Hebrews 11 often is called the hall of faith. It is filled with the stories of Old Testament men and women and their faith in God in the midst of trials and hardship. These stories are meant to encourage us to run our own race with endurance by their examples as our “cloud of witnesses,” as chapter 12 says. Follow these examples of faith, be encouraged by these examples of faith as you keep your eyes on Jesus and run the race set before you.
As I was reading through Hebrews 11 recently, I was encouraged by the faith of those examples, because they are not neat and tidy. Living with faith in this world is not easy. The story of faith is not wrapped up nicely with a bow. Just a cursory look at the examples given in Hebrews 11 proves this point.
Abraham believed God and the promise of God to give him a son of inheritance, but not without attempting to fulfill this promise himself first. Sarah believed God only after laughing off the promise of God.
Moses made excuse after excuse when God called him to set his people free, and he lashed out in anger, excluding himself from the Promised Land. Gideon makes God prove his faithfulness and calling. Samson is prideful. Samuel ignores the sins of his sons. David commits adultery and murder. But here in this chapter, they are held up as examples of faith we should follow.
Faith is messy
These examples remind us faith is messy most of the time. Following Jesus is hard. We will not be perfect. There will be moments when we mess up, when we struggle to believe, when we try to take action instead of wait on God. Pride will get the best of us. Sinful desires sometimes will win the day. And we will hear the voice of God and make excuses.
Hebrews 11 and 12 encourages us to keep the faith, to persevere. We are not called to be perfect. We are called to trust in the sufficiency of Jesus to make us holy and righteous by our faith in him. All we need is faith the size of a mustard seed, and we can know, because of the cross and resurrection of Jesus, nothing—not our lapse of belief, not our questions and doubts, not our struggle with sin—can separate us from his love.
These examples remind us we don’t have to be perfect to have faith.
Commendations for faith
Sometimes, we look at the circumstances of our lives, of this world, and we struggle to have “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11 also shows us examples of men and women who are not named or known and who faced unspeakable tragedy and persecution in this life and yet are commended for their faith.
After the author of Hebrews gives us the big names of the Old Testament and how they put foreign armies to flight, stopped the mouths of lions, escaped the edge of the sword and conquered kingdoms, he turns to others whose faith didn’t seem so victorious.
Verse 35 says, “some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”
Faith & suffering
Faith in Jesus sometimes leads us right into suffering, where we have to live with the hope of a better reward, a better resurrection life. Faith does not always lead us to victorious living or our best life now. In fact, our faith finds true strength when we walk through the fires of suffering and loss. Our better life is not always promised here. What is promised here is joy, hope and love in the midst of our wandering about in deserts and mountains.
Hebrews 11 gives us examples of men and women who were not perfect and who suffered and struggled day after day and yet continued to walk by faith desiring a better country, a city whose designer and builder is God.
So, brothers and sisters, endure. Choose today to walk by faith, even though it is messy and hard.
Zac Harrel is pastor of First Baptist Church in Gustine, Texas