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This free study is part of a 10 part series called "Growing Faith in God". To view more free studies in this series, click here.

7. Faith is Expectation



In 1982, when Sandy (my wife) and I were living in England, her parents came from the USA to visit us on vacation. They had always wanted to visit Scotland, so while they were with us, we drove up to Scotland and toured around for a week. One of the places we visited was a town called Pitlochry. Because they had built a hydroelectric dam beside the town on the River Tummel, the residents wanted to create a salmon ladder that would enable the salmon to get around the dam and still swim upstream to spawn. The ladder is 310 meters long and consists of 34 chambers linked together by tunnels that an average of 5,000 salmon swim upstream to their spawning grounds a year. One can view the salmon swimming in the tunnels through an observation chamber. The Christian life is like that salmon ladder. Throughout our lives as believers in Christ, God is taking us through trials and adversity so that our faith may be exercised on our progress to maturity. The apostle Paul called it the upward call: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).


For our faith to be exercised on this upward call requires action. At each stage of our upward journey, as in our illustration of the salmon ladder, each chamber on the way upstream, God is teaching us lessons of perseverance in prayer. Again, the Scripture that keeps coming up before us is found in Hebrews 11:6. I like the New King James Version, which says:


But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6, Emphasis mine).


I hope this Scripture will get buried deep in your heart through this series. If we believe this statement, we will often find ourselves before His throne of grace to plead our needs. As we have said before, to a large part, faith is expectation.


Expectant Faith


Expectant faith is something that I have been learning from an early age in a practical sense while working as a commercial fisherman with my father, Tom Thomas, on his boat, the Why Worry. Every day we went to sea, we expected to catch fish. We couldn't see the fish, but we knew they were there and would tow our trawl nets on the bottom for two or three hours at a time, trusting that we were catching something in our net. It was beautiful when we found more in our net than we expected. My father was a risk-taker. When a severe gale blew, he would still sail for the various fishing grounds where he knew we would catch fish. I hated the rough weather, cold, and snow in the winter. I wanted to be like most of the other fair-weather fishermen that would stay home in strong winds, but my father's passion was catching Dover soles, and Tom Thomas was one of the best on the east coast of England. He had an uncanny hunch of knowing where the fish would be and was rarely disappointed. Looking back, I know it was partly due to his experience. I also believe that his expectation, determination, and commitment were essential to his success. Every day he went out to fish, he expected to catch fish and prepared accordingly. Now that I am a fisher of men, I would quickly admit that this is a journey on which I have not yet arrived. I, too, am still learning how to live by faith in God, but over the years that I have served the Lord Jesus, I have met many fair-weather believers that give up when the going gets tough. Like some salmon that give up when they see the salmon ladder going upstream, some don’t know what it means to expect answers from God when they pray. This lack of faith is explained by the different kinds of faith that some people have:


Different Kinds of Faith


Every one of us has faith to a certain degree. Even reading this study or listening to this teaching demonstrates a certain amount of faith. If you desire to have more faith, that desire in itself demonstrates faith in God. We show that we have faith every day in practical situations. When we get in a taxi, we put our faith in the driver, trusting they know how to reach our destination safely. We don't ask them about their driving skills or training; we express faith in them. Likewise, when we go to the doctor, we show confidence that he knows what he is doing and has spent many years learning his profession. When we board a plane to another city, how many of us interview the pilot to determine his competence and experience level? We put our trust in people every day to do their jobs in ways that can ultimately affect our lives. There are different kinds of faith, but only faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross can save you and deliver you into eternal life. Let's look at different kinds of faith:


1) Mental Compliance Faith.


Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).


There will be many who have only mental compliance to the facts of the gospel, only to be disappointed on the Day of Judgment. How sad! Many will have a form of godliness but deny His power (2 Timothy 3:5). What do we mean by mental assent or mental compliance? Some have heard evidence of the facts of the gospel, what God has done in Christ, but they have never abandoned their sins or given up their lives to Christ. Their belief in Christ is only of the mind, an intellectual understanding of what Christ has done, but they have not had a change of heart. Their mental acceptance of the gospel has not penetrated their heart. They have not surrendered their life to Christ or entered the New covenant bought by the substitutionary death of Christ.  


Mental assent faith agrees with and admires God’s Word and even admits the truth of it, but never receives the life of God for themselves. We see this in the New Testament often with the Pharisees. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had a mental assent to the Word of God. The Lord told them: 39You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40). They knew the Word of God, yet they never came to faith in Christ to receive the gift of eternal life. A person with mental assent faith is dominated by a worldview that has no room for obedience to God; they continually shut out the wisdom of God from their life. The throne of their lives is still occupied with self instead of Christ. A genuine Christian has given up all he has and all he is (Luke 9:23-26). Mental compliance faith sees, admires, and says it is true, but it doesn’t work for them. They remain an observer but not a participant.


2) Sense Knowledge Faith.


This kind of faith is also inadequate for living a life pleasing to God. Sense knowledge faith requires evidence to believe. A person can see miracle after miracle but still have no faith in God. Biblical faith in God depends not on what we see or feel (Sense Knowledge) but on trusting God’s Word. When Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was visited by the angel Gabriel while ministering in the Temple, the angel told him that his wife, Elizabeth, would bear a son. He responded by saying, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years” (Luke 1:18). Zechariah became dumb until the child was born due to his foolish words of unbelief and doubt (Luke 1:19). There he was in the Holy Place of God, wanting proof that what the angel was saying was true!


Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Christ, learned that his sense knowledge faith was inadequate after the resurrection of Christ. When told that he had missed the Lord’s appearance due to being absent, he wouldn’t believe saying, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it" (John 20:25). What Thomas was expressing was his desire to walk according to his senses. He wanted to see and feel before he would believe and trust that Christ had indeed risen. How gracious the Lord was to him by coming into the room and letting him see and feel the nail marks in His hands. Not all believers, though, will have evidence given to their senses. We must live by faith and not by sight. Jesus said to Thomas, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29). The faith that God is looking for is expressed by those who have not perceived by the five senses but have believed. The African impala is a perfect example of a sense knowledge faith. The animals can be kept in an enclosure with a wall only 3 feet high, even though they can jump to a height of over 10 feet and cover a distance of more than 30 feet with a single bound. The animals will not jump unless they can see where their feet will fall. Faith is the ability to trust what we cannot see and leap out of the barriers to our faith that keep us bound to the realm of the senses.


Can you think of a time when you took a step of faith that involved an element of risk? Can you think of an answered prayer that will encourage another? Please keep your stories brief so those with a testimony can share. Let's take a moment to encourage one another.


3) Faith in God.


God is delighted with the kind of faith that trusts even though a person has nothing in his sensory perception to give him reason to trust. This doesn't mean that God is displeased when a person searches out evidence about the truth of the gospel. The Book of Acts tells us of the Bereans who examined the Scriptures daily to ensure that what Paul taught them concerning the gospel was accurate according to the Tenach (the Old Testament) scrolls. But there will always come the point when a man commits or steps across an invisible line of faith and gives himself in obedience to Christ. This kind of faith transcends and overcomes circumstances to commit all you know of yourself to all you know of God.


True faith in Christ is pleasing to the Father. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). We have story after story in the Bible of people that exhibited faith in God even though their senses told them it was impossible. Noah built a boat on dry land at a time when it had never rained (Genesis 2:5-6), and the nearest water was miles away. It took faith for Joshua and the Israelites to march around Jericho for seven days. Don't you think that the soldiers in Jericho stood on the battlements laughing as the Israelites walked around the walls doing nothing? The seventh day was a time for Israel to laugh, for, with a great shout, the walls came down, no doubt with the laughing soldiers still on the tops of the battlements! (Joshua 6:20).


When I was living in Israel, I visited the Jericho site. One of the tour guides told us that archeologists tell us that the walls fell outward. God spoke to the Israelites, giving them instructions as to what to do to capture the city. They responded with obedience even though it did not make sense. Sometimes God will offend the mind to reveal what is in our hearts. God is honored by faith expressed toward Him based on His Word. Paul the apostle put it this way: “faith comes from hearing the message, the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Our faith in God will grow to the same measure that we input the data banks of our mind with the Word of God. The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit (Hebrews 4:12).


How would you explain the Word of God being living and active? What does it mean to live by faith?


How Can We Grow in this Kind of Faith?


I am presuming that you have already received the life of God by trusting Christ. That is always the first step. You cannot grow in your faith without having Christ on the throne of your life and being obedient to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In this series, I am talking about going beyond faith for salvation to believing God for the miraculous and expecting answers to prayer in your daily lives. Think of faith steps that you can take to make your “faith muscle” stronger! Begin to take steps of faith every day. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you opportunities to express your faith. Take time each day to pray for those around you, asking God to open their hearts to the things of God.


John Wimber, a pastor with the Lord now, used to say, "Faith is to a great part expectation; what are you expecting God to do for you?” I would like you to ask that question of yourself today. I occasionally find myself arrested by the Holy Spirit when He reminds me of this. I pray, but do I expect to receive what I have asked of Him? Do I daily look for situations where God will answer my prayer? Do I believe that God has heard and will answer my prayer?


There is a story of a pastor working at his desk preparing a message for his church when his three-year-old daughter came into the office seeking his attention. She kept tugging on his arm, asking him if he would build her a dollhouse to keep her dolls. He didn't like being disturbed and blurted out anything to get her to go away and not mess up his concentration. He answered her question with a "yes." He heard his daughter playing in the yard a little while later, preparing her dolls for the dollhouse. The pastor left his work and began building the dollhouse because his daughter trusted his word and acted in faith in what he had said. God acts in proportion to our faith, just like the father of that little girl did. He took time out of his day to play with his daughter because of her expectation and trust in his word. We have a heavenly Father who delights in our childlike expectations when we take steps of faith.


When you believe and act on your belief, your faith will grow. As a young Christian, I remember spending time in a Christian bookstore many years ago; I came across a specific Annotated Reference Bible. This Bible was full of notes alongside the text. I began to pray and ask God for it. While I was in prayer, a strong thought struck me, which I knew to be the Holy Spirit. He said, “Do you believe you've received it, even though you don't yet see it? I answered in the affirmative. The thought returned to me, "What would you do if I showed up right now and put it into your hand?” I answered that I would be so full of joy. The thought came back, “Well, why don’t you rejoice then if you believe you’ve just received it as you’ve prayed.” I sensed that it was the Holy Spirit speaking to me. I knew it was coming, so I sang and rejoiced in my bedroom to the Lord. Some days later, I was given a box on my birthday by a few friends. I had not told them anything. When I opened the box, there was the exact Bible I had asked for, the specific Annotated Reference Bible for which I had prayed. God is so good! I prayed and believed I would receive. I am talking about an expectation that God will answer your prayer. Are you expecting answers to prayer? Jesus sometimes asked people about their faith to believe He could heal them. Let's look at one example:


27As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, "Have mercy on us, Son of David!" 28When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" "Yes, Lord," they replied. 29Then he touched their eyes and said, "According to your faith will it be done to you;" 30and their sight was restored (Matthew 9:27-30).


In the Scripture above, the Lord knew two blind men were following him, so why did he go indoors? Why did Jesus ask them if they believed He was able to heal them?


Can I stop and make a distinction here on the matter of faith? Faith in God is not expressed by believing that God can do something, but that God will do something. Many believe God can do anything He wants to but don't believe He will. The two blind men expressed their faith that Christ would heal them if they could get to Him. The longing of our God is that we would pursue Him for our personal needs, overcoming every obstacle to our faith. He deliberately made the two come and find Him by going indoors to the house. It will be done to you according to your faith in pursuing Him to meet your need.


In 1907, John G. Lake, the American healing evangelist, had been reading about the explorations of David Livingstone and Henry Stanley's missionary trip to Africa. The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would leave the following spring with his family to minister the grace of God in South Africa. In January 1908, he began to pray for the needed finances for the trip. His friend, Tom Hezmalhalch, decided to join him and started praying. Together they determined it would cost them $2000 to get both families to South Africa by ship. They had been praying for a while when Tom got up, saying, “Don’t pray anymore, John. Jesus told me just now that He will send us that $2000 and that it would be here in four days.” Tom returned from the post office four days later and threw four $500 drafts on the table. They bought their tickets, but John had no extra money for when they got to South Africa. They would have to trust God to meet their needs when they got there.


All John G. Lake had in his hand by the time the ship reached Africa was $1.50. The immigration laws of South Africa required each family arriving to have at least $125, or they wouldn’t be permitted to leave the ship. As they pulled into the port, Lake had no money. His wife, Jenny, looked at him and said, “What are you going to do?” Lake responded, “I am going to line up with the rest. We have obeyed God this far. It is now up to the Lord.”


As he stood in line, ready to explain his dilemma, a fellow passenger tapped him on the shoulder and called him to the side. He asked Lake a few questions, then handed him two money orders totaling $200. "I feel led to give you this to help your work," the stranger said. They had also been praying about a home where they should stay; after all, he and his wife had seven children. When they disembarked, they noticed a lady wandering around, looking at everyone. When she found the Lake family, she asked how many were in their party. "My wife, myself, and our seven children," Lake said. The lady suddenly looked ecstatic and shrilled, “You are the family!" Then she explained how God had directed her to meet their boat, that on it would be an American missionary family consisting of two adults and seven children, and that she was to give them a home. Step out in bold, aggressive faith if you have heard God speak. If God can meet every need of the Lake family, why can He not take care of you? 


Believing Prayer


Let's look further into this vital topic of believing God will answer prayer. Faith is very much involved in our believing:


22"Have faith in God," Jesus answered. 23"I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. 24Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours (Mark 11:22-24).


If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer" (Matthew 21:22).


How is it possible to expel doubt from our hearts?


Our hearts are programmed from an early age to operate only on what we perceive with our five senses, but God wants us to live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith and spiritual power impact the spiritual realm intersecting with the physical world. We are given power along with being seated in a position of authority in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:


And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6).


Our position in Christ is due to the finished work of Christ on the cross, not because of anything we have done to earn us such a place of authority; it is all by grace. Our feet may be firmly in this world, but God has given us positional authority in the spiritual realm around us. We can choose to believe, even if our sense evidence says it is impossible. I have seen many answers to prayer but am still in a learning mode and always will be! I often remind myself of God’s Word when my faith is stretched. Is there a Scripture I can hold on to and believe against all evidence to the contrary?


I notice in the Mark 11 passage above that Jesus referred to the expression from the mouth. He said, "If anyone says to this mountain,” and also, “does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen," they will receive the very thing they have asked for and believed that they have received. Words of faith impact the spiritual realm. An example is when Jesus was asleep in the back end of the fishing boat of one of the disciples. A storm came upon them so bad that the disciples feared they would lose their lives. What did Jesus do? He didn't get up and trim the sail. He stood up on the rocking, heaving boat and spoke to the winds and the waves. “Quiet! Be still!” (Mark 4:35-41). My prayer for you and me is for us to see the power of the spoken word on the tongue of a godly Christian, walking according to the Spirit. Scripture says that “the tongue has the power of life and death…” (Proverbs 18:21). Have you ever spoken to something inanimate like that? We can speak authoritative words and command our doubts to depart. Our words are an expression of our faith. The mouth expresses what the heart believes:


8But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved (Romans 10:8-10). 


One can trust God amid every bit of sense evidence to the contrary. Notice that there must be an expression of faith to become real. It is with a person’s mouth that confession is made, crystallizing their faith. The challenge is to step out in what you believe and begin to trust God, expecting Him to act even when our senses tell us it is impossible. Sense knowledge will always seek to quench a person's faith when expecting something from God.


There is another excellent example of faith in Christ’s word found in Luke's gospel:


11Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" 14When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed. 15One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. 17Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well" (Luke 17:11-17).


What can we learn about faith from this passage? Jesus told all these leprous men to go to the priests to be inspected and a letter given to them of proof of their healing. Think about it! Each man departed to see the priest for permission to enter society again, even though they still had leprosy. They took Jesus at His Word. They were social outcasts from the Synagogue because of their disease and deformities. Don't you think they began wondering about their condition when they set out to the Temple to see the priest? We don't know at what point on their journey to the priest God healed them, but sufficient distance prevented nine of them from coming back to thank Jesus. The healing happened as they went believing and trusting God, even though their senses told them their healing had not yet happened. Their obedience expressed faith in God's word.


So, how can we believe God for something even when our senses tell us something different? Are we trying to con ourselves into belief? There are two kinds of faith in the Scriptures. There is the fruit of faith (Galatians 5:22) and the gift of faith (1 Corinthians 12:9). One is an impartation from God, a supernatural grace that gives one unshakeable faith for what they ask God. The Spirit of God imparts a "know so" to the heart outside the realm of the senses (Romans 8:16). When one receives this grace from God, there is inner peace, assurance, or witness of the Spirit, an awareness that God has heard and that the answer is on the way. The other way faith is expressed is by growing and maturing in your faith by listening to the Spirit and acting on what He tells you to do.


When God imparts a gift of faith on you, a divine "yes" tells a person that God will back up the person's expression of faith with His power. I still remember being in my bedroom and hearing God’s voice about the specific Bible I had prayed for. How did I express my trust and confidence that I would receive what I had asked? I bought one of those bar magnifying glasses that one can put on the text to make it larger. It was my faith expression that I was confident that my new Bible was on its way.


In the same way that the little girl acted in faith in her daddy’s word for a dollhouse, the child of God acts on the word of our Father. It is not your faith that you have to muster up; it is a faith that one receives from God. Without Him, we can do nothing, but with Him, we can do all things. All things are possible to him who believes (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27). If you are struggling with unbelief, bring this need to God also! As one man said to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).


Prayer: Father, thank you for loving us and sending us Jesus to die in our place to cleanse us from all sin. You who spared not your own son, how shall you not, with Him, give us all things (Romans 8:32). Grant us confidence and faith in your word. Please help us go from strength to strength as we put our faith in you.


Keith Thomas





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