What is faith? How does faith work? What is our faith based on? What is saving faith? What happens when our faith is shattered? Those faith questions and others are addressed in this nine-week series simply called faith.
Pastor G takes a nine-week break from his “Just Jesus” series walk through the Gospel of Mathew.
This is a series Greg first heard Andy Stanley preach way back in 2002. It had such an impact on Greg that he has preached his version of it at every church he has served since.
Today is week three and Greg focuses us in on “faith defined.”
We said a few weeks ago that the foundation of our faith is not our poor ability to interpret circumstances. The foundation of our faith is the person Jesus Christ who came in history, died on a cross, rose from the dead, ascended back to heaven, and returned to His rightful place at the right hand of God the Father. Last week we talked about the fact that eventually, as we mature in our faith, we must allow God to move our focus off what’s happening around us and instead fix our eyes on Jesus. Only then can we withstand the pressures of life, and only then can we withstand the temptations of life. Today, we’re going to define Biblical faith. If you are ready to hear what God has put on my heart to share with you today please give me some encouragement and either say or type HIT ME WIT’ IT G! I’M READY!
We need to define Biblical faith because there has been a lot of wrong teaching about faith, a lot of very complicated teaching about faith this has caused people to have expectations of God that are not justified. When God doesn’t come through the way they think He is supposed to, they either get mad at God or they wonder what’s wrong with them. Why didn’t I have ENOUGH faith? Why isn’t God blessing me the way He is blessing someone else? The confusion in this area oftentimes destroys faith. It is the primary cause for people one day saying “I used to be a Christian. I used to believe. But not anymore.” The false teaching about Biblical faith is almost always very self-centered. It is always about how to get God in on MY PLAN for my life, how to get God to do the things I want God to do, how to get God to behave the way I think God should behave, how to get God to bless me with the things I want to be blessed with.
When Annette and I first became friends, before we were dating, we attended a large church, 5,000-6,000 people in Columbus, Ohio. Ans the pastor there, taught faith this way. And the pastor certainly got more and more blessed with more and more money but the majority of us did not. And we were told, “Well, that’s just because you don’t have enough faith. If you plant a bigger financial seed, at the church, then God will bless that seed and you will become wealthy as well, the same way the pastor was becoming wealthy.” The problem was, we didn’t have enough faith, according to them. Now, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but eventually, even I got the fallacy of all of that. There is actually a clear parallel in New Age Teaching where people talk about The Universe giving them whatever they want and how to manifest whatever you want in your life with the power of positive thinking. Because there’s so much confusion about faith I want to begin today by giving you four things faith is not.
FOUR THINGS FAITH IS NOT
1) Faith is not a force. Faith is not a power. Oftentimes, faith is presented in such a way that there’s God and here’s me. And then there’s this third entity called faith, and my goal as a Christian is to somehow tap into this faith force, to get God to do something for me. That is not Biblical faith. The force works for Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. But that’s not what the scripture teaches. That’s magic. That’s New Age. It’s not faith as presented in scripture. Faith is not a lasso, that we somehow get around God’s neck and we force Him to do things that otherwise He wouldn’t do. Oftentimes faith is taught in such a way that it’s something that becomes a tool that we use to control God and to move Him into our will for our lives. That’s simply not true. Faith is not a force.
2) Faith is not a formula. Faith is often presented like an ATM machine and if you put in the right code it will spit out whatever you want. There have been several best-selling books, like the Prayer of Jabez for one, that all claim to have found the secret prayer formula, the secret magic incantation, that turns God into your personal genie. I’ve so often heard preachers preach “Here’s how to get God in on your deal this year. Here’s how to get all your prayers answered.” And they sell that book like crazy. Next year they say it all again. “That was what God was doing LAST year. Now God’s changed again. Now, HERE’S the new magic formula. There are a lot of people who’ve made a lot of money selling false formulas to desperate people who have never been taught what faith actually is. Faith is not a force. Faith is not a formula.
3) Faith is not simply belief. There’s a difference between belief and faith. Let me explain it this way. If you were to stand outside the locker room of a football team right before they burst onto the field and you were to stop one of those players and say, do you believe you’re going to win the game? Every one of those players would say, “YES! We believe we’re going to win the game. We believe it.” Someone might even use the word faith here interchangeably. “Well, we’ve got faith in our team, faith in our coach, faith in our quarterback.” The kind of faith they’re talking about is not biblical faith. It’s simply belief, self-confidence, a deep desire for this belief to be true. That doesn’t make it true. We often use the words belief and faith interchangeably, but in scripture, faith has a very specific definition. When we confuse Biblical faith and simple belief it’s troubling. You have people trying to talk to mountains and move mountains and the mountain doesn’t move. They complain “Well, it says right here, if I really believe it will move and I am really believing but it’s not moving. What’s the deal?” It’s because Biblical faith and human belief are not the same things. We’ve been falsely taught if we can just muster up ENOUGH faith, if we just really, (GRUNT) believe – then God has to do whatever I want Him to do. If God doesn’t then it must be because I didn’t have ENOUGH faith. We talked about that a little bit last week. We’re taught that God is going to just stand there with His hands in His pockets, and only when we finally get ENOUGH faith built up inside of us, then and only then, He’s finally going to do what we want Him to do. That’s just not Biblical, not true! Faith INVOLVES belief, but faith is NOT simply belief. Faith is not a force, a formula or simply belief. The last thing faith is not is:
4) Faith is not confusing. Faith is the bottom line essential element of Christianity and it was never intended to be confusing. The thing that makes faith confusing is people’s desires. When we were kids we all learned how to manipulate our parents to one degree or another. As adults, we still have that same desire to manipulate our Heavenly Father God. When someone falsely teaches us that faith is a cool tool for manipulating God, then we come up with all sorts of complicated and difficult-to-understand schemes in order to get God to do something for us. It reminds me of the Dark Ages when they had a theory of how the solar system worked. They were convinced the earth was the center of the solar system so they had to come up with all of these complicated theories. These very elaborate models of how the solar system worked, very complicated. Then they discovered the sun is actually at the center, not the earth and suddenly it was very simple.
Because they missed the core truth of what belonged at the center, they were forced to come up with all these elaborate models to try to put all the pieces together. In the SAME WAY, a lot of people, have never had Biblical faith defined for them. They think life is all about them, that they are at the center, instead of God. They know there is this thing called faith. They know there is a God. They know somehow the two are related but they have been taught life is all about them and what they want. They have been set up to be disappointed with God or disappointed with themselves as they wonder “Why doesn’t God always answer my prayers with a yes? Don’t I have enough faith? Am I faithing wrong. Does God not exist? Does God not love me?”
Faith is not a force. Faith is not a formula. Faith is not simply belief and faith is not complicated. Those are four things Biblical faith is not. So what then IS faith? Scripture tells us very clearly what Biblical Faith is. Are you ready to hear it? HIT ME WIT’ IT G! I’M READY! Here we go.
Now, faith is being sure of what we hope for, certain of what we do not see. ~ Hebrews 11:1
Circle that word IS. The author of Hebrews is giving us THE Biblical definition of faith. Notice, the author of Hebrews splits off the concepts of hope and faith. Hope is “I WANT something to happen. It hasn’t happened yet but I sure do want it to happen.” That’s hope. Faith, on the other hand, is hope taken one step further. “I want something to happen and I’m 100% sure it is going to happen. Faith is “I want it to happen. It hasn’t happened yet but I’m SURE, I’m CERTAIN it will happen.” Let’s say I text you and say, “Can you come have dinner with us Thursday @6pm? Please let us know.” Then, I would say to Annette, “I HOPE they can come.” We wouldn’t run out to buy groceries yet. We wouldn’t start cooking the food yet. We wouldn’t start straightening up the house yet. We hope you are coming but we can’t know for sure. We haven’t heard back from you yet.
At the end of the year, you HOPE to get a raise right? You want it to happen but you can’t be sure it will happen. You don’t go out and buy a new car now because you aren’t 100% sure you will get a raise. The reason people get confused about faith and the reason faith seems so complicated is because we forget there’s a difference between hope and faith. Hope is: “I sure do want it to happen but I can’t be sure it will happen.” Faith is: “I sure do want it to happen, AND I’m absolutely SURE, I’m CERTAIN that it is going to happen.” That’s what this Scripture says. So, here’s the question.
What allows a person in any realm of life to move from the hope stage to the faith stage? When can we move from hoping God will say yes to my prayer request to the place where we know 100% for sure that God will say yes to my prayer request? The answer is so simple. Back to our dinner illustration. When should I go buy groceries? When you text me back and say, “Greg, yes! We will be there!” Don’t miss this! Listen! When you give me the PROMISE that you ARE COMING then, and only then, can I move from hope to faith.
The thing that bridges the gap between hope and faith is your promise.
In the SAME WAY, we can move from hope to faith in our relationship with God ONLY after God has given us a promise. Faith is being SURE of what we HOPE for and CERTAIN of what we do not see. How can you be sure and certain about what God is going to do? That can only happen after God gives you a promise. The author of Hebrews continues in verse 2. He says:
This is what the ancients were commended for. ~ Hebrews 11:2
Then he spends the entire rest of the chapter giving illustrations about men and women who illustrated this very thing. They hoped something would happen. God promised them it would happen. So they had FAITH that it would happen. They simply acted on the promise of God in faith. They weren’t commended for wanting something and then trying to faith (force, push, coerce, manipulate) God into doing it for them. They were commended because they acted upon the promise of God in faith. Do you know why Noah went out and spent one hundred and forty years building a boat? Do you think it was because one day he looked around and said, “You know, this world is in bad shape. Family gather round. I’m going to tell God to destroy it. Let’s have faith that God is going to destroy the Earth.
Let’s build a boat because we have faith God will do what I’m asking.” That’s not what happened is it? God started the ball rolling? “Noah, I’m going to destroy the earth. It’s going to rain. Build a boat. I’ll save your family and two of every basic species of animal.” We call Noah a man of faith simply because he acted on God’s promise. What about Moses? He didn’t come up with the idea to lead the Israelites out of slavery and then (grunt) faith force God into jumping on his bandwagon. No! It’s because God said, “Moses, head back to Egypt. Tell Pharaoh, let my people go. He will resist but eventually, He will let my people go.” Moses was a man of faith in that he acted on the promise of God. That’s the pattern. Why did Joshua march around Jericho all those times? It’s not because he got up one day and said, “These walls need to come down. Let’s all start marching around the city and then I’ll tell God, ‘Look at what we did! Knock down these walls for me!’ No. God said “Joshua. March around the walls and when I’m ready, the walls will come down.” That made no sense to Joshua. That’s not how walls came down in his world. But he was a man of faith. He took God at His word and he acted on what God promised He would do. That’s faith. On through the scriptures, we could go.
Faith is responding positively to what God says will happen.
Faith is not simply making a request and trying to talk God into it. That’s hope. That’s belief. That’s desire. It’s okay to have hope. It’s ok to share those things with God but that’s not faith.
Faith is the confidence that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He has promised to do. Faith is not just confidence in whatever YOU WANT to happen.
FAITH is not just hoping in whatever YOU WANT to happen.
Biblical faith is specifically, the confidence that God is who HE SAYS HE IS and that He will do what HE HAS PROMISED TO DO.
Nothing more and nothing less Listen! Don’t miss this. Listen! We can ONLY have faith once God has made a promise. THEN we can have faith. BEFORE there’s a promise we can ONLY have hope. We can always have hope, belief, desire, but we can’t have FAITH until there is a promise from God. Because faith —- Don’t miss this, listen!
Faith is ALWAYS attached to a promise!
All the way through Scripture, when you see men and women living by faith, acting on faith, it’s because they’re clinging to a specific PROMISE OF GOD. If there is no promise, you can only have hope, belief, desire. You can’t have faith.
To express faith where you should only have hope is really arrogant presumption.
What if my dinner invitation text went this way. “Hey, you and me! Dinner Thursday @6! Be there!” Then I told everyone you are coming over for dinner. Before you ever see the text, before you even check your calendar or respond to me, several people walk up, say, “Hey, I hear you’re going to eat with Greg on Thursday @6.” If you got a text like that and you heard that from all those people, you would think: “Well who the heck does Greg think he is? Just because wants me to come, he thinks I’m definitely going to do it? That I’m obligated to do it just because he WANTS me to do it? He didn’t even ask. He told me. He hasn’t even heard back from me. Why would he presume such a thing?” Yet we do that same thing to God all the time. We pronounce what God IS going to DO. We proclaim healing! We proclaim blessing and we pronounce it as God’s will. We count it as already done in Jesus’ name! That’s not faith. That’s arrogant presumption.
The reason our faith is so destroyed at times, the reason we’re so disappointed with God at times, is because we so often confuse presumption with faith. God hasn’t promised, yet we put an expectation on God, presuming He will do what we ask and then if God doesn’t come through we think, “What’s wrong with God?” Or, we go the other way “What’s wrong with me? Why am I not worthy to have God answer my prayer? Did I not believe enough? Did I use the wrong prayer formula?” And our faith is destroyed. We leave the church and leave Christianity and stop believing in God all because God didn’t act the way we wanted Him to act.
Do you know what you can always EXPECT from God? ———-Everything He’s promised.
If He has promised you something then you can be 100% sure you will receive it, you should 100% expect it, you should 100% tell everyone else they can expect it too. Here’s some more good news.
Do you know what you can ASK of God? ——— Anything you want.
Jesus says your Heavenly Father loves to give good gifts to His children. And many times in my life and many times in your life, we have asked God for things that He’s not promised and yet He decided to give them to us anyway. He gave you the job. You ended up with the raise. Your dream girl said yes to your marriage proposal. Your kids finally came back to the Lord. Your marriage was put back together. God blessed you financially. God healed you of that disease. You passed that test on and on. We can all name things we have asked God for and He gave them to us, NOT because He promised them, but simply because we humbly asked for them and He is a loving heavenly Father who loves to give good things to his children. He said yes to SOME of our requests not because He was under obligation to do so, but simply because He wanted to.
Now, here’s the kicker to that, here is the caveat we are often unaware of. We talked about this in week one. What we oftentimes think is good for us, God knows better and in the long run it is bad for us. So He sometimes says no to something we think is good. Here’s another caveat. As long as our request for something that is a good thing for us still falls within the context of God’s ultimate purpose for this world, God is happy to bless us. Even though it might be good for us, if us receiving it somehow screws up the bigger picture of what God is planning to do, He will still say no to us. God is often happy to give us good things, again, not because we have faith that He will, but just because we asked and He loves to say yes to us when it fits with His larger plan.
Let’s look at two passages of scripture that illustrate this point. Two illustrations of hope and faith coming together where Jesus performs miracles of healing. In case you are wondering, I do believe God still sometimes heals miraculously. We have people in our church who were miraculously healed. I have experienced miraculous healing in my life as well. Let’s look at the respective roles of hope and faith in miraculous healing so we can stop confusing them. Matthew 9:27: 27
As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” ~ Matthew 9:27
Why did they call Him Son of David? That’s a messianic term. They believed Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. They had faith in who He had claimed to be and they approached Him with respect and humility, pleading, begging, for His mercy, for His healing.
28 When He entered the house, the blind men came up to Him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” ~ Matthew 9:28
Notice, He doesn’t ask them “Do you believe I WILL do this?” He asks them do you believe that I am ABLE to do this? And they reply “Yes Lord!” Here’s what they were thinking. I guarantee you.
“Yes, Lord! We KNOW that You CAN and we HUMBLY HOPE that You WILL.”
That’s so humble isn’t it? That’s so different than the way we so often hear faith prayers isn’t it? These men weren’t saying “Lord we are just believing You for the healing. We know healing is coming. We receive our healing. We are faithing our healing into existence. We have named what we want to happen and we are claiming it as ours. We are counting our healing as already done.” That’s not our place. That’s not our call. That’s presumption on our part. No. Faith is not a force. Faith is not a formula. Faith is not simply belief, no matter how strong. Faith is not confusing. Faith is simple.
Faith is: We KNOW that You CAN and we HUMBLY HOPE You WILL. That’s faith.
Look what Jesus did.
29 Then He touched their eyes, saying, “It shall be done to you according to your faith.” 30 And their eyes were opened. ~ Matthew 9:29-30a
Catch this. It shall be done to you according to your faith. What faith? Your faith that you believe I CAN heal you, not a faith that I automatically WILL heal you. Do you see the difference, from God’s perspective, from Jesus angle? The only faith it took to heal these men was not faith that He WOULD but only faith that He COULD. For them to have assumed He would, would been arrogant presumption. Jesus had made no promises to them. Because of who He had proven Himself to be, and claimed to be, they KNEW that He had the power to heal them and they humbly hoped, they asked Him to do so. Jesus was not looking for faith that He WOULD. Jesus was just looking for faith that He COULD. They had it. It fit with God’s master plan. So, He reached out and healed them. See how that works? Let’s look at a second illustration in Luke 5:12
12 While He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man covered with leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” ~ Luke 5:12.
I just want you to really get this picture. This man is covered with leprosy. He sees Jesus and again, like the two blind men, he knows who Jesus is. He has heard of Jesus’ claims and He has heard of Jesus’ miracles. He KNOWS Jesus has the power to heal Him. That’s faith. I KNOW that You CAN and I HUMBLY HOPE that You WILL. He falls down at the feet of Jesus and implores Him. Like the two blind men, he HUMBLY begs Jesus, He pleads with Him to make him well. Contrast that picture with what so often we see when we see faith healers. The puffed-up pride and arrogance, pulling God around on a leash and holding His feet to the fire, and forcing Him to heal someone. Claiming it and pronouncing it as already done and arbitrarily assigning it to Jesus’s will and Jesus’ name. Instead, here’s a man, this leper, who is so overcome with the person and the identity of Jesus Christ, so much so, that he just humbly falls down on his face.
Look again what he says, “Lord, IF You are WILLING, You CAN make me clean!” He was saying. I KNOW with 100% certainty that You HAVE THE POWER to cleanse me, to heal me. I have perfect faith that You CAN do that IF YOU CHOOSE to do so. IF YOU ARE WILLING. I really HOPE you’re willing. I don’t know if you’re willing but I sure hope You are. Either way, I still have perfect faith that You can. I KNOW You CAN and I HUMBLY HOPE You WILL! Look what Jesus does in response.
13 And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I AM WILLING; be cleansed.” And immediately the leprosy left him. ~ Luke 5:13
He had all the faith that he needed. Not faith that Jesus WOULD, but only faith that Jesus COULD. He could only be certain of what He hoped for when Jesus promised, when Jesus said “I AM WILLING” and not before.
Faith is the confidence that Jesus is who He says He is and that He will do what He has promised to do.
The reason Abraham packed his bags and started his family on a journey was because he trusted that God was who He said He was and that He would keep His promise to lead them to the a Promised Land. That’s actually why they call it the PROMISED Land, by the way, because the faith to lead them to the land was attached to a promise. Faith must ALWAYS be attached to a promise! The reason that Noah built the boat, the reason he acted that way was because he believed that God was going to be faithful to His promise to send rain and destroy the earth and to save Noah and his family. Walking by faith is simply living our life with the confidence that God is who He says he is and that He will always do everything He’s promised to do.
But there’s a flip side to this thing as well. There was a fellow named Jeremiah, a prophet of God. God said to Jeremiah “I’m kind of fed up with Israel right now. I’m going to get their attention by sending them into captivity. So I would like you to announce that for me.” Jeremiah said, “OK. I will announce what You tell me to announce.” Jeremiah lived by faith, walked by faith, acted on God’s promise, acted on God’s revelation. What happened after he did this faithful thing? He was thrown into prison. There was also a fellow named John the Baptist. God told Him to go and prepare the way for the Messiah. John the Baptist lived by faith, walked by faith, acted on God’s promise, God’s revelation. What happened after he did this faithful thing? He was thrown into prison and beheaded.
There was another New Testament John. He was one of the original twelve disciples. You’ve heard of John. If you’ve read the New Testament you’ve read five of his books. John actually believed Jesus was serious when Jesus said He was coming back. John believed Jesus was serious when he said, “Go tell people.” So John went and told people. John lived by faith, he walked by faith. What happened after he did this faithful thing? They boiled him in oil but he wouldn’t die. So they put him on a prison island to rot for the rest of his life. You’ve heard of a fellow named Stephen in the Book of Acts. Stephen actually had faith that Jesus was coming back too. Stephen had faith that Jesus was the Messiah. Stephen had faith that Jesus was the Son of God. He took that faith very seriously. Stephen began to tell people all about Jesus. Even though they threatened him and told him to shut up, Stephen was living by faith, walking by faith doing what God commanded Him to do. What happened after he did this faithful thing? People beat him to death by throwing stones at him. That’s a similar story to countless other people of faith. They were ostracized, imprisoned, tortured, martyred.
Living by faith and becoming a person of faith, sometimes it has what we would consider a happy ending. You get healed and live happily ever after. Sometimes it has what we would consider a tragic ending, you end up in prison or killed. Listen, don’t miss this! Listen! That tragedy didn’t happen because you didn’t have faith. That trial, that tragedy, that tribulation, that pain, that unfair imprisonment, came BECAUSE you DID act in faith. Do you see that?
That’s why health and wealth and prosperity teaching infuriates me. This idea that if you have enough faith God will ALWAYS bless you with happiness, health, and wealth. Really? That false teaching completely discounts the lives and experiences of many, many faithful people in the Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, including the original disciples of Jesus. Peter, John, Paul, James, they didn’t have enough faith? That’s why they were impoverished, imprisoned and murdered? Come on! Let’s look at the very end Hebrews 11, where we started this morning. Hebrews thirty five and following.
35 Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; 36 and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated 38 (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. ~ Hebrews 11:35-38
With our modern faith prosperity teaching, we think “No, no, no, no. If they had just had MORE FAITH in God they would have lived happy, healthy, and wealthy long lives. Everything should have turned out great for them. Clearly, so many of these stories aren’t happily ever after endings at all. What did they do wrong? Where did they fail God in their faith? No! Nothing’s wrong. The author of Hebrews says they were INCREDIBLY faithful believers, that the world was not worthy of them, yet they suffered greatly in life.
God says to us, “Look, I have a plan for all of humanity, for all of history. As long as I can answer your hopes and desires within the context of My greater plan, I am happy to give you good things. But remember, my ways and my thoughts are much higher than your ways and your thoughts. You can’t see how everything all fits together. But I can. I’ve got a plan to redeem as many human beings as possible from sin and I will not deter from that plan. I’m looking for men and women who will live their lives in accordance with My plan, who will always surrender to My will, even if it leads to suffering. Whether you live out your life on this earth happy, healthy and wealthy or not is not a reflection on My character or on your faith or your worthiness. I NEVER promised ANY of that to you. In fact, Jesus promised us the opposite. He said “In this world you WILL HAVE trouble!” THAT’S a promise! Faith does not always have a happy ending in this earthy life but it always does in the next life. That’s a promise too!
I see so many Christians beating themselves up because bad things are happening in their life. They have been taught that these bad things are happening to them because they don’t have enough faith. I’ve counseled dozens of people whose faith was destroyed by health and wealth, name it, claim it preachers who told them it was their fault their daughter had autism. It was their fault they had cancer. It was their fault they could not walk. It was their fault they had a miscarriage. “Oh, if only you had MORE FAITH these terrible things would not be happening to you!” I watched a faith healer shout at a man with Cerebral Palsy to stand up and walk. When the man said “I can’t.” The preacher waved him off and then got right up in his face and said “Well, I guess some folks want to get well and some folks just want to stay sick!” One of my biggest ministry regrets is that all I did was leave that camp meeting in disgust. In retrospect, I wish I would have driven that guy out of the tent with a whip like Jesus would have done.
He was teaching the exact opposite of what we just read in Hebrews. The truth is, God looks down from heaven and says even though bad things are happening to you, you are still trusting that I am who I say I am and that I will still do everything I’ve promised to do. You are to be commended for your faith.
Now, do you know why we don’t like this? It’s because we don’t really WANT a sovereign God who does His will and only His will. We want a genie. We want to be able to rub that lamp three times and big old, powerful Genie God will pop out here and say, “Master! Your wish is My command!” That’s what we want. That’s why often we pray the way we do. That’s why we get all mad at God because somebody dented our car. God never made a promise to you that your car wouldn’t get dented. We don’t want to God, we just want a genie.
We want faith to be the key that unlocks the escape hatch from pain and suffering and frustration and bad marriages and rebellious kids. That’s what we want. Don’t miss this. It’s so important. Listen. Don’t miss this. Listen.
Faith is NOT about getting God in on MY DEAL. Faith is NOT about getting God in on MY PLAN for MY LIFE.
Faith is about discovering what God is planning on doing, discovering the promises of God, and then bringing my life into alignment with whatever God says He is ultimately going to do. That’s faith.
Faith is the confidence that God is who He says He is and that He is going to do everything He’s promised to do.
Now, I’ve been a Christian since I was fourteen. In these 44 years of following Jesus I’m still certainly not nearly as mature as I should be. I’ve still got a lot of issues and I’ve still got a lot to learn. But I have definitely learned one lesson.
I don’t want God to say yes to all of my prayers!
If God had said yes to all of my prayers in my life, I would be living in the wrong place. I would be married to the wrong person. I would have the wrong children. I would be doing the wrong thing with my life. I would have messed up my life and the lives of many others. I don’t want that much power. I’m not anywhere near that smart. Are you? Do you really want the power to move God off-center from what He plans to do? Do you really want the power to pull God into, force God into, every little plan, every little whim, you come up with? Folks, we are nowhere near smart enough for that. Think of the arrogance that takes as well. To just assume we know better than God that we can presume to tell Him what He is going to do and when He is going to do it for us! How backward, how prideful, how arrogant is that? Imagine, whatever we pray, all of us, God just goes with it. We would all be working against each other. How could God answer all of our prayers? What a disaster that would be.
Fortunately, I’ve got some good news. God is in control. You and I don’t have that much power. You and I don’t want that much power. We can’t be trusted with it. What I’ve learned in my own little way is that the best thing I can do is quit trying to pray God in, (grunt) faith force God into my plan. Instead, of praying all the time “God bless what I’m doing” I’m instead learning to pray “God, help me to do what YOU are blessing!” Help me get in on Your deal God. Help me trust You.
Some of you have been very disappointed with God. He didn’t come through for you on some miracle request you made of Him. You or someone you loved suffered or is still suffering. Someone you loved died. We should not be shocked by that. In the Bible God promises, until Jesus returns, He promises the world will be full of suffering.There’s another promise!
Where things go wrong in your relationship with God, is when we confuse hope with faith. God didn’t come through the way you hoped He would. You had unrealistic expectations of God that He didn’t meet and so you’ve been mad at Him. Maybe even so mad that you’ve tried to hurt His feelings like a pouting teenager and you’ve declared to your Father “I HATE YOU!” or you’ve gone even a step further and tried to hurt Him by shouting that He doesn’t even exist. Maybe you’ve complained that He let you down or that He abandoned you or whatever. I know this is hitting home hard for someone out there listening. I’m not trying to offend you or hurt you or ridicule you. I’m just trying to bring you back to the truth. You have been misled, mistaught, confused. You are lost and getting more lost all the time. Please STOP and please LISTEN! Don’t miss this! Listen!
What Jesus sent me here to tell you this morning is this. Jesus says “I am still here. I didn’t go anywhere. I didn’t abandon you. It’s just that I’ve got a plan for the ages. I’ve got a plan for redemption. I am bringing countless men and women from countless generations and locations into my eternal kingdom where suffering will no longer exist. That’s what I’m about. That’s what the big picture is all about. You can trust me. I’m going to keep my promises. Listen, I promise, everybody is going to live forever somewhere. Heaven or Hell – somewhere. I promise, I am going to come back in the future. I promise, I am going to reward you for your faithfulness in the next life. Regardless of any pain or suffering or loss you are experiencing in this life, all that will be gone in the next life. I promise! I guarantee this is going to happen. I promise! I am who I say I am and I’ve given you ample evidence. You can have confidence that I am who I say I am and that I will always do what I’ve promised to do. You can have faith.”
If you listen to some of the faith teaching out there, we are taught it is a lack of faith to pray “IF it is your will God.” In fact, I was praying with someone once who told me “Greg, don’t pray IF it is Your will God. That’s a lack of faith. You’re showing a lack of faith. That’s a cop-out to say “IF it is your will. You just need to claim it as God’s will. You just need to count it as done and expect it to happen.” I stopped him and said, “Let me ask you a question. Who do you think taught me to pray ‘If it is Your will?’ Jesus taught me that. Remember? In the Lord’s prayer? “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Jesus said that. That’s one example. Here’s another. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet NOT AS I WILL BUT AS YOU WILL!”
That’s Jesus’ example. Do we say, “Oh, poor Jesus. Poor Jesus just didn’t have enough faith, you know. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. Not as I will but as You will Father. No, no, no Jesus, that’s not how you pray. You’ve got to decide what YOU want and then (grunt) faith it into existence. You’ve just got to hold God’s feet to the fire. You’ve just got to name what You want and then claim it by faith.” Really? We’re going to lecture Jesus on faith and how to pray? Jesus modeled for us, perfect faith in the character, will, and decision-making ability of His heavenly Father. Aren’t you glad He didn’t find a way out of going to the cross. Aren’t you glad He chose the Father’s will instead? Now, I’m not saying faith is some passive thing where we just say “Well, I won’t even bother praying. Whatever happens is God’s will.” That’s not what I’m saying. God clearly INSTRUCTS us to pray and share our thoughts and hopes and desires with Him. Sometimes He is going to say yes and that is going to build our relationship with Him and strengthen our faith. Absolutely!
But faith is not ASSUMING God is going to do everything we ask Him to do as long as we believe it strongly enough. True faith, Biblical faith, is understanding God has a master plan. The most spiritually mature thing can do is to say, “God, this is what I HOPE will happen. This is what I KNOW You CAN do. This is what I’m humbly asking You to do. I know you’re a good heavenly Father and I hope you’ll give me what I’m asking for, if You deem it a good gift for me. But bottom line, Heavenly Father, I trust You. May your will on Earth be done through me as it is always done in heaven. I have confidence that You are who You say You are and that You will always do what You have promised to do. I know You CAN meet my request and I HUMBLY HOPE you will! That’s textbook, Biblical faith.
Now, the big question this leaves us with then is what HAS God promised to us? I mean, Noah, was promised a flood. He knew what to do. Joshua was promised a victory at Jericho. He knew what to do. Abraham was promised a promised land. He knew what to do. But what exactly have you and I been promised? That’s what we’re going to talk about next week. So you have to come back.
~~~~~ LET’S PRAY ~~~~~