Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page

Faith – step by step

I am often overwhelmed – as well as inspired – by the faith stories of famous Christians.

They live through terrible trials with their faith intact and strong; they are channels of God’s grace through amazing miracles; they sacrifice the comforts of life to live among the poor and needy for many decades.

I have faith in God and he has taken me through troubles.  But where are the sacrifices, the dramatic tests, the obstacles that these Christians overcame through their faith?

As I think about this, two thoughts come to mind:

  • These people obeyed God’s promptings, his call to them; and
  • Most of the time, they grew in faith, step by step.

As I look back, I can see that I had opportunities, too, to sacrifice something of my own desires and comforts to serve God.  Obedience to God is vital to growing faith.

And, usually, the great men and women of faith started small before taking on grander projects in serving the Lord.

I like the example of Gideon in the Bible.  An angel begins by approaching Gideon in Judges, chapter 6, asking him to throw the Midianite oppressors out of Israel.  Gideon is an ordinary man and is appalled by this commission.

But God is patient with Gideon.  He takes this fearful man through several levels, beginning with tearing down the altar to Baal and the Asherah pole, symbols of Midianite power.

Gideon is terrified through every one of the increasingly tough tasks.  But the Lord gives him just enough strength and power to carry out each one.  The message God wants Gideon to understand is that, though Gideon is weak, God is strong.

There are several things I like about this:

  • The victory over the Midianites was God’s, not Gideon’s.  That is encouraging for me, because I feel weak and yet responsible for accomplishing things on my own strength.  That is not the message of this story – it is God who brings about great things.
  • But Gideon obeyed.  He protested and he tested the Lord.  Yet he obeyed.
  • Gideon grew in faith as he went from smaller tasks to bigger ones.  He saw that God was worth trusting and that he did what he said he would do.

God has given me tasks, too.  Sometimes I get discouraged.  But then I remember that Gideon and men and women like him through the ages have persevered.  And God has honoured their faithful obedience.

Faith and obedience

Can you have faith without acting on it?

I was struck yesterday by a statement in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship:
“Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”

I think he’s right.  In other words, I can believe in Jesus as the risen Lord, but my faith is worthless if I don’t act on this belief.  There has to be some evidence that I have faith.

Bonhoeffer’s point is that much of the Christian church has ignored the importance of obeying Jesus.

In his book, he says the German Lutheran church of the 1930s was promoting “cheap grace”.  You believe Jesus died for your sins, you are baptized and then you carry on sinning just as you did before.  It’s okay, because God’s grace covers your sins.

There is some truth in that. I can’t earn my salvation through my own efforts. Jesus did die for my sins and he has given me new life once I put my faith in him.

But the problem with much of the Christian world today is that our lives with Christ end at the moment we are saved.  Bonhoeffer says that many Christians just continue on doing what they did before.

That is not the faith that Jesus talked about.  Salvation is the beginning of the Christian walk.  We are to follow him – not wander off on our own.

This has made me think about Jesus and the way he lived.  Do I truly follow Jesus?  Am I willing to live out my faith in the way Jesus says I should?

As another writer, David Platt, has said, I try to explain away the difficult things that Jesus said.  My faith is alive, but limited.  There are many areas where I won’t venture because it may cost me something.

And yet, I know that Jesus wants me to become more like him.  When he calls on me to do something, I must obey.  And as I obey, my faith blossoms.  That is the key to growing faith.

Faith (2)

The story of Jesus walking on water says a lot about faith.

It’s a great story (see Matthew 14:22-32).  The disciples are struggling with a boat heaving in the waves as Jesus walks on the water toward them. They look at him and are terrified.

I would be terrified, too.  It isn’t natural, walking on the water.

Jesus hears them shouting “It’s a ghost!”  And he tells them not to be afraid – it is him, Jesus.

Peter is not entirely convinced.  But he has the courage to say: “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”

So Jesus tells him to come and Peter climbs out of the boat.

At that point, Peter was obviously full of faith.  He believed it was Jesus standing there on the water.  And he trusted Jesus.

So Peter starts walking on the water toward Jesus.  Then, Peter takes his eyes off Jesus and sees the wind-whipped waves and he loses heart. 

He cries out in fear to Jesus who catches him by the hand and says: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

It is striking that a moment of doubt knocked the confidence Peter had in Jesus and turned an amazing miracle into a desperate cry for help.

This whole episode is full of lessons about faith.

The first is fairly clear – Peter was filled with faith as he looked at Jesus.  He believed that somehow Jesus could help him walk on water, too.

But that faith was useless until he tested it by trying to walk on water himself.

This step required obedience – to Jesus’ command to come to him.  Everything went well as he stepped out in obedience and walked toward his master.

Then, when he looked away from Jesus, he allowed fear and doubt to overcome him and he sank.  His eyes were no longer on God.

So, applying this to myself, I draw these conclusions about faith from this story:

  • I need to humble myself and depend entirely on God;
  • I need to keep my eyes on Jesus while dealing with whatever problem I am facing;
  • I must NOT focus on myself and my own weaknesses;
  • I must obey Jesus, even when obedience is costly; and
  • I must act on my beliefs and step out in faith.

One of the most difficult areas, of course, is obedience.  From my reading of scripture, it is obedience which is essential to seeing God at work.  If I refuse to obey him, how can I expect God to work powerfully in my life?

Obedience implies action.  I cannot obey unless I act.  When I obey and act, God will do whatever he has promised to do.

Faith (1)

I have long wrestled with the question: “Is faith something I can develop?  If so, how do I do it?”

For most of my Christian life, I have felt deficient in faith.  I have felt that somehow I needed to do something to increase my faith and see Christ move in the world around me.

In other words, my focus was on me.  I was trying to crank up my faith to a level where I could see friends placing their faith in Christ or witness miraculous answers to prayer.

I am thinking about faith right now because it is something our whole church is considering for the next month.  Our pastor is preaching on faith and we are discussing it in small groups.

So, I’m going to reflect on faith in a couple of posts this weekend.

This morning, I looked again at the great definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

That is an intimidating statement – “being certain of what we do not see.”  There are other comments by Jesus and the apostles about faith which are just as humbling.

Clearly, the write of Hebrews is right.  Faith is not concrete – something I can touch.  Yet it is more than wishful thinking.  There is certainty involved.

I am as certain about the fact that I belong to Jesus Christ and will be with him in heaven as I am that I am alive and breathing right now.  That conviction has sunk into my heart and mind.

That is clearly faith. 

But, in everyday living, I have allowed doubts to seep into my mind because God does not always give me what I ask for.  I have asked myself: “Is it because I don’t have enough faith?”

I think the answer is: “Sometimes, but not always.”  Sometimes I don’t get what I want because it is not for my good or for other reasons – not because of my lack of faith.  Sometimes, I don’t get it because I don’t pray with faith.

The point our pastor made last Sunday was that our faith is in a person – Jesus Christ.  My focus needs to be on Jesus with the assurance that he is working all things out for good (Romans 8:28).

In Hebrews 12:2, the writer says: “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus on whom our faith depends from beginning to end.” (Good News Bible)

My faith depends on Jesus.  He planted faith in my heart.  He lives within me.

But, wonder of wonders, God chooses to work through me to bring about his purposes.  So, somehow, I must cooperate with God to see the fruit I cherish.  I can’t do it on my own.

Surely, this is a step to growing faith.

Feelin’ good

Today, I’m feeling great.  Yesterday, I was a bit anxious and low.

Does it matter how I feel in God’s eyes?

Well, the apostle Paul believes it does. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16, he says: “Be joyful always.”

“Always” seems to mean “in all circumstances and in every situation”.

I am reminded of Nehemiah’s statement to weeping Jews bewailing their sin in Jerusalem: “Don’t grieve for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  (Nehemiah 8:10)

It was right for them to be sorry for their sin, but it wasn’t right to focus on themselves.  God was not pleased with their sin, but he loved them and wanted them to enjoy him.

So, was I wrong to be anxious and depressed yesterday?

It was natural.  The greatest men and women in the Bible were anxious and angry and even denounced God.  It is healing to express our feelings as David often did in the Psalms.

And God understands our human feelings.  Jesus told his listeners that they should mourn with those who mourn.  Offering compassion to someone who is suffering is Christ-like.

But I don’t think God wants us to stay “down in the dumps”.  He is the God of hope.

We might not be able to thank God for the hard things in life as I recommended in a blog post a few days ago.  But we can certainly find joy in God.

There is so much to thank God for.  His creation is a gift to us.  A couple of days ago, I went for a stroll in our neighbourhood and enjoyed the mild afternoon and the gold and crimson colours of the autumn leaves.

There is the fact he has given us life everlasting. There are the gifts of families, friends, food, jobs.

There is the fact that he orders events according to his own good plan.  Nothing that happens in the world is by accident.  We may not see what the good is, but we can be sure from the Bible that it is leading to good.

Most of all, we can rest in the knowledge that he loves us.

It is this truth I turn to most of all.  I picture Jesus with me, smiling and enjoying me.  I think of Zephaniah’s wonderful words in Zephaniah 3:17:

“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love.  He will rejoice over you with singing.”

Knowing he loves me, how can I not take joy in him?