When Faith Deteriorates into Hope
My wife and I have been to beautiful AT&T Park in San Francisco to watch the Giants play on two occasions. The first time there, we weren’t too many rows above third base and many people had a mitt with them – they were anticipating some foul balls coming their way. The second time found us high in the right field upper deck seats and virtually no mitts were to be seen. We had gorgeous views of McCovey Cove, the Bay Bridge, and the upper skyline of the City, but had no expectation of any balls coming our way.
Close to third base, I needed to watch every pitch because something could have come my way in a second. But high in the upper right field seats, I didn’t expect anything to come my way. Up there, I was at the game, but not in the game. We see something of this dynamic in Martha’s life in John 11. After Lazarus died, Martha went from being near third base to the upper right field seats. She went from expecting something from Jesus to expecting nothing from Jesus. She took herself out of the field of play. Her faith deteriorated into hope. This is what happened to Martha and it’s what can happen to you – you can find yourself sitting in the cheap seats with Martha. How do I know it can happen to you? Because it happened to me. I’ve experienced how faith can deteriorate into hope. I’ve taken that long walk up the ramp to the cheap seats where I don’t expect much to come my way.
“If only You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
You know the story – Lazarus is dead and buried. Jesus delayed His arrival and it was now, after Lazarus has been in the tomb four days, that Jesus finally showed up. Not only were Martha and Mary grieved by the death of Lazarus, they were shaken by the seeming indifference of Jesus who hadn’t come in time to heal their brother.
Martha’s faith took a hit. She didn’t lose her faith – but she did lose the fervency of her faith. She still loves & believes in the Lord, but her faith isn’t as vibrant & vital as it had been. She is disappointed with Jesus and tells him so.
On a lesser scale, I know exactly what this is like. My faith has taken numerous hits. I have been gun shy about promoting various ministry opportunities because they have been largely without effect in the past. Poorly attended concerts have made me reluctant to want to promote and participate in other similar events. I just can’t be certain Jesus is going to come through for me. Ineffective outreaches leave me not so gung-ho the next time because I can’t be sure Jesus is going to show up. Mediocre ‘body life’ services have made me think twice about scheduling others. Where was Jesus at our ‘body life’ service? I have thought many times that Jesus has been late and left me with a funeral to arrange.
From our vantage point, we know what Jesus had in mind. Jesus assured Martha that her brother would rise again. Jesus meant resurrection today, but Martha couldn’t go there with Jesus – she said that he would rise in the resurrection on the last day. Her expectation migrated from today to the last day. This is precisely where Martha takes the cheap seats. This is where her faith deteriorated into hope. This is where she left her seat just above third base and took the long walk up the ramp to the cheap seats.
Faith says that Jesus is with me today. Hope says that Jesus will be with me tomorrow. Obviously, hope is a good thing to possess. It’s one of the Big Three – …now abide faith, hope, love… But when hope abides without faith, it takes you out of the game and relegates you to the cheap seats. When hope abides without faith it robs you of today and shifts everything to tomorrow. Martha had no expectation her brother would rise today. The deadline had come and gone and Jesus had not come. Faith says that Jesus is with me today. Since He is not with me today, all I have is tomorrow. All that’s left is hope. She went from faith for a miracle today to hope for one on the last day.
This is one of the devil’s greatest, subtlest tricks – not to deny the power of Jesus, but to relegate it to another day – to make faith deteriorate into hope – to rob me of today and shift everything to tomorrow. A tomorrow Jesus is a great hope, but I need a today Jesus.
Indications of a valid, but not a vital faith
Disappointment becomes accusation – 21 – If You had been here…
When I am disappointed, I am overcome by the Ifs of life – the would have beens/could have beens/should have beens of life. I am not elated by what could be, I am deflated by what is. I no longer look forward to the miracle I expected, I look around at the mess I am left with. I shift all my expectation to heaven. And the expectation of heaven is good, but not at the expense of a faith that says Jesus wants to move in power today.
Confession becomes profession – 22 – Martha said, Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, He will give You…
It’s true, He will – but we know she doesn’t really believe this. Her confession of faith was a mere profession of truth. When faith deteriorates into hope, the dynamic of faith becomes the rehearsal of doctrine. When faith deteriorates into hope I take refuge in truth, not in the Lord and the strength of His might. I retreat from a passionate personal faith into a propositional doctrinal one.
Faith becomes hope – present anticipation becomes future expectation – 24 Martha says that Lazarus will rise again on the last day – not today.
22-28 Martha’s present faith is replaced by traditional theology. She is fearful of believing too much. She takes refuge in hope, not faith
Martha is in a place where she needs to rededicate her life to the Lord
Rededicate? Why? There’s no sin in her life – and there is no life in her life, either! And it’s more than the death of her brother – it’s the death of a dream. She was more shook up by the seeming indifference of Jesus than the death of Lazarus. It is one thing to give yourself to the Lord in the excitement and passion and idealism of youth. It is another thing to give yourself to the Lord in the realism, the brokenness, and the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations. So much has happened, so much damage has occurred, so many opportunities have been missed, so much sin has done so much harm, so many regrets have been accumulated, so much disappointment has taken a toll on the soul. Possibly, without even realizing it, you find yourself next to Martha in the cheap seats and need to give yourself once again to God. No, you haven’t backslid – there is moral purity and doctrinal integrity, but something has died within you. Yes, your calling is still intact, but the passion of your calling, that intensity you experienced, that expectation of Jesus moving in power today is a thing of the past. Disappointment has robbed you of passion and anticipation. You’re sitting in the cheap seats surrounded by thousands of others who may be cheering, but when you look closer, they aren’t wearing any mitts, either.
Jesus seeks to reignite her staggered faith – to restore her gutted faith
Jesus wanted to move Martha and wants to move you from the cheap seats back into the place of action – from doctrinal profession to personal confession, from future hope to present faith, from tomorrow to today.
Do you have an “if only” faith or an “even now” faith?
Martha had gone from, “If only You had been here,” to, “Even now God will give You what You ask.” And even though she really didn’t believe that, you can. Is He Lord only before bad things happen or is He Lord even now, after bad things have happened? If you have an ‘if only’ faith, it will turn into mush as did Martha’s. You do not have an ‘if only’ God, you have an ‘even now’ God. An ‘if only’ faith cannot fully trust an ‘even now’ God. Even now, God can comfort; even now God can restore; even now, God can use you; even now God can heal; even now, God can deliver; even now, God can bless.
Abraham had an even now God – and even after his ability to sire children had expired – even now God can bring forth children of Abraham. Joseph had an even now God – and even after years of imprisonment and loneliness and servitude – even now God exalted him to the right hand of Pharaoh. Joshua and Caleb had an even now God – even though the Canaanites had cities walled to the heavens and the Israelites were like grasshoppers in their eyes – even now God would drive them out of the land. Martha, Mary, and Lazarus had an even now God – even though Lazarus was dead for four days – even now Jesus is the resurrection and the life. You have an even now God though ministry has battered and torn you up. You have a Jesus who is the resurrection and the life today! May your hope become faith, may your tomorrow become today, may your profession become confession, may your expectation of an even now God become glorious reality as Jesus shows up in your life and in your ministry. It’s time to get up and change seats.
Good post brother (even though I’m a die-hard Dodgers fan!)
It reminded me of something an older, British brother (now with the Lord) shared about Mary, Martha & Lazarus in Jn 12. Lazarus, a picture of hope, was sitting with Jesus, Mary, the worshipper, was sitting at Jesus feet, and Martha, a picture of faith, was serving & overly concerned about Mary not helping her.
What I remember was how this brother reached back to Jn 11 to share how Martha represented faith because faith produces work (~fruit-Ja 2:14). Even in Jn 11 (your text), Martha had faith that Mary didn’t seem to muster & Lazarus was unable to have (kind of hard when you’re dead 😉 ).
I wonder if it’s not so much a rededication that’s needed so much as a change of perspective? Maybe it’s one & the same. When I need to refocus my faith (change perspective from doubt or even unbelief), I find the best way is to get on my knees and listen— more the posture of Mary, I guess.
Thanks for the reminder, Tim.
Thanks for the post. You really have put some thought into this, but I can say that God spoke to me through this. I do have one question for you. your thought.
“When faith deteriorates into hope I take refuge in truth, not in the Lord and the strength of His might.”
I guess I dont see how if you are taking refuge in the Lord’s truth but not be walking in the power of his might?
Either way I really enjoyed the read and I liked the insight into the “No sin, but No life in her life” To me I think that summed it up!
Hi, Cody – The point I was making is that I retreat into an intellectual, doctrinal faith and not a living one that expects Jesus to move in power today. A faith that is comprised of doctrinal truth alone is a sterile faith. It’s probably one of those things where I know what I meant, but even after I wrote it, no one else does!
Thanks for the clarification. I think I understand what you mean I was just looking for a little more fleshing out of the idea. I think that I get it though. The truth of God is there and there is a difference between an “Intelectual Accent” and “Genuine Belief.” I have been thinking about the post and I think you touched a lot of good points. I like the challenge to believe that God is working “even now.” He is alive!