“Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe.” John 20:29
Have you ever taken a leap of faith? The “leap of faith” is a commonly used phrase to describe the final act of a person to believe that a particular direction is in keeping with God’s will. It apparently dates back to Kierkegaard, who actually wrote “leap to faith.” The phrase was his description of the final act of will to embrace the paradoxes of the Christian faith.
In other words, you take a leap of faith when the commitment seems unlikely, un-provable, or counter-intuitive. We come to the end of a process of analysis and find a cliff. Something does not make sense. At that point, you embrace faith and make the leap.
Now have you ever made a leap of faith? I have to say, I can’t think of a time when I have. That may surprise you, but after hearing the phrase a number of times in different contexts, I believe it is overused and misapplied. Let me explain.
To say that we often must make a leap of faith implies that God has left a great chasm between you and the truth or direction you seek. But is that the case? Not at all. Yes, some aspects of the Christian life require tremendous trust and commitment, but I don’t find any of the Christian life or faith lacking considerable empirical support.
Even at the beginning of faith, when a person first commits to Christ, even that act is not really a leap against all logic and evidence. When faced squarely, sin has made a mess of our lives, we cannot adequately “forgive ourselves,” communion with a holy and perfect God is beyond our ability. Those few bits of rational evidence lead me to believe that we do need a Savior, and if I survey history there was one Man who lived a sinless life, assured us of a good and loving God, and offered forgiveness through His death. Then, of course, we have the empirical evidence of His resurrection. Are we really left at that point with a giant chasm that defies reason? Not at all. So the leap of faith may not really be a leap at all, just a step toward God in which we move away from self and into His embrace.
Now I do not want to quibble with the phrase when used on the grand scale of salvation, but I do want to object to its rather common use to describe many decisions and commitments we make as Christians. Staying faithful to your spouse is not a leap of faith. Neither is attending church, or tithing, or acting with integrity in your business. Forsaking gossip is not a leap of faith. Living graciously and showing kindness does not require a leap of faith.
There are many times when we must take a step of faith that brings us closer to God’s will in our lives, but even at that point God has given us tremendous encouragement and proof. For example, remember the power of scripture: “the word of our God will stand forever” (Isa. 40:8), and “the word of God is living and active” (Heb. 12). If a particular direction is in keeping with the principles we find in God’s word, then you do not need to make a leap of faith. Or pay attention to the counsel of trusted Christian friends. God often speaks through His servants to His servants (Prov. 15:22). I rely heavily on grace-filled brothers and sisters in Christ to offer wise counsel.
Too often we are like the rich man in Luke 16 who, after his death, begged Abraham to send Lazarus to his family to warn them. Abraham’s response is that God already had provided sufficient direction. Signs would not help when faith is required. We may want signs, but God provide signposts. In fact, I find these all around me, showing me the directions I must go.
There is an old story about a man lost in high foggy mountains, slipping over an edge and then clinging for his life to a ledge. He calls desperately for help, and voice come to him: “I live on these mountains, and I know exactly where you are. I am across a chasm and cannot get to you, but you must trust me. There is another ledge directly beneath you that will lead you to safety. Just let go and you will drop about a foot. You will be safe.”
Last year I wrestled with a decision about leaving a career I had invested more than 30 years in to start a new direction. Many voices encouraged me to take that step. My sense of God’s Spirit within told me that it was right. God had placed many signposts around me. Yet, I clung to the ledge. Finally, I let go. I have found, not a chasm of uncertainty and threat, but a smiling God who has welcomed me on a new path. I just had to let go. I launched Chrysalis Interventions (chrysalisinterventions.com), and am so very grateful that God gave me the courage to take the step. I’ve found solid footing only when I was willing to take the step.
So I prefer the phrase “a step of faith” to “a leap of faith” because I simply do not think that God often requires us to do something that is utter nonsense. We use the spiritual gifts of discernment, wisdom, knowledge, and, yes, faith to submit one other area of our lives more deeply to God’s will and purpose. So do not wait for signs of what you should do. Jesus discouraged this. But look for the signposts. They are clear. Follow them, step by step into the joy for which your Father created you.
Dr. Terry Ellis
May 29, 2016