As the season of thankfulness approaches, a recent study has me grateful for the things I learned as a child. I am grateful for God’s grace in drawing me to Himself as a child; I placed my faith and trust in Christ early and became a follower of Christ. How grateful I am for parents who provided me with a Christian school education and for teachers that encouraged students to memorize Scripture! In fourth grade, my classmates and I worked on memorizing the forty verses of Hebrews 11. I remember working so hard to memorize each verse so that I could add a gold star to my chart. How pleased I was at the end of that year to have 40 gold stars! I couldn’t have known then how those verses would be a challenge and a comfort to me in the years to come. Though I cannot quote the passage like I did back then, many of the verses still come to mind in the King James English.
We recently finished a six-week Wednesday night study with the children and youth in our church, where I chose to focus my class on that Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith.” Because it is a familiar passage, I wanted to look at it with fresh eyes. In preparation, I read the passage in different versions and revisited the Old Testament stories I’d learned in Sunday School. I looked at other New Testament passages that referred to the individuals, and although we were only able to focus on a few of them, the study brought me new encouragement. God gives us example after example of men and women who lived by faith despite uncertain and ungodly surroundings. These people were human; they weren’t perfect, but ultimately their lives were characterized by faith. I wanted my class to know these things and to purpose to follow after God. Hopefully, they will remember the individuals in Hebrews 11 throughout life and continually learn from their examples, being encouraged to live a life of faith that stands out in stark contrast to the world in which they live.
Praise God that saving faith is simple enough for a child to understand! Living faith is hearing, understanding, and obeying God’s Word. The children learned that faith is deliberate, conscious and intentional. They learned that “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6). Throughout life, God gives us many opportunities to exercise faith for His honor and glory. We illustrated faith by different blindfolded “faith walks,” trusting the instructions, the directions, the voice and the guidance of someone who could see everything clearly. Noah obeyed God and prepared an ark having never seen rain; Abraham went when God called, not knowing exactly where he was going. It isn’t always easy, but faith is trusting in a God Who is infinite, omniscient, and omnipresent. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). How many put faith in their own intellect or the intellect of revered scholars? They mock faith as foolish, as “chucking your brains at the door,” as a crutch for the weak. From creation to the cross, they refuse to believe what they cannot comprehend. “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? …But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (I Corinthians 1:18-20,27).
A few years ago, those Hebrews 11 verses came back to mind and the testimony of Abraham’s faith helped me through a very difficult transition. The last week of our Kids & Youth class, we focused on Moses. I noticed anew his very deliberate choice. “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, CHOOSING rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt…” (Hebrews 11:24-26). He could have lived the life of a prince, yet he chose to cast his lot with slaves. He weighed the consequences and considered that there was something greater than earthly treasures. How foolish that must have seemed to his adoptive mother and Egyptian friends, but what an instrumental man of God he was! While living the Christian life has never been easy, no one wants to intentionally choose to suffer. Yet we face an uncertain future. Identifying with the people of God has never been a popular place in the face of ill-treatment. Yet, would we say as Paul, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for Whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him…” (Philippians 3:7-9a).
As we see difficult days ahead for believers, my husband and I desire that young people be challenged to live a life of faith like those in Hebrews 11. We have been reading biographies of Christian heroes of the faith to our children and we have sought to resource our church library with these books as well. The Wednesday Night Kids & Youth Group watched The Jim Elliot Story, The Eric Liddell Story, and The Amy Carmichael Story from Voice of the Martyrs’ Torchlighters DVD series. Some have considered the deliberate choices of those individuals as foolish and their lives a waste…yet how they impacted the world! How their testimony still impacts others for Christ!
Trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation is just the first step in the life of faith. The Christian life is called a walk, a race, and even a battle in the Bible. It’s not always easy or comfortable. The evidence of our faith is found in the way we are living. Some live it quietly; some live it loudly, but all should be living it deliberately and boldly. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:16-18). That’s not a popular message, but it is one our young people need to hear. I am grateful for the freedom we have to share it. I pray that our children will have the guts to live out their faith as those mentioned in Hebrews 11, or as a Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, as an Eric Liddell or Amy Carmichael.
Hebrews 11 repeatedly refers to the eternal in “rewards,” to heaven as “a city whose builder and maker is God,” and a “better, heavenly country.” Those who live by faith recognize life is fleeting and temporal. “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:13-14). People who live by faith recognize they are “strangers and pilgrims” on this earth for only a “season” in light of eternity. Living in such a way as to bring glory to a holy God is their passionate pursuit. I’m thankful for the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the faithful. I’m thankful that God gives us ample opportunity at any age to exercise this simple, difficult, wonderful, beautiful thing called “faith”!