A friend once asked me to explain why I thought the people listed in Hebrews 11 were on the list as heroes and heroines of faith. Here’s my answer:
They are on the list because they yielded control (though quite imperfectly, as we see by their sins) to God. Granted, they did not yield control early in life for many of these on the list. Many of us hold on to part of our lives. We plan our careers or our families or the place where we will settle or travel. We think God approves just because we prayed and things are working out well. We tell God, “I’ll give you Sunday and Wednesday. That’s really doing better than a lot of people I know.” We also tell God, “Here’s the amount of money that is yours. Tell me how you want me to donate it.” We also tell God, “Here’s how I am willing to help. Show me where you want me to do the things I am comfortable doing.” We are quite pleased with ourselves when we say those things because the bar is set really low for what we are expected to do as Christians. God asks for all of us…to pray unceasingly…to follow faithfully…to give all that we have that separates us from God (Matthew 19–rich young ruler)…to witness everywhere we go… He does not ask for our lives as a slave owner. He asks so he can set us free and we can find the deep joy of loving him and being in a relationship with him.
To me, the power behind Abraham’s courage was his obedience to God. He yielded control of all of the details of his life. That’s very hard to do in reality. Abraham faltered at times, not sure about how to follow or bring about God’s plan. But he is a hero of faith because he was willing to drop all of his excuses and give God control of his life. Even when he sinned, Abraham still turned to God for the renewal and the second and third chance to keep going along the path God called him to. God told him where to travel to. God told him what all of the plans were to be. Go asked him to leave his native country and his relatives and go to a place that God would show him. That is the standard God set for us to follow. Things only became messy when Abraham tried to be in control of the planning. Look at Moses, Paul, and Peter, or any of the disciples. “Come and follow me.” It started in the Old Testament and continued throughout the New Testament. Follow me… not “follow me when it makes sense or is convenient.”
But isn’t that illogical? Financially risky? Unwise? Unsafe? Crazy? That’s why we might shun many of the people on the list, not because of their sins alone, though. I think we would shun them for the part they got right. We would say they were crazy. Leave everything you know and go somewhere that God says he will show you? Really? Have checked with your accountant first? Maybe the elders should talk to you about this plan, Abraham. Have you been feeling OK? Have you talked to your physician about how this will affect your health? We often ask for more pre-planning and a better, more secure package in this world.
Because of Abraham’s great faith, God told him, “This is what the LORD says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed — all because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:16-18). (Not because he was perfect, but because he gave God control of the plans. When he sinned, he was still trying to bring about God’s plan…he just forgot for a moment to trust that God really knew what he was doing. After he sinned, he still turned right back to God, giving God control over the mess Abraham just made by his sin.)
Not withhold even your son…we all withhold so much so that we feel secure, we feel wise in our planning, we feel comfortable. I just finished a study of Acts. Paul let God direct every part of his journey. When Paul tried to go where he thought was best, Acts tells us that God would instead lead him where God needed him next. And Paul went. Not many of us would witness as tirelessly as Paul witnessed.
Now, of course, God calls us all to different paths. Paul had many friends in each city who were called to help him and minister with him, but were not called to journey with him or be as abused as Paul was. I am not saying that we should all pack our bags and sell our homes and get on a camel or a boat and head out. But are we really willing to do whatever God asks? If we are in prayer and we have truly turned our entire lives over to God, he will use us in miraculous ways. Do we listen for God’s call? When he does call, do we respond with complete obedience and faith? We don’t get to choose the call.
Take Rahab as another example. Wasn’t her life complicated enough without some strange men coming in to take shelter? Wasn’t it illogical for her to let them in and hide them? If God sent someone to our door, would we listen to what he was asking us to do or would our human logic take over? Would we have handed them a few bucks and sent them on their way? Rahab put her entire life at risk for a plan that she could not have fully grasped at the time, though she did have an understanding about God’s ways. She followed faith rather than logic and “good sense.”
In Joshua 2:9 she says, “9. And she said unto the men, I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you.”
Her house was apparently part of the wall of the city. She had a questionable reputation. She raised and/or bought flax and had it drying on the rooftop. Her house must have also doubled as an inn at times since the guards naturally thought visitors may know to go there or be sent there. Others in Jericho had news of God and his miraculous work and the conquests of the nation of Israel, but we are only told that this one person stood on her faith. Many people wouldn’t even risk their lives for friends, but she risked her life for spies for the “enemy” of her people because she believed. She had no guarantee (at the beginning) that she would survive. Are we willing to serve without guarantees? Do we have the courage of Rahab?
It takes an incredible amount of courage and faith to look for solutions outside of our own experience and comfort zone. Rahab had to look past her heritage, past her comfort, past her own traditions, past what common sense as a Canaanite woman told her in order to do what God asked her to do. Rahab knew that she could not serve two masters–she had the choice to make of which side to stand on. She chose God/Israel.
Sometimes the answers are outside of the boxes we construct through our traditions and through our education. But if we daily read God’s Word and pray daily that God use us as He desires, then we can open our minds to His answers and His way. Sometimes nothing we have done or learned in the past prepares us for the answer we need to give.
Yet, also, sometimes God uses our past sinfulness for his good when we say yes to him and are renewed. Part of her past did prepare her for this night. She had flax drying on the roof. Rahab had the nerve to defy authorities. Hadn’t these been part of her past? But now God was using this for his glory.
That brings me to my second point of this list of Heroes of Faith…who are willing to minister with? Many of us would easily minister to the people on the list…an old man wandering around the area…a harlot with questionable business practices…a drunk man…an adulterous woman. But many of us have, as you said, set the bar too high for people we will minister with. Will we teach a class with a recovering alcoholic whom everyone knows drank away his family savings? Will we join a mission team with a former adulterer who is really trying to find where God is leading him?
Do we talk behind their backs, an act that sabotages the effectiveness of their witness? Do we make a list of accomplishments they have to achieve or milestones they have to reach before they are “reformed enough” to join us in ministry? As men and women are released from prison that we have ministered to, do we invite them into our pews and into our programs, hoping that they may lead one day?
Who would have joined Rahab’s Bible study group? Not many of us, I am afraid. But Matthew’s genealogy list puts Rahab in the lineage of Christ. Christ does not hold the past against any person, but opens the door for a full restoration of each sinner who believes and repents. We get a new life. But do most of us really allow everyone to get a new life. We gossip or mistrust or give a small task to a person so they will “be busy and stay out of the real work.”
Rahab had two strikes against her… she was part of the Canaanites and she participated in questionable sexual and business practices. But when she was called by God, she responded in complete faith. God responded with love and acceptance. He sought her because he knew her heart and knew she would respond. Her faith and her actions are tied together. God saw her through his eyes, not through our perceptions.
This is what makes the list in Hebrews 11 so powerful…these are people who had faith and who acted on that faith–who listened for God and responded when God called. And God renews. It is God who makes us courageous enough and wise enough and strong enough and patient enough to serve. It is God in us that makes us able to respond in faith as Rahab did. She was not just a woman … but she was a woman filled with God. That made the difference.
So that is what we are called to do… have faith and act on that faith every time God calls. We are also to know that we are forgiven when we stumble … forgiveness gives us a chance to get back up and respond to God once again. And we are called to serve with others whom God calls … we aren’t the keepers of God’s call. Paul was a murderer. Peter was a coward and often confused at times.
I am a divorced woman … a former victim of abuse. I have been homeless. I have sinned. I have been a coward at times. I have been confused. Somehow, God called me. I understand why it is tempting to be my judge. I have heard the whispers behind my back. I have known people who were willing to minister to me, but not with me. I am not their judge. I am not the keeper of their call from God. I am just a person who must respond when and where God calls me. I blog. I write. I teach. I speak. I go. I listen. I pray. I read. I study.
It is all about God, though. It is about God acting in and through us. That is what Hebrews 11 is about to me…being a vessel carrying God’s will, God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s hope.
I picture Rahab when she first felt renewed by God. Can you imagine the feelings that swept over and through her when she felt God’s cleansing and renewing and empowering love…when she first understood what God was about…when she felt God embrace her in a pure and loving embrace that didn’t use her or degrade her or shame her, but rather built her up and made her feel whole. That empowerment and love soaked into the depth of her being…that feeling of renewal stayed in her memory. It was from that feeling that she was able to draw the courage and wisdom needed to serve and go forward in life. It was her personal relationship with God that allowed her to seek his path for a dilemma, for life, for our journey. She had to think fast. If we aren’t in tune with God and his power, we tend to make lousy choices when we have to think fast. But Rahab knew what God could do–God was miraculous. He could take these Israelites and make impossible things happen. God can also take a harlot and turn her into someone that eventually points to Christ in the lineage, someone who is held up as a heroine of faith.
So we have asked, do we obey God’s call? We have asked, who will we minister with? Now we have to ask, who can minister to us? I think about the spies here…obviously they were servants for God, willing to take on a dangerous mission. What would have happened to them if they had said, “I’m not going to ask for help from her… a harlot, a questionable businesswoman…a Canaanite. I’m not going to be in her house! She’s a sinner!” They would have died, no doubt. They were saved by God through Rahab. Wow! Would we allow her to minister to us? Would we go in her house, follow her directions, seek her advice? Great question!
Do we hear God’s voice when it is spoken through someone we are judging too harshly? Can we accept that God speaks through these people on this list of heroes in faith? She had a bad reputation at that moment…we are not talking about years later. We are talking about right then and there when she was considered bad news, a bad example, an outcast. Didn’t God get the memo about using good people first? Well, we forget that God writes the memos and his message said that she’s the one he called. She listened. She responded. Can we handle that in today’s world? God is God…his character and nature has remained the same throughout the ages. So if he called Rahab then, he would call her now. If she taught a class, would we attend and listen? We would seek God’s Word though her?
This list is about God’s renewal and his power and love. He loved these people. He loved Rahab! He put the seeds of his love inside of her. She felt them growing even in her sin and imperfections. She allowed God’s Word to grow inside of her to the point of it overflowing into action!