Fashions come and go. Years ago, low cut jeans were in style, and everyone wore them whether or not they had the appropriate body type. These days, high waisted jeans are back in the stores, and I have gratefully bought some. I don’t know who decides these things, but we all dutifully follow what’s in and what’s out.
It’s easy to follow fashion, home decorating and vacation destination choices, but it’s far more complicated to imitate someone’s faith.
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.Hebrews 13:7
These words in Hebrews 13 were written along with exhortations to love each other, show hospitality, remember prisoners, keep faithful marriages and to reject the love of money. Then we’re told to remember, consider and imitate leaders who had apparently lived exemplary lives.
Interestingly, we are not told to imitate leaders’ charisma, exegetical approach or work ethic, but their faith. Faith doesn’t depend on personalities, strengths or weaknesses. Anyone can develop stronger faith, and we are encouraged to imitate those who are further along in their faith journeys.
As I pondered this, I learn a few things.
Know Your Spiritual Leaders
In order to imitate someone’s faith, we must know them. Too many Christians have never met the individuals who have spoken the word of God to them, and that’s a shame. When God calls people to be leaders or pastors, he is calling them to be shepherds, to know their sheep, and to lead them well. That is difficult to do from an auditorium stage in front of thousands of people.
Quite a few pastors and leaders have spoken the word of God to me over the years, and I’ve known most of them. Some were pastors, others were friends or spiritual leaders, and they were all influential in my life. Some were excellent speakers; others were just okay. Some were successful; others, not so much. They all had unique personalities, educations and backgrounds and I trust that they did their best to communicate the truth of God’s word. And like everyone else, they had their issues, failures, and sins. The better we knew them, the more we understood their struggles and their faith.
Most of my adult years were spent in small churches except for a few years when we attended a local mega-church. I realize now what I didn’t understand then, that watching a leader’s life, seeing demonstrations of faith up close, is worth more than a terrific message. I never met any of the speakers at the mega-church, but I would call the pastors of the small churches and other spiritual leaders my friends.
How can one consider the outcome of a way of life if we know nothing of a leader’s life? To see them interact with their families, hear of their difficulties, and to pray for their concerns is quite different from listening to them speak publicly.
Take a Long View
Time reveals virtues and faults that are not immediately obvious.
It’s impossible to evaluate a life of faith immediately, for the results of faith often come with time, sometimes a long time. Only God knows the whole story of our lives, and they’re not over yet. Christian leaders have been in the news far too often in recent years for all kinds of scandal. Years before these became known, most of us would have said these leaders were living by faith, highly accomplished, and serving the Lord well. Time told a different story.
Having said that, we would be wise to have grace for spiritual leaders who have let us down, for we all have propensities to sin. It could be that many of these fallen leaders began their careers with great faith and then fell into the all too common trap of depending on their own strength instead of on faith. God can turn a life around and, and when and if he does, he will use it to his glory.
Give leaders time to reveal their faith.
Imitate Those Who Demonstrate Faith
The family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers I know well, whose lives I admire and want to imitate, each have a unique story. Every individual has a different arena in which his or her faith is tested. Health, relationships, finances, work life, addictions, are just some of the issues with which we struggle and need to have faith. And it is a struggle. Jesus often told those he healed that their faith had healed them. For example,
She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.Matthew 9:21-22
It would be wonderful if our prayers would be handled so immediately, but that’s generally not the way it works. Faith often requires months, years, or decades of prayer and even then, we don’t always see the result. But as we pray, our faith will grow, and over a lifetime we will experience a life of faith.
How to Develop Stronger Faith
To cultivate deep faith, we can begin by asking God. Like the father who wanted Jesus to deliver his son, we say, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) We can’t muster up strong faith on our own.
Faith, like many other characteristics, grows. Some people are gifted with great faith, but most of us must feel a desire, pray through difficult situations, and experience God in our struggles. It’s a synergistic process. Friends and leaders whose faith is worth imitating have no doubt endured difficulty, and we don’t want to imitate their problems but if we watch how they handle their problems, the faith through which they view them, we can learn to imitate their faith. And God grows our faith.
One of the best examples of great faith in the Bible is the poor woman who dropped all of her money in the offering plate.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”Mark 12:41-44
I’ve always found it interesting that Jesus didn’t try to fix her situation. He just quietly said that she had given all that she had to live on. Jesus knew what she obviously knew; God would provide for her. I wonder how her faith grew, how many times she put all of her money in the offering, and how God met her needs. She had a faith worth imitating.
My desire is to be an individual with a faith worth imitating, and I will pray for God to increase my faith, imitate those who have strong faith, and trust that God will provide for my emotional, spiritual and physical needs. I’ve got a long way to go.
Whose life of faith do you know, respect and imitate? Have you attempted to imitate a life of faith?