Contagious Faith

One of my favorite movie scenes is from the 1989 adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Henry V”. The English noblemen and their outnumbered and less-skilled troops stand in the moments before the bloody Battle of Agincourt. The noblemen are lamenting the overwhelming odds that the French have over them and are maligning the many Englishmen who have chosen to stay at home in their warm beds instead of joining their fellow countrymen on the field of battle. Morale is at a low; the English are all but defeated before the battle has even commenced. Having heard these laments from the shadows, Shakespeare’s King Harry (played in the movie by Kenneth Branagh) steps forth and begins to rally his troops with an impassioned speech. By its conclusion, his troops are celebrating that they are few in number, and are inspired to advance “once more unto the breach”. Though the speech is a work of fiction, it is evocative of the contagious spirit of courage and conviction with which King Harry led.

In Joshua 2, we read about two spies that Joshua sent into the Promised Land. As they surveyed Jericho, they narrowly escaped arrest within the walled city and were given refuge by a prostitute by the name of Rahab. Rahab told them, “I know the Lord has given you this land. We are all afraid of you. Everyone in the land is living in terror.For we have heard how the Lord made a dry path for you through the Red Sea… and we know what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River…. No one has the courage to fight after hearing such things. For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below” (Joshua 2:9-11 NLT) Those words from Rahab gave the spies the confidence to report back to Joshua: “The LORD has given us the whole land, for all the people in the land are terrified of us” (Joshua 2:24 NLT).

As i read that statement from the returning spies, i am struck by the contagious spirit of their report. Though, unlike my illustration, it is not a work of fiction or even an artful speech to motivate the people. It is a statement of unwavering commitment predicated upon an irrefutable fact. The irrefutable fact being “the LORD has given us the whole land”. God had repeatedly declared to His people that “wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you…. No one will be able to stand against you….” God had given His Word – and His Word was – and is – truth and fact. God’s truth is the reality of the situation. It is not altered by the circumstances, barriers or foes we encounter. Thus the report of the returning spies was not about the strength and girth of the walls, or their narrow escape from the king of Jericho. Rather, their report was one of contagious faith. 

Why do i say that it was contagious? Because the simple fact is that love, joy, peace, faith – as a matter of fact the entire list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 – are contagious. They are founded on the Word of God and are empowered by the Spirit of God, and they are to be evidenced and spread by the people of God. Again, true faith cannot be contrived, it must be founded on the Word of God. And faith is the required response to a Word from God. Do i believe what He has said – or do i not?

Let’s momentarily look at the journey of that “faith” for the Israaelites. Though we could track the journey of this faith all the way back to God’s promises in the Garden, then to His promises to Abraham and later Moses, together with many points in between, let’s pick it up with Joshua. In Joshua chapter 1, God revealed His promise to Joshua. By faith, Joshua received that promise and passed it along to the leaders of the tribes. He then selected these two men to spy out Jericho. He clearly revealed God’s promise to these men, and his contagious faith inspired them in their journey. 

Then Rahab entered into the picture. For decades her people had heard of the feats of the God of Israel, dating back to the dry path God made for the people through the Red Sea some forty-plus years earlier. They had seen the destruction of the Amorites. There was no question in Rahab’s mind that the God of Israel would utterly defeat the people of Jericho. Though she had not yet heard His Word, she had clearly seen His hand, and she was willing to fully surrender all of herself to all that she knew about Him. Now these two spies, having seen the faith of this pagan woman, were even further inspired in their faith. Rahab’s faith had become contagious. Then the spies saw God’s hand of protection as they eluded every attempt of the king of Jericho to capture them.

Upon their return to Joshua, they confirmed that the God who had directed and protected them would do no less for His people. Thus a contagious faith that Joshua had passed to the two men at the outset of their journey had now been multiplied through the events of that journey and was returning back to him in even greater portion.

Then as the spies and Joshua turned to the people of Israel, their contagious faith inspired the people for the events that would commence the very next morning. The people had received a different report from an earlier set of spies almost forty years earlier. A faithless report. A report that also became contagious. A report that cost a generation their lives in the wilderness. But this report – though founded on the same word from God and viewed through the same circumstances was totally different. These spies didn’t see the obstacles to overcome, rather they saw the land of promise to possess. And their faith contagiously passed to the people.

So the reality for you and i is – no matter where we are in our journey – our actions, our behavior and our testimony are all contagious. Each one of us are currently in the midst of circumstances that have been permitted by the hand of our Sovereign God. Each one of us are surrounded by the very people that He has chosen to place in our path. And each and every one of us is contagious. The question is whether our contagion is faith predicated upon God’s Word or whether it is not. And we can’t be neutral about God’s Word – we either believe it or we do not. We either act on it or we do not. Our contagion will either be faith or faithlessness. There is no in-between.

And the choice – just as it was for Joshua, Rahab, and these two spies – rests with each and every one of us. As the writer of Hebrews said, “faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see”(Hebrews 11:1 NLT).

What will those around us “catch” from us?

Excerpt from Possessing The Promise, ch. 5

Photo: IMDb – Kenneth Branagh in Henry V (1989)