Monday, 29 October 2012

Antidote for Fear

I have spent much of last week reflecting on  the subject of faith, trying to understand what it really is (and is not) and learning practical lessons for application. It started when I was asked to share in our local church on the subject as part of a teaching series. When faith is mentioned my immediate response is to think of risk, daring men and women, extra ordinary stuff and all that is associated with miracles. However a closer look this past few days has helped me see and appreciate faith in new dimensions.

The most precise definition of faith is found in Hebrews 11 – the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. From this, it seems to me faith is a guarantee of fulfillment of a promise made. It is a  collateral held in trust that the promise will be fulfilled. I realised that faith is not an idle notion, a wishful thought or a selfish ambition for anything but it is the certainty that God will fulfill His Word. This led me to the conclusion that Biblical faith is founded on God’s word and any emotive or rational thought process outside the remit of scripture is effectively not Biblical Faith.

A lot of what goes round as faith is mere positive thinking and not to say bland triumphalism /heroism branded as faith simply to give mileage to those who ‘possess’ it. It is viewed as a special ability to trust God and ‘get certain things done’ based on our capacity to trust God. Contrary to that I have come to to the conclusion that Biblical Faith is simple (as opposed to complex) and natural. I wish to summarise a few lessons learnt on Biblical faith.  

1. Faith rests on God’s faithfulness. Human faith and divine faithfulness are the obverse and reverse of the same coin. It is precisely because God is faithful that faith is reasonable, for there is no more trustworthy person than God. So, to trust the trustworthy is hardly daring or adventurous – it is plain, sober common sense. Faith is built solery on God’s word to build up expectation and even prayer on what God has not specifically promised is vain and deceitful and the results are often disillusioning and even disastrous.

2. Faith is a gift. We do not believe because we are anymore special than the non-believers. We believe because we are enabled by God’s grace to do so. In other words, faith is itself a response to grace. Faith comes by hearing God’s word and that capacity to hear and respond in obedience and trust is simply a gift from God, not a work of our own for which we can/should take credit.

3. Faith = Believing+Trusting+Taking Action. Biblical Faith is more than merely accepting facts. It involves complete trust that He who said those words is completely trustworthy and he will accomplish what He has said. The big contention for the christian, as was for the Old testament Jew, is – will God fulfill His word? Biblical faith moves individuals to act in obedience to God’s word even though the results are uncertain. James warns that just believing is not sufficient – even demons believe and shudder (Jas 2:19) we need to move to the next level of trusting and acting in obedience.

4. Faith is natural, built on father-child relationship. God is not only the Faithful one but our Father too through Jesus Christ. He invites us to call him ‘Father’ and to share our concerns and needs with him as children do with their parents. Hudson Taylor says: I notice that it is not difficult for me to remember that my children need breakfast, lunch and supper. Indeed I could not forget it and I find it impossible to suppose that our heavenly father is less tender or mindful of His children. God is a good father, He cannot forget His children.[1] I have come to appreciate that great faith is usually simple faith. It is not a secret formula, mantra or code that unlocks God’s promises. It is simple – taking God at His word and living in obedience to it.

5. Faith is necessary in the material realm as in the spiritual realm – both for physical needs as well as spiritual needs. I had an interesting conversation with a friend on the nature of faith. On the one hand was the thinking that we need pure faith and no action for spiritual needs (like the conversion of a friend or nations) and for physical needs more of action than faith (like growing a business). Whatever you think, it seems to me to be a continuum extending from pure faith to pure action where either extremes are not helpful. The thinking then, ought not to be either but both. Faith is necessary for both material and spiritual needs and a fair balance between faith and action needs to be sought.

6. Faith is not incompatible with the use of means. During Hudson Taylor’s first voyage to China in 1853, the vessel in which he was sailing was caught in severe storm. He had promised his mother that he would wear a life-belt but when the captain ordered passengers to wear them, he felt it would be  a sign of unbelief and thereby dishonouring to God, so he gave his life-belt away. Later on he reflected on his action and saw his mistake thus “The use of means ought not to lessen our faith in God, and our faith in God ought not to hinder our using whatever means he has given us for the accomplishment of His own purposes”. Similarly, a farmers trust in God is not incompatible with ploughing, sowing or reaping nor a patients faith incompatible with going to a doctor or taking medicine or a leaders faith incompatible with necessary organisation or fundraising. We must remember that Jesus is Lord over both the means and the ends.

In conclusion, authentic Biblical faith is not superstition or credulity or lazy inactivity – it rests on the faithfulness and fatherliness of God and is accompanied by sensible precautions and actions. [2]  

When we are afraid we need to hear Christ asking His disciples – where is your faith? (Mark 4:40) Faith arrests all our fears – even the greatest of them all.  What do you think?


[1] Steer, Roger: Hudson Taylor: Lessons in Discipleship,   OMF International /Monarch Publications, Crowborough UK, 1995,Pg 14.
[2] John RW Stott(Foreword); Hudson Taylor: Lessons in Discipleship,  OMF International /Monarch Publications Pg.15 

Monday, 8 October 2012

Fears & Doubts

It is an Air Uganda flight. I had come to attend Bernard's commissioning service at All Saints Kampala and everything seems to have gone well. I am encouraged by massive family support and the local church’s enthusiasm to have Bernard quit his job and head off to England for a year. I am however not sure whether they know what lies ahead of him. Could they be under the illusion that their very own Bernie is about to cross over the proverbial bridge? Are they aware that he won’t be making any money and hence won’t be visiting that Western Union booth. Many thoughts are racing through my mind.

I reflect on my own farewell/fundraiser 7 years ago – all my family were there, we had hired a small room and everyone seemed keen to come along. I am not sure what their real motivations were but they sure did help me raise the 65K (almost exactly) that BA needed for a return missionary ticket for the one year I was going to be away. Perhaps they thought once I am in the land of plenty, there will be no limit to the amount of money I will be sending back, maybe some were genuinely supporting gospel ministry and perhaps others thought of it as a social investment from which they might need a hand in return someday... maybe. I wonder what some thought when I finally returned without a Mercedes Benz to show, not even a plot in Kitengela or a massive investment plan denominated in Pound Sterling.

At least I tried to clarify expectations for poor Bernie’s family. He is going out as a missionary, a trainee missionary actually, without a salary and whose life henceforth will be characterized by seeking and building partnerships for the sake of the Kingdom and not the glory and glamour that the world (sometimes including friends & family) would like. He is going to seek and serve His Lord and Savior  My role here is to reassure family and the church that he is going for a good cause and that we (iSA) are keeping an eye on him.

I now need to return home. Its about 2.30 PM and the afternoon flight takes off from Entebbe at 4.50 PM. I need an hour’s lead to get through immigration and checking in. My host however insists I must have lunch and sure enough it is rude to leave without a meal. So they put me in some room (since the other guests are not eating just yet), serve me a director’s portion and get Celia to sit with me as I work my way through this delicious Ugandan serving. I must gobble it down quickly so we can be on our way to the airport by 3 O’clock.  A friend of Bernards offers to take me and Celia joins us. Its a scenic ride – almost 40 KM but I am panicking most of the way wondering what will happen if I miss this flight. Thankfully we get to Entebbe just before 4.00 PM.

My seat is quite close to the cockpit. I am actually in the first row next to the window. I can see the ground moving J beneath us as we taxi away towards the runway. It is a slow move and as we go along, safety instructions are given - usually a legal ritual before any flight. I do not pay much attention on what to do if we land on water – whatever they mean by that cannot be landing. You don't land in water – you sink or at least swim if you manage to get out of the fireball that is a crashing aircraft. And that if had better be if and certainly not when. Next to me on the aisle seat is a young man of about 21 years. He is light skinned and carries with him one of those sophisticated phones. He had a big rucksack that the air hostess had insisted is too heavy and could not fit into the overhead luggage compartment. She had had it sent to the cargo hold while we waited and for a moment I wondered what was in the bag. Why had he not checked in that bag? My imagination is about to go on overdrive.

As we are about to get to the runway, I notice the papers on my neighbour’s hands. He does not have a passport but has a long letter printed on Ugandan Immigration authority’s letterhead. I manage to read (rudely) at least the subject and a couple of odd lines. My neighbour is being deported from Uganda to his country of origin – surprise surprise – Somalia. This is it now. We are about to take off with an illegal immigrant next to me, with funny looking gadgets in his hand, from Somali and he had a rucksack, which is still with us in the cargo hold. Your guess is right. I thought of him as a terrorist. All this talk about Al Shabab and the recent Ugandan Airforce planes crashing in Mt. Kenya comes to mind. Interestingly he does not switch off his phone even at take off when all gadgets are to be switched off, or maybe he did not understand the instructions in English. Should I offer to explain to him and maybe secure some friendship – may be not. But why is he ignoring such important  safety notices? Does he need his gadget to detonate some stuff in the rucksack remotely? Well, I don’t know and have no way of knowing. Shall I alert the cabin crew of my fears? What if they are unfounded? I will come across as paranoid but what if there is some truth?

We finally take off. Take offs and landings are not anybody’s cup of tea – even for seasoned captains apparently. Even our kind air hostess looks tense seated, all wrapped in seat belts in her position, having just reassured us all will be well. I can’t help but doubt her composure. Does she know what I know about the guy next to me? Has she not read horror stories of flights gone bad or watched movies like Flightplan or Cast Away? We are airborne now. I think the best thing is distraction – it always works with the children to escape from pain or discomfort. I will read the in-flight magazine or some other stuff and shift my mind away from this suicide bomber.

I pick the magazine.Its a September issue. This sends my mind back to Septembers – oh its actually the month I joined full time christian ministry and was sent off like Bernard. But hold on for a moment – today is actually 16th September, 7 years to the date since I lost my father. Oh goodness and here I am next to a random Somali guy who is being deported and who has a suspicious rucksack? This must be it. There is no escape and I have absolutely no control of events whatsoever.   What will happen to my family, how about the work – what if the worst I can imagine happens. My back is against the wall and I feel helpless, almost hopeless.

However, a helpful distraction comes to mind. Prayer. I can call upon the God of the universe who knows all things. I feel a little guilty that I have taken too long before coming to this. But it is never too late to pray. I am a little anxious but I pray nevertheless at least to reassure myself that I have prayed. I am reminded of some guys who were crossing a lake on a boat and then there was a storm. They feared for their lives and panicked a great deal. Among them however, was the One who created the seas, the universe and all the laws of nature. He had stood up and challenged the panic-striken guys – where is your faith? I drew a parallel between that incident and my present circumstance and suddenly became aware of His presence in the flight. Faith takes away fear. Knowing He is in control no matter what may happen allayed my fears.

50 or so minutes later we land in Nairobi. I am comforted to be on the ground – where human beings should be – and can’t wait to leave the aircraft. I am eager to get out but I notice the inflight snacks they had served us. I had not eaten them – Tim will probably enjoy them totally oblivious of the reason I did not have them. I will happily share them with him, conforted to know that I know One who is greater than all my fears, real and unreal. One to whom I can commit all my thoughts and needs for the years ahead, one who says to me...

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Pillipians 4:6

In Him Bernard and other apprentices can put their trust as they step into christian ministry – The Lord will provide for them, has eternally protected them and will bless the work of their hands. Their future is safe in His hands. He has already given us all that we need and hence we need nothing but Him. In Him we can keep going as a young movement working to raise a generation of servant leaders for Him and faithfully proclaim His gospel till He returns. He will provide for His work, we are literally onlookers as He works in and through us to accomplish His purposes for His own Glory.

I will let Him know of requests for you, me and His Kindgom. How about you?