Faith, fish, and other things not beginning with the letter ‘f’.

I have in my purse a small piece of blue cardboard, somewhat battered, which makes this statement:

I desire to declare my faith in Jesus Christ as my Saviour, my Lord and my God.

One of the many things I like about this sentence is the double usefulness of the phrase ‘I desire to declare’. You might use this phrase to make an actual, joyous and confident declaration of faith, singing it out from the rooftops.

Possibly like this.

But you can also say ‘I desire to declare’ when, in fact, things are quite hard and you don’t really have enough faith to make the declaration, perhaps not even much faith to make a declaration of. There are times when one’s hope, and trust, and belief that God is good and powerful and present, arise unbidden; there are times when they just don’t. Circumstances can seem more real than Jesus, sometimes, so that we want to declare our faith in him but…

Fortunately, it seems that one can have faith without having much faith.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:21-4)

Faith, said the writer of Hebrews, is being confident in what you hope for, and certain of what you do not see. A poster on my wall says that faith is seeing what’s beyond sight, believing what’s beyond reason, and receiving what’s beyond comprehension. Faith, as they say if they like a soundbite, is spelt r-i-s-k.

(“That’s not faith!” cries the imaginary rationalist inside my head, “that’s called being stupid.”—OK, yes, you have to be careful about who or what you have faith in. Can we hold the imaginary argument, at least for the moment?)

Here’s my own preferred soundbite: that having faith is when you’ll always go back just one more time.

And here, by way of explanation, is 1 Kings 18:41-46.

And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.

“Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.

“There is nothing there,” he said.

Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”

The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”

So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’”

Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. The power of the LORD came on Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.

The necessary background to this is that there had been no rain in the land for three years. Earlier that afternoon, Elijah’s servant had presumably seen fire from heaven fall on the rebuilt altar, burning up all the water from the altar and from the trench around it, while the people shouted “The LORD—he is God!” So maybe the servant went to and fro seven times with a bounding sense of hope that God was powerful and would work. But maybe, by the fifth or sixth time, he was really growing somewhat bitter about so much futile trotting around. Maybe, after three years without rain, the loss of the water to the fire from heaven had left him thinking that God was certainly powerful, but not really particularly merciful.

Yet, because Elijah said so, he went back again and again, with some kind of determination, until he saw the cloud.

Is that faith?

Did Peter have faith in this early encounter between him and Jesus?

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:1-8)

Apparently Peter’s feelings on the matter mattered less than what he actually did in response to Jesus’s suggestion. “But because you say so…” was probably said grudgingly, grumblingly, considering Peter’s reaction to the overloaded nets. Yet the nets were filled and friendship with Jesus followed. And in a way, there was no better reason for trying once more than that Jesus had said so.—There is no better reason than that for trying once more, praying once more, opening one’s heart just once more, saying “here I am” just once more.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” (John 6:67-8)

Just once more, and just once more, and just once more, to the end of the promontory, in the blazing heat, until you look, and see a cloud as small as a man’s hand rising from the sea.

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