Category Archives: Faith and Action

Erroneous Presumptions

How often do we sell God short?  How often do we presume that he can’t or won’t act in a given situation?

In the Gospel of Mark, this happened with the friends of Jairus, a synagogue ruler whose twelve-year-old daughter was dying.  Jairus had come to Jesus pleading for him to come and lay hands on his daughter and heal her.  Shortly thereafter, Jairus’ friends who had been at his house came to say, “Your daughter is dead.  Why bother the teacher anymore?”

Jesus ignored the friends and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”  Jesus then went with Jairus to his house, and found people crying and wailing loudly.  He said, “Why all this commotion and wailing?  The child is not dead but asleep.”  But they laughed at him.  He put everyone out of the house, except for Jairus, his wife, Peter, James and John.  He went to where the daughter was, took her hand, and said, “Little girl, I say to you get!” Immediately the daughter stood up and everyone was completely astonished. (Mark 5:45-56)

Like the friends of Jairus, we too, may sell God short and presume that he can’t do something or won’t act in response to our prayers.  Therefore, we forgo praying for a loved one with a serious or terminal illness; we observe the actions of a friend and presume that our prayers for conversion will have no effect; we refrain from praying that God will change the heart of an adversary, or the course of a hurricane; we neglect to ask God to give us the right words to diffuse a controversy. 

Dr. Sheri Donaldson, who specializes in physical therapy at an outpatient rehabilitation center in Phoenix, tells the following story of Ashley, a co-worker.  Ashley has to have an MRI every two years in connection with brain tumor surgery she had a few years ago.  It is always a time of anxiety for her because there was a piece of the tumor that could not be reached in the surgery and continues to be seen on the MRI.  She always fears that a new MRI may show the tumor growing.

When the time came for Ashley to have another MRI, Sheri asked a small group of women that she meets with every Wednesday to pray in the name of Jesus that the tumor would be gone.  It just so happened that Sheri got to see Ashley just before she left for her appointment.  “I kept asking the Lord,” Sheri said, “if the he really wanted me to share our prayer with her and literally put my hand on her forehead.  I didn’t want to hurt her with an incorrect word.  Well, there she was, all by herself, telling me it was time and looking very nervous.  I shared with her that our group had prayed that the MRI would show that the tumor would be gone.  Then I placed my hand on her forehead and blessed her. She gave me a hug and went out the door.

“The next time we saw each other, I was walking down the hallway past her office when she yelled, ‘Sheri, the tumor is gone!’”

Sheri concludes, “This experience has also had an impact on me.  I am much more alert to whether the Lord wants me to reach out to others and be available to talk with them and to pray with them if the need arises. (Hope for the Workplace, p.105-106)

“Don’t be afraid,” Jesus says. “Just believe.”

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Exercising Faith on Another’s Behalf

Is there someone in your life who needs you to exercise your faith on their behalf? 

The Gospel of Luke reports the story where some friends of a paralytic are trying to bring him to Jesus on a mat so that Jesus could heal him.  When they arrive at the house where Jesus is teaching, they could not get in because of the crowd.  So they take him up on the roof, remove the tiles and lower him down on his mat into the crowd, right in front of Jesus.  “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend your sins are forgiven.’”

When some Pharisees who were present began to think that Jesus was speaking blasphemy because no one but God can forgive sins, Jesus responded, “That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…he said to the paralyzed man, ‘I tell you get up, take your mat and go home.’  Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. (Luke 5:24-25)

Luke’s account of this event indicates that Jesus healed the paralytic and forgave his sins, not because of the paralytic’s faith, but the faith of his friends and the extreme efforts they undertook to get him to Jesus. 

This is a good example of how we can exercise our faith on behalf of another to bring the Lord’s presence, healing and forgiveness.  Sometimes a person cannot act on his or her own faith or take the kind of action that may be necessary.  While we don’t know anything about whether the paralytic had faith in this story, it does not appear that he would have been able to act on this faith without the help of his friends.

A few years ago a close friend who had been battling cancer for more than four years had a massive brain hemorrhage.  He could not pray for himself or take other action, but his family and friends gathered around his hospital bed praying with him and for him, singing his favorite hymns, reading his favorite Bible verses and leading him into the arms of the Father who was waiting for him.  Instead of lying in a comatose state indefinitely after years of suffering, his family and friends escorted him to the Father.  What a glorious day it was for him AND us who were privileged to be present exercising our faith on his behalf.  

Jesus healed others on behalf of the request and faith of family and friends.  He healed the servant of a centurion who believed that Jesus could do this simply by saying the word without even coming to pray over the servant. (Mt. 5:5-13)  Others were healed based on the faith of a parent — Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:21-43); and the royal official’s son in Capernaum.  (John 4:43-54)

We should never underestimate the power of our faith to bring God’s presence to others.

Action — the Fruit of Faith

Do your actions attest to your faith?

When I worked in the legal department of a large international oil company we had an administrative assistant who was quite vocal about her Christian faith.  Her conversation was filled with references to her Christian beliefs and opinions on a variety of subjects.

Her job performance in providing administrative assistance to three attorneys, however, fell short of the expectations for her position.  It fell to me to counsel her about her performance.  I will never forget her response when I pointed out that her work in serving the three attorneys assigned to her was not meeting the requirements for her job.  Indignantly, she declared, “I don’t serve anyone but God!

St. Anthony of Padua said, “Let your words teach and your actions speak.  We are full of words but empty of actions, and therefore, are cursed by the Lord, since he himself cursed the fig tree when he found no fruit, but only leaves.”  

Bearing fruit in our lives is important to Jesus.  He said, “I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” (John 15:16)  What kind of fruit?  St. Paul sets out in Galatians 5:22-23 what he describes as the fruit of the spirit – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”   I believe that faithfulness also includes seeking to do our best.

In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus is very harsh with the servant who buried the talent he had been given instead of investing and multiplying it — a lack of action.  In the Parable of the Sheep and Goats, Jesus condemns the people who did not provide food, drink, shelter, medical care and their time to individuals in need – a lack of action.

We have all heard the line, “actions speak louder than words.”  This is particularly true when it comes to faith and love.  Faith and love are not real until confirmed by our actions.  When Jesus told someone that his or her faith had healed them, it was usually preceded by some affirmative action of the person exhibiting their faith.  (The woman suffering from bleeding for twelve years, saying, “If only I can touch his cloak.” [Mt. 9:22])

This is not about whether salvation comes from faith or works.  This is about whether our actions make our faith and love real.

Scripture tells us that God is love.  Being omnipotent, God can of course exhibit that love through consolation in prayer or in any number of ways.  Oftentimes, his way is to use us in bringing that love to others.

Faith and Uncle Tut’s Outboard Motor

Have you ever noticed how often Jesus said to someone, “your faith has healed you?”  

We see it with Bartimaeus, the blind beggar sitting by the road outside of Jericho, persisting in calling out to Jesus as he passed even though the crowd attempted to silence him. (Mark 10:46-52)  We see it with the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years pushing through a crowd crushing around Jesus, hoping only to touch his cloak.  (Luke 8:43-48)  We see it in the friends of a paralytic who went to the extraordinary efforts of taking him upon on a roof and then lowering him down through the tiles in the middle of a crowd in order to get him to Jesus. (Luke 5:18-26)

In each of these instances it seemed to be the actions that these people took based upon their faith that brought forth a response from Jesus.      

Faith without action is incomplete.  We need to act on our faith in order for it to have effect.  It usually requires that we go out on a limb and risk failure, embarrassment, or disappointment.  

A number of years ago my daughters and I were water skiing in Uncle Tut’s boat in the sound between Holden Beach, NC and the mainland when the outboard motor conked out.  He tried to start it several times, he fiddled with a number of adjustments, but nothing seemed to work.  It was getting late in the day.  There weren’t any other boaters in the area.  He had no VHS radio, and it was a time before cell phones.  We just sat there in the middle of the sound, unable to get back to the landing.  I started to silently pray that the motor would start.   Uncle Tut kept pulling at the starter cord, but nothing happened.

I got a sense that I needed to pray out loud so Uncle Tut and my daughters could hear me.  As Tut was giving it another pull, I shouted, “Lord Jesus, start the engine!”  Varoom, the motor started right up.  Uncle Tut, who loved to tell stories, told this story for years – how my prayer started his motor when nothing else he did could.

Every day we have opportunities to act on our faith.  If we see a questionable business practice, our faith in Christ should enable us to speak up for integrity.  If a colleague is discouraged, our faith should motivate us to provide encouragement.  If an employee needs to talk, our faith should be willing to listen.  If we see a need for healing, our faith should be willing to offer to pray.  If we need healing, our faith should be willing to ask others to pray with us.

By giving us free will, God risked everything to become one of us in Jesus, counting on there being a few willing to follow him and carry on his work.  How much are we willing to risk in living out our faith to carry that work forward?