The story is told of an American who scoffed at a French tightrope walker. Despite the Frenchman’s long list of daring accomplishments, the American challenged him to come to the United States and do the impossible: cross Niagara Falls blindfolded, on a wire, with a wheelbarrow!
After a few weeks of preparation, on a foggy, windy day, the Frenchman successfully completed the impossible challenge.
“Do you believe I am able to now?” the Frenchman tested the American.
“Of course I do.”
“Are you sure?”
“Why, certainly! How could I doubt now?” the American countered.
“All right then,” replied the Frenchman. “Get in the wheelbarrow.”
Assent without action
Christendom has been like this American: believing without doing — masters of the “sinner’s prayer” but failures at discipleship. Somewhere along the way, we’ve accepted the notion that in God’s eyes, believing the right facts about Him is sufficient to give us right standing before Him.
Our denomination is not immune to this problem. In our early years, ministers would travel to neighboring towns where there wasn’t a Sabbathkeeping presence and challenge the local pastors to public debates on issues like Sabbath observance, how much time Jesus spent in the tomb, or immortality of the soul. Our efforts were targeted not so much toward a lost and dying world but to brothers and sisters in the faith who held different beliefs. Our mindset seemed to be that if we could just get enough people on our side of Niagara to agree the Falls could be crossed, we’d reach the other side — without getting into the wheelbarrow.
The apostle James addressed this problem of mere “faith thoughts” without “faith acts” when he asked the church these simple, poignant questions:
What does it profit . . . if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? (2:14-16).
James finished with this verdict: “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (v. 17).
A faith that speaks truth but isn’t dressed in work clothes is about as genuine and useful as a man who stands by a house fire and shouts that water can extinguish it, but does nothing else. James goes so far as to call this the faith of a demon (v. 19).
Genuine living faith
One evening a few years ago, I stood in a hospital emergency room with parents who had just lost a daughter (and whose son would pass soon) from injuries sustained in a car accident. That night I realized it didn’t matter what I believed about the comfort of Christ, His ability to walk with us through grief, or His own experience with our pain. It mattered only that I was willing to get on the floor with Him and these grieving parents and pray with them, weep with them, and serve them.
Our ministries should be like Jesus’: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). If we’re not willing to serve as Jesus served, it doesn’t matter what we believe about Him. Our faith must translate into what we do.
I’ve noticed this characteristic in the Amish community located just to the north of our little town. Their faith affects every part of their lives. Their transportation, farm equipment, household amenities, schools, and religious services all reflect what they profess to believe. Even if you don’t agree with the Amish lifestyle, their faith is visible by their actions.
My beliefs must be reflected in my actions as well. I can claim to be a Jesus follower, but where I spend my money, how I invest my energy, the quality of my work ethic, the trustworthiness of my word, my leisure activities, and my choices as a husband and father all either affirm my position or reek of decaying faith.
Sadly, I often find I’m not willing to get into the wheelbarrow. I’ll cheer from a comfortable distance, but please don’t ask me to take a risk, do something that cuts into my schedule, makes me uncomfortable, or forces me to sacrifice.
Onto the tightrope
A few years ago, when we first lived in our three-bedroom house and had no children, the Lord challenged my wife, Debbie, and me to begin foster care. We started by praying and asking the Lord if this was really His will for us. (Translation: God, that sounds like a lot of work — and we’re pretty comfortable with the way things are. Thanks for the idea, though.)
As we prayed, however, we realized that God had supplied us with the resources to take in children, a love for little ones, and a clear command in Scripture to care for orphans. We didn’t need to pray; we needed to obey. As children lived in our home, my wife and I were continually struck with the reality that this might be the only safe, secure, and loving place they had ever experienced.
Together we committed to love them as Jesus Christ loved them, and in a matter of days, we saw incredible changes. We sat on our bikes on a dirt road with a little girl as she watched her first rainbow. I worked on a transmission while a little boy practiced his wrench skills on every part of the car he could reach. We went to a carnival and brought home so many plastic prizes, I didn’t know what to do with them. I served as a father, but more importantly, I got to be Jesus in the lives of these children.
I am convinced more than ever that the gospel of Jesus Christ is beautiful not just in its written form but as it comes off the printed page and demonstrates itself through our lives. As we choose not just to know about Jesus but to live like Him, the world will look in awe, and many will join us as we step to the edge, balance on the wire, and get in the wheelbarrow.