The faith that inspires, and the faith that endures

Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. (Hebrews 11:35)

There are few things as beautifully inspiring as someone sharing a testimony of God’s miraculous work in their life:  a disease healed, a marriage restored, a wayward child brought to faith. We love to hear the stories of God’s intimate activity in the lives of those He loves. But if we’re honest, those testimonies can often be painful to hear for those whose diseases have not been healed, whose marriage has fallen apart, or whose wayward child never returned to God. For those people, hearing testimonies of God’s saving activity can lead to two difficult questions: Has God forgotten me? Or:  What am I doing wrong?

Hebrews 11, which is often called the Hall of Faith, begins with a list of Old Testament saints and the incredible things that happened in their lives as they walked by faith. Abraham and Sarah had a child at an old age. Moses led the Israelites through the Red Sea. Joshua and the Israelites saw the walls of Jericho fall without lifting a sword. In verses 33-34, the writer of Hebrews mentions how men and women of faith “conquered kingdoms, administered justice… shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword.” Stirring and inspiring testimonies of what is possible when walking by faith in God.

But then in verse 35, there is a turn. After mentioning how some women received their dead children back to life, we read this: “Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated-- the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:36-40).

Read verse 39 again: “They were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.” If I understand this list of the faithful in Hebrews 11 correctly, it means that as we walk by faith after God, some of us will experience God’s miraculous intervention in the form of healed diseases, restored relationships, and stirring victories. But others of us as we walk by faith after God will experience none of that. The disease is not healed, the marriage is not restored, and life feels like one defeat after another. But BOTH are commended by God as people of great faith. God’s miraculous intervention in your life is not a sign that you have greater faith than someone who never experiences such a blessing. In fact, it very well may be the opposite:  the one who endures hardship, keeping his or her eyes on Jesus to the very end, may be the one with the greatest faith of all.

So take heart, and fix your eyes on Jesus, as the writer of Hebrews concludes in 12:2. Run the race with perseverance, believing that faith in God will have its reward, whether in this life or in the one to come.

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