president, was born a frail, sickly child with debilitating asthma. At seventeen, Roosevelt was as tall as he would grow, five feet eight inches, and was just shy of 125 pounds. His health, a continual concern of his parents, prompted Theodore Senior to decide that the time had come to “present a major challenge to his son.”i At the age of twelve, Theodore – nicknamed, Teedie – was told by his father that he had a great mind, but not the body. Without the help of the body, the mind could not go as far as it should. “You must make your body. It is hard drudgery to make one’s body, but I know you will do it.”ii Teedie made the commitment to his father that he would do so. The promise was adhered to with bulldog tenacity. The young Theodore Roosevelt took personal responsibility for his physical health and development.

Hezekiah, king of Judah, became a very sick man during his leadership. He had a wound that had become so serious that his spiritual counselor, a prophet named Isaiah, informed him that he should put his affairs in order because he was dying. That diagnosis came like a bolt of lightning to Hezekiah. In desperation, Hezekiah “turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord.” He pled with the Lord to reward his faithfulness as a man of God and to spare his life. Then, the scriptures tell us, Hezekiah cried and cried. Before Isaiah had left the courtyard of the king’s residence, God sent him back to Hezekiah with another and more hopeful message: “I have heard your prayers and have seen your tears. So now I’m going to heal you. I will add fifteen years to your life.”iii Then follows something that is most curious: Isaiah orders a bandage made of figs be placed on the swelling. Hezekiah prayed and Isaiah prepared a bandage: prayer and responsibility.

With powerful clarity, this passage of scripture teaches us that two things were responsible for Hezekiah’s rapid recovery: prayer and a bandage, faith and personal responsibility. If the king was to recover his health, both were required. The Bible refuses to indicate which of the two was the more important. We cannot know which was the most effectual. The message is that without either of them Hezekiah would have died in the prime of his life and at a time when his country most needed his leadership. The power of the Assyrian king, and his armies, threaten the peace Judah. The death of Hezekiah would have made Judah most vulnerable to their enemies. With his health restored, Hezekiah was able to defend his nation from the Assyrian threat. This story provides an important lesson for God’s people: While prayer is essential it must never be made a substitute for personal responsibility.

There are people who make the mistake of choosing between the two, prayer and responsibility. We have seen in the news recently where parents of a particular Christian sect refused medical treatment for their young son because they chose the avenue of prayer alone. A choice between faith and medicine is simply not supported by this Bible lesson. Each is a gift of God and each has its own power. Faith and medicine are both means of healing. They belong together. Both are agents of a compassionate God. Prayer and personal responsibility cooperate closely in effecting the highest well-being of those who struggle with illness. This story from 2 Kings reminds us not to neglect either. The second century French physician, Paré, reminds us of this truth when he wrote, “I dressed the wound and God healed it.”



i Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (New York: Random House, 1979), 32.

ii Morris, 32.

iii Portions of 2 Kings 20:5,6.


Fruitful Disappointments

“I’ll visit you when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while I’m passing through. And I hope you will send me on my way there, after I have first been reenergized by some time in your company.”

Romans 15:24 (Common English Bible)

I once knew a woman whose romance had gone on the rocks. She made a grand announcement to her work colleagues that she was never going to permit herself to fall in love again. “You only get hurt,” she said. I was a young graduate student struggling in the romance department myself so I remained silent. Fortunately, an older and wiser woman who was our supervisor made the observation, “If you deal with each disappointment that way, you don’t live.” I don’t recall how many work associates where present at that moment but each of us became silent as those few words sunk deeply into our hearts. The supervisor continued, “Reassess that relationship. Take something useful from it. Make it fruitful for the next.”

The Apostle Paul wanted to go to Spain. He had his heart set on it. Paul’s zeal for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ compelled him to reach the outermost rim of the world. What Paul got was a prison cell in Rome. Like my work colleague, Paul was disappointed. Life’s unexpected turns and twist never permitted Paul to take that journey to Spain. That one historical fact dispels the notion that those who follow Christ are never disappointed, never experience disruptions in their own life journey. Paul wanted Spain. Paul got a prison cell. How Paul responded is instructive for us. Paul used that time in prison to reassess God’s claim upon him, Paul wrestled something useful from his disappointment. Imprisonment provided quiet time to penetrate deeply into the mysteries of Christ.

Psychologists tell us that suicide, addictions, and some forms of nervous breakdowns is evidence that people are ill equipped to manage disappointment. Loss and disappointment, regardless of the magnitude, deprive us of our ability to think and act beyond ourselves. Our focus on the disappointment becomes so sharp that we are unable to see what remains that is positive in our lives. Consequently, loss and disappointment shrinks our life to the exact size of our desire that is unmet. Popular speaker and author, John Maxwell, encourages us along a different path – encourages us to embrace failure and disappointments, extracting from them lessons that results in us “failing forward.” It is then that mistakes, failures, and disappointments become stepping-stones to something so much more.

Few people have the opportunity to live life on the basis of their first choice – whether that be a choice in career, a spouse that “checks all the boxes,” or some other longing. Paul wanted to go to Spain. He got a prison cell. A large majority of us will find that life moves in directions not of our choosing. That is precisely when the Christian faith tells us that we should get something out of every experience, every new direction, even out of disappointment. The bulk of the New Testament is letters written by Paul – many of them written while in prison! After twenty-some years as an iterant preacher, Paul gets a prison cell. At last, Paul found the quiet time to think deeply about what he had learned of Jesus Christ and pour those thoughts out in written form that would be Paul’s greatest contribution to the Christian Church.



A Multitude of Anna’s

The following was written by Dr. Doug Hood’s son, Nathanael Hood, a second year student at Princeton Theological Seminary.

“There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, who belonged to the tribe of Asher. She was very old. After she married, she lived with her husband for seven years. She was now an eighty-four-year-old widow. She never left the temple area but worshipped God with fasting and prayer night and day. She approached at that very moment and began to praise God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Luke 2:36-38 (Common English Bible)

Of all the things in the Bible that puzzle and frustrate historians and theologians, perhaps the greatest is the nearly thirty-year gap in the story of Jesus’ life between his birth and the start of his ministry. What happened during these lost years? The Bible only gives us a few details. One of the most significant happens in the second chapter of Luke when Mary and Joseph take the infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem for the first time. During this presentation, the Holy Family meets a man named Simeon. The text doesn’t tell us much about Simeon—all we know for certain is that he was a “righteous and devout” man who had received a promise from the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he laid eyes on the Messiah. And indeed, on that day, that promise was fulfilled. The text tells us that the Holy Spirit itself came to Simeon and guided him to the Temple whereupon he took the infant Jesus in his arms and praised God, proclaiming him a revelation to the Gentiles and a glory for Israel.

Although he may have fallen a little out of importance in our Protestant tradition, Simeon is a very important figure in both Catholic and Orthodox Christianity. In addition to being canonized as a saint in both traditions with multiple feast days, he is also venerated as a prophet. He has been immortalized in paintings, stained glass, and altarpieces all over Christendom, and he has been the subject of music from some of the greatest composers in history, such as Johann Sebastian Bach. Not just that, but the aforementioned blessing Simeon gave while holding the Infant Jesus—known as the Nunc Dimittis—has been used by the Catholic Church as a prayer since the fourth century. Truly, Simeon is a model for steadfast faith being richly rewarded.

But I suspect Simeon’s story provides small comfort for most people looking for evidence of God’s presence in the world. Most of us will never witness a miracle like Simeon. Most of us will live lives like Anna. For you see, Simeon wasn’t the only one who recognized the infant Jesus when he was first brought to the Temple. There was another—there was an old woman named Anna who lived in the Temple courtyard. She was unique in her familiarity with loss and heartbreak. According to the text, she was widowed only seven years after getting married. According to Luke, she never remarried, and depending on how you translate the original text, she spent either the next sixty-odd or eighty-four years living in the temple courtyard without means or family which, in the time of ancient Israel, made her a non-person. She was a prophet, yes, but a prophet on the margins, well familiar with all the pains, and disappointments, and injustices of life.

And yet! Anna recognized the Messiah. Unlike Simeon, Anna recognized the Christ all by herself. Then she did something even more extraordinary: she spread the Word! Shortly after his blessings, Simeon disappears from the biblical record. But not Anna. She stayed. She witnessed. Indeed, most of us will not live lives like Simeon. Most of us will live quiet, unseen, under-appreciated lives. Most of us will wonder if the world ever will get any better, if our prayers truly mean anything, if our lives are being used by God at all. One can’t help but wonder if Anna, in her loneliness, ever felt the same. But again, it was Anna who recognized the Messiah and witnessed to the world. Perhaps it was because of her difficult life, not despite it, that she was so capable. We cannot all be Simeon. But we can all strive to be Anna. And in that striving, by touching others with our quiet Christian compassion and love, we can create a chain of healing greater than anything any of us will ever be able to comprehend. It takes a Simeon to shock the world. But only a multitude of Anna’s can save it.