At Kensington Temple we strongly encourage people to share their testimonies of the goodness of God in their lives. We know that the God who does such great things for us inspires our confidence and deserves us to honour him with strong faith. Faith cannot be manufactured, it ‘comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God’ (Romans 10:17). But it is our responsibility to grow in faith so that we move from weak faith to stronger faith.
We must get rid of all our unbelief. To achieve this, our emphasis must be more on the God of faith than on faith itself. God is the one who develops our faith. Before we accept Christ, we are affected by the secular values of the day. We can become quite cynical, but unbelief is swept away by the truth of God’s Word making room for God to work. What begins as a mustard seed can grow to become a strong tree capable of carrying many things.
So Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Have faith in God’
In order to experience breakthrough faith, we must be prepared to deal with the ·obstructions of unbelief and weak faith. We must allow God to grow faith in us as we hold on to his Word every step of the way.
Throughout their time with Jesus in the gospels, the disciples struggled against unbelief. Personally, I fight this every day of my life, as I see the tendency within me to reject the Word of God. My human nature sets itself against the truth of God and plays host to doubt and unbelief. God wants to help us overcome this and grow in faith. My constant prayer is ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’ (Mark 9:24).
Any unbelief on our part is an attack on God’s integrity. The Bible declares that God is absolutely true. He is light and in him is no darkness at all. He is a God who cannot change, who doesn’t lie, and who is totally faithful in fulfilling his promises. The omnipotent, all-powerful God of the universe backs up his Word by his power, and so any response on our part which minimises God or doubts his Word is very serious. As Numbers 23:19 says, ‘God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?’
We are far too casual about unbelief in the Western world, giving too much place to scepticism and even prizing intellectual doubt. Rather than entertaining such thoughts we should be taking the Word of God at face value and living by the truth of the Scriptures.
In the gospels, Jesus constantly encourages people to grow into greater levels of faith. In Mark chapter 6, Jesus visits his own home town of Nazareth where he is greeted by a wave of apathy. Put off by the fact that they remember him in his youth, they say scornfully, ‘Isn’t this Mary’s child, we know him, his brothers and sisters are here’, and so they stumbled because of this familiarity. What was working behind this was lack of faith. It actually says in Mark 6:5: ‘Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.’ There is a connection between their lack of faith and their inability to receive from God. That inability to receive from God also limited what Christ himself was able to do for them.
On one occasion a man brought his demon-afflicted son to Jesus and said, ‘Your disciples couldn’t cast the demon out. If there is anything you can do, please help me.’ Jesus looked out across the crowd that had gathered and said, ‘Oh faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you and bear with you?’ (Luke 9:41). Is there anything more perverse than human beings who are created in the image of the God, whose every breath comes as his gracious gift and who receive his daily provisions of goodness, then refuse him when he speaks to them? Man is so weak, so puny, and so finite by comparison to the eternal, uncreated God, and yet we would listen to God’s Words and say, ‘I don’t believe it.’ Jesus identifies it accurately, ‘You perverse generation.’
Unbelief is rooted in our sinful human nature. We entertain a stubborn refusal to believe. Throughout his ministry, Jesus told his disciples that he was going to die and be raised again from the dead, but when it happened they did not believe it. Jesus had told his disciples to meet him in Galilee after he had been raised from the dead. But they didn’t do it; instead, they remained in Jerusalem. The women who had gone to the tomb went to the disciples and reported that they had seen Jesus, but they still didn’t believe. Other reports came flooding in to the disciples, including the account of the two who had met Jesus on the road to Emmaus. They went back and told the rest but they were not believed either. Afterwards, Jesus himself appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table while they were eating and he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe.
At the very heart of our rebellious human nature lies this same stubborn refusal to believe. We cannot believe God with our natural faculties alone, it takes a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.
Strengthening Weak Faith
Another level of faith is weak or faltering faith. This description may be applied to many Christians today. One minute they are up, the next they are down. When things are going well they are praising God and full of faith until, that is, they encounter the slightest opposition or difficulty. When facing ridicule at work or some personal obstacle, they cave in. They are doing fine until some newspaper discredits a prominent evangelist, or some new liberal view of who they suppose Jesus really is gets published in a popular magazine and suddenly faith is shaken. This is so sad because our faith is not founded on intellectual trends but on the Word of God, which lives and abides for ever (Isaiah 40:8).
Jesus addresses the issue of weak faith in the Sermon on the Mount when he asks why we run around, anxiously trying to gain the things that God is willing to provide for us anyway. He points to the birds of the air and the flowers of the field and reminds us that our heavenly Father feeds the birds of the air and clothes the flowers of the field. Not even Solomon in all his glorious splendour was clothed like they are. And so, Jesus says in Matthew 6:30: ‘Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you? O, you of little faith.’
Weak faith leads us to worry excessively about the ordinary circumstances of life. What are we going to eat? Where are we going to live? What are we going to wear? What about tomorrow? Instead of this, God is calling us to believe him in a strong way, expecting him to fulfil his Word to us and all the time growing in faith. Strong faith is built by focusing on God and his kingdom, while trusting his provision for our temporal needs. As Jesus says, ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to- you.’
It is so often fear that holds our faith back, keeping it from developing. The New Testament exposes fear as an enemy of faith. Take, as an example, Matthew 8:23-27 where Jesus is in the boat. It is a fascinating story because the storm rages in the middle of the lake and the disciples begin to panic. All the while, Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat but finally, they wake him: ‘Lord, save us! We are going to die!’ Jesus’ reply is recorded in verse 26: ‘Why are you so fearful, 0 you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves and it was completely calm. Of course, they should have known that if Jesus was there he was going to look after them and he wasn’t going to let anything happen.
In Luke’s gospel, we read that they had more than the presence of Jesus in the boat, they also had his Word, ‘Let us cross over to the other side of the lake’ (Luke 8:22). This is exactly the same for us today; we have his Word and his Spirit with us, why be afraid? Fear drives out faith. On the other hand, if we take faith and grow in it, then fear is driven out. Fear and faith are opposites: ‘Do not be afraid, only believe!’ (Mark 5:36).
Inspiring Great Faith
The opposite of weak faith is great faith. Great faith may be defined as recognising who Jesus really is. He is the Lord of the universe, the great King, the God of the nations whose authority is unquestionable.
Do you remember the story in Matthew 8:5-13 about the centurion who goes to Jesus to tell him that his servant is sick? Jesus replies, ‘Let me come with you and I will heal him.’ But the centurion refuses, ‘No, I don’t need you to do that. I am not worthy for you to come into my house. You are a man of authority, as I am a man of authority. I have people under me and I have people over me and if I say to my servant, this is what you are to do the servant obeys. All you need to do is to speak the word and it shall be done.’ When Jesus heard this, he was astonished, and told those following him, ‘I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!’
What a tragedy. The very people that should have been moving in strong faith actually were full of unbelief. I can remember many situations when I have found it much easier to minister to people whom we would not expect to have faith. Non-Christians are sometimes more prepared to take us at our word than Christians who are supposed to have faith. If we say ‘God heals the sick’, many unbelievers say, ‘OK, pray for me then.’ But the believers will give us twenty-seven reasons why it’s not going to work! There seem to be so many negative influences to block our faith, and God wants to break them down and release us to develop strong faith that overcomes.
The other great example in the gospels of this level of faith came from a woman who was also not from Israel. A Gentile woman from Canaan came to Jesus and cried out, ‘Have mercy on me, 0 Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed’ (Matthew 15:22). Finally the exasperated disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Get rid of her, Lord, she is bothering us!’ Jesus answered her, ‘I was not sent, except for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she became all the more insistent and fell down before him saying, ‘Lord help me!’ But he answered again with the words, ‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.’ Then she replied, ‘Yes, that’s true, but even the dogs eat from the crumbs which fall under the master’s table!’
The average church member today would have been offended by such treatment at the hand of a so-called man of God and would have gone off in a huff to find another church. But not this woman. The Lord often ‘offends the mind to reveal the heart’ and having seen what was inside this woman, he was amazed at her faith: ‘O Woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire’, and her daughter was healed at that very hour. The greatness of this woman’s faith was that she would not be put off; she was persistent. She refused to be discouraged and held on to the principle that God was willing to bless. She was not going to take ‘No’ for an answer. This is the essence of great faith.
What has choked the life out of our faith as Western Christians? Is it the fact that we have everything we need without trusting God? Most Christians seem anxious only to ensure they have their ticket to heaven, and everything else they need is provided by today’s affluent society. In contrast, many people in Arica, India, Asia and parts of South America are more obviously dependent on God. The humble poor believe, while the rich and arrogant put their trust in their personal wealth, status and superior education. What an indictment on us!
All our Western values, education and scientific knowledge have produced is arrogant self-assertion against God who made us and gives us the very breath we breathe. Centrally, the issue is one of pride and self-reliance. The centurion, for all his authority and status, was ready to accept the superior authority of Jesus. He not only recognised Jesus’ authority, but he also submitted himself to it by asking the Lord to exercise it on his behalf.
Attaining Perfect Faith
As. we go through the New Testament we find that there is yet a further level of faith: perfect or mature faith. This is the kind of faith that moves mountains, overcomes obstacles, is triumphant through trials and holds on, not weakened by circumstances, but presses through for as long as is necessary to receive the answer from God. It is breakthrough faith. In Mark chapter 11
Jesus speaks of this kind of faith when he says, ‘Have faith in God.’ Here at once we see perfect faith at work. It has the power to move mountains and yet, as a similar passage from the gospel shows, it is only mustard seed faith. The emphasis is on quality faith, not on how much faith we can muster up ourselves. The focus is on God and not on man.
Never have faith in faith but have faith in God. He has the power, the capacity and the solutions. Some translate the phrase as, ‘Have the faith of God’ meaning ‘Have the God-kind of faith, the faith that God gives.’ This kind of faith is Holy Spirit inspired and is perfect, powerful and pure, because it welcomes God into the situation. It is not mixed with doubt or supposition. It clings to the revealed will of God and shuns all presumption, but once it is fixed like a missile homing device, it always finds its target. Such is faith is clarity; such is faith is certainty.
We need this capacity to see clearly in today’s world. We live in a society where there are no certainties – only shifting values and changing ideas. In contrast, mature faith lays hold of God’s certainties in the midst of all of this and stands tall on a secure foundation, confident that God will fulfil his Word.
The Word of God carries within it the power of its own fulfilment. All we have to do is to open our hearts, receive his Word in childlike simplicity and God does the rest. He begins to grow our faith and challenge it through tests and trials. These come to develop its strength and integrity. The more intense the trials, the more triumphant the faith. We see God dealing this way with all the great men and women of faith, until faith emerges tried and tested, strong and mature.
And all this brings him glory. Faith is not an end in itself, or even ultimately for our own benefit, but for God. By faith we can achieve great things for God and his kingdom on earth!