1. Introducing Uncertainty: “Follow Me”

I am taking the unprecedented step on this Blog of interrupting the series on ‘Revisiting the Ten Commandments’ (which I hope we’ll come back to after Easter) to specifically present a series I started writing recently, more for my own benefit than anyone else’s, about ‘Living with Uncertainty’. I didn’t start it initially with Coronavirus in mind, but it does somehow seem applicable in the light of that. For those who like short, snappy meditations each morning, may I suggest the times call for eating more than breadcrumbs each day.  (Sorry!) May I invite you therefore to join me on this walk with the Lord which, someway in, I confess has already blessed me somewhat, in these very uncertain times.

PART ONE: General Ponderings on Uncertainty and Certainty

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 1. Introducing Uncertainty: “Follow Me”

Mt 4:19,20 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Introduction: It may be the age we are living in – post-Brexit in the UK, and the advent of coronavirus across the globe, pre-another Presidential election in the US – but it seems more and more people are expressing concerns about the uncertainty of modern life and are worrying about it. As we are also approaching Easter it has set me thinking about how, contrary to the beliefs of many Christians, uncertainty is at the heart of the Christian life. It is certainly no more than that which non-Christians suffer but it is there and it is a different sort of uncertainty, brought about by the very real aspects of the Bible story and how it is worked out in our daily lives. Wonderfully, and I hope we will see it in these studies, this uncertainty is underpinned by a certainty that is inexplicable yet cast iron sure.  As I watch Christians around me struggling to cope with the uncertainties of the coming of the Coronavirus, or even with the various trials that come through modern life, I perceive what I believe is an inadequacy of holding a correct biblical view that should help them. It just doesn’t seem to be there and so for many, the uncertainties of life and also of the Christian life in particular, causes worry and anxiety and simply quoting Bible verses doesn’t seem to help. It is this sort of thing that I believe we should thinking about in more depth and be addressing in this series running up to Easter.

The Uncertainty of Discipleship: Because we rarely seem able to truly identify with the early apostles we are also unable to comprehend the true nature of the discipleship to which they, and we, have been called.  I wrote elsewhere recently, “Letting Jesus go ahead sounds the simplest description of being a disciple. I mean, it was the only thing the first disciples were called to do – follow me. Where Lord? That doesn’t matter, I’ll show you, just follow me. And he went ahead. Lord, what do you call us to do? That doesn’t matter, you’ll know when the time comes and you find someone or some situation before you that I’ve led you to, just follow me and watch me, sense what I want to do – through you – and do it. It will be that simple, just follow me.  And that’s what they did!

It WAS that simple but compare their lives as disciples from what they had been. Some of them had been fishermen and the only thing that governed their lives was the weather. As long as it allowed them, they went out on the Sea of Galilee and fished. No problem. One of them was a tax collector who probably sat in a tax booth collecting taxes; easy! Then Jesus says come, follow me, and there is something about him that compelled them to go on this nomadic life of ministry, and it’s quite clear that most of the time most of them hadn’t a clue where they were going and what was going to happen. I hope we’ll be able to see this as we observe the final weeks before Easter.

We often laugh about the way the apostle Peter only opened his mouth to change feet, but that was simply an expression of his uncertainty, of what was happening. Remember when Jesus started telling them about his impending death. Peter’s response? “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (Mt 16:22) Ooops! To be uncertain means to be unsure and Peter is seriously unsure about the will of God. Oh yes, our uncertainty can manifest itself in apparent certainty, that’s how we handle it like Peter here, but our certainty is wrong. That’s the wrong sort of certainty. But then, God doesn’t work like that, we say, or God doesn’t do that sort of thing! And so often we’re wrong! He does. Handling uncertainty means growing up, becoming mature in understanding.

So why are we surprised when suggestions like this arise, that the Christian life is a life of uncertainty? Why are preachers so specifically confident and so adamant about the nature of the Christian life, that it’s all good stuff? It is but not in the way we so often think! And yet, how easily, I wonder, do we read Paul’s words, For we live by faith, not by sight,” (2 Cor 5:7) and think that’s easy. But  the reality is that most of us prefer to know what we’re doing, where we’re going, yet Paul tells us the life we live is to be one in response to what God says, not only what He says in His word, but also by what He says by His Spirit, and if we dare be honest, that isn’t always easy. We struggle with this concept, I suggest, because of our insecurity; we only feel secure when we can see what’s happening, we haven’t learned to trust God when the sky seems to be falling on us!

The Core of the Faith: What we’re talking about here are the fundamental basics of the Christian Faith. We follow a God we cannot see but who somehow has communicated to us in the crises of life and drawn us to Himself. Yes, we have His word but there is so much of it that we don’t understand for the moment. Trials and tribulations of life come along and we get overrun by the negatives that pull us down, cause anxiety and so on.

Learning God’s Ways: Moses once asked God, “teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” (Ex 33:13) That’s what was going on while the disciples went with Jesus, they were being taught God’s ways, not in any formal way but in an on-the-job-and-life way. Before understanding comes trust and they were learning to trust Jesus, that he knew best and he was for them. I suspect they didn’t realize that this was what was happening, but it was. And that is so often true of you and me. Life is uncertain, the world is uncertain, but in the midst of it all Jesus is trying to teach us that he is in charge and uses both the good and the bad to work out the Father’s purposes, and even if we don’t understand – as so often we don’t – that’s how it is, so rest in his love.

And Us? So as we come to the end of this first introductory study, may I invite you to pray? Just recently, not only with the things going on out there in the world, but things that were happening to me, I confessed to the Lord that I felt like I was a cork bobbing around in the sea of uncertainty, but then as He drew near, I suddenly realized that the truth was that I was bobbing about in His love and, as a friend put it, changing the analogy, he was there in the boat with me. Awesome! So can you pray that, thanking Him that if life seems uncertain, the truth is that you’re in His love and even more, in the storms of life, he’s there in the boat with you? Can you declare that in prayer and praise him in the midst of it all? May it be so. Let’s think some more about these things in the weeks running up to Easter.

50. More on Faith

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

50. More on Faith

Lk 16:10  One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much

Lk 17:5,6  The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Lk 18:8  when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Continuing on: This subject is too big to just leave there; it is at the heart of all that the church is. As I was thinking about this, I ran across this quote from the writings of Pastor-Teacher Jeff Lucas speaking about discipleship: “The gospel call is not to ask Jesus into our hearts – His coming to where we are, but rather that we become His followers and friends, who go with Him where He is going. And it’s not just that we travel through the scenery of changing circumstances, but into the personal metamorphosis that He brings. We’re called to be a people on the move, forward into change, onward into being changed.” I like that, that is faith!

An Imaginary Conversation: Some time back in an earlier series, I sought to imagine the conversation between Jesus and Levi (Mk 2:14) when Jesus called him. This is what I imagined:

“Hullo, I’m Jesus.”

“Yes, I know I’ve heard all about you.”

“OK, well I’m looking for a band of men to train up to take over my work when I’m gone so I want you to come with me.”

“But I’ve got a job.”

“This will be a better one. Come with me.”

“Where are you going?”

“You’ll find out as you follow me.”

“What are we going to do?

“You’ll find out as you follow me.”

“When will I be fit enough to take over your job?”

“You’ll find out when you follow me.”

A Life of Faith: Do you see the point? It is when we have once started following Jesus that he will then show us the way. As the apostle Paul said, “we live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7) Yes, it may start with having a basic belief that God exists as we saw yesterday in Heb 11 but it also means that we take the Bible and we make that our anchor point and follow all the teaching we find there. But it doesn’t end there because, as we’ve reminded ourselves a number of times, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and we are led by Him, the Spirit of Jesus with us, on a daily basis. Sometimes the path will appear obvious but not always and it is those other times that will drive us to seek Him for wisdom and understanding. Sometimes we will get by with what we feel is ‘our’ natural strength, but sometimes we will need grace, His supernatural power to cope.

That seeking Him and receiving, that is an act of faith. It started the day we first turned to Christ and were saved. It continues right the way through this present life until it takes is through to the life beyond. As Paul said in his famous ‘love chapter’, For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face,” (1 Cor 13:12)  although I prefer the picture in the old KJV, For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face.” Living this side of eternity is like looking through a smoky glass, it is often unclear, and that means we have to trust, we have to step out by faith, believing what we have heard even if we cannot ‘see’ it clearly.

Growing Faith: As I have already commented, it is possible to have different levels of faith. Faith is a gift: “think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Rom 12:3) That is the starting place but does that mean that that is all we can expect in life? Paul said to the Thessalonians, your faith is growing abundantly,” (2 Thess 1:3) and to the Corinthians he said, “But our hope is that as your faith increases….” (2 Cor 10:15). There are hints of this all over the place in the New Testament, for example, grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” (2 Pet 3:18) could be taken to mean, let that source of faith, your knowledge of Christ, grow in you more and more which will result in your faith level growing.

Surely this was what Jesus meant when he was explaining to his disciples how parables worked and said, “to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance.” (Mt 13:12) The same thing was said at the conclusion of the Parable of the Talents (Mt 25:14-30): “to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance.” (v.29) That almost identical wording is linked there to the story that required followers of Jesus to use what they have been given. His expectation is that we will grow in our hearing and our responding – our faith!

How does it work? The thing is there is no set pattern because if there was we could rely on the pattern rather than on the Lord himself. But I have watched and observed various things. For example the person who steps out and shares their faith with a non-believing friend or family member, is more like to do it again and again than the person who never does. You need to step out of the boat and do it once and then it becomes easier and then natural. Or there is the person who wants to learn to hold their money lightly. Whether they decide to use the tithe as a means of stepping out, or whether they simply respond a first time to a perceived need, it’s a start and once they do it and are blessed, it becomes a path to be followed, that gets more exciting as you go along it.

Or suppose there is a person who catches Jesus’ heart to heal people. They often start by praying for something minor, may be theirs or an ailment of a loved one, and to their joy, the Lord answers and heals. They are now more confident and when He does it again they are then on the lookout for people to pray for! I’ve noticed it also with the prophetic gift; someone ‘hears’ the Lord and tentatively shares it with another person who is blessed by it. They start listening more attentively, even making time to wait on the Lord. They start hearing more clearly for themselves, and they become more confident. They start praying for others and start hearing words for them, simple to start with, more complex later. These are all just ways that faith grows when we give it the chance. The truth is that God wants our faith to grow, because it blesses Him, it will bless us, and it will certainly bless others.

A Heart-of-God People: When the Lord spoke through Samuel of His choice for a king, he said, “The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart.” (1 Sam 13:14) This matter of growing faith is not to be a legalistic thing, but a heart thing and that means it starts with the way we view God. Many of us have grown up either in family situations or church situations that have left us suspicious of God.  To use an analogy I’ve used recently, we tend to be like the tropical fish in a tank who most of the time shy away when a human comes close – except when it is clear they are going to feed them. Many of us think God will chide us, tell us off, do us harm, and we shy away – except when we want something. I don’t know if you have a garden or back yard with birds. If you have, you’ll know the same is true of them – they fly away as you approach, they are suspicious of you, they can’t believe you won’t do them harm.

The starting place for faith is trusting in a loving heavenly Father. In that parable of the talents we referred to earlier, the one who held on to his one talent and did nothing with it, did it because, “I knew you to be a hard man.” (Mt 25:24) If that is how you view God you will constantly have trouble with faith. Start believing that, “God is love,” (1 Jn 4:8,16) and that He is for you (Rom 8:31), start believing that He wants good for you more than you want it for yourself, and you’ll be on the path to blessing, growing and of increasing faith. When we have a church full of people who believe this – world watch out!