Testing Our Faith

“Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?”

Matthew 8:26

Fear and anxiety are in direct opposition to faith in Jesus Christ. Oswald Chambers writes, “There are stages in life when there is no storm, no crisis, when we do our human best; it is when a crisis arises that we instantly reveal upon whom we rely.” When all is well we may think our faith is strong but then the Lord allows a test to come. Usually it will be unexpected and sudden. That is when we discover in what or whom we trust. Fear or anxiety may lead to panic and worry. Faith and trust in Jesus will keep us at peace through the test or trial even though it may mean a measure of suffering.

Jesus and His disciples had boarded a boat to travel across the sea. Having followed Jesus on to the boat the disciples would have felt safe and confident of reaching their destination. “And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves. But He was asleep” (v 24). The disciples had followed Jesus into the boat; He was with them in the boat but asleep and they panicked thinking they were going to die (v 25). This sudden and unexpected life-threatening experience tested their faith in Jesus and found it lacking. However, they still had a measure of faith on which they acted by going to Him.

When we are in a situation that has the potential to provoke panic through fear or anxiety we must immediately turn to Jesus. He is the only One who can truly deliver us. When He does, as He did the disciples, our faith will be rewarded by a stronger faith and peace in our heart. Notice that the whole experience caused the disciples to ponder more deeply who Jesus is. That is what such experiences are meant to do. It would be very sad if they turned us away from Jesus. During our lives there will frequently be times when our faith is tested. Sometimes it may seem that Jesus is asleep or not caring but nothing could be further from the truth. Had Jesus been awake the disciples may not have panicked but only been fearful. That Jesus may seem asleep or uncaring is itself a test of whether we believe what He has said. “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 11:6). “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). When the test comes reach out to Jesus who alone can save and keep us. He rewards faith with more faith (Hebrews 11:6).

Given Over

“So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, to walk in their own counsels.”

Psalm 81:12

What could possibly provoke the Shepherd of Israel to say such a thing to the people He loves? The answer is in the earlier verses of the Psalm. Psalm 78 gives much more detail. The Lord had spoken to Israel through Moses and the prophets. They had His word but they would not hear or heed. Instead they preferred their own counsel.

Israel’s determination to do what was right in their own eyes led the Lord to cry out. “O Israel, if you will listen to Me!” (v 8). In the next verse we read that Israel had forsaken the first commandment which implies they had forsaken all Ten. Whenever we place our wisdom ahead of God’s word it reveals that we think ourselves wiser than our Creator. What an absurdity!

Sadly, we all too often hear that some in the professing church are doing the same as Israel. They take the counsel of men that is contrary to the Bible and, in so doing, they are claiming to be wiser and a greater authority than their Creator (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16, 17). The Bible is to be the measure of our lives. It is the height of arrogance for any created being to think that he knows better than his Creator. If people persist on this course Paul writes, “As they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God give them over to a debased mind” (Romans 1:28).

What would have been if Israel had listened to and heeded the word of the Lord? “He would have fed them with the finest of wheat; and with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you” (v 16). Instead of receiving all the good things the Lord desired to give, their stubbornness to hear and heed the Lord meant that He gave them over to their own counsel and they reaped accordingly.

Christians are in a similar situation. The world is trying to coerce us into its mould and we must decide: will we hear and heed God’s word or will we arrogantly think we know better and accept the world’s counsel? Consider what would have been for Israel had they obeyed the Lord and what they suffered because of their arrogance. The church is also suffering because so many have replaced God’s word with their own wisdom and rejected the wisdom and authority of the Lord. “Oh, that My people would listen to Me” (v 13).

Approved Approach

“I did not even think myself worthy to come to You” Luke 7:7

These are the words of a Roman centurion, a Gentile. It is not the kind of words one would expect from a man who is used to throwing his authority around and expecting people to look up to him with a measure of fear. Something had happened to this man that changed his attitude and behaviour toward others, especially toward Jews.

When he heard that Jesus, a Jew, was approaching his town he sent Jewish synagogue leaders to Jesus pleading for Him to heal his servant. It would appear that they did not represent him faithfully. On his behalf they presented him as one worthy who merited Jesus’ power to heal. Their appeal, typical of Israel at the time and most Gentiles then and now, was on the basis of good works and merit.

As Jesus came even nearer to his town, without response, the centurion sent friends who were faithful to the centurion’s words. They repeated his words, “I am not worthy … I did not even think myself worthy to come to You.” He knew that Jesus came in the authority of God (v 8) and he knew that while God is holy he was a sinner and unworthy of His presence.

The people following Jesus in Capernaum at the time were most likely all Jews and He took the opportunity to point out the contrasting means of approach to Him by saying, “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel” (v 9). The leaders of the synagogue had sought Jesus’ favour on merit but the centurion sought Jesus’ favour on mercy and grace. We can readily see to which Jesus responded and approved.

Historically this is how Israel has generally approached favour with God but they are not alone in this. Most religions of the world, even some claiming to be Christian, come to Jesus like the synagogue leaders, on the basis of merit or partial merit. Therefore, thinking they deserve God’s favour, they praise themselves and not God and they are unthankful toward God. After all, they did not receive a gift, in their eyes they received a payment for works done.

Of the ten cleansed lepers recorded in Luke 17:11-19 only one returned to give thanks to Jesus for healing him. The other nine thought they deserved His favour and that their healing was merited. They saw no reason to thank Jesus. Only one knew that he was unworthy and was therefore thankful.

If we do not continually have thankful hearts to the Lord it is because in some way we think we deserve His favour. At those times we are like the synagogue leaders who presented the centurion’s case to Jesus and the nine unthankful cleansed lepers. Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:32). This centurion was not worthy to come into Christ’s presence and he knew it but he is just the kind of person who Jesus is calling to Himself.

Everlasting Joy

“When a wicked man dies, his expectation will perish and the hope of the unjust perishes” Proverbs 11:7

Jesus said that He came to save that which was lost (John 3:17; Luke 19:10) and He has sent all who have been saved to continue His mission. While we are often inclined to only speak of the blessings that come to those who respond positively to the Gospel of Christ it is also necessary to speak of the tragedy that awaits those who reject Jesus. Jesus frequently does this. The watchman must give a clear warning of the danger in order to rally a response.

Quite likely we have all experienced times when we have put a lot of time and effort into achieving a certain goal only to have it unravel and remain unrealised. That is a disappointing and deflating moment as we consider the wasted time, energy and effort. Multiply that thousands of times over and we will begin to understand the depths of anguish and futility that the one who has his expectation bound in this life will realise immediately after bodily death. There will be the realisation that his ambitions and everything he laboured for all have come to nothing, are of no value and his life wasted in futility. There will also be the gut wrenching moment of realisation that there is no second chance.

The Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus has provided a sure expectation that will not end in futility. The reason for Jesus coming was so that we might be saved from sin and its consequences. He is the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world on Calvary’s cross. Jesus said that He came that we might have abundant life (John 10:10).

He also said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). An attempted burglary next door, as this article is being composed, put these words into perspective.

Let us not treasure earthly temporal things but rather treasure those things that are eternal. Later in Proverbs eleven we read, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise” (v 30). Christ’s mission is our mission, to seek those who are lost that He might save them. This will be eternal treasure from which there will be only everlasting joy.

Exercise Faith Daily

“If you have faith as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you” (Matthew 17:20).

We can never say that we do not have enough faith. Everyone expresses faith a thousand times each day. When we sit in a chair we express faith in the chair; when we eat food or have a drink we have faith that it will satiate a need without poisoning us. We turn on a tap having faith it will produce water and we flip a light switch in faith that it will bring light. In these and thousands of other daily activities we act in faith. In every case whether we get what we expect or not does not depend on the amount of faith. It is found in whether we are willing to act on what we know to be true.

No matter the need, even the smallest amount of faith is sufficient – because it is entirely the reliability of the object of faith that matters. Is the object of our faith trustworthy? The object of faith for the Christian is always Jesus Christ. It is He who does the impossible, not our faith. Our part is not in having much faith, but being willing to step out in faith trusting Him to act in accordance with His word. Vance Havner writes, “There is no real faith until it gets into the will and we undertake the very thing we know we cannot do, but undertake it in the name of and at the command of another.”

Faith will grow as it is exercised. Years of turning on a tap has given us great faith that we will get water when we turn it on. As we live and abide with Jesus exercising our faith in Him daily it will grow to the extent that we exercise it. However, we must never forget that even the smallest amount of faith placed in a reliable and trustworthy object will be rewarded equally as will the greatest amount of faith.

While the amount of faith does not affect the outcome it can affect our enjoyment of the journey. A person with little faith in a plane will have an anxious flight but a person with great faith will have a much more enjoyable flight. Both will arrive at the same destination and at the same time.

The reward for acting in faith is greater faith and hence a more enjoyable experience in the future. This is true in all aspects of life and especially in our walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that the one who comes to God, even out of little faith, will be rewarded with greater faith, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Without some faith that God exists a person will not come to God but when they do they will discover that their faith is placed in One worthy of it. The consequence of that will be stronger faith.

You wish you had greater faith in God? Then exercise that which you have.

Faith is its Own Reward

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; whatever a man sows, that he shall also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption,  but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life” Galatians 6:7-8

Whenever we see a statement like the commencement of these verses it is for our good that we take notice. That Paul would write such a line shows that he knew Christians who were being deceived and who were attempting to mock God even if unwittingly.

The principle of sowing and reaping was also used by Jesus in teaching His disciples. It isn’t uncommon for a person to say that they haven’t enough faith or that they desire more faith. We can even read it in the Gospels. In Romans Paul writes that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17) but if just hearing audibly or reading visually was all there was to it many more Christians would have greater faith. “Hearing” has more to it than that.

“Hearing” means also believing to the point of obedience or conforming in thought and activity. A sower may fill his pouch with seed but if he does nothing with it he will not increase his seed. The same is true of faith. If we don’t follow through it will remain just as it is, seed without increase. This is one reason that James wrote, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). If we want our faith to increase we must sow that which we already have. In other words, if we don’t act on what we already know then we will know no more. If we do not act upon something we know it shows that we don’t really believe it to be true.

The new Christian is able to exercise the same faith as a mature Christian even if that mature Christian is a theologian who has studied the Bible for decades. The problem we have in regard to faith is not in how much we know but in believing and acting upon what we already know. This is just like the farmer who takes his seed and sows it in the ground. It is the act of sowing that is evidence of faith, not the quantity or quality of the harvest.

In the parable of the Sower Jesus tells us that not all seed will reproduce and bear a harvest but that is in no way a reflection on the faith of the sower.

As we exercise faith in Jesus Christ and His word we will discover that He is faithful to who He is and what He has said. If we think that sowing faith will reap health, wealth and prosperity then we have missed the principle that kind begets kind and we reap what we sow.

The reward for acting in faith in Jesus Christ and His word is more faith. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). The reward for acting in faith in Jesus Christ is more faith in Jesus Christ.

The Diligent Seeker

“Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for He who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

A frequent response from people when spoken to about God is to say they cannot believe in God whom they have not seen. God does not reveal Himself to people who do not want to see Him. The miracle is that He manages to get anyone to want to see Him. Usually that is through a difficult or painful experience but can be the outcome of observing the beauty and wisdom of His creation.

The verse quoted above tells us that believing that God exists is the starting point and “diligently seeking” is our response and means through which He will reward seekers by revealing Himself to them. Complementary to the verse above is Proverbs 9:10 which reads, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is wisdom.”

“Fear of the Lord” means to stand in awe of Him. The wisdom and beauty of God is all around us if we wish to see it. The more we gaze at God’s creation the more we will stand in awe of Him. The more we gaze at the Lord Jesus Christ and His great salvation the more we will stand in awe of Him.

Humility and being teachable are like conjoined twins. We cannot have one without the other. However, being teachable and being willing to learn may not always be the same. A person may be willing to learn for personal gain yet be unteachable in regard to anything that he believes may hinder that objective. Personal gain is that which we believe will give us power, praise or wealth. In contrast, a person who is teachable wants to know the truth for its own sake because truth is in itself great gain. Humility will always accompany being teachable because it will often require the discarding of error that had previously been received as truth. Pride will resist such correction.

God will reward the one who is humble and teachable who then diligently seeks Him. Notice that the reward comes from seeking God for Himself not with a view to getting things from Him. The mercenary seeker will receive no knowledge of God. It is God’s gracious act to open our eyes as we seek Him and in the process He gives us understanding of Himself and reveals Himself to us. He will continue to reveal Himself more as we continue to diligently seek Him.

Wisdom is the correct application of that which has been revealed to us of God. Fortunately for us we can learn from the many right and wrong decisions and choices of others that are recorded in the Bible. We don’t have to make all the mistakes ourselves. Hebrews 11 is recorded for us so remind us that we can learn from them.

God does not force Himself on anyone but He will reveal Himself to the one who in humility, with a teachable heart continually diligently seeks Him. He will reward them with Himself in whom understanding and wisdom have their root. God Himself is the reward for those who seek Him and we who are treading this path are living witnesses who gladly testify that God is faithful to His word.

The Lord Tests our Heart

“God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart” 2 Chronicles 32:31

King Hezekiah went further than any of the other kings of Judah in turning the people back to worshipping the Lord. “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord” and “he removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it. … He trusted the Lord … he held fast to the Lord” (2 Kings 18:3-6). Hezekiah did all he could to rid Judah of idolatry and return the people to worshipping the Lord. For this reason the Lord was pleased to bless him and preserve Judah for His own name’s sake (19:34).

There came a day when Hezekiah was so sick that he sought a word from the Lord through the prophet Isaiah as to whether he would recover or not. He was told that he would not recover. The Lord put this test to him to reveal what was really in his heart. He didn’t know that it was a test or that it was from the Lord.

We should note that this test came after a life that testified of his love and dedication to the Lord. There was still a matter of the heart that the Lord wished to address before Hezekiah came into His presence. Hezekiah asked for more time on earth before he came into the Lord’s presence. His motive is revealed in subsequent events.

After he recovered from the illness he began to boast in the prosperous life the Lord had given him. As an expression of that he displayed all the wealth he had acquired during his reign. In so doing he accepted personal praise for the nation’s peace and prosperity. He was in fact stealing glory that belonged to the Lord.

The test the Lord brought to Hezekiah in the latter part of his life revealed that pride was still alive and well in his heart. His act of pride and boasting was the final straw that led to Judah’s exile. The Lord did delay the exile because Hezekiah gave evidence of repentance when he believed the word of the Lord (2 Kings 20:18, 19).

Just because we have been walking with the Lord many years is no reason to suspect that we will not face more tests to see where our heart really lies. In reality, it is our latter years that our motive for serving the Lord in the earlier years is revealed. That which we have sown we shall reap up to one hundredfold. We may conceal bitterness, anger, envy, jealousy, pride and a host of other secret sins but if they are not dealt with in confession and repentance in our earlier years they will manifest their fruit in our later years. Likewise, genuine faith, trust, humility and submission to the will of God will also bear its fruit.

If we think we can step back from serving the Lord in our latter years it is because we think Jesus owes us something for our years of service. This may reveal that we have a big heap of wood, hay and straw for His fire and not so much gold, silver and precious stones. It may also reveal that we have been serving Him for our benefit and not out of love and gratitude. Let us put it right through confession while we can and before we reap a harvest we do not want.