It is impossible to live a rewarding life without taking risks. My five-year-old grandson Archer has recently learned to ride his bicycle without training wheels. He now rides it bravely and confidently, thus enjoying the rewards of joy and freedom. But receiving these rewards required him to take risk. He courageously climbed aboard his bike with the training wheels removed, and with his father at his side, he tried again and again. All the while his Dad was assuring him that he was there, and he would protect him from injury. When Archer fell, with his Dad’s encouragement he got back up and tried again, until at last he was riding freely, fully enjoying the rewards. Much of life is like this, isn’t it?
I have been reflecting this week on the risks and rewards of faith, because Helen and I are now in Alaska, having taken some risk to visit our daughter and her family. As it has been nearly a year since we last saw Amy, her husband Joey, and our grandsons Levi and Luca, we prayerfully determined to take the necessary risks in order to receive the rewards of being with family. This visit has coincided with both our daughter’s birthday and our oldest grandson Levi’s birthday.
We followed sound guidance and took wise precautions. Helen and I had no symptoms of illness, and our daughter confirmed that no one in her home had any symptoms either. The day before we departed on our journey Helen and I were tested for COVID-19, as this is required of all passengers entering Alaska. Our flight was a direct flight from Minneapolis to Anchorage, and the plane was very clean and sparsely populated, with no one sitting beside or behind us. We wore masks, cleaned our hands often, and kept our distance from people as much as possible. But we knew there still was risk, and we considered that the rewards were worth the risk.
How much more so is this true when it comes to taking the risks and receiving the rewards of faith. Walking with God and living each day with faith in Him certainly brings great and everlasting rewards. But receiving these rewards requires our willingness to risk. We see this illustrated throughout the Bible, as for example in the Blessings of Believing God in Faith, the Confidence of Enduring Trials in Faith, the Triumph of Attempting the Impossible in Faith, and the Glory of Dying in Faith. In all of these ways we are reminded that there are for us risks and rewards of living by faith.
- BLESSINGS of Believing God in Faith – Genesis 15:1-6. Abraham believed the Lord, and He counted it to Him as righteousness (15:6).
Abraham and Sarah were childless, having no heir. But by faith Abraham looked beyond His current circumstance. He looked up at the heavens, and considered the greatness and majesty of God. He heard the promise of God that in time his descendants would be as innumerable as the stars. Though Abraham could not yet see the fulfillment of what God had promised, He believed God. And because he believed, great blessing came to Abraham, and later to his descendants, even to us who have become Abraham’s children by faith. The greatest blessing of Abraham’s believing God in faith was that God “counted it to Him as righteousness”, for this was and is the prerequisite of personal relationship with God, and it brings the wonderful promise of everlasting life.
For all of us, great blessings are received by believing God in faith.
- CONFIDENCE of Enduring Trials in Faith – Daniel 3:8-30. Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered, “True, O King.” He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods” (v.24-25).
As my Alaska grandsons Levi (age 8) and Luca (age 4) love hearing a story before bedtime, I told them some of the amazing and true stories found in the Bible. One such story is the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, as told in Daniel 3. Standing before King Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful ruler in the world, who was threatening them with death in a fiery furnace if they did not immediately obey his order and bow before a graven image, they determined to stand firm in their faith and to remain obedient to God. With firm confidence in their God, they were resolute in their determination to endure this trial, even if it meant their painful death by fire. Furious at their refusal to obey him, the King ordered that the furnace be immediately made seven times hotter, and that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be bound and cast into the fire.
These three young men who that day chose faith over fear, and obedience over self-protection, endured their furnace of affliction with confident faith in God. And then, miraculously and wonderfully, God stood with them in that fire. The Bible goes on to tell us that because they endured the fiery trial with confidence and faith, God was tangibly and wonderfully with them, loving and protecting them. And so, they exited that fiery furnace, uninjured in any way. They didn’t even smell like smoke.
In our own times of fiery trial, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we too are blessed to experience God’s presence with us, as we enjoy the sweet confidence of enduring our trials in faith.
- TRIUMPH of Attempting the Impossible in Faith – Matthew 14:22-33. Then Peter answered Him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water”. Jesus said to Him, “Come”. So, Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me”. Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped Him saying, “Truly you are the Son of God” (v.28-33).
What a night that was for the disciples of Jesus in that boat, out on the storm-tossed sea. They had obeyed the Lord in entering the boat, and for many hours they had labored hard, struggling against wind and waves. They were now exhausted, just as we can be in the midst of the hard struggles of life. Perhaps they wondered why the Lord had sent them into this storm. Were they feeling abandoned by Him; even angry that He had allowed this to happen?
But the Lord had not forgotten them, nor does He forget us. From the shore He saw their struggle. In their storm, Jesus came to them, just as He now comes to us in our storms. He came in an unexpected way, walking to them on the water. When they saw Him, they were afraid, shrinking back in fear, presuming they were seeing a ghost. But the Lord called out to them, even as He calls to us. He says, “Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27). What wonderful words to those who hear and believe!
Peter then demonstrated bold courage, taking a leap of faith. Knowing and trusting the Lord Jesus, he called out saying, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (v.28). And Jesus invited him to, “Come”. This was a remarkable moment, wasn’t it? Simon Peter was a fisherman, so he had spent his life around water, and he knew its’ properties very well. But now Jesus was calling Peter to do something he had never done before; something Peter had always considered impossible. The Lord was calling him to get out of the boat right now, and to walk to Him on the surface of the water. This would require considerable risk.
But because Jesus was calling him, Peter made a decision. He would step out in faith. Peter determined to do something he had never considered doing before, because Jesus called him to do it. With eyes fixed on the Lord, he determined to attempt the impossible. Peter got out of that boat, and in faith he walked on the water toward Jesus. What a triumph!
Yes, Peter soon became distracted by the wind and waves. Taking his eyes off the Lord he begin to sink. But then when he called out to Jesus, even as I have often done, and as we all can do when facing the consequences of our unbelief, in great mercy our Savior immediately reached out his hand and lifted Peter up. And Peter learned an important life lesson from this, even as we too can learn from the times when our faith has wavered.
We can learn that in every storm we face in life, we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. We can determine in faith that in His strength we will obey Him, stepping over the side of the boat to do what would otherwise be impossible. By our Lord’s power that is at work within us, we are thus enabled to triumph.
- GLORY of Dying in Faith – Acts 7. Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God”. But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen he called out. “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”. And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”. And when he had said this, he fell asleep (v.54-60).
As I am blessed to share the name of this, the first recorded martyr of the Christian faith, since early childhood I have identified with him in several ways, and I have longed to be like him. Stephen loved Jesus. Stephen served the people of God. Stephen boldly proclaimed the good news of Jesus. Stephen forgave those who sinned against him, thus demonstrating well the love and character of Jesus. And Stephen saw the glory of God in heaven, and at last was welcomed home by the Lord Jesus Christ.
The depiction of Stephen’s death that is recorded in Acts 7 is both instructive and compelling. Having boldly risked living and declaring his Christian faith in a very hostile world, he then faced execution at the hands of an angry mob. But the rewards that Stephen received greatly exceeded what it cost him. Though his earthly life was cut short, his faith was rewarded by the presence of the Lord, by glimpses of heavenly glory, and at last by being personally welcomed into the joy of the Lord and everlasting life.
All of us must eventually face our mortality, for the time will come when we shall breathe our last. But like Stephen, when we have risked loving, trusting, and serving our Lord, no matter the cost, we can know that we too will behold Him in the fullness of His glory, and we too will surely know the great reward of everlasting glory.
With God’s great grace and favor, may we all more fully know both the risks and rewards of living by faith.