Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 39. Little Faith
Matt 14:31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
Faith plays a great part in the life of a Christian and yet much of the time it is a mystery for us, how it works, what happens, why it varies. That’s what these studies are for, to try and help us clarify some of the issues. In the previous meditation we considered the reality that we can be strong in faith or weak in faith, but in both cases we can still be a Christians and God still loves us. We pursue that idea a little further in this study.
The verse above comes from what is undoubtedly my favourite story in the Gospels, of Jesus and then Peter walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee in the middle of the night. In the previous meditation I used ‘walking on water’ as shorthand for big faith, and yet in the midst of the story Peter, who has taken a leap of faith like no other man in history has taken, as he stepped out of the boat to walk across the waves to Jesus, is chided by Jesus, it seems, when having got part way, he takes his eyes off Jesus and focuses on the wind and waves and starts to sink. The trouble about scripture is that we can’t tell what tone of voice a person uses and so here I wonder how Jesus was actually speaking to Peter. If we have grown up in a judgmental atmosphere then Jesus’ words will appear to us as harsh criticism but I wonder if in fact they were spoken more softly with a sense of sadness about them that Peter had started out across the water with such great promise and had then let his attention drift.
What is interesting about this incident is that as long as Peter kept his eyes firmly fixed on Jesus, he could do it. It had to be God’s power flowing in him that kept him on top of the waves but it was a power that required him to play a part – to keep fixed on Jesus and when he didn’t, his faith took a dive (sorry!). Are there fundamental things here about faith that we perhaps so often miss? To perform the act of faith and see or hear something spectacular happen must involve the power of God whether it be praying for healing for someone or simply having a word for them. We may ‘have the faith’ the step out and speak the words, but it is the Holy Spirit who puts power into them so that healing or revelation comes.
Now there is the other side of the coin, so to speak, here and that is that it needs to be God’s will. I know that sounds so obvious but this comes through when we pray for someone and we don’t get an answer. We ‘felt’ full of faith when we prayed but nothing happened. A number of years back I had knee trouble which got so bad my wife sent to a doctor who sent me to a specialist who said, the cartilage was gone and I needed a new knee. He sent me to go away and think about it and as I sat in my car, I had a tremendous sense, I thought, of the Lord’s presence and the Lord’s power and I ‘saw’ the x-ray of my knee with brand new cartilage. I prayed, ‘full of faith’ for healing of this knee. A couple of months later I was on the operating table.
Subsequently I sought the Lord. Had I been lacking faith? No, He said, it wasn’t that, it was just that I wanted you to go through that operation (which went through spectacularly well and I healed up faster than anyone else having similar operations at that time) and appreciate the wonder of the world I have put you into. Since then I have had an appreciation of this world, with all its technology, all of its surgical breakthroughs and so much more. Many of us in the Christian world are so heavenly minded that we fail to see the wonder of God’s provision for us in this world. The study of inventions, which I have done since, is incredible and I believe ‘clever ideas’ or scientific breakthroughs don’t come without God who talks to believer and non-believer alike as He works to develop this world. Is your God this big? I have since done a study of art and literature and praised the Lord for the wonders that we have in existence that come through people made in the image of God. My ‘failure of faith’ as some of the faith people would put it, has opened up a whole new world of appreciation and understanding which in turn has opened up a whole new realm of worship and praise and thanksgiving. I could say so much more here.
But back to the mysteries of faith. On one occasion we read, “And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” (Matt 13:58) Now does that mean that Jesus prayed and nothing happened? I doubt it. Jesus said, “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing.” (Jn 5:19) The Father could see that the hearts of the people there were hard and unbelieving and those are two things that work against or stop or hinder faith. No, I suggest that simply people did not come to Jesus looking for and expecting healing, so none happened.
The opposite is seen in the area of Tyre and Sidon where Jesus went and encountered a Canaanite woman who asked Jesus to deliver her demon possessed daughter. To check her out Jesus prevaricated and when she persisted we find, “Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” (Matt 15:28) That ‘great faith’ was demonstrated by her coming and seeking Jesus out and then persisting with him. You want to up your faith level? Be filled with the word and with the Spirit and keep on seeking Jesus out and then keep on persisting with him!
There are times when our faith levels seem low, simply because we have not understood something and we need revelation: “Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread?” (Matt 16:8) They had watched miracles of feeding but hadn’t yet clued in to the realities of what happened. It was all about divine provision.
A little later Jesus said, “He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, `Move from here to there’ and it will move.” (Matt 17:20) Now I think there are two ways of looking at this verse and both are true. The first way is to say that it doesn’t matter how much faith you have because as long as it originates in God’s heart, even if you are responding to Him out of weakness and with what you think is tiny faith, it still opens up the way for Him to do the most amazing things. The second way is to realise that a mustard seed grows and so as long as you do have some faith, as little as it might be, operate with it and it will grow and the more you use it, the bigger the things will get.
So you only have a little faith? That’s OK, Jesus didn’t send his disciples away because they had little faith; he knew it would grow the more they stuck with him. Hang in there and the days are going to get exciting! Hallelujah!