Guest speaker Jess Koelle discusses the topic of faith and how it is like a muscle: it has to be exercised. We should not merely rely on our own experiences to get our faith; we should be seeking God and relying on God’s worthiness for the basis of our faith.
Faith: Being Convinced of His Character
Today I want us to spend time thinking about what faith really is. The word “faith” alone paints a large picture, but I want to get down to what Jesus framed as faith (or a lack of faith) and springboard into talking about how we can have the type of faith that Jesus applauded.
There is a parable of two brothers that Jesus told his disciples (Matthew 10): A father asks his two sons to go out and get some work done. The first says “okay” but never goes. The second says “no” but then changes his mind and eventually goes. And Jesus asks “Which brother did what the Father asked?” The second brother changed his mind, and changed his position; this shows us that it’s never too late to do what God says is good. So it is with increasing our faith. Today I came in with a certain level of faith and so did you. You probably have more than I do! But we can all walk out with a decision made to pursue greater faith, and God will certainly empower and bless that.
Today we’ll begin with a very well-known passage of scripture, but when it comes to defining faith, it can get us started by delivering some little truth nuggets.
From the dialogue, we see that the disciples apparently lacked faith. I didn’t think that really was possible… if you think about it, the disciples traded everything in their lives to follow Jesus. They perceived him to be worthy of following. These were guys who paid the price of following Him, too, spent all their time with Him, comprised His inner circle, were the first ones to hear His parables and see His miracles, and were the ones who got the privilege of having Jesus translate His parables and miracles when they didn’t get it (which was often). So it’s easy to take those characteristics and extrapolate them into our lives and call it “faith”. Christianity is often referred to as “The Christian Faith”.
We see that the position they’re in doesn’t necessarily equate with faith, but since when is saying “Jesus SAVE US!” not faith?
The disciples expected that Jesus wouldn’t care about livelihood. That seems a little harsh to say, but really, they felt like they had to take it upon themselves to stir Jesus into caring, as if He didn’t care on his own. But why?
They weren’t convinced that He was God. So there’s this awkward moment when they know Jesus can do something about the situation and they demand that He do so because they’ve seen Him to stuff about other situations, but they aren’t convinced that HE IS GOD, all-powerful, all-seeing, faithful God. (How often do we accuse Jesus of sleeping on the job?)
So based on this reading, it seems that faith then might be linked to our expectations of God…based on his character. The disciples in that boat didn’t fully acknowledge in that moment that Jesus was God. Just calling him “Lord” wasn’t necessarily enough to warrant a sincere confession of that fact. So their expectations of Him were so low they were insulting.
Let’s contrast this story with another one in Matthew.
Matthew 15: 21-28:
The first thing we notice: The Canaanite woman acknowledged who Jesus was immediately. She’s not Jewish! But she knew who He was and believed it and declared it. This is critical! Interestingly though, this wasn’t the point when Jesus commended her for her great faith.
What made Jesus exemplify her as one with “great faith” then? She’s one who was excluded socially… as a Canaanite, as a woman. She didn’t get the VIP seat next to Jesus for the parables or the miracles. She didn’t give up anything in her life-as far as we could tell- to follow Jesus or to “go into the ministry”. She certainly didn’t go to Temple. But she trusted, with reckless abandon, in WHO Jesus was, so much more than WHAT He could do. How can we tell?
First He ignored her. Then he talked with his disciples about her while she was still standing there calling out to Him. And then when she plopped herself in front of Him, he said no and gave a compelling reason!
If she had been someone trusting only in what He could do, don’t you think she would have given up by now? She didn’t though, because her asking rested entirely in knowing WHO He was. At some point our asking turns from asking on account of what He can do, to asking on account of who He is.
And that becomes our reframed definition of faith: Complete trust and confidence in God’s Character. The disciples in the boat didn’t have that, but the Canaanite woman did.
Let’s return to some questions we asked earlier about the disciples in the boat. We asked: What was taught to them before that point that they should have mastered by then?
Let’s be real: the disciples never knew what Jesus was going to do next. He was doing a new thing every day. Yes, he healed often, but he healed many different things. He healed people who touched his clothes. He healed people from a distance. He healed blindness in multiple ways, not just one. There was no formula to what he would do. So Jesus rebuking them for a lack of faith wasn’t connected to a lesson they should have mastered.
So the answer to the question, “What was taught to them before that point?” is simply: who Jesus was. Jesus called them out for a lack of faith because their fear in that moment showed that they were not convinced of who He was, they lacked trust, and they lacked confidence. They had seen a lot of Jesus’ miracles, a lot of people confessing that He was the Messiah. But they weren’t fully convinced.
This means that our beliefs, our expectations and our faith should never be based on what we’ve seen, or even what we’ve read. He is not so limited to only perform the miracles written in the Bible, because the miracles he performed far outweighed what could even be written down. John acknowledges that it was too much to write and much was left out (John 21:25). So we don’t have an exhaustive list to walk through life with, and that means that we shouldn’t look for one.
Our expectations, instead, need to be founded in Who He Is. The ones he applauded in the Bible for having “great faith” were ones secure in knowing who He was.
The Bible says that God is able to do far more than we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21) and it says that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). If we can marry these verses: Faith is the trust and confidence in God, who -out of His character- does things far beyond what we can see in the physical and in our imaginations. We have faith when we trust in Who He is, and have confidence as we move about our lives.
Hebrews 11:6 says “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”
There are two major ways to apply this to our lives.
Our personal relationship with Him and our walk with Him: Do you believe that God exists and lives in you if you’re a believer, and do you believe that He wants to speak to you about those internal things? Do you have faith in your prayer life, knowing that He invented prayer? And when you spend quiet time with Him, that He exists there too? Do you have faith that God exists in your gifts and talents? And do you seek Him in those internal ways?
Our closest-proximity relationships: Do you have faith that God has linked you up strategically with family members, close friends, and even those you work with or serve? Do you have faith that God exists in those relationships, and that He’s alive and active there? Do you easily have faith in God’s character as it pertains to those relationships? That He is redeemer, and comforter, that He is Healer? That He alone is Savior?
Our mid-large organizations: Do you believe that God exists in your workplace too? Do you know Him as defender there? Lord and Savior? And then there’s our church! We’re going through transition right now; do you know God as Good through all the changes that might take place? Do you know God as the One who started this church and the one who will continue it? I’m sure we all have expectations. What’s true is that God can do better than our best here.
Our nation, and our world: Do we have faith for God’s character in this world? We see a lot of bad every day. We hear expectations of more bad, too. Do we believe God’s character is Alpha and Omega, beginning and the end, one who will call all who are willing to come to Himself? Do we believe God’s character is God of the miraculous, whether or not we think people -or nations- deserve it?
Lastly, we need to question what we believe about Him when our circumstances don’t line up with what His character says about Him.
The entirety of Hebrews 11 is “the hall of faith”. A bunch of people who -knowing WHO GOD WAS- sincerely sought Him with their needs and the promises they received from Him. Some received what they asked for in their lifetime, some didn’t. But that’s not the point of “faith” in God at all. Because if you knew you’d receive something for certain, you’d have no use for faith at all; there’s no need for our trust and confidence to overcome certainty. Yet God commended their faith because it was an unwavering faith in Him.
What we do know is that there had to have been plenty of people in Jesus’ time and proximity that had needs, but never approached Him in faith in one way or another. I suppose the only faith formula we know is 0=0… no faith in God=no encounter with God for example.
Last week, Pastor Brad shared the story of the persistent widow from Luke 18. She was begging and begging for justice, and Jesus used the story to illustrate that God does answer prayer! But the challenge Jesus issued in the end was, “But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith [like the persistent widow]?” Today I’m issuing the same challenge. Let’s ask God to help us increase our faith.