Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1).
If I could be so bold, here's how I would say this verse in my own words: Faith is the assurance of things not yet realized, the conviction of things not felt. It's easy to believe the promise that God works things for my good when good things have come to fruition; it's easy to believe that God is near when He feels near. But when my feelings and experiences tell a different story than the Word of God, faith isn't so fun anymore.
Faith is not a warm and fuzzy feeling. Rather it is a willful choice to believe in the reliability of God even when that belief is lacking in physical evidence.
Speaking of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, the writer of Hebrews has this to say:
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth (Heb. 11:13).
What did faith mean for these pioneers of faith? It meant not receiving the things promised. Yes, you read it correctly—dying in faith meant dying without receiving what was promised. They were convinced of a reality they never experienced. This is faith.
It's God's kind grace when He allows my feelings to run parallel with the truth of His Word. The test of faith comes when my feelings veer off to the left and God's Word goes to the right. Here I must make a willful choice to place my faith in what I deem most reliable—my feelings or God's Word.
An Intersection of Faith
Unfortunately I haven't always had the best attitude when approaching those intersections of faith. In 2009, I lost my third baby in miscarriage. In the aftermath, God seemed cruel and distant, not kind and fatherly. The hours I spend reading the Word and waiting in prayer resulted not in a felt nearness of God but rather further distance.
In fact, one of the first steps of obedience He asked of me was praying for the myriads of pregnant women who seemed to appear in my life. Praying for the children of others in the wake of my own loss was one of the hardest things I've ever done. God didn't answer my prayers for my children but seemed to answer my prayers for others' children.
This was my crossroads: Will I choose to walk bitterly in the path of what my experience screamed—God doesn't love me and isn't for me? Or will I choose to walk bewildered in the path of unfathomable truth—God does love me even while He afflicts me? Honestly, I didn't really want to walk down either. Rather, I was mad that God was asking me to choose at all. Why couldn't He show me what He was up to? Prove to me how His promises were true. Isn't that what a good Father would do?
But a Christian refusing to exercise faith is like a firefighter who refuses to fight fires. Preferring to sit in the firehouse watching TV and playing cards, he gets angry when the alarm sounds. Yet it is for this very moment that he is even in the firehouse at all—to be available to fight fires. December of 2009 was the alarm, and I responded in anger. Why should I have to walk in faith? Because I'm a Christian, that's why. And a Christian walks by faith, not by sight.
After repenting of my entitlement, I inched toward the uncharted territory of faith in things not seen. Choosing to walk down that path changed me. I know God because of that path. But walking by faith in that season was often grueling and laborious. The choice to believe what my feelings rejected was not natural. It was not easy. It felt foolish at times. It was as if all my senses confirmed the presence of a wall in front of me and God's Word said there was, in fact, no wall at all but that I should walk through.
Do Not Be Surprised
I wonder if this is how Abraham and Sarah and their children felt. Swimming in rich promises from God that clearly were not happening.
I will give you descendants as numerous the stars; now slay your only child.
I will give you a land flowing with milk and honey; now move to Egypt where you will become slaves.
The textbook on faith, Hebrews 11, is full of examples of men and women who appraised the reliability of God as greater than what they could see with their eyes.
Have you believed the lie that since you are a Christian, faith should come naturally? Yes, it's easy to believe the promises that our experience confirms. This is nothing spectacular. It's not hard to affirm the warmth of the sun when you feel it on your skin. It's when the storm clouds roll in that affirming the heat of the sun requires something greater than your senses. Christians, we walk by faith and not by sight.
Evidently Peter's audience was also tempted to believe that faith in hard circumstances shouldn't be the norm for the Christian:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:12–13).
Let us not be surprised by the trials that test our faith as if it were strange. It should be no stranger to us than the alarm to fight fires is for a fireman. Our faith will be tested. The intersection of faith and feelings will come. Let us not be surprised but fall to our knees asking for strength from our compassionate God to faithfully walk in His truth.