“Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Hebrews 12:2, NLT). There are many things I sincerely hope for, but some are not initiated by God. For example, I hope with all my heart that our church in Colorado Springs will see tens of thousands of people come to Christ in the coming decades. God has not promised this to me, but still I hope and pray that He will bring the lost into His loving arms.

We all need to be careful about taking our hopes and making them into promises. We can only be assured something is a promise from God when it is confirmed through Scripture, prayer and sometimes fellow Christians.

It is possible for us to hear the voice of our own ambitions and desires and mistake it for the voice of God. We may hope for certain things, including good things, and yet, as James writes, God won’t give us those requests because they are born out of our own striving and flesh.

Instead, God perfects our faith by putting those things away. Speaking as a man in midlife, I am so glad the Lord does this. There are many things I wanted in my thirties that I’m glad He never gave me. In His mercy God saw what I needed, and He didn’t allow the things I wanted. By perfecting our faith, the desires He initiates—those things born of Him and not of ourselves—begin to rise up in our hearts.

“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen” (11:1). As God purifies our faith, our confidence builds. We grow in discernment, saying, “Ah, yes, this is the word of the Lord, and that other word is not. He is confirming His promise to me—through Scripture, prayer and the witness of my brothers and sisters.” Faith begins to settle the matter within us, so that as Hebrews 11:1 says, we have “confidence that what we hope for will actually happen.”

This kind of faith was perfected in those listed in the Hall of Faith (see Hebrews 11). According to that chapter, God commended Abel not for his worthy sacrifice of worship but for his faith. Noah wasn’t commended for being a preacher of righteousness but for his faith. Likewise, Moses wasn’t commended for being a bold deliverer but for his faith.