28th Jul 2013

The Gift of Faith: a fresh encounter

By Stephen Bones

SUNDAY 28 JULY 2013

THE GIFT OF FAITH: a fresh encounter with God’s Delight and Grief

God is delighted when faith is exercised – Read Matthew 8:5-13

Matt 8:10 When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. (NIV)

This is consistent with what Paul stated in Hebrews, though Paul has gone one step further:

Heb 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  (NIV)

Do we believe this?  I have often pondered on what ‘earnestly’ means, or ‘diligently’ as in King James.  I have concluded I have not earnestly sought him, but is that because I don’t really believe this word?

What is faith?

Heb 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (NIV), or in another transaltion:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. KJV

In Greek, the word for ‘faith’ is ‘pistis’ (Strong’s 4102 – 243 occurrences, translated faith, belief, trust) – occurs where font is blue.

In Greek, the word for believe is ‘pisteuo’ (Strong’s 4100 – 244 occurrences, translated ‘I believe, have faith in) – occurs where font is red.

Same Greek root, and sometimes translated differently in different translations – see Romans 10:17 below.

How can we get such faith?

Rom 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. KJV

Rom 10:17 So belief (cometh) of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. American SV

The more we study and listen to God’s word the more our faith will grow!  Consequently if we don’t study his word, .........??

1 Cor 12:9 to another faith by the same Spirit (NIV)

Here it is listed amongst the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, though the same Greek word. So faith is a gift from God, though it seems we can ‘encourage’ God to give it to us by listening to his Word!

The opposite of faith

The other passage we are to reflect on is Luke 4:14-30, which concerns Jesus return to his home village of Nazareth just after his return from the temptations in the wilderness, where he was not accepted and they tried to kill him.  He returned there again later in his ministry, having performed many miracles elsewhere, and it was said:

Mark 6:5-6 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith. (NIV)

 Here the word for ‘faith’ is not in the Greek, but instead ‘apistia’, which is more accurately translated ‘unbelief’ or ‘distrust’, the opposite of faith. Here the ASV gets it right:

Mark 6:5-6 And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. And he marvelled because of their unbelief. American SV

Where are we today in our faith in God?

I am reminded of the following verse, which I believe is very apt for today:

Luke 18:8 However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"  (NIV)

We have had various words from God over the last year or two that we need to seek him:

2 Chronicles 7:13-14 "When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (NIV)

Joshua 3:5 Joshua told the people, "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you." (NIV)

Hosea 10:12 Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unploughed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you. (NIV)

In the current August 2013 News sheet, Andy’s leader article expands this final verse.  Please have a read if not done already. 

I have been reading again a book entitled ‘In the Day of Thy Power’, by Arthur Wallis, which is about revival, something we have been praying for for some time.  Chapter 7 is entitled ‘The Prepared heart’, and is based on Hosea 10:12.  If we are serious about God healing our land, doing amazing things amongst us and raining showers of righteousness on us and this community, I believe we still need to prepare our hearts.

Please note in all three verses it is we who have to do something, only then does God respond:

  • We must humble ourselves and turn from our wicked ways
  • We must consecrate ourselves, which includes purification from sins
  • We must break up the fallow (or hard, unfruitful) ground

We cannot and should not ask God to do this – it is our choice.  However, being a gracious and loving God, he still encourages us in this process – see 2 Chronicles 7:13 and Deuteronomy 8:2.  It is how we respond to these trials that matters!

I would like to read an extract from the chapter, and I would like us to prayerfully consider whether any of this applies to us, as they describe the nature of fallow ground and how it could be manifest in our lives.   Read pages 100-101 of In the Day of Thy Power.

Back in March 2013, I shared two statements that challenged me at the time, and still do:

‘The greatest sin in the Bible is not murder, theft or adultery, but unbelief’. (A mustard seed, daily devotional by Angus Buchan, 18/2)

C H Spurgeon said ‘Strive with all diligence to keep out that monster, unbelief.  Unbelief so dishonours Christ that He will withdraw His visible presence if we insult Him by indulging in it.’

I know this is still an issue in my life, and I believe is also true for many in the church

Conclusion

I am encouraged by an experience of Jesus with a man whose son was demon possessed since a child:

Mark 9:22-24 But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."  "'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes."  Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (NIV)

How do we know if our heart is ready, when our fallow ground has been broken up?

In the Day of Thy Power, page 110 ‘When our hearts are sensitive, responsive and impressionable to the movements of God across our lives, we may be sure the fallow ground is broken.’  Or page 113 ‘The fallow ground while it is untilled seems to suggest to us a state of complacency and of permanency,.....but when the plough has done its work,....instead an air of expectancy , of hope, of desire’.

Do you want revival?  Is your heart thirsty for more of God?  Do you hear God’s voice?  

Why does God want us to prepare our hearts?  It is because he wants to rain blessing on us, he wants to heal our land, we wants to do amazing things but, like Jesus in his home town, he is constrained by our unbelief and hardness of heart.  He is gracious and we have seen his hand at work recently, as they did to some extent in Nazareth, but he wants to do so much more! 

Tony is now to lead us in communion, a very good time to examine our hearts whilst at the foot of the Cross.  In fact we are commanded to do this (1 Corinthians 11:28).  Let us humble ourselves and confess our sins to God and, if necessary, to others, especially those we have hurt or have hurt us (Matthew 5:23).    Let’s do business with God, and seek him with all our heart, believing he will reward us.

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