Faith is a miracle worker. It moves mountains and heals the sick and brings about the impossible. Faith is the evidence of a world unseen. But did you know that there is something faith cannot do?
The last few weeks, I’ve been reading stories of Anabaptist history to my children. After numerous failed attempts to read without succumbing to emotion, I finally decided that a Kleenex box simply has to be part of the scene while I read. I’ve always loved the stories, but somehow in recent years they make me cry like they never did before. The courage and sacrifice these people portrayed is nothing short of supernatural.
The story of Menno Simons rolled through my mind in the days after I read about him to the children. Menno Simons made a statement that is frequently quoted for its description of faith:
For true evangelical faith is of such a nature that it cannot lie dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it dies unto flesh and blood; destroys all forbidden lusts and desires; cordially seeks, serves and fears God; clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it; teaches, admonishes and reproves with the Word of the Lord; seeks that which is lost; binds up that which is wounded; heals that which is diseased and saves that which is sound. The persecution, suffering and anxiety which befalls it for the sake of the truth of the Lord, is to it a glorious joy and consolation.
The Complete Works of Menno Simons, p. 246
I remembered a talk Will gave some years ago about this quote. He pointed out that we tend to notice what a true faith does, which certainly has value. But in this statement by Simons, the crux of the matter resides in what genuine faith does not do.
True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant.
Before I venture farther, I want to clarify my use of the term “evangelical.” By “evangelical” I do not mean “white, Bible-thumping Republican.”
I am referring to “evangelical” as Menno Simons used it, in the sense of an organic faith that is aligned with the Gospel of Jesus, a faith that has been proven over the centuries, a faith that is alive and breathing and true to the Scriptures. This is the kind of faith that doesn’t rest. As James said,
…faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
James 2:17 (ESV)
The next paragraphs describe several things I have been thinking about in relation to an active versus dormant faith.
Sometimes we confuse active faith with visible activity. They are not always the same thing. A while ago a friend of mine told me about a multi-million-dollar church building project in his area.
This building is huge, even including a large room devoted to sports trophies won by the church ball teams, he said. I started choking already at that information, but then my friend went on to tell me that the church expected struggling parishioners to devote money and energy to this project when they were barely making a living themselves. The facilities were being built on the backs of the poor. “You have just pushed my buttons,” I informed my friend, and thought about puking into the nearest trash can.
That may seem like an extreme example, but I’ve also heard similar lines in a milder form. It’s easy for a church community to look at themselves and say with warm fuzzies in their hearts, “See! Look how good we are at coming together to pull off weddings and funerals and fundraisers!” While those things are necessary and good, they are not unique to the Christian community. If that is all a church works together toward, and the Gospel is not branching into new territory, the validity of that faith is certainly in question. A busy church can still be a dead church.
Many times active faith is like a root spreading underground, unseen by many but expanding rapidly. The mother who stirs the soup while holding a baby on her hips might not look like she’s doing much of anything, but to the Enemy, her prayers arising with the steam of the soup are deadly. Whether she prays for her baby or for the druggie down the street, she is opening up access for God to work.
The woman who doesn’t host church members for dinner every Sunday may look like a lazy stay-at-home mom, even though she serves tea at her table to social outcasts during the week. The man who fights sleep in church on Sunday might be tired because he stayed up late to talk to someone who needed a friend. The boring teacher who faithfully returns to her classroom day after day might be the person whose words of blessing to her students shapes them for life.
However, it’s all too easy to excuse a complacent lifestyle with explanations of doing our little part at home. What we gauge as quiet effectiveness may only be rank passivity. I remember sitting in a ladies’ Sunday School class discussing the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). The general consensus of the class was that all of us ladies there were “one-talent” people, but our little bit could still be useful to God. I wanted to cry, because I didn’t see it that way at all. I saw every lady in that group as being endowed with much, much more than most Christians I encountered. But with that poverty mindset, nobody was going to think of venturing into unchartered waters.
God, I am discovering, nearly always keeps His people uncomfortable, whether the work He gives us is noticeable or hidden. We might as well get used to the idea!
I am shy by nature, and find it all too easy to avoid talking to people. Even when I want to be friendly, my hearing problems sometimes hold me back. But I have been surprised and blessed by the times I have been pushed out of my shell into doing things I never thought I would do.
A few months ago, in preparation for our city-wide revival here in Medicine Lodge, we went out in pairs to do several things. First, my friend and I went prayer-walking around a designated section of town. That was pretty comfortable for me. Next, we went door-to-door doing surveys. That part I dreaded.
Knock on doors and talk to strangers! Yikes! No way! But as Judy and I began knocking on doors and talking to people, I surprised myself with how much fun it was! I love to hear what people are thinking about, and the questions we asked produced just that. I came home practically glowing, and spilling over with stories for Will.
That experience reminded me that doing what God asks, even though it’s invariably uncomfortable, is much more fulfilling than living in bland survival. Walking in the power of the Holy Spirit beats self-preservation any day.
If we are feeling a call, like Abraham in Genesis 12, we must go. For if we have never inconvenienced ourselves, if we are not part of anything that actively pushes forward with the Gospel, if we do not pray with purpose and power, if we have never shared our testimony, if our faith is indiscernible, we do not have the true faith at all.
Jesus’ final words to the disciples were to “go into all the world and preach!”
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)
That is exactly what the disciples did. And when they faced angry leaders, threatened with their lives if they didn’t shut up, they were so full of God that they responded,
…we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.
Acts 4:20 (ESV)
And this is what true faith cannot do. For a faith to be real, and strong, it cannot sleep. Faith cannot yawn in ignorance at the catastrophic suffering in the world. It cannot hang tight in a sweet little churchy cluster while lustily singing “Rescue the Perishing.” It cannot bleed the poor while reveling in the pillowy comfort of being a white American. It cannot sniff disdainfully, refusing to deal with abuse of any kind, whether it is spiritual, emotional, or physical.
It cannot stop speaking of the things we have experienced of God.
True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant.
What does your faith look like?
8 thoughts on “What Faith Cannot Do”
“God, I am discovering, nearly always keeps His people uncomfortable.” I love that line (even though I inwardly squirm reading it)!
I realize the faith vs. works controversy isn’t simple, but I love how your post is some ways simplifies it by reminding me to focus on faith (which naturally won’t lie dormant).
I don’t especially enjoy being uncomfortable, but God gives strength!
Just today, my Language Arts students copied part of this quote into their journals and then responded to it in writing. The song based on these words has become a favorite at church–which some of the students referred to.
I was moved as I studied Menno Simons’ life in preparation for sharing some of it with my students. He was in some ways a reluctant leader, but stepped into that dangerous role when he was asked and when he saw how desperately the fledgling Anabaptist movement needed guidance. He apparently also keenly felt his limitations. I noted too that because of his life on the run, he was often in desperate need of the food and shelter that Christian friends offered him. Some of them were executed for providing it.
That provides some perspective for how intertwined faith and works were for these Christians. What passed for faith in the Roman Church at the time involved quite a different set of actions, so Simons’ words seem anything-but-simplistic. Deeply perceptive instead, spoken by a faithful follower with a humble heart.
I reminded my students that all these good actions are no substitute for a life of faith, but they are a beautiful expression of a life of faith–which is some of what I understand you to be saying as well. I’m glad to learn of how many of us were on the “same page” today.
Miriam, I love the stories so much because these people had flaws and fears like any of us, yet were deeply committed to following the way of the cross. I’m glad you encourage your students to study this special part of history!
And yes, it’s not the specific actions so much as the heart full of faith, and the life that can’t help but spill out of that.
Rosina thank you for this post. Thank you also for the example you have set to me of faith that does not lie dormant. The risks you have taken to move out of comfort into a passionate life of faith are a brilliant testimony of the grace of God in your life, and the willingness you have to use that grace to minister to others!
One of the things the scripture talks about a lot is helping the widows and fatherless. You have done this in your foster care stuff. The other day on my lunch break, as I was grieving and wrestling with the violence I see every single day of my life, I also had a thought strike me. As a Victim Advocate at the Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Center here in Hutchinson, I cried out to God on behalf of the widows and fatherless, not made so by death, but made so by the violence, abuse, abandonment and fear that I see in the lives of these victims every day. That is where my calling is. I cannot allow my faith to lay dormant. I have to fight for these victims with everything that God has given me to fight with. And I also believe the church needs to WAKE UP to these needs. The heinous demonic violence that is going on. They need to stop burying their heads in the sand and trying to act like nothing is wrong, and go on just doing their fundraisers and whatever else they do to try to make themselves feel righteous enough to get by. It IS uncomfortable to get involved in the lives of broken people. Trust me, it’s uncomfortable for me almost every day. But God has not called us to sit around sipping lattes and theorizing on what’s wrong with people like that, or gossiping about others. He has called us to a ministry like Jesus. What did Jesus do? He wept for the people. He healed them. He spent time with the prostitutes. He brought justice to them. And most of all, he gave his very life for them. How can I keep silent and not give my life as well when he has rescued me from the most horrible pits of abuse and sin and despair?
There are many people who are functionally widows/fatherless. God bless your work!
This is so full of truth! I still cringe at “busy churches ” because that was such a huge part of my upbringing. Busy, but so inward focused. There are so many opportunities to do so much more. Recently, our new little church hosted a funeral for a 19 year old man from our youth group. 7 different churches came together to make that funeral happen. These churches ranged from non-denominational to very conservative Mennonite. It was beautiful and sad both. Beautiful because of how we all worked together; sad because a funeral was quite possibly the only time that will happen.
The more I experience of different denominations working together, the more I’m convinced that we desperately need each other. We could do so much more if we would swallow our pride, pool our spiritual resources, and learn from each other.