Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Maturing Faith

{The below is a repost from something I wrote last year while doing battle with fear.  They are words I need to hear right now and I hope they are encouraging to you as well!}

Is God Really Enough? (Maturing Faith Part 1)
I've had a question on my mind the past few days.  I am going to ask you that question, as well.  I thought I would take this week and see if we can find the answers.  Join me for a few days as we delve into what maturing faith looks like.  Here is the question:

No matter what comes your way regarding heartache and circumstances, do you think it is simply enough to have God by your side?

That is the question I have been tossing around.  At some moments, I scream that there is no way that His mere presence is all I need.  In times of doubt, I look at my fledgling faith and can give you a list a hundred miles long of things that I would love to add to His abiding presence.

Today, we are going to take a peek into Matthew 8:23-27.  Put on your boat shoes and find your fishing tackle, cause we are taking a little ride today.

"And when he (Jesus) got into the boat, his disciples followed him.  And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep.  And they went and woke him, saying, 'Save us Lord; we are perishing.' And he said to them, 'Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?' Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.  And the men marveled, saying, 'What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?'"
Let's pick this little passage apart Lulu style, shall we?  Can I first say, that I feel like the disciples here?  In my current season of life, I feel like my faith is small.

The first thing I want to say to myself and perhaps to you is this:  The disciples had faith.  They would have never entered the boat to follow Jesus if they didn't have any faith.

The second thing is that as believers, we are going to be constantly bombarded with the storms of life.  The storms look differently, but they all reach inside of us and produce fear and terror. 

The third thing is that Jesus was asleep.  I can't tell you how many times in my walk that Jesus has been silent.  It isn't that I doubt his presence or think that he has abandoned me, but he is quite often content with least until it is the right time to speak.

The fourth thing is that Jesus asks them why they are afraid. This always blows my mind a little.  I mean, the Greek word for great storm is "seismos," which means "violent shaking or earthquake."  It is possible that this storm was greater than we ever pictured on the flannel-grams of our childhood days.  Well, of course they are afraid!  And yet, Jesus still asks them this question.  (His questions always get to the root of our fledgling faith.)

The fifth thing is that Jesus tells them they have "little faith."  He doesn't say they are faithless, but instead uses the Greek word "oligopistos" which means ineffective, deficient, or incredulous faith.  In other words, the disciples' faith lacked confidence.  Some might say that this means they had zero faith, but I beg to disagree, because, after all, they were willing to follow him into the boat in the first place and they also chose to wake him up as if he were their only hope.  There is a measure of relationship already established at this point, but God is getting ready to take them to higher faith (via a storm.)

The sixth thing is that Jesus calms the storm. I think that those with "little faith" sometimes need the storm to simply go away.  In this miraculous act, the disciples see their Jesus in a fresh way.  They marvelled at him.  God allowed them to see His son in a fresh way that brought about increasing faith and wonder.

Personally, I think that those with a more mature faith might not get to experience a calming of the storm itself.  Instead, they will experience a calming of their inner souls.  Because they know the secret:  It is simply enough to have Jesus in the boat with them.

God is always testing our faith because he wants us to know his tender heart towards us.

Pretend you are in the boat with Jesus himself.  The biggest waves are threatening to carry you off into the mysterious and cold unknown.  You frantically wake him up, knowing He is your only hope.  He peers into your eyes with such love and doesn't seem to be in a rush at all.  He then asks you a single question:  "Why are you afraid?"

He wants us to know that it is simply enough for Him to be with matter what is threatening.

Tomorrow, we will start to look at Psalm 23 and how we can spiritually get to a place where we have no fear of bad news.
Psalm 23 (Maturing Faith Part 2)
Yesterday, we talked about Jesus being enough no matter what comes our way.  Today, I want to take a peek at Psalm 23.  We will lay the groundwork by breaking down some of the words into the original Hebrew.  This will help us absorb truth tomorrow when we talk about walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

The best way I know to do this is to write out the passage and then comment on certain words as they come up. 

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the "shadow of death" (tsalmaveth: very thick darkness, terror, calamity)
I will "fear" (yare:  fear or dread of what may go wrong) no evil:
for thou art with me
thy rod and thy staff, they "comfort" (nacham: console) me
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou "anointest" (dashen:  to be fat, rich, mighty)
my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely "goodness" (towb: what is excellent, delightful, beautiful, joyful, fruitful, cheerful, kind, correct, right, and happy)
and "mercy" (checed:  God's loyal love, loving kindness,covenant, the attitude of love which contains mercy)
shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever."
Chew on those words for a little bit.  Tomorrow, I will meet up with you again and we will talk about what made David (the author of this passage) a man after God's heart.
For Thou Art With Me (Maturing Faith Part 3)
Yesterday, we broke down some of the Hebrew of Psalm 23.  Today, we will focus on a couple of things.  Have you ever wondered why God refers to David as "a man after my own heart?"  Personally, I think it can all be wrapped up in one phrase:  "I will fear no evil for thou art with me."

Such confidence in the Almighty.  David literally had to run for his very life from King Saul, and yet he says that he refuses to bow down to fear because he knows who his God is!

From yesterday, we learned that walking through the valley of the shadow of death can mean walking through any thick darkness.  Spurgeon says it like this, "One of the chief reasons of the gloom is the fact that this terrible pass is shrouded in mystery.  You do not know what the sorrow cannot grasp the foe."

Haven't you ever found yourself there?  It isn't that anyone has died, but there is a shadow of death that lingers and creeps into your very soul.  It is all consuming and yet, with the darkness, you sometimes don't even know what to name it!  The whole mystery of the matter is enough to suck the life out of you.

That is why I love the translation of "I will fear no evil."  It means that we can either fear or have dread of what MAY go wrong.  I don't know about you, but I can find myself drowning in what may go wrong in my life.  It is exactly where Satan wants us, too!

Spurgeon says we "suffer more in the dread of something that in the endurance of the stroke." 

I think the key is the same one we found in the Matthew passage regarding the disciples and the boat.  The key is this:  I don't have to fear because God is with me.

The question begs to arise again:  No matter what life throws my way, do I think that His presence is simply enough?

David would say it is.  After all, he says he doesn't fear because God is with him.

It is what makes him a man after God's own heart.  He is confident in who God is and he is confident that he belongs to God and that God has good (beautiful, right, joyful, fruitful...) things in store for him.

Tomorrow, we will talk about our Shepherd's rod and staff and why those two things can bring us comfort. We will talk about how to be calm in the prospect of a possible upcoming battle.
Rod and Staff (Maturing Faith Part 4)
Wow!  What does a life look like when it is so secure and confident in God that it simply does not fear?  I think it is a process, after all, we are going from "little faith" to a more "mature faith."

It is a life of knowing Jesus is on our side.  Believing He is pledged to help us.  Secure that He represents us and intercedes for us.  Confident that He has us hemmed in and surrounds us with His angels.

Mature faith is simply trusting the character of God. A person with mature faith can be steady in his journey.  He doesn't cower in fear or run ahead of God.  He is content to walk quietly along the path God has put him on.  He believes deep down that it is the very path that will lead him to know God's tender heart even more deeply.

The other morning, I woke up with the words "rod and staff" on my mind.  I repeated the phrase over and over again as I lay in bed..."thy rod and thy staff comfort me."  As I got up, I wondered just why a rod and a staff are so comforting.  The below is straight from Charles Spurgeon.

1.  Rod:  used for numbering the sheep.  It is comforting to know I am numbered along with the redeemed.  He knows me by name.

2.  Rod:  used for rule.  It is comforting to know He reigns in sovereignty.  Nothing can come across my path that He has not allowed or ordained. "Happy is the man who perceives the hand of God in everything."

3.  Rod/staff: used for guidance.  The rod leads us...often in a way that we would not have chosen on our own.  But, we can be assured that it is the safe and right way.  If He is our Guide, He is responsible for the road ahead.

4.  Rod/staff:  used for protection.  The rod and staff are used against the beasts of the field.  The shepherd assures us that we will not be torn apart by the enemy.  He does protect His elect.

5.  Rod/staff:  used to urge us onward.  We might stay in the same place forever, refusing growth, but instead, He gives us a divine nudge toward new heights.

Each of us can find comfort in our Lord's rod and staff.  We can choose to rest in the fact that we know He will bring us to the other side.  The valley of the shadow won't last forever.
Steadfast and Mature (Maturing Faith Part 5)
Today I want to wrap up this series on maturing faith and say this:

In order for your faith to mature, you will experience testing and trials.

I know, I know!  Not what any of us want to hear!

I love what our pastor said last Sunday.  He said Satan comes to steal our faith, but God comes to steel it. 

Our small bible study group spent three weeks studying the life of Joseph.  Imagine our delight when our pastor started teaching it a few weeks ago.  We knew that he would only bring forth more truth, despite how hard we dug into the Word.

Jesus is always calling us to a clearer understanding of who He is.  I think the whole point is that one day, we can say..."Even though (fill in the blank)...I will not fear (fill in the blank)...because God is with me."

His goal is for His presence to be sweetly sufficient for all our days.

Joseph's life demonstrates this.  He was thrown in a pit by his brothers.  He was thrown into another pit (dungeon/jail) after being wrongfully accused of something.  Despite interpreting a dream correctly, he was forgotten and left in the pit even longer.

Sometimes, we find ourselves in a pit and it was no sin on our part that got us there.

Will we be faithful even in those times?  Are we confident in God's heart towards us enough to sustain us?

I absolutely love this quote by Joyce Baldwin.  I think she wraps up this week quite nicely.  Savor her words....I saved the best for last!

"It was as if he alone (Joseph) had been abandoned by God.  But experiences like this were often part of the training of those whom God was going to use in outstanding roles.  Abraham and Sarah had to wait until old age for the birth of Isaac; Moses was exiled for much of his life in an inhospitable desert; David lived under threat of death at the hand of Saul and was on the run for months, if not years.  Yet in every case the purpose of God was being worked out and in due course came to fruition.

Indeed it has been said that only those with faith in God experience his testing, which after all is self evident, for it is designed to put steel into faith so that it becomes steadfast and mature (Jas. 1:2-4) and can testify to the tender love of the Lord in designing the suffering.  This was to be outstandingly true of Joseph, who was fully aware of his brothers' hatred but who saw that God had meant it for good. That is the kind of conviction that results from patient, enduring trust in the loving intentions of God, when outward circumstances seem to belie that love."

from "The Message Genesis 12-50"

{Thanks for being on this faith-journey with you all!}

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