Extraordinary Faith -- Martha Balmer

BalmerMarthaIt goes without saying that human beings have an enormous proclivity for seeking their own pleasure. We enjoy beauty and comfort and excitement through any or all of our five senses. Beyond our physical capacity, we enjoy and seek purely psychological pleasures as well, seeking things that pique interest, amusement, surprise, affection, and even fear. In our propensity toward sin, we often seek these pleasures over greater goods, we enjoy much that is evil, and at our worst we even take pleasure in the suffering of others. In view of all this, I find it wonderfully gratifying that a person can also have the God-like capacity to be delighted by the pleasure of another. I remember clearly the intense pleasure I felt when my baby laughed out loud for the first time. She had been smiling for weeks, and we played with and talked to her all the time. But one day, she was lying on the sofa and Jim leaned over her, put his hands on the cushion on either side of her and began to bounce. It was as though her smile got so big that it just started making noise. The chuckle that rose out of her belly was so amazing that we just couldn't stop bouncing her. Now that we knew what pleased her so much, it was our greatest pleasure to oblige.

It is possible to learn what pleases God and to set everything aside for the joy of pleasing him.  Ephesians 5:10 says, "Find out what pleases the Lord." He is happy to tell us. Scripture is full of clues both subtle and clear, but sometimes we just stumble upon something that delights him, and, just like a baby lets us know by her laugh, his Spirit in us responds with delight, we sense his pleasure, and the experience changes us.

The Bride's desire to please the Bridegroom In the fourth chapter of the Song of Songs, the Bridegroom spends many lines describing to the Bride what he finds beautiful in her, telling her that she has stolen his heart, that her love gives him more pleasure than wine. He likens her to a garden full of delicious fruits and fragrant spices. He describes being delighted by her and transported with love. And having heard what pleases him, the Bride responds out of an immediate and extravagant wish to give to her Bridegroom his heart's desire:

Awake, north wind, and come, south wind! Blow on my garden, that its fragrance may spread abroad. Let my lover come into his garden and taste its choice fruits.

Song of Songs 4:16

I can testify that once I got a little taste of the pleasure of God, I knew what the goal of my life was. I knew there was nothing I wanted more than to see him pleased always—with me or with others, it didn't matter. His delight is mine.

What pleases the Lord? Hebrews 11:6 says, "Without faith it is impossible to please God." So we know that an underlying characteristic of everything that pleases him has to be faith. If the Bride wants to please the Bridegroom, she must preeminently believe and trust him with her whole being.

So what is this faith like, which pleases the Lord? Jesus' words indicate that any quantity of faith in him is good and valid, or else he wouldn't lavishly empower faith as small as a mustard seed. But there are some examples in the Gospels that I believe illustrate a quality of faith that, for him, went beyond acceptable to thrilling.

We want the faith that gives Jesus a thrill. We want to know what makes his heart  race.

Faith that amazes Him Perhaps the example of faith that is easiest to think of was that of the Centurion in Matthew 8. In verse 10 it says"...he was astonished and said to those following him, 'I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith …"

Think about that. What does it take to astonish the Son of God? It must really take something to amaze the one who was with the Father from the beginning, through whom all things were created, who knew what was in men's hearts, and who knew from whom he came and to whom he was returning. What did it take to surprise someone like that?

If we want to exercise faith that gives the Lord extraordinary pleasure, we will do well to strive for faith that is like the centurion's. There are sermons galore on the attributes of his faith. But a characteristic that Jesus himself pointed out on the spot to everyone within earshot was simply its extraordinariness.

The faith that blesses his socks off sticks out. It takes risks that others aren't taking. It is determined and innovative enough to remove the roof tiles to get close enough to him. It climbs a tree to get a view of him over other people's heads. It cries out over the crowd noises until he hears it and stops. It even stamps its foot and insists on getting the last, blessed crumb that may have fallen from his table.

Faith that beckons his heart This kind of faith was so enjoyable to him that he was known to go out of his way to spend extra time with it. In Luke 19 we read about a short, middle-aged, publicly despised man was so eager to just catch a glimpse of Jesus that the indignity of hiking up his robes and struggling up a tree was nothing to him. The sight of Zacchaeus up in the sycamore tree stopped Jesus in his tracks. He loved it so much that it instantly decided the question of where he was to have dinner that night. He wanted to spend time with it.

Faith that refreshes Him Another example of Jesus taking extra time to bask in extraordinary faith is in the 4th chapter of John. On the road near the village of Sychar in Samaria, weary, hot, hungry, thirsty and far from a kosher home, he sits down by a well, waiting for his disciples to return from the village with food. A woman comes to the well, and he asks her for a drink. But then he has a conversation with her that makes her not only forget to draw water but even to take her jar with her when she runs back to the village to tell everybody she just may have met the Messiah.

Now you will notice that Jesus hasn't gotten his drink. And when his disciples offer him the food they bought in town, he isn't interested in eating! What happened? Is he ill? No, he says. He has food to eat they know nothing about. Open your eyes, he says, and look—the fields are ripe with grain! When the disciples turn to see what in the world he's talking about, they see the whole village of Sychar following the woman back toward the well. Even at high noon under a blazing sun, after miles of walking on dusty roads, this stuff is better than food and water to Jesus. It refreshes him. Like someone in love, he forgets to eat. He has stumbled onto an oasis of faith, and the Samaritans of Sychar don't find it difficult to persuade him to stay and enjoy it for two extra days before he continues his journey.

If it isn't immediately apparent what was so striking about the faith of the people of Sychar, remember that in the preceding chapters of John, the Jewish people of Galilee and Jerusalem were coming to believe in him because he did miracles. When he taught them, they tended to argue with him, or at least with each other, about the validity of his teaching. But the account says nothing about Jesus performing any miracles in Sychar. Apparently, all these Samaritans needed in order to ask him to stay was the word of a disreputable woman. And then, all they needed to believe he was the Savior of the world was some personal time with him. It seems that the kind of faith he gleaned among the Jews took a lot of hard work and was often of a quality that couldn't bear any real weight (John 2:23-24), but reaping the faith of these Samaritans was pure pleasure.

Faith that pleases Him I don't have space to share all the examples in the Gospels that I've found so far of Jesus' pleasure and the faith that evoked it. But it's important to note in closing that I didn't really search for the examples, I mostly stumbled on them. Having become alert for signs of his pleasure (and having asked the Lord to show me what pleases him), I saw it in places I'd never noticed it before just while reading routinely. In these examples, I hear a personal call from the Lord to exercise

extraordinary faith that doesn't need anything but his word to stand on, risk-taking faith that doesn't care what happens next, even faith like impulsive Peter's, that blurts, "Can I walk on the water, too?"

Once, the call to extraordinary faith inspired mostly nervous musings about how hard it might be to speak the word where it isn't welcome or to pray over someone with an incurable disease. But already I feel fear losing its grip on my imagination as I abide in the perfect love of the Bridegroom, enjoying—and anticipating – the sheer pleasure of pleasing him.