Faith versus Hope

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1 NKJV[1]).

He [Peter] came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying. 13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. 15 But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.” 16 Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished (Acts 12:12-17).

           As I reread this story, I’m reminded of many times I’ve prayed by myself and with others. If we had been in this same situation, we would have reacted the same way. Now to be honest with yourself, probably you would have too. Peter had been put in jail earlier and would be killed the next day. But God intervened. The church had been praying sincerely for Peter’s release. To me, Rhoda stands out above the others in the faith she shows. She recognizes Peter’s voice and is so delighted, she runs back to tell the others that their prayers have been answered! In her excitement, she forgot to open the door for Peter, but not because she didn’t believe it was him.

Notice the reaction of the others: They didn’t believe her. In the article on “Rules and Faith” I said, “Our faith must leap up and grab hold of what we don’t see on earth to bring it from heaven into our realm.” Rhoda had done this because she recognized Peter’s voice and knew it was him, even though she forgot to open the door in her excitement. The others, who were probably older and wiser since Rhoda is called a girl in some versions, were praying in hope. Yes, they were praying very sincerely and earnestly because Peter was their leader and had known Jesus personally. He had seen Him crucified and after He was risen. Peter was so very important to them, and they needed him, so their prayers were desperate. But without real faith.

What is faith? As Hebrews 11:1 tells us, it’s substance and evidence. Merriam-Webster Dictionary has several definitions of substance, such as illicit drugs, but one of them is: “a physical material from which something is made or which has discrete existence.” Evidence is: “Something which shows that something else exists or is true; a visible sign of something; material that is presented to a court of law to help find the truth about something.”

Using those definitions, let’s rephrase our verse, only in our case faith is a spiritual reality that bring earthly, practical results, so we can say: Faith is the spiritual substance of things we need on earth, the proof or visible sign of things that aren’t seen. We don’t pray for things we already have, whether they’re physical or spiritual needs; we hope for each thing we pray for, otherwise, we wouldn’t pray. Right? Therefore, real faith is what it takes to bring answers to our prayers, not just hope.

Let’s go back to that fateful prayer meeting. What happened when Rhoda went back to the church (the group of people, not a building) and told them Peter was standing at the gate? First they told her she’d lost her mind or perhaps was only imagining Peter was there. Next they decided she had seen Peter’s angel. Never once did they consider that perhaps Peter himself might be standing at the gate in answer to their prayers! I can identify; can’t you? Unfortunately, I’m afraid many times I’ve been in the same situation where if God had answered some prayers, I’d have had difficulty believing the answer when it came. How little faith we often have without even realizing it! Going back to “Rules and Faith,” I often have to cry out with that father, “Then I believe. Help me with my doubts!” (Mark 9:24 The Message Bible). Those people were the same way. They desperately wanted Peter out of jail, but their faith was partially doubt.

James 1:6-8 says: Let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

What I’ve learned over the years is that I must trust God to fulfill my prayer before He is able to. My doubts keep away the promises of God, as James indicates. Sometimes we simply don’t know God’s will in a situation, and that’s alright; He understands that. But to add, “if it’s your will”, to every prayer is like saying, “God, I’m not sure you’ll understand what I need and therefore don’t know if I can trust you to answer me.” Our enemy the devil eagerly supplies us with doubts, but we must toss them out like we would anything else that’s rotten. We must learn to trust God to do what He says He not only can do but will do. I think that’s the reason we don’t see more prayers answered. We keep hoping but not entirely trusting.

Hebrews 11:6 tells us, But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. In order to please God, we not only must believe He is real, but we must also believe that He rewards us when we go to Him earnestly. We don’t only go for answers to whatever prayers we have, but we also go simply to worship Him and spend time with Him. That part gives us the assurance in our hearts that He will answer us. Once we have that assurance, then we simply thank God for the answer while we wait to see it manifest here on earth. We don’t need to keep on begging God for the answer; that is doubt speaking. Many verses in the Bible tell us how God answers prayer for His people. Don’t you do all you can to give your own children what they ask you for, if it’s within reason? Our heavenly Father is so much better a parent than the best of us will ever be.

The next time we pray, let’s stop and ask ourselves if we’re hoping God will answer or if we have faith that He will. The start of this meditation gave one biblical version of the definition of faith. Here are a couple of others:

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. (NLT[2]; emphasis mine.)

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. (MSG[3]; emphasis mine.)

NOW FAITH is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses]. (AMP[4])

From now on, let’s start asking ourselves how we’re praying – are we simply hoping or wishing, or are we praying in faith? We might be surprised in the results we receive.

[1] All verses are New King James Version unless otherwise stated.              [2] Holy Bible, New Living Translation ®, copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.                                                                                  [3] THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved.                                                                    [4] The Amplified Bible.