“The Christian life is not an accomplishment or an achievement, it’s a gift by the one who is able to give good gifts.”~ Walter Brueggemann
The thing is, this all depends on our receiving – upon us accepting that everything originates with and is initiated by the Gift-giver. This requires radical dependence and trust. It requires the need for patient waiting while everything inside us screams for control, wanting to grasp, and aches for what we’re not capable of pulling off on our own.
Abraham is our prototype for this kind of living. He led the life of a disciple (Mark 10:28). He accepted, embraced and went. He believed God’s promise without seeing any visible evidence – what Hebrews calls faith, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)
Abraham was a sojourner, an unsettled traveler. This is a pain and a hardship for anybody who lives to control, direct and make things happen – who craves settlement and security. The life of a disciple is a life “in between”. A life of faith that holds in tension praise and appeal, well-being and distress. And in each, there’s a dependency on God’s goodness only.
This life of faith isn’t easy. Faith is always a battle. There’s a struggle for faithfulness. Paul urged Timothy to,“fight the good fight of faith” (1Timothy 6:12). This boils down to a couple of things: Will God keep his promises and will I be able to trust the promise? Can I take the risk?
Abraham and Sarah were a childless couple. God’s promise to them stood against their barrenness. Their barrenness persisted even after receiving the promise. This posed a problem. The promise was delayed, even to the point of doubt. They had to continue to have faith in the face continued delay and barrenness.
So it is with the discipleship. The disciple of Jesus sojourns in the tension of the already and the not yet of the kingdom of God – believing the promise of a new world while at times (most times) seeing little or no evidence of it in and around them. The disciple believes that God was at the beginning of all things and will be at the completion of all things. The disciple knows that the beginning in the Garden was good and doesn’t question that the conclusion in New Jerusalem will be amazing. You’d think this would guarantee that everything in between would also be good. But it doesn’t. In this middle there’s disappointment, contradictions, unexplainable foolishness and pointlessness. The road is full of twists, turns, potholes, traps and ambushes. Like Abraham, the disciple must continue on by faith, embracing the foolishness of the cross and trusting solely in Christ’s promise even when evidence against the promise is all around. This faith to which Abraham and the disciple of Christ are called is not an easy, religious acceptance. It’s hard-fought and must be contended for (Jude 3).
So as disciples we’re not forced into faith. We’re invited and permitted but not strong-armed into it. We participate in the promise with eyes wide open as we live in the middle, doing the good works God has created us to do (Ephesians 2:10). This actually keeps faith in the middle alive and possible. This is our concrete, tangible way of living out the promise. Good works are an essential ingredient in sustaining the promise in the in between. This is how we put the promise into practice in the midst of delay, the mess, even in the middle of doubt.
Now the good news is that God seems to show up in the messy, uncertain middle and do his best work where the promises are greatest and the risks highest…