“Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)
A young couple had lived in Ile-Ife for a couple of years where they settled to work after graduation. In their bid to reach out to new career heights and explore other possibilities, they agreed to relocate to Lagos where they were certain to make it being a hardworking and diligent couple. The husband and a friend went on a search for a good apartment in Lagos which they found and paid for, and enthusiastically looked forward to the relocation. But while on his return journey from Lagos, God began to speak expressly to him, and he was certain it was not the bellowing of a confused and fussy mind. He had since he got born again, developed an intimate relationship with God such that he could discern clearly when God was stirring his heart, or speaking to him. He was now certain that God wanted him and his wife to stay back in Ife though he had completed his relocation plan. It was like watching a dream deflate like a balloon!
However, he was ready to obey God and stay put in Ife knowing that God had a better reason for this volte-face he had to make. More so, he had been discipled and mentored by a respected missionary and father of the Charismatic /Pentecostal Movement in Nigeria; Pa Elton who left the comfort of Western world to live and minister in Nigeria for over 30years. His exemplary life of utmost faith in God had inspired many a born-again Christian students in Nigerian universities in the 1960s and 70s that many of them were willing to do their best to serve God and obey His voice. As this young man arrived Ife, he went ahead to share with his wife what God had said to him about their planned relocation. He wondered what would be his wife’s reactions as she had resigned from her job as a pharmacist, and her colleagues had already did a send forth party in her honour, and had given her farewell gifts.
Nothing could be as discomfiting to anyone as detours and deferred hopes and dreams. Now the young couple faced with the grim reality of being scorned and derided by those whom they had told about their relocation plan to Lagos. Knowing God was the orchestrator of this seeming detour of destiny, they put their faith in Him, knowing He would settle them back in Ife. In obedience to his advice, she went back to the hospital where she worked to withdraw her resignation letter. To the couple’s surprise and amazement, she was reinstated back to her job position and they settled in to life once again in Ife where they worked. Several years later, God worked out events that saw them relocate to Ghana from where they have been coordinating a strong prayer movement in Africa, which had impacted Government officials in different African countries and Christian professionals and business men.
It was this couple, Emeka and Bade Nwankpa that God in His sovereignty brought to sit with me in the flight from Lagos to Abuja. It was this couple that God used to teach me the practical realities of living a life of faith which seem far-fetched for most Christians. To a lot of Christians, faith is a means to an end. A kind of magic wand that when ‘exercised’ brings success, miracles and moves mountains of wealth and the good things of life to come our way. To many, faith is what we can use to ‘meet our needs’ ; a means to dispel lack and attract abundance; a tool that drives away sicknesses and diseases and ensure we remain divinely healed; a force that keeps away difficulties and misfortunes far from us; a force when present makes us invincible to the storms and challenges of life. So overtime a generation of Christians has grown who seem to have a warped view of faith; which equated the presence of faith with miracles, prosperity and the good life alone. Maybe our Christian forebears had unwittingly passed on a half-baked faith pie to us that had left us spiritually-malnourished!
But faith is much more than what we’ve been taught by the faith movement. Faith is much more than what some American preachers taught us through their books and tapes about faith. Though we learnt a lot from their books on faith, it is like the group of blind men who touched the different parts of an elephant and wrote thesis about them. To have a balanced and holistic view of faith, we need to go back to the Bible and do a thorough study of faith and we would come out humbled by what we’d discover as we would discard much of the notions we had all along. For many who teach about faith, the contents of Hebrews chapter 11 form the central motif of the life of faith. A balanced understanding of faith should not end with the study of the New Testament. Rather, anyone who desires to study and gain insight into the life of faith would have to go way back to the Old Testament and understand the background and experiences of those whose stories were included in the ‘faith hall of fame’.
In the verses of Hebrews 11 we have a recurring phrase; ‘By faith’.Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses etc, did so and so; made certain decisions; wandered in deserts and mountains; were mocked, scorned and imprisoned; were tempted but delayed gratification of their legitimate desires; were stoned, sawn into two, and tortured; lived in uncertainty and had their hopes and dreams deferred and deflated. We read about their mistakes, misjudgments, follies and see how and why they blew it along the line. We come to terms with their humanness and how they managed to do the things that did in spite of their frailties and follies. Yet these faith ‘all stars’ many of whom didn’t receive the promise they sort for were commended as being worthy of emulation. And in the New Testament Jesus Christ commended people about their faith when they evidenced trust in the absolute God .So if we are to ‘exercise’ the quality and kind of faith in God they had and expressed, then we have a lot of soul-searching to do. We’d have to come to a place of watershed where our understanding of faith becomes un-skewed to help us live a balanced life of faith.
It is crucial for many a Christian to reassess the quality of his/her faith in God as we now live in a time of history and culture that ostensibly scorns and trivializes God. With the advancement in human thought and technology, dependence on God is waning. Man’s ability to plan and execute projects and programs with exactness and precision now make faith in God seem irrelevant. There are numerous computer packages that help us simulate and predict real-life scenarios and future events that trusting or depending on an unseen God to guide us seem irrational. With all the advances in rocket science and nanotechnology that has improved the quality of life and understanding of our environment, man’s innate inability to consistently live and do right has not been overcome. Russians have not cast of the cloak of belligerency against weaker states. Rich men have not ceased to oppress the poor and vulnerable. Pedophiles still run amuck and divorce rate has not reduced despite the increase in the number of marriage counselors and family therapists in our midst. Is faith in God still relevant in today’s world?
It was as though God spoke to me while I was listening intently to Barr. Emeka Nwankpa, the astute and insightful lawyer who practiced for 20years before he went into the full-time work as an intercessor who had been praying and working towards the transformation of Nigeria and Africa from the throes of poverty, backwardness and oppression. He made me know that faith can be summarized as ‘the act of RELYING and RELATING with God’. In essence, faith is basically depending and relying on God over and above our human wisdom, ability and mental powers to make decisions about our life and its outcomes. Though God gave us mental abilities, he still expects us to seek his opinion before we take off on our tangent. And because we rely and trust he has good plans for us, a relationship with him develops and grows in intimacy as we continually depend on him. Just like a child who grows up to recognize the voice of the parents, the life of faith helps us develop spiritual perception to the point where we can distinguish the voice of God, and the contrasting voice of our goals, desires and dreams.
Like every other organic relationship, we begin to familiarize ourselves with what he likes and doesn’t like. We develop an understanding and begin to perceive how he feels about certain issues and things. We begin to understand what it means to hurt him when we sin or do things that he abhors or disapproves. With time, we develop a love and passion for him and his kingdom, and might get to the point where no other thing matters to us other than what he wants and wills for us to do or become. We in some sense, lose ourselves in him, our dreams become subsumed into his bigger picture and redemptive purposes for humanity. Like Emeka Nwankpa and his wife and many others, we would come to a point where we willingly give-up our dreams of relocating to where the ‘grasses are greener’ when he restrains us, and stay-back at where he wants us to remain. Our primary motivation thus becomes the fulfillment of his kingdom plans and we begin to see and interpret the events and circumstances of life from his hallowed perspective.
We would then come to a point of vibrancy of faith where we have a passionate and intense relationship with God. Living and doing the right things would no longer be seen as a burden and we wouldn’t be lured to envy those who live out their whims and caprices. The Christian life wouldn’t be seen as a burdensome, boring and laid-back life bereft of fun and excitement. The ‘do -not -commandments’ would become summarized like Jesus did into two parts; ‘loving God with all our hearts, soul and mind’, and ‘loving our neighbours as ourselves’. At the core of our love for God should be the ‘fear of God’ which keeps us away from taking his love and mercy for granted. We’d know for sure that much as he is a Father to us, a child needs to fear, respect and bear the consequences of disobeying his father!
And as we grow in our obedience to his voice, and his word, we would realize that he takes us through circumstances of life to train us ahead for the common good of humanity. He might take us through detours and trials just to prepare us to help and rescue someone else in the future whose case would be helped by our experience and counsel. Yet when we were going through that harrowing experience, it might have looked as though God had abandoned us. How would Abraham have known that Sarah’s childlessness was not a curse inflicted upon her by witches and agents of barrenness? How would Joseph have known that his betrayal, abandonment and eventual imprisonment were steps on his way to greatness and prominence?
In conclusion, the life of faith which is characterized by absolute obedience to God helps us be at the right place where God wants to position us. And he would help us do all there is to bring us to that place and that’s where our true needs are met. Besides, when we walk in faith, God often brings our way, things and positions that are far more than we deserve or even merit. Would the ‘exercise of faith’ alone as we know it have been enough to make David a king, or Esther a Queen? We would do well to go back again as Christians to start living by faith for expressly repeated over and again in the Bible, ‘the just shall live by faith’ and ‘without faith, it is impossible to please God’.