Faith at Work



Faith means different things to different people.

To some, it’s a kind of optimism, as in “I have faith that things will all work out.” Maybe there are good reasons for that optimism, based on a sense of the way things are. Or maybe it’s more like a choice to see the glass half full, a preference for looking on the bright sight when the facts don’t point either way. Or maybe it’s just a sunny disposition.

Other people think of faith as a set of beliefs. In Christian circles that often translates into a creed, like the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. In confirmation class, and when candidates come up for ordination, individuals may write a “statement of faith,” which is a short summary of what they believe. In that sense faith is like a cluster of convictions.

There is a third meaning of faith, which is a kind of trust. That’s the meaning found most often in the Bible. To have faith in God is to trust God with your life, to live as though God is in charge and you can count on God, even when you have no idea what’s coming next.

This last kind of faith is different from the other two. It goes beyond them. It’s not like optimism, in that it doesn’t necessarily think things will turn out the way we want—at least not any time soon. Things may in fact get worse, but then faith as trust grows stronger, because that’s when we need it the most.

And faith as trust is more than a set of beliefs, unless those beliefs find their way out of the head and into the heart. Beliefs can be just a set of opinions that don’t make much difference, until we step out into some deep uncertainty and really have to rely on God. Then faith is like jumping out of an airplane and counting on your chute to open.

Faith of this last variety tends to be an active faith. It finds things to do because anyone who truly relies on God notices that there is much to be done. Hungry people need to be fed, physically and spiritually. Lonely people need someone to care, and God has no arms but ours to reach out to them. People are afraid, and they need to see what faith looks like when things aren’t going well—which is what we find in those who learned to trust in God when nothing else could sustain them.

“Faith without works is dead,” says the New Testament letter of James. Not weak, or incomplete, but dead. Real faith sees that God is at work in the world and wants to be part of that work, because faith relies on God to set its course. That may be scary at first, but trust grows with practice when it finds one who is trustworthy. If faith without works is dead, a faith at work makes us fully alive.

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