Overcoming barriers to effective prayer (pt 2)

Last week we began looking at barriers to effective prayer, things that keep us from getting our prayers answered, and also how to overcome these obstacles. Today we look at several more, and we begin with –

4. Wrong relationships with others

What I’m saying here is that we can’t be in right relationship with God, if we’re not in right relationship with others, or at least having done all that we can to be in right relationship with them. Our horizontal (as it were) relationships with other people, affect our vertical relationship with God. They are interconnected. And so broken relationships with others, hinder our relationship with God and thus our prayers to God.

Here’s an example that Jesus taught about, when we wrong someone. Matthew 5:23-24 – “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister and then come offer your gift.” He’s talking about coming into the temple to offer a gift, to worship, to pray to God. And if while you’re doing this you remember that there’s a broken relationship with others, and the context here is that it’s broken by your angry, hurtful, damaging words, go make it right with the other person first, and then come to relate to God. Why? Because it affects your ability to pray and worship.

Another example is mistreating your spouse. Peter says in 1 Peter 3:7 – “Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman . . . so that your prayers may not be hindered.” What’s he saying? If you’re mistreating your wife; if you’re harsh in your words or violent in your actions, your prayers will be hindered! [See also 1 Timothy 2:8 speaking to husbands]. And this certainly applies the other way around as well, wives don’t mistreat your husbands.

Indeed, it applies to all our relationships with others, family, neighbors, coworkers, strangers, enemies. How you interact with them can affect your prayer life – if you are treating them wrongly. And so to be effective pray-ers; to be in right relationship with God, so that your prayers are heard you must tend to your relationships. Make sure you are in right relationship with others. And if there’s a problem, do all you can to make it right, from your end of the relationship.

5. Asking God for things, that we don’t give to others

We say, “Oh God, I need your help with this and that. I need your mercy; I have done wrong. Lord, I need you to provide for my material needs.” But then, when others come to us and say “I need your help, I need your mercy, I need assistance with my material needs” – we say “No way!”

There’s a principle here, God won’t give us, what we won’t give to others. God doesn’t tolerate such double standards.

A clear example of this is asking God for forgiveness. Jesus said in Matthew 6:15, “If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  We can ask God for forgiveness all day long, but if we’re not giving it to those who have done harm to us and have come to us seeking mercy – we will not get it from God. As the passage says, “neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

But the promise in Matthew 6:14 is that, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” If you give mercy to those who seek it from you, God will give you mercy when you seek it from him.

This principle that, God won’t give us, what we won’t give to others, is also true in other areas. Take for instance asking God to provide for your needs. Proverbs 21:13 says, “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.” If you’re someone who turns away others who come to you with legitimate needs, God will not hear you in your day of trouble; God will turn away from you.

But on the other hand, the psalmist says in Psalm 41:1– “Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble, the Lord delivers him.” If you help the one in need, God will help you in your day of need. So we should give freely to others, mercy and help, and God will give generously to you.

6. Doubting God and God’s promises

God gives us, in the words of 2 Peter 1:4, “many great and precious promises” that God will care for us; that God will give us his mercy. James 1:6-8 talks about one such promise, praying for wisdom from God. It says, “But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” When we doubt God and God’s promises, it makes us unable to receive what God wants to give us.

Here’s an example of doubt as a hindrance to receiving what God want to give us. Turn if you will to Mark 6:1-6.

1He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6And he marveled because of their unbelief.

Faith in God and God’s promises is what opens the door for God to work in our lives. So if we want our prayers answered we need to lay aside doubt, and choose to have confidence in God and God’s promises; to rely on God, who is more reliable than anyone. As 1 Thessalonians 5:24 says, “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

7. A lack of persistence in our prayers

Jesus talks about the importance of this in Luke 18:1-8. This is the story of the woman who kept coming to the judge to ask for justice, who finally received an answer because of her persistence. Luke tells us that Jesus taught in this parable that “we ought always to pray and not lose heart” – v. 1. He taught us in this story “to cry out to God day and night” – v. 7

It’s one thing if God says no, and in biblical tradition you can press God up to three times when he says no – e.g. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Paul praying about his thorn. But if there isn’t a no, go for it!

Why is persistence important? Firs of all, God wants to see where our heart is. Deuteronomy 4:29, says, you will seek and find the Lord, “if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Is this a casual thing, or are we really seeking God for an answer? Our heart is made known in the persistence or lack of it in our prayers.

And also, we are involved in spiritual warfare. There’s a third party involved, and Satan and the powers of evil resist God’s will being done on earth. And our persistent prayer plays a role in overcoming this spiritual opposition.

So let’s not give up as we seek to have God’s will come to pass in our lives and in our congregation.

1. The assurance of God’s word. Series: How can I know I’m saved?

We’re talking about something very practical today and for the next few weeks. How can I know I’m saved? How can you know that you’re saved? It’s a pretty important question.

Can you know for sure that God has forgiven your sins; that you are saved, right here and right now and that you are an heir of God’s eternal blessings? Or are you just hoping for the best?

Is the Christian life one that is characterized by confidence in where you stand with God?Or are we to always be insecure in our relationship with God?

We are talking about the topic of the assurance of our salvation. And let me say that I believe very strongly that you can know, and that you should know. We can have security in Christ.

Now, this doesn’t mean you won’t have occasional times of struggle or doubt. This is a part of a life of faith.

And certainly we are not to have a sense of assurance when we are knowingly and willfully rebelling against God. In the Scriptures, both Old Testament and New, words of assurance are given to those who are walking with God and finding forgiveness when they fail; assurance is given to those whose hearts are set on God, even though it’s hard.

But words of warning and judgment are given to those who choose the path of sin. So beware of false assurance. Beware of those who say, “Peace, peace – when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). Who say everything is OK, don’t worry – even though you are choosing a lifestyle of sin.

But beyond this, yes, Christians are to be characterized as those who have great confidence and joyful assurance of their standing with God.

  • John says this, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” – 1 John 5:13. We can know.
  • The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” – Hebrews 4:16. We can have confidence in our relationship with God.

So, for the next few weeks, I want us to look at this topic and specifically three interconnected bases for our assurance of salvation. And today we begin with the assurance of God’s word.

And so, first of all, we need to know –

God’s promises or word to us regarding salvation

 Let me summarize these from the preaching found in the book of Acts.

1. God promises to forgive our sins. Peter says in his sermon on the day of Pentecost that God offers “the forgiveness of your sins” – Acts 2:38. Later, he says it this way, “that your sins may be blotted out” – Acts 3:19.

So this is good news! Our sins, which separate us from God and bring us death can be taken away! We can have a fresh start with God, and in life, because of what Jesus has done.

2. God promises to give us the Spirit. Peter speaks of this promise from God to his listeners on the day of Pentecost, when he says, “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:38. And we see this gift bestowed in several of the stories in the book of Acts.

  • The Spirit gives us new life: we are born anew, we are a new creation in Christ, we are raised to new life in Christ, we have eternal life.
  • And the Spirit also gives us power to live differently.

So these are God’s promises of salvation to us. But it is also important that we hear God’s word about what is required of us. God’s promises often come with things we must do. And if we don’t meet the conditions, then we are being presumptuous with God’s promises.  Two things stand out here, from the book of Acts:

1. We need faith in Jesus. We need to believe that he is indeed the Messiah, who has brought us God’s salvation. Peter said to Cornelius “everyone who believes in him,” that is, Jesus receives salvation – Acts 10:43. Paul preached “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” – Acts 20:21.

2. We need to repent. Peter talked about “turning . . . from your wickedness” – Acts 3:26. Paul’s message was, “repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with repentance” – Acts 26:20.

So this is God’s word to us, both promises of salvation and what he asks of us. Now we look at –

How God’s word gives us assurance

 Let’s suppose that you are here today and you don’t have confidence in your relationship with God; you don’t know that you have eternal life. Maybe it’s that you don’t feel saved. Maybe it’s that you are going through some difficult circumstances which make you question where you stand with God. Maybe someone is telling you that you need to do something beyond God’s word to be saved, and it raises doubts for you.

Here’s what you need to do – 1. Hear God’s word, just as you have today. God’ word says that when we come to Jesus in faith and repent of our sins, we will indeed be forgiven our sins and receive new life by the Spirit of God; we will be saved.

Hear God’s word on this, not just in your head, but deep in your heat. Let it come into your heart right now.

2. Agree with God’s word. And this is not just an intellectual thing in your mind. God’s word testifies to us of its truth in our hearts. Agree with this in your heart. As Hebrews 4:12 says, “the word of God is alive and active.” It has a vitality and power to it. And when we receive it in our hearts, it comes alive and God speaks to us through it. God’s word speaks to our hearts with convincing and convicting power. And so we need to agree with this. “Yes, God. Your  word is true.”

What I am really saying is that God’s word creates faith within us, if we choose to agree with it, as God speaks in our hearts. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

How do I know I’m saved? Because I know from God’s word that when I have faith in Jesus and repent of my sins, my sins are forgiven and I have new life and a hope for the future. I accept and agree with what God says about me through his word.

3. Hold fast to God’s word. This means that when we don’t feel saved, or when our circumstances are difficult, or when others say things that don’t agree with God’s word that make us doubt our salvation – it means that we make a choice, and it is a choice, not to live by these feelings, circumstances, or the words of others. We choose to live our life based on God’s word and truth.

Does your assurance seem weak?

Perhaps this is where some are this morning. Well, then keep God’s word in your heart and mind. Read it, study it, meditate on it, confess it, act on it. For it is God’s living word that builds faith within us. And so absorb its powerful testimony and align yourself with it.

Yes, if you focus on your feelings, your circumstances, or what others say – your faith will be weak. But the more you let God’s word into your heart, the more your faith will grow, which means your sense of assurance will grow as well.

And then, finally –

Apply God’s word to any other concerns you might have

 Here are some examples . . .

Do God’s promises apply to me? Jesus said, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” – John 6:37. Are you coming to Jesus? He will not turn you away. You will be accepted. Paul said, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” – Romans 10:13. The promise applies to all, including you.

Am I too sinful? Of course you are, that’s the point! But Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” – Mark 2:17. Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners . . ..” – 1 Timothy 1:15. Believe and repent of all your sins and the promises are yours, regardless of your past. 

Will God fail me? Impossible! Paul said, “He who calls you is faithful” – 1 Thessalonians 5:24. This is at the core of God’s identity – faithfulness to his word and promises. As Paul also says, “he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself” – 2 Timothy 2:13. This is simply who God is.

Let God’s word be the foundation of your assurance with God. Know with confidence where you stand with God, based on what he says! And if you don’t have a relationship with God today I encourage you to hear his word and act on it, even now.

Jonathan & God’s great victory. 1 Samuel 13:19-14:23

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 13:19-14:23a

Our story today is a continuation of what we looked at last week. Jonathan, Saul’s son, began a revolt by defeating a Philistine garrison. Saul then went to Gilgal according to the instructions of Samuel the prophet, given all the way back in chapter 10:8. But Saul went on to disobey God’s command by not waiting for Samuel to come. As a result, he is judged. He will no longer have a dynasty. And he is left without instructions as a massive Philistine army is poised to attack. Today, we look at what happens next.

battle scene 1

Just to get you oriented, this is a close up of the battle scene.

Michmash and Geba are about a mile apart. The wadi is a seasonal river/creek bed. On either side of the wadi in the East there are steep canyon walls, but at the pass there is flat land.

 

Our verses today begin with some important background.

1 Samuel 13:19-14:23

Israel’s difficult situation.

19Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Lest the Hebrews make themselves swords or spears.” 20But every one of the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, or his sickle, 21and the charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares and for the mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening the axes and for setting the goads.

So Israel’s Philistine overlords, as a part of their strategy to keep them subservient, forbade all metal working. And then they charged the Israelites exorbitant rates to sharpen their farming implements, which kept them economically disadvantaged.

The result shows up in v. 22.

22So on the day of the battle there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people with Saul and Jonathan, but Saul and Jonathan his son had them.

We already saw how Israel was outnumbered. Saul had 600 soldiers and the Philistines had “troops like the sand on the seashore” (13:5) along with 6,000 horsemen and 3,000 chariots.

This brings us to the beginning of the conflict.

23And the garrison of the Philistines went out to the pass of Michmash.

 They are positioning themselves to come to Geba and fight.

 14:1One day (that is, that day) Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side.” But he did not tell his father.

Remember it was Jonathan who took the initiative in the first battle with the Philistines, not Saul. And so it is here.

The fact that he didn’t tell his father may mean that he doesn’t trust him, or perhaps he thought Saul would forbid him from going.

2Saul was staying in the outskirts of Gibeah in the pomegranate cave at Migron. The people who were with him were about six hundred men, 3including Ahijah the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, son of Phinehas, son of Eli, the priest of the LORD in Shiloh, wearing an ephod. And the people did not know that Jonathan had gone.

Here we have a reappearance of the line of Eli – his great grandson, Ahijah is Saul’s priest.

Jonathan’s attack.

4Within the passes, by which Jonathan sought to go over to the Philistine garrison, there was a rocky crag on the one side and a rocky crag on the other side. The name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh. 5The one crag rose on the north in front of Michmash, and the other on the south in front of Geba.

battle scene 2

Here we see the Philistine advance to the pass and Jonathan’s attack to the East on an outpost. Bozez appears to be (a past of?) the northern canyon wall and Seneh the southern canyon wall.  Bozez means “the shining one” and Seneh “thorny one,” perhaps because there thorn bushes on it.

 

Michmash terrainPicture of the scene from Bibleplaces.com.

Michmash cliffs

Picture of the canyon walls that Jonathan climbs down and back up on the other side, which would have been no easy feat. Bibleplaces.com.

6Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.” 7 And his armor-bearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.”

Now, according to natural thinking this is a suicide mission. But Jonathan is acting in great faith. He believes in God and hopes that God will work through him.

Although his father is very focused on counting his soldiers, Jonathan is very clear that what matters is that God is with him, not how many people he has. God can save “by many or by few.”

Now, Jonathan doesn’t know for sure what God will do, as he said, “it may be that the Lord will work for us.” So he suggests a sign.

8Then Jonathan said, “Behold, we will cross over to the men, and we will show ourselves to them. 9If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place, and we will not go up to them. 10But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up, for the LORD has given them into our hand. And this shall be the sign to us.”

“The Lord has given” is what Jonathan’s name means in Hebrew.

11So both of them showed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines. And the Philistines said, “Look, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden themselves.” 12And the men of the garrison hailed Jonathan and his armor-bearer and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing.”

Notice how Jonathan’s sign puts them in a more difficult scenario. They give up the element of surprise and the Philistines are left with the superior position. They have to climb up the steep rocks to get to them.

And Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Come up after me, for the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel.” 13Then Jonathan climbed up on his hands and feet, and his armor-bearer after him. And they fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer killed them after him. 14And that first strike, which Jonathan and his armor-bearer made, killed about twenty men within as it were half a furrow’s length in an acre of land.

And then God intervenes in a powerful way.

15And there was a panic in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison and even the raiders trembled, the earth quaked, and it became a panic from God. (ESV note)

This is God working, causing an earthquake and putting fear into the hearts of the Philistines.

16And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and behold, the multitude was dispersing here and there. 17Then Saul said to the people who were with him, “Count and see who has gone from us.” And when they had counted, behold, Jonathan and his armor-bearer were not there.

18So Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God here.” For the ark of God went at that time with the people of Israel. 19Now while Saul was talking to the priest, the tumult in the camp of the Philistines increased more and more. So Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.”

Saul is seeking to discern God’s will. But circumstances were moving too fast.

He says to the priest, “withdraw your hand” because the previously mentioned ephod had a pocket in it that contained the Urim and Thummin, which were like dice, and used to cast lots to discern God’s will (Exodus 28:30; 1 Samuel 14:41). He’s saying stop, take your hand out of the compartment to get the Urim and Thummin.

20Then Saul and all the people who were with him rallied and went into the battle.

So it took a while. He counted the people to see who was missing, and he tried to discern God’s will. But finally Saul gets into the battle, although really after God has defeated the Philistine army himself.

And behold, every Philistine’s sword was against his fellow, and there was very great confusion.

So the Israelites have no swords? That is not a problem for God. Confusion and fighting against one another are common ways that God defeats an army.

battle scene 3

 

In this map, we see how Jonathan’s attack caused a panic that spread to the main body of the Philistine army which made them begin to retreat.  And then Saul comes into the battle.

 

 

Reinforcements.

21Now the Hebrews who had been with the Philistines before that time and who had gone up with them into the camp, even they also turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan.

So here we learn that that some in Israel were fighting on the Philistine side, but turn against them as the battle went on.

22Likewise, when all the men of Israel who had hidden themselves in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were fleeing, they too followed hard after them in the battle.

These were those who previously “hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns” (13:6).

23So the LORD saved Israel that day.

What do we learn from this?

We learn what faith looks like. There is a contrast in these verses between Saul and Jonathan. And it is Jonathan that is the example of faith for us.

The Philistine raiders are out and their army has assembled for battle, but Saul is not acting. So Jonathan takes the initiative in the moment of crisis.

And he does so against overwhelming obstacles as we saw. The Philistines had swords and chariots and horsemen and a vast army. But he takes the initiative. And when God gives him guidance through his sign he acts boldly. He climbed treacherous rocks, fought the enemy and God used him to defeat the entire Philistine army. This is an amazing portrait of faith in action, risking it all for God.

We also learn that nothing is too difficult for the Lord. Are you facing a massive army? No problem! In 14:15 God caused the huge army of the Philistines to be terrified. In 14:20 God confused them and they turned on one another.

The battle wasn’t won because of Saul, who came late. And it wasn’t won by the reinforcements who came even later. As 14:23 says, “the Lord saved Israel that day.”

To put this all together, if you are here today and you are facing difficult obstacles, even really difficult ones, step out in faith like Jonathan and God will fight for you and save you as well. For no situation is too hard for God.

God’s unfailing faithfulness

Series: Faith in God

Well we’ve come to the end of our series on faith in God. And in this last message the point is quite simple – when you act in faith on God’s word, God will not fail you. Another way to say this is that when you have all three parts of faith: 1) a word from God, 2) trust in God and God’s word to you, and 3) appropriate action, God will come through for you to fulfill his promises.

Let’s look at this.

It is God’s very character to be faithful

That is, faithfulness is a part of God’s nature or essence. Listen to how God describes himself: “Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . ..” – Exodus 34:6

Listen to the Psalmist, “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” – Psalm 36:5. God’s faithfulness is great in scope. Listen again, “For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. . ..” – Psalm 117:2. God’s faithfulness never ends. Indeed, it’s impossible for God not to be faithful to his word and promise.

Even when everyone else is unfaithful, God is faithful to what he has said he will do. In Romans 3:3-4 Paul asks, does human unfaithfulness “nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar. . ..” (NASB) God will be true to himself, even if everyone else is false. As Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:13 – “. . . God remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” It is who God is.

Did you know that this is why we are forbidden to test God? Deuteronomy 6:16 says, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test . . ..”  We don’t test God because God’s faithfulness is not in question, ever. It is outrageous to even think that we as humans would ever try to make God prove himself. The ones whose faithfulness is in doubt is us. And that’s why God tests us, to see if we will be faithful.

Let’s look at some scriptural –

Illustrations of God’s faithfulness

As we have seen, God made a promise to Abraham that he would have a son and an heir (Genesis 12:7). Now, Abraham had to wait. He went through many trials. He even got off track at points. But Abraham believed, and after 25 years God gave him a son. God came through for Abraham and God will come through for you.

Now to make this more personal I would like for you to say this, all together: God will come through for me! whenever you see this. And I would ask that you say it loudly and with passion. Let’s try it: God came through for Abraham and “God will come through for me!”

And then there is the story of Moses. God said to him, “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10). Moses didn’t want to, but he did. And it was a long and arduous struggle with Pharaoh and with the Israelites at times.

But sure enough, through mighty acts and displays of wonder God led them forth out of Egypt. And when the Egyptians changed their minds, and sought to take them back, God opened the Red sea and let his people pass through, while the waters destroyed the Egyptian army. God came through for Moses and “God will come through for me!”

God said to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them” (Joshua 1:6). And they went forth, and God went before them and they received the promise of land and rest. After some 400 years, God answered the promise. God came through for Joshua and “God will come through for me!”

God called Gideon to save Israel from the oppression of Midian (Judges 6:14). But he thought he couldn’t do it. And God had to confirm it to him several times. Finally, he set out with his army. And God said to him he had too many soldiers (Judges 7:2). The army went from 32,000 to 300. But God gave them the victory. God came through for Gideon and “God will come through for me!”

Jonathan was bold and full of faith. When Israel was trembling and hiding because of the vast number of the Philistines who came out against them, he decided to act. Knowing that his father Saul was raised up to defeat this very enemy, he climbed through a mountain pass and attacked a Philistine outpost, believing that God can save “by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6).

And God acted to confuse and defeat the mighty Philistine army. God came through for Jonathan and “God will come through for me!”

David, who was anointed to one day be king, was incensed that Goliath was taunting Israel, and more importantly the one true God. All the soldiers of Israel were afraid of Goliath and wouldn’t accept his challenge to fight. And so with faith in God, David went out to face the giant. He went with five stones and a sling. And he killed that giant, even though he was only a shepherd boy. (1 Samuel 17). God came through for David and “God will come through for me!”

King Jehoshaphat was faced with a vast horde of an army only 25 miles from Jerusalem. They were coming to wipe away his kingdom. This was an impossible situation. But he turned to God in prayer and did just what the Lord said. They went out to meet the army singing praises to God and God’s faithfulness.

And God fought for them that day. They didn’t have to do the work. And it was a great victory. (2 Chronicles 20). God came through for Jehoshaphat and “God will come through for me!”

Daniel was not liked by many in the court of king Darius because of his success. And so they conspired to do him in. They told the king to pass a law that no one was to pray to any god for 30 days, except the king.

But Daniel continued to pray to the Lord God. And so the men caught him and brought this to the king’s attention. Although the king liked Daniel, he was thrown into the lion’s den to be killed. But Daniel trusted in God, and God sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions and Daniel was saved. But his accusers were thrown in, in his place. God came through for Daniel and “God will come through for me!”

And then we have Jesus, who knew that it was God’s will for him to die on the cross. And so he went, entrusting his life into God’s hands. He was treated unjustly, he suffered and he died. But God didn’t let him stay in the grave. God raised him up on the morning of the third day; he was bodily raised from the dead. And he was given a place at the right hand of God. God came through for Jesus and “God will come through for me!”

In one way or another, God will come through

It might be when we are out our weakest point; when only God can fix the problem; after much waiting on our part; after much testing; or at the last minute. But God will come through.

And God might come through in way that we don’t anticipate or can’t even imagine ahead of time. Like resurrecting someone from the dead before the final day, in the case of our Lord Jesus. Or who would have thought that God would part the Red Sea as a way of escape for his people? And God often uses poetic justice, for instance Daniel is saved and his accusers end up in the Lion’s den. And also, God loves to use the weak and the lowly. Think of David facing Goliath.

But, however God does it, God will come through. And that’s the message for today.

Don’t give up! Faith as endurance

Series on faith in God

We have been looking at the topic of faith in God for the last number of weeks. (Perhaps you might even think the title today applies to making it through this series.) We have also looked at the obstacles that get us off track and keep us from receiving what God has for us.

Last week we talked about the third part of faith, how we need to act on our belief and trust in God’s word to us. Today, we are talking about the third obstacle to faith, giving up. This is when you act on your belief and trust in God’s word to you, but then things get hard and so you quit.

Now, this much is obvious –

Walking by faith isn’t easy

You will experience difficulties and you will have to wait on God. In fact, I think we can say that it’s rare that God acts suddenly or that there are no difficulties.

  • Abraham waited 25 years. From the time he was promised a son until the promise was fulfilled was a long time! And there were many trials and tests related to receiving this promise.
  • The Psalmist says, “For you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer” – Psalm 38:15. The writer here is seriously ill and has enemies who are scheming against him. He’s going through a hard time and waiting for God to answer.

And we will often find ourselves in situations where we are in a test and it seems to be taking forever.

Why do we go through difficulties and have to wait? Let me say just briefly, that God is working in us. God wants to teach us (Deuteronomy 8:3) and shape us and make us more mature. As James 1:3-4 says, “the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” This is God’s goal for us.

But also Satan is working against us. He is called our “enemy” (Matthew 13:39), and also our “adversary” (1 Peter 5:8). He opposes our attempts to walk in faith, by making it hard for us. So for these reasons it can be really hard to walk by faith. You will be tempted to give up at one point or another.

Let me ask you –

Where are you struggling with your faith?

Where are you tempted to give up? If you’re in a situation like this I invite you to think about it as we look at the Scriptures this morning. If you’re not currently struggling, let me give you some examples to work with.

1. Starting a new ministry: You step out of your comfort zone to do what you think God is calling you to do. But things don’t go well at first. Not a lot of people are interested and it seems really hard to you. You’re sure that God wanted you to do this, but you have acted and nothing is working out. What do you do?

2. Looking for a spouse: You’re single and you know it’s God’s will that you marry a believer. And you have prayed for God’s help. But no one is on the horizon. What do you do?

3. A financial crisis: You can’t pay your bills. You have cut back and done everything that you can do, but the struggle continues. What do you do?

Well –

We need endurance

– in these situations. We need endurance in our belief, our trust and our action. Endurance means that you keep on doing what you are doing, despite the difficult circumstances and despite how long it takes.

  • You keep believing in God’s truth
  • You keep trusting in God and dealing with any doubt that comes
  • You keep acting on God’s truth and your trust in God

Endurance means that you do all this, despite whatever problems come your way. 

Now this doesn’t mean that you dig in and ignore everything around you, so that you have blind faith. If it really is difficult and taking forever, maybe there’s some presumption going on. It’s not a lack of faith to check. Jesus did this in the garden of Gethsemane. Just before the cross he prayed, “God, is this really the path you want for me?” But once you check and affirm that you’re standing on firm ground, don’t give up!

And here’s –

Why you shouldn’t give up

1) God won’t let you be tested beyond what you can take. Now, I confess I have wondered about this myself. Because it has certainly felt like it is more than I can take at times. I think, “I can’t take any more.” And then more comes. And then more. And then still more.

But Scripture tells us that it is true. “God . . . will not let you be tempted (tested) beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13. God will not let us get in over our heads, and he will provide a way out in due time, if we look to him.

Another reason not to give up is that 2) The answer might be just around the corner. Another reality of walking by faith is that God often acts when we are at our weakest. Think of Abraham. God acted when he and Sarah were both too old to have children. It simply wasn’t possible.

And with us a well, God often waits until we can’t do it in our own strength. So do you feel weak? Are you ready to give up? That might be exactly when God is getting ready to come through for you.

And then finally,  3) It is those who endure who receive the blessing. Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Don’t grow weary in your situation, because in due season you too will reap the blessing, “if you don’t give up.”

A personal story . . .

Listen to Hebrews 10:36. “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” Endurance in doing God’s will is the key to receiving the promises that God has given us.

I believe that this is God’s word to you here today and I hope you will receive it. Don’t give up.

The completion of faith: Our action

We are continuing to talk about faith in God this morning. Let’s remember together the three parts of faith:

1. A word from God to stand on. The Greek word for faith, when referring to this can be translated as “the faith,” what we believe; God’s promise and will.

2. Firm trust in God and God’s word to you. The Greek word here is simply translated as “faith.”

3. Appropriate action based on God’s word to you. The Greek word for faith, when referring to this can be translated as “faithfulness”

 And this last part is what we are focused on today. In the title, “The completion of faith: Our action” I’m using language that comes from James 2:22 when he says that Abraham’s faith “was completed by his works” or actions. And in the same way our faith, our trust in God’s word to us is completed by our actions of faith.

Now what these actions are depends entirely on what the promise is and what the situation is. To use the example of the man of faith:

  • God promised Abraham the land of Canaan. And the proper response was to leave his home and family and go there, and he did.
  • He waited for a son by his wife Sarah, and didn’t try to make it happen on his own – (apart from that Ishmael episode). And waiting can be the hardest action, not trying to do things in our  own way, but letting God work in his own time and way.
  • When God told him to, he offered up Isaac, the promised child, as a sacrifice to die, believing that God could give him back.

What the action is depends on the situation, but there always has to be action connected to our faith, which leads me to the first of my two points today.

Without action, you don’t have faith

If you don’t have part #3, deeds of faith, then what you are calling “faith” isn’t, biblically considered, faith.

So for instance, believing in “the faith” (part #1) without action isn’t enough. That is, just knowing what God’s truth and promise is, without acting on it.

Think about a most basic tenet of our faith, that there is only one God. Believing this is true doesn’t do you any good, unless it’s a broader part of you putting your trust in this truth and acting on this truth – by surrendering your life to serve the one true God.

James says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” – James 2:19. His point is that believing in this truth of God doesn’t help the demons. Why? Because you have to respond to God’s truth with trust and (our emphasis here is on) appropriate action.

Also, simply trusting in God (part #2) without action isn’t enoughThat’s because when we truly trust God and God’s word to us it will show up in our actions. How do I know this? Because Jesus said a “tree is known by its own fruit” – Luke 6:44. There is an unbreakable link between what is inside us, in our hearts, and what comes out of us, the fruit of our lives; our deeds. So, what is within, in our heart, whether faith our doubt is made known in our outward actions.

Now, the necessity of action with regard to faith is put quite simply by James. He says,

  • Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” – James 2:17
  • “Faith apart from works is dead” – James 2:26

Rather, we show our faith by our actions, as he says in James 2:18.

[James seems to be focused mostly on the first part of faith – a word, or truth from God in these verses. But his statement applies to claiming trust in God without works. Any conception of faith without works is dead.]

However you want to put it, your actions show what you really believe. You can say what you want about what you believe or how much you trust, or have feelings of trust. But you don’t have real faith until you act on your belief and trust.

 A famous tight-rope walker

Let me give you an illustration. This is a well-known story, perhaps you’ve heard it before. In 1859 a circus performer from France known as “the Great Blondin” strung up a tight rope and walked across the gorge just below Niagara Falls.

He was quite amazing. At different times he crossed blindfolded, on a bicycle, on stilts and with a man on his back. He also once pushed a wheel barrow across and he put a stove in it. When he got to the middle he cooked an omelet on the stove and ate it.

As you might imagine, he always gathered large crowds who wanted to see him perform. The story is told that one day he asked the crowd, “Do you believe that I can go across this rope? “Yes,” they answered. Then he asked, “Do you believe that I can do it with a person in the wheel barrow? “Yes,” they answered. Then he asked, “Which of you will be first?” But no one responded.

The point is that, it isn’t until you actually get in the wheel barrow that you show what you really believe. Everything else is talk. There has to be some action on our part.

If we boil all this down to a question it would be how do you know what you truly believe The answer is, you believe exactly what you do; what shows up in the fruit of your life; your deeds. So take a look at your life – a good, honest, sober look. Do you see the fruit of faith in your actions?

And just a reminder here, this is exactly how God will judge you on the final day, looking for the fruit of faith in your actions (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 2:6-11; Matthew 7:21).

Even a “small” amount of faith, if acted on, is enough

 Action is what completes our belief and trust and thus what makes us able to receive from God.

But sometimes we think that we have to be super-spiritual. You know, we have to have great faith to receive from God. We think there can’t be struggle or hesitation on our part. This is a misconception that can trip us up.

Jesus said, “If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed . . . nothing will be impossible for you” – Matthew 17:20. A mustard seed is a proverbial expression for something really small. Jesus is saying no matter how small your faith is, as long as it is real faith (it has belief, trust and action) God will come through for you.

So don’t sit back and just wait for faith to suddenly and mysteriously arrive, so that it is effortless or easy, before you act. Instead of holding back for something that might never come, simply put into action the faith you have, however small. This is all you need. And this is, in fact, how your faith will grow. It can become easier and easier.

My parachute adventure

Here’s an illustration. Stacey and I, when we lived in Boston in the late 80’s, watched a TV show that featured the characters parachuting out of the back of a plane. We thought, “Wow that looks like great fun.” And so we decided we should go parachuting.

So we found a place in New Hampshire that trained people and let us jump by ourselves – all in one day. The training was hard and lasted for about six hours. They tied the packs on us so tight that I had bruises on my shoulders the next day.

Finally, the time came and we went up in a small plane. Contrary to the image we had in our minds of running out the back of a plane, in this setup you had to climb out onto the wing of the plane and then let go.

So we are up in the plane and the young man who was set to jump first got to the door of the plane. And his face went white. You could see that he was afraid. And not everyone in our group ended up actually parachuting. I won’t mention any names, but I am talking about my wife.

When it was my turn, I got to the side door of the plane and put my hand out to grab onto the wing – and the wind knocked my hand back it was rushing by so quickly. I grabbed again and pulled myself out onto the wing. I held on for a few seconds, and then let go.

Now, my point in all of this is that I didn’t have great faith. Not at all! It was actually terrifying. I had very small faith. But I acted on what little faith I had, and that was all I needed. You can still be afraid, white faced, sweating or nauseous, but if you act on your trust and belief – it is still faith. And with God that is all that you need. Now you can certainly grow in your faith so that after 100 jumps, almost all of your fear is gone. But even a mustard seed is enough.

To boil this all down, we can simply ask, how much faith do you need? The answer is just enough to make you cross that threshold from belief and trust – to action. It doesn’t matter if you are trembling in your boots. What matters is that you are putting your belief and trust into action; what matters is that you have complete faith.

How to overcome doubt

Series: Faith in God

We are focusing on faith because this is how we receive God’s blessings. So let me just ask, “How many of you want to receive the blessings God has for you?” “Do we want God to provide for our material provisions, to give us peace, to give us more and more of the Spirit – and all of God’s other promises to us?” Well, we must ask for these things and we need to ask fully trusting in God and God’s promises to us.

But let’s just note the obvious. Faith doesn’t just spring up within us. It’s not a natural part of us. We would much rather walk by sight;that is, by what we can see and control. But God calls us to walk by faith; that is, trusting in God even when we can’t see what’s ahead or control things (2 Corinthians 5:7).

And so, like the disciples, we too don’t trust God at times. We can honestly say, “I don’t have this kind of faith!” Or “Where does it even come from?” You know, “How can I have confident assurance in God’s promises to me?” And we especially ask these questions when what faith we have is being stretched and tried by difficult life circumstances.

Well, this is what we’re here to talk about today – overcoming doubt so that we can walk in the path of faith, so that we can receive God’s blessings in our lives.

Last week we looked at –

What doubt is

And specifically about how Scripture speaks of doubt, not really about intellectual doubt, but concerns of the heart about God’s faithfulness.

Doubt means that you are not fully convinced that God is able to do what he has promised (Romans 4:21). The reason for doubt is that you fear that God will fail you. When you look at the circumstances and difficulties around you, you think, “Is God going to come through for me?” And, then you think, “If God doesn’t come through for me, this could get really bad.”

Doubt is really about wavering. It’s a state between firm faith and unbelief. You say, “I should trust God.” But then you say, “No, I shouldn’t trust God.” You are double-minded, going back and forth between the two. And the end result is that doubt keeps you from acting on God’s promises. It’s too risky if you aren’t sure God will come through. So you “shrink back” (Hebrews 10:39).

What can you do to overcome doubt?

Perhaps you are trusting God to provide for a need, or as we looked at last week, to give you the words to share with a friend who doesn’t know the Lord. Whatever your situation –

1. Fight your fear. Fear is where our doubt comes from, so this is key.

Last week we saw how Jesus told Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe” – Mark 5:36. He was afraid that since his daughter wasn’t just sick, but had died, Jesus couldn’t help him. Well, when we think that God can’t help us we need to hear this too! “Don’t fear, only believe.”

Here are two ways to fight your fear: Ask the Spirit to give you the strength to be courageous. Our flesh is weak and vulnerable to fear. But the Spirit can give you the strength to die to your fear, to crucify it and to trust in God’s promises. As Jesus said, “the flesh is weak.” But he also said, “the Spirit indeed is willing,” that is, willing to help us and empower us – Mark 14:38.

Next, when Satan tries to reinforce your fear rebuke him in the name of Jesus. Tell him to go away. He comes to us and puts ideas in our head  – “you should be afraid!” Or “God won’t come through for you!” As James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

When you are seeking to trust in God to come through on his promise to you, and your fear rises up – fight it in these ways. Draw on the power of the Spirit to strengthen your heart and on the power of the name of Jesus to clear your mind.

2. Keep God’s word in your heart. Where does faith come from? “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” – Romans 10:17. Now this is talking about the promise of salvation through Jesus. But the general principle stands: God’s word to us builds faith within us.

God can speak to us through the Scriptures. And I don’t mean merely reading Scripture. The word is powerful and alive. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active . . ..” So, I’m talking about when we read Scripture and God’s truth comes alive and goes down into our heart and touches us. And we know the truth at a level that goes beyond simply the mind and the senses.

When God speaks to us like this and we receive it God’s word builds us up and strengthens our faith. Something supernatural takes place within us, that is powerful and life changing. So when you are struggling, immerse yourself in God’s word and let the power of his word work in your heart.

3. Remind yourself of God’s faithfulness. First, remember that God is always faithful. Lamentations 3:21-23 helps us see this. The writer here, is despairing and is suffering greatly after the destruction of Jerusalem. And then he says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” He finds hope in God’s unchanging character, despite his awful circumstances.

Second, remember that God has always been faithful. This is not a theoretical concept. God has a track record that you can look at. In Psalm 77:11-12 the writer is troubled and concerned. Is God still faithful? He feels that God has deserted him. But then he says, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.” He goes on to remember God’s miraculous deliverance of his people from Egypt. And this encourages him. God has always been faithful. And the Psalm then ends on a note of faith.

You can remind yourself of God’s faithfulness too. Recall Scriptural stories of God’s faithfulness, perhaps toward Abraham or David. Think about stories of God’s faithfulness in history or People’s testimonies that you know. And remind yourself how God has been faithful to you; how God has answered your prayers and come through for you in the past. Remembering these things build up our faith. It will strengthen and encourage you.

 4. Keep your focus on God, not your obstacles. Stay focused on God’s truth to you, and God’s faithfulness. Otherwise you will be overwhelmed by your difficult life circumstances; by the heaviness of it all; by the craziness going on around you. It is these that feed our fear and doubt.

Remember Peter walking on the water? He started out great! He walked on the water to Jesus. That’s amazing! But when he took his eyes off of Jesus, and started to focus on the circumstances – the strong wind and no doubt the waves, he became afraid, he doubted and he sank – Matthew 14:30. This is a perfect picture of what happens to us when we focus on the wrong thing and fall into fear and doubt.

What you choose to focus on makes a difference. Focus on God.

5. Remember faith is a choice, not a feeling. Feelings you can’t always control. But you can control your choices. So deal with what you can control, your choices. Even if you feel fear (you’re all alone, it’s gonna fail, God’s not gonna come through) still make right choices. Your feelings will come into alignment with God’s truth eventually, if you keep making choices of faith.

2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “We walk by faith not by sight.” And we could just as easily say, we walk by faith and not by feelings. Let the reality of God’s truth determine what you choose, not your feelings about your present difficult circumstances.

6. Be around others who will encourage your faith. Especially if you are struggling. Fellow Christians can help build up your faith, encouraging you, praying for you and ministering to you.

The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” – Hebrews 10:23-24. The problem here is wavering and the answer is to be stirred up by others, knowing that God is faithful.

So this is –

How we overcome doubt

  1. Fight your fear
  2. Keep God’s word in your heart
  3. Remind yourself of God’s faithfulness
  4. Keep your focus on God, not your obstacles
  5. Remember faith is a choice, not a feeling
  6. Be around others who will encourage your faith

I encourage you to put these lessons into practice in your life. I want each of us as individuals, and as a congregation to receive all that God has for us. And trusting in God is how this happens.

Faith or doubt?

Series: Faith in God

We are getting back to our series on faith in God. Our question today is “Faith or Doubt?” Which will it be in our lives as we face situations that call for us to trust God and God’s promises to us?

But first, let’s begin with a bit of –

Review

True, biblical faith has three parts. And you need all three of these to receive from God:

1. A word from God to stand on.

2. Firm trust in God and God’s word to you.

3. Appropriate action based on God’s word to you. That is, acts of faith.

This is how it works: God’s truth comes into our mind’s comprehension and then goes down into our heart where we say, “yes, this it true and I choose to trust it.” And then our heart faith goes out of us in our words and actions, which express what is in our mind and heart (Matthew 12:33).

And as we express this faith, all three parts of it – then God acts to fulfill his word and promise. That’s when we receive from God.

But when it comes to faith, there are obstacles that we can trip over. One is presumption, which we have talked about. This has to do with the first part of faith. We presume upon God to do something that he never said he would.

Today, as I said, we focus on another obstacle to our faith – doubt. Now doubt can mean many different things, but here I speak of it in the way the Scriptures speak of it. And in this sense, it has especially to do with the second part of faith – firm trust.

What is doubt?

If faith means, in the words of Paul, that you are “fully convinced that God is able to do what he has promised,” as he said of Abraham in Romans 4:21, then we can say that doubt means you are not fully convinced that God is able to do what he has promised.

It means, in the words of Hebrews 11:1, that you do not have an assurance of things hoped for, that is, what is promised. And you do not have a conviction of things not seen, that is, that the promise will be fulfilled. You are unsure of God; uncertain of his word to you.

The effect of doubt is that it causes you to waver. Paul says of Abraham’s faith, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God” – Romans 4:20. Well, when you doubt, your distrust does make you waver. Since you aren’t certain, you go back and forth. Should I or shouldn’t I? Should I trust God and act on this? Or should I hold back?

As James says, “The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind . . .  he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” – James 1:6; 8. The image of the “wave” pictures one who has no firmness; one who is wishy-washy. Someone who is pushed around by other forces. You are always shifting according to the way the wind is blowing. You are ruled by circumstances. The phrase “double-minded” means that you are of two minds. You don’t know what to do. “I should trust God.” “No, I shouldn’t trust God.” You are indecisive. You are divided within. This is a portrait of one wavering between faith and unbelief.

Now, take notice of what I am saying here. Doubt is not the same as unbelief. It’s a place between firm faith and unbelief. It has to do with going back and forth between these. It’s not the opposite of faith – unbelief is. It’s what’s between them, so that you have some of both.

The result of doubt is that you don’t act on God’s promises. To use the words of Hebrews 10:39, you “shrink back” from acting because of your doubt. So not only does doubt affect the second part of faith, firm trust, it precludes the last part of faith as well, appropriate action based on God’s promises.

Now let’s look at –

The source of doubt

Simply stated, doubt is rooted in our fears. Here are some examples from Scripture:

  • Mark 4:40 – When the disciples thought that their boat was going to sink in the storm, Jesus said, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” They were afraid that instead of showing them the way of the kingdom, Jesus would let them die. Notice  how faith and fear are juxtaposed.
  • Mark 5:36 – When Jairus heard that he should stop asking Jesus for help, since his daughter was now dead, not just sick, Jesus said, “Do not fear, only believe.” He was afraid Jesus couldn’t help him anymore. Notice again how faith are fear are juxtaposed.
  • Luke 12:32 – When Jesus taught us to trust God to provide for our material needs, he said, “Fear not . . ..” Because he knew we would be afraid and worry that God would not provide for us.

In all these examples the disciples want to trust in God, and do to a degree. It’s just that when the circumstances get tough, our fear causes us to focus on the obstacles; on all that is going wrong.

What is it that we fear? It can all be boiled down to this – we fear that God will fail us. We too, like in the Gospel stories, wonder if God will be faithful.

  • Will God come through for me? Is God reliable?
  • Will God come through for me? Maybe he will come through for others, like in the Bible, but what about for me?

Let me give you –

An example of how doubt works

This has to do with sharing your faith. You have a good friend who doesn’t know the Lord. And you want her to hear the gospel. But you aren’t really good at that kind of thing – talking off the top of your head and you feel like you wouldn’t know what to say.

Well, one day while reading the Scriptures you come across Matthew 10:19. It talks about giving witness to Jesus, and says, “do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.” And God impresses on your heart that he will give you the right words to share with your friend; that this is a promise for you.

So you keep your eyes open for an opportunity. And sure enough, a week later your friend asks you why you go to church. An amazing open door to share. But you start thinking , “I have never been able to say things well, and my friend’s really smart; and what would happen if she asked a question that I can’t answer?” And you remember the time when you had to stand up in class and give a speech and how badly it went when people asked you questions about your presentation. And so you just say to your friend, “Well, lots of people I know go to church, so it’s a place to hang out.” In other words you totally miss the open door in front of you.

In this example we see that 1) you fear that God won’t come through for you. You see the obstacles; how hard it is for you to say the right things. That’s what fear does. 2) This makes you waver. You’re uncertain now of God’s promise to give you the right words. Maybe God will. But what if he doesn’t? 3) And so you don’t act. Better safe than sorry, right? So you “shrink back” (Hebrews 10:39).

This process of doubting God can creep into all kinds of areas of our lives. Not just sharing our faith.

  • Will God provide for me? I have bills to pay.
  • Will God protect me if I love my enemy?
  • Will God help me in my job, if I don’t go along with their unethical practices?

And the message today is that –

We have to choose

Will we doubt or trust in God?

Doubt is a sad thing. It keeps you from experiencing the blessings that God has for you. It will hold you back in your life with God. For instance, the example of sharing faith with a friend. Think what it would have been like if, in this example, the person didn’t focus on the obstacles and problems and instead focused on God? And so God would have given just the right words to say.

It’s a powerful thing to see God work! And it’s even more powerful to see God work through you. It propels you forward in your Christian life and is a great encouragement.

And what if your words had a real impact on that person!

But we have to choose faith to see all this. If we live in fear and always shrink back, we will never experience this.

James tells us, without faith we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord” – James 1:7. Doubt is the path of discouragement, a stunted Christian life and a lack of God’s blessing. But with faith, Jesus tells us “all things are possible” – Mark 9:23. We can receive all that God has for us. We can be encouraged; we can grow in our Christian lives. And God can work through us to touch the lives of others. Which will you choose?

Next time the plan is to share about how to overcome our doubt, so that we can walk in the path of faith.

The difference between faith and presumption

Series on Faith in God

We are continuing on in our series on Faith in God. As Scripture tells us we need faith to receive God’s promises. James says without faith we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:7). But Jesus tells us that with faith, “all things are possible” (Mark 9:23). All that God has for us is made available to us by faith.

We also talked about how there are three parts to faith:

  1. A word from God, which gives us something to stand on.
  2. Firm trust in God and God’s word.
  3. And appropriate action based on his word to us.

We need all three of these to have the kind of faith that receives from God.

But the sad fact is that in various ways we often get off track in our attempt to have faith in God and to receive God’s promises. We will focus on one particular problem today, which is rooted in the first part of faith, having something from God to stand on. When we try to act in faith without a word from God, this is called –

Presumption

Here’s an illustration from everyday life. I have faith in my wife that she is kind and hospitable. But if I invite over a large group of people for dinner without her saying it’s OK, well, that is presuming upon her and would likely have dire consequences for me!

To be presumptuous is to move forward with unwarranted confidence. It’s to have misplaced assurance. In the things of God our confidence is unwarranted because it’s not based on a word from God.

Now easy examples of this have to do with when Jesus will return. Not too long ago Harold Camping and his followers proclaimed that May 21, 2011 as the day. Do you remember? These people really believed. They had certainty (the second part of faith). They even had actions of sacrifice and boldness (the third part of faith). But nothing came of it because it was not based on God’s word (the first part of faith). They found themselves waiting for God to act, when God never said he would.

The point today is that we need to make sure that we are standing on God’s word with our faith; that what we claim as a word from God is indeed a word from God. Otherwise, although we may look like we have faith, it’s simply presumption or fake faith; it’s a cheap substitute.

Now there are many –

Different paths that lead to presumption

I will just give a few examples today. 1. You misunderstand a word from God. This is quite common. For instance, you might say, if I raise my child right, they will become a Christian. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Well, this is a proverb, not a promise. It talks about the way things usually work out. Not the way it always works out. So this doesn’t give us a guaranteed end result for every person. And as we know from other Scriptures we must all make our own moral choices in the end.

Another exampleif I have faith, my whole family will eventually be saved. Acts 16:31 says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” This is a misunderstanding of the context of the verse. Paul is saying that the promise of salvation by faith is not just for the Philippian jailer, but for everyone in his household. That is, if they believe, they too will be saved. He’s not saying that if he believes his whole household will be saved or will eventually be saved. Again, each of us have to make our choices. They can’t be made for us.

Another path to presumption is when 2. You claim a promise that has conditions, but you don’t meet them. For instance, God will always forgive me. You read the last part of Matthew 6:14 – “your heavenly Father will forgive you,” and you say, ‘Hey I prayed for forgiveness and God has promised to forgive me. I am standing on this promise!’ But you left out the “if” part; the first part of the verse. There’s a condition. It says, “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” You won’t receive the blessing of forgiveness, unless you meet the condition of forgiving others.

Many of God’s promises have such conditions that we need to be aware of.

Another path to presumption is when 3. You trust in your own plan to fulfill God’s promise. You act without listening to how God wants to bring it to fulfillment.

Genesis 16 tells the story of Sarah and Abraham who come up with a plan to get their promised son through Hagar the servant. But this wasn’t God’s will; this wasn’t God’s plan. And it caused many problems.

Another example can be seen in Matthew 26. Peter knew that God’s kingdom was being made real through Jesus. But when the police came to arrest Jesus he took a sword and cut off a man’s ear. He thought he could make the kingdom of God come by violence, instead of the suffering love of the cross; in his own way and not God’s way.

When you act on your own to fulfill God’s plan you end up further from the blessing (not closer). And it makes a mess of things.

A final example of a path to presumption is when 4. You take a general promise and make it rigidly apply to you. You take God’s general will, and say it has to happen to you in a certain way or time.

For instance, Psalm 91 talks about the one “who dwells in the shelter of the Almighty” – and it says some pretty amazing things:

  • 10 – “no evil (harm) shall be allowed to befall you.”
  • 14 – “I will deliver him, I will protect him.”
  • 15 – “I will rescue him.”
  • 16 – “with long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

So you say, ‘this is what the Word says, God will protect me from all harm and give me a long life.’ Well, what should we make of Paul’s many trials which he enumerates in several of his letters, not to mention the trials of our Lord. Or the promise that it is through many trials that we must enter the kingdom? Act 14:22.

No, this Psalm talks about the way God works in general. God loves to deliver his own and bless them. But this doesn’t always happen, just as the righteous don’t always have long lives in this world. But this Psalm does speak to how it will be in the end for each of us. We will be delivered and blessed and live life eternal without evil or harm.

Now, if you get a specific word from God by the Spirit that says, he’s ready to deliver you or to keep it from coming to you in the first place, this allows you to have something specific to stand on, to pray in bold faith.

The difference between faith and presumption

Let’s look at the big picture. This is how real faith works: 1) We have a word from God as a foundation to stand on. 2) We have firm trust in God and God’s word to us. And 3) we have appropriate action. And then God comes through for us and we receive the blessings.

But when we 1) have no word from God to stand on, 2) we have misplaced trust, and 3) we will have wrong actions; not in accord with God’s will. And we receive nothing from God. And we will likely look foolish and cause others to scoff or stumble.

So it’s really important to learn –

How to avoid presumption

And the key here is to discern God’s will. Here are some things that will help guard us from presuming upon God.

1. Know God’s word. Know what God’s will and promises are, what the context and scope of each promise is, and any conditions that apply.

2. Know God’s voice. Now this isn’t always easy. But you can get to know what God’s voice is like. It’s clear, pure and different than you. And of course, always check any such word against the word of God which is our standard.

3. Only claim general promises in a general way. We can only stand in faith on as much as we have from God.

A good example of this comes from Daniel 3:17-18. The three young men were about to be thrown into the fiery furnace. And they said, “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” They are saying, ‘God can do it, but even if he doesn’t we are fine with that.’ God loves to deliver the righteous, but he doesn’t always.

If you want more specificity in a case, pray and ask for it. “God what is your will?” “How do you want me to pray?” And then you can pray with bold faith. But short of something more from God, ask, but leave it open to what God chooses to do.

4. Ask others for discernment. Ask other Christians, ‘Do I have something from God here?’ Let them see if it rings true to them. This is one of the ways we can help each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord.

I want to end with a Scripture that sums up what I’m saying today from –

1 John 5:14-15

“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”

He’s talking about firm faith or as he says, “confidence” toward God. And he makes the point that our faith comes to fruition if “we ask . . . according to his (God’s) will.” That’s when we receive what “we have asked of him.”