Few questions confuse us more as Christians than what it means to live by faith. When does it mean sitting still and leaving a need completely in the hands of Christ? When does it mean taking prudent initiative to solve a problem or reach a goal?
Many Christians assume that faith usually means the former and not the latter. Robert longs for a new job that would make better use of his gifts, yet he fears he would be pushing God by going out and looking for one. “Shouldn't I assume that if Christ wants me in a different job, he’ll bring it along without any effort on my part?” he asks.
Jane, who wants to be married, wrestles with a similar question. She would like to change jobs or even move to a different city where the prospects of meeting someone compatible are better. Yet she wonders if this would be taking matters too much into her own hands. “Doesn’t faith demand that I simply wait for Christ to bring the right man directly to me?” she asks.
Both Robert and Jane would prefer to be doing something specific toward reaching their goals, and each see clear steps they could take. Yet they fear that their efforts to change things would usurp God’s authority. Surely faith must require that they sit still and wait for him to act.
A Time to Be Passive, a Time to Be Active
Scripture teaches, though, that we are called to exercise two different levels of faith at various times as Christians. At one level, we are to be inactive and wait patiently for the Lord to move. Here faith involves believing that Christ will bring about a solution apart from any effort on our end. It is shown in so many situations in Scripture where people were either told to be still or forced to be still and wait for the Lord to act. Examples include Joseph in prison; the Israelites at the edge of the impassable Jordan River; and Jesus’ disciples just before his ascension when they were instructed, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised.” (Acts 1:4)
Yet Scripture just as frequently affirms the faith involved in taking personal responsibility. We find so many impressive pictures in the Bible of individuals who, without any divine revelation or special prompting, took bold steps to reach a personal goal: Naomi and Ruth moving from Moab to Bethlehem; Nehemiah courageously organizing the Israelites to rebuild Jerusalem; Paul knocking on many doors to find opportunities to preach--in his own words, “making it my ambition to preach the gospel.” (Rom 15:20 RSV)
In reality, there can be just as much faith involved in taking personal initiative as there is in waiting passively for the Lord to provide. While Ruth would have been commended for staying in Moab and waiting for God to heal the heartbreak of her husband’s death, she probably showed greater faith in going to Bethlehem. By moving forward, she placed herself in a vulnerable position where she had to trust the Lord to protect her, to open doors, and to make her venture successful. Interestingly, it was this very move that prepared her for the relationship with Boaz, who became her husband.
It is right, then, to speak of a second level of faith that we are to demonstrate as Christians. At this level, we are active and assertive. We take initiative to find the answer to a need. And by moving forward, we force ourselves to a dependence on the Lord that wouldn’t be possible if we merely sat still.