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!

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19. A Sign

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.19

19. A Sign for You?


Luke 2:12-14 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”

There is a desire in most of us that says, “Show me, give me a sign.” We feel sufficiently insecure that we desire to be able to see, to have our way ahead lit by a sign that says, this way, it’s all right. The strange thing though, when we come to the Bible, is that God isn’t very good with signs. The shepherds were offered a sign: a baby in a manger – but that meant they had to go down to the town first to find the sign: act then get the sign.

We come to God asking for clarity, light on the path ahead, and He tells us that we are to live by faith not by sight (2 Cor 5:7). Faith in the Bible is responding to what God says, so our light is His word and that becomes a lamp to our feet (Psa 119:105), that’s why we need to read it more and more. We’re also called to be led by His Spirit (Gal 5:16,25) which again is something that happens within us, not through our eyes.

When Moses was talking with God at the burning bush, the Lord gave him a sign to prove He was with him – the promise that when he had led Israel out of Egypt, they would worship at this mountain (Sinai). In others words, when you’ve done it you’ll know it was me with you! When God speaks words of prophecy it is so often like that: He says it, you look for it, but don’t find it, He then does it and you look back and realize that it was Him. So often, it seems, God’s ‘signs’ require us to move first.

John in his Gospel speaks of the miracles that Jesus did as ‘signs’ (Jn 2:11, 4:54 etc.), but of course they were only recognized as such by those whose hearts were open and seeking. Others simply criticized and asked for more ‘signs’ (e.g. Jn 2:18). It seems again and again the Lord wants us to respond to what He says and then, and only then, it becomes clear. It’s when we step forward trusting, that a voice comes from behind us saying, “This is the way walk in it” (Isa 30:21). So if you’re looking for a sign from God, in His graciousness He may just give you one (e.g. to Gideon – Judges 6:36-40), but more often than not, He waits for you to act in faith before the sign comes.

So the angel tells them about the baby who will be God’s Chosen One, the Christ or Messiah (v.11). The fact that he’s there, as I said, will be sufficient for you to believe what I’ve said is true, is what the angel is saying. When you look, you will find – but you need to look first. That’s how it works with God – then and now!

Then it’s as if heaven couldn’t contain itself for suddenly there is a great company – very many – angels, all singing of God’s greatness. The Christmas story is littered with angelic appearances. It’s as if heaven is coming to earth to accompany the coming of the Son. Of course it wasn’t until much later that Jesus himself spoke about how he had always existed and had come down to earth from heaven (Jn 6:33,38,41,51,58). The glory that had been in heaven, now somehow compressed, was now on the earth (Phil 2:6-8). The presence of the singing angels is not the incredible thing; it’s the presence of the very Son of God who is the incredible thing, God on earth. This presence on earth of the Son was evidence of the wonder (glory) of God’s plans for mankind, peace that will be brought between God and man, through this Son. The angels are singing of the wonder that is possible for you and me – peace with God!

Unusual Provision

WALKING WITH GOD. No.37

1 Kings 17:6 The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.

The subject of the provision of God is both varied and exciting, and it takes us away from the gloom of the kings as we look in these next four days at the walk with God as it comes to us through incidents in Elijah’s life. Elijah was a prophet who had dealings with the very ungodly and unrighteous king, Ahab (1 Kings 17:1). He has just pronounced a three year drought for Israel and the Lord has told him to leave the area and go to a place east of the Jordan. This was not a day of social security and so the question of food or drink was a very real one, especially when you are in desert areas.

Now the first thing to note is that Elijah had clearly had a word from the Lord about the drought, and he had now clearly had a word from the Lord about where he should go. He is clearly, therefore, serving the Lord and being obedient to the Lord. He is in a good place with the Lord and so, even though the geographical location and climate are inhospitable, he can still trust the Lord to look after him. In this he is quite different from a number of other Biblical examples who ‘ran for the hills’ of a foreign country when a famine came, instead of seeking the Lord (e.g. Abram – Gen 12:10, Isaac – Gen 26:1, and Elimelech – Ruth 1:1,2).

The fact that he goes to this ravine, miles from anywhere in a time of famine, would appear humanly at least to be simply foolish. It will be the last place to get food, but it is the place where the Lord has said to go and therefore he trusts the Lord to provide for him there, especially as he has been told by the Lord that He will provide for him in that place. In our walk with the Lord we are called to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7) and so there will be times when the word of the Lord will come to us to lead us into circumstances that leave us wondering about how we will cope. Don’t worry, He will.

The second thing to consider is the way of God’s provision. There have been some who have suggested that ‘ravens’ is a nickname for a certain group of nomadic Arabs, but whether it is that or literally the birds of that name, it is still a strange and most unusual form of provision that you could not have planned or guaranteed beforehand. In that these scavenging birds dropped him food morning and evening on a regular basis, sufficient to keep him alive, is a small miracle. However we normally tend to use the word ‘miracle’ to apply to something that is completely contrary to nature. Ravens doing this is fairly common to them and so we would prefer here to refer to this as a remarkably unusual provision of food for Elijah, rather than a miracle that we will see tomorrow. Why are we making this distinction? Because God does use natural but unusual means of providing for His people. Let’s consider this question of provision more widely.

Why should we need God’s provision? Well usually it is when all other provision has run out. There is a sense that ALL our food and drink is God’s provision, but having accepted that normal daily life provision is part of God’s design, there are times when that provision seems lacking, for example when there is a famine. Now a famine, in Israel’s case (and possibly in a wider world sense), is an indication of the blessing of God being withheld because of the sin of the nation (see Deut 28:15-19), but although the nation will be suffering this story tells us that God can still provide for His faithful people even in the midst of a famine.

So famines come and God will provide for His faithful people, but if you try and think how that provision will come, you won’t be able to do it, because the Lord does it through a means that you will probably have never thought of. It happens in a variety of ways. One of the famous stories of provision is the story of the Schaeffer family who established L’Abri in Switzerland . They trusted the Lord and again and again and again, He prompted people to send them money, sufficient to meet the needs of the hour. The Lord obviously doesn’t do this for everyone, simply those He has called into a position where they will need such provision. Many Christians through the years have been able testify that as they came to the end of their resources as they served the Lord, suddenly there was unusual provision, provision that came through a natural source, but a very unusual and completely unexpected source. Miracles? Yes, in as far as they are things prompted by God so that where there were no resources there are now resources, but these are ways of provision that come through natural means.

This is a story and a concept that appears to be only for certain special people, but in our walk with God, I wonder if, in respect of our money, we have an attitude that means we are open to the Lord leading us to give money away to bless others? Are we open to be the ‘unusual resource’ that the Lord will use to provide for another person? This is as much a faith action as being on the end as the receiver of the unusual gift. Some of us might then worry, but I haven’t much money so what would happen if the Lord asked me to give to another? You suddenly move from the role of giver to receiver, you become an Elijah where you trust that if the Lord has prompted you to give, He will provide for you afterwards. Fun isn’t it, this life of faith!