Peter Thompson – “So Little Faith”
07 October, 2018
Scripture reading: Matthew 6:25-34
I'd like you to turn with me to Matthew 6. We're going to read from verse 25 in a moment, but let me first of all make this point to you: as we approach the scriptures this morning let's remind ourselves, and we have actually just been reminded of this in that prophetic word, let's remind ourselves that we are called to live not from the place where we think of ourselves as being nothing, as being useless or sinful, but from the place where we can claim our new identity as the chosen children of God. That's who we are today for those who have given their lives to the Lord Jesus. We’re chosen children of God, and we can come before God with confidence and with assurance that he hears us and he answers us.
In Matthew 6:25 as a part of the Sermon on the Mount, we read the following:
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (NLT)
The title of today's sermon is simply this: So Little Faith. Have you ever felt that you only had a little faith, that somehow it isn't enough? In Matthew’s gospel, you may already know this, but you might be interested to know that that term “little faith” is used five times and this description of someone with only a little faith refers to someone who doesn't have faith for a specific event, rather than an ongoing, permanent failure of faith. It is due either to lack of knowledge on the disciples’ part or to acting without faith in a particular incident. If someone doesn't have any faith, that would be described as unbelief.
In today’s passage, the cause of insufficient faith is because the disciples don't understand their value to God, nor did they appreciate his providential care in life. But in Matthew 8:26 when they're there in a boat on the sea of Galilee and it was a great storm, and they thought they were going to die, they also were told “ye of little faith”. And in 14:31 when Peter was walking on water, which is a wonderful thing to be able to claim to have done, Jesus is “Why did you have little faith?”, “Why did you doubt?”. In both those instances the disciples don't understand God's protection and his authority in the midst of physical danger. In 16:8 the disciples fail to comprehend Jesus' saying about the yeast and Jesus makes a comment “You have little faith.” And then in 17:20 they’re not able to exorcise a demon and once again they have an instance of failure which along with the other four, are failure with respect to a calling, rather than having no faith at all. The calling being that particular instance that they were confronted with and how they responded. To it put simply, in Matthew’s gospel the term faith reflects at least two ideas: trust (personal reliance upon the Lord in a situation and in life) and belief (an affirmation of the truths that you believe). Matthew is concerned about a lack of trust shown by a follower of Jesus in specific situations - five of them in all - rather than a failure to have basic belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior. And so we could say as Christians that in reality there are times in our lives where we don't lose sight of who Jesus is, but we do in the moment fail in some ways to have the necessary faith to respond to a circumstance as we could respond.
Jesus wants his followers to not only believe in him but also to trust, to love and to obey him in life's daily challenges. That's the wonderful invitation that we have - to be able to respond in the midst of life's challenges to what Jesus is asking us to do. Moments where our faith proves to be too little for the challenge are in fact invitations to grow in faith, so that the next time we confronted with some sort of challenge we actually overcome it and meet the challenge because we've learnt from the previous occasion and we've sought greater of faith for the day and for the moment.
The parable of the mustard seed which also is in Matthew’s gospel Chapter 13 illustrates this point. Faith might start out as a small seed but it is designed to grow to be significant. Inevitably, faith will grow given the right soil. And it doesn't matter how insignificant Faith may appear at the start, it can grow to be significant to the believer and two others attracted to him or her.
Let me give you an example from own life recently. About a month ago I played a little bit too much tennis a little bit too intensely and I injured my heel. I injured my left achilles heel to such an extent that within a couple of days after the Monday night when I played (particularly well!) I discovered that I could barely walk. I was like that for a week. My wife and I had to go to Sydney for a conference, Catch the Fire conference, and I thought will I get some prayer for it there. But just before I went, I went to my doctor on the Thursday and he looked at it and he said “I've never seen an Achilles tendon so inflamed. What have you done?” He thought about gout, by my blood test of my uric acid from the previous time was very low, so he thought “Probably isn't gout”. But the burning and the pain and sensation in my left heel was just really strong and rather painful. We went to Sydney I got prayer a couple of times that a wonderful conference - people getting slain in the spirit all over the place - and whilst I was in the conference my heel seem to be alright and a couple of times I walked out at lunch time or at the end of the day I walked to the car and Judy herself, my wife, commented: “You seem to be walking normally,” and I was, but within an hour or two the pain would return. Was that because of little faith? So a week after I've been to the doctor and I come back from the conference and things had not improved at all, I had under ultrasound an injection of cortisone. The doctor said to me “Now you might feel a slight twinge when I do this…” and at the end of the injection, not having moved, not having yelled or carried on, not even cried, but at the end of the injection he said “So how you doing?” and I said, “Well, slight is probably not the adjective I would have used!”. However, within 24 hours the pain had lessened dramatically and he said to me “You'll know within 24 to 48 hours.” It was about 65% better and I thought “Well, this is good” and I started walking a little bit more easily. But I also felt in myself an impression from the Lord that I should go to the Healing Rooms up the road. So I did on the Monday morning, and I walked in and I was greeted with “What are you here for!? Are you here for prayer or you here for something else?” (laughs). I put aside that greeting (laughs). So I sat in the Healing Rooms and had prayer. I felt the Lord's presence even driving out there, and I had prayer and a couple of things were said to me during the team’s praying - I actually had a little bit of insight from the Lord and prayed something quietly to myself - but I left the Healing Rooms and within 24 hours 65% of the pain at gone from the cortisone injection but the other 35% had gone totally from going to the Healing Rooms. You see, when I obeyed that thought to go to the Healing Rooms, along with the thought, “Yes, honour the doctors and get a cortisone injection” when I obeyed those thoughts and exercised faith, I discovered that God met me. I will come back to that example a little later at the end of the sermon.
You know James 1:6 reveals that when we ask for wisdom with an undivided heart we will receive that wisdom and that's a key for faith to grow. We do so, we grow in faith, when we have undivided loyalty to the one that we believe in and the one that we follow. So I want to ask you this question: Why do some Christians today (too many I think), Why do some Christians today feel like they have so little faith? Why is that? “My faith’s not good enough”, “I'm not really good enough for God”. Where is the focus of your eyes whenever that thought’s occurring? It’s upon yourself. It's not upon God and it’s not upon the Word of God. It’s not upon who God says you are. When you’re struggling with self-identity, what’s the issue? The issue is simply this: you’re not listening to what the scriptures say about you, you’re listening to what the world would say. You're listening to your feelings. You know, our faith is more important than our feelings. The key to what we feel is our faith. Not what someone else's said about us or whether our chemical balances are in place or anything else. Faith is the key to those things.
Why do so many Christians feel they have so little faith? I want to suggest to you that another key to this, and answer to this, can be found in 1 Corinthians. In 14:1 of 1 Corinthians the Apostle Paul encourages us to eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. And two chapters earlier in 12:7, he instructs that everyone has a contribution to make through discovering and exercising the particular spiritual gift of the Holy Spirit that has been designated for each individual member of the church, in order that they might contribute to the benefit of the church.
So what do spiritual gifts have to do with not feeling we have enough faith? Firstly, let's remember that the spiritual gifts, as I've already alluded to, are given for the benefit of the Body of Christ, not for the individual who is exercising the gift. And I know, Bev Moyle was a pastor in our church for a long time, she had a word this morning, I know others of you might have had a word, and if we had more time or if we weren't all looking at our watches to see if he finishes by 12:30, and it's after 12:30 (that's my way of saying if you need to go that's fine) but I'm going to finish this word and I think that's more important.
Being given opportunity to exercise our gifts is a part of growing in faith. A spiritual gift is given to each of us so that we can help each other the New Living Translation says in 1 Cor 12:7. And I think that over the past few decades an emphasis has crept into many churches, including perhaps our own, that anyone can operate in any of the gifts of the Spirit as the Holy Spirit operates or determines. Now I do think that the Holy Spirit can use anyone for any gift, but I also think that we’ve adopted a generalist practice within the church: “Everyone can do everything”. But that isn’t biblical. The biblical things is: “You have a gift, or gifts, and you seek after, and you develop, and you nurture, those gifts.” Every one of us should be able to say “This is the gift that I believe God wants”. But the key to being able to say that is to have that confirmed by the Pastors and leaders of the church. Not just to be off telling everyone this is the gift you have, but not being accountable within the church body that you’re called to. I believe that the scriptures, particularly 1 Cor 12, talks about having a specialist approach. Some people specialise, just as with doctors. Some people specialise in particular gifts.
And so, because of the generalist practice I think that many of us have stepped back a little bit from really targeting and seeking after the specialist gifting that we have been designated with in order to build up the Body of Christ, the church. Where are the gifts supposed to be expressed? We’ve also taken the gifts out on to the street, but we’ve failed to realise that only one of those gifts is really on the street.. The majority of the gifts are for in the church, and for building up the body of the church. Sure, everyone can be used to heal, but how many of us have been recognised to operate consistently in the gift of healing? How many in this church are recognised to have a gift of healing, to have a prophetic gifting. This person has the gift of discernment of spirit, this person works miracles, this person brings a word of wisdom into a situation, this person is not only able to speak in tongues, this person is able also to bring an interpretation of tongues. When was the last time within a church meeting we actually had a tongue given and interpreted? And if not for a while, why not? Because this is the place where the gifts are meant to be expressed.
And because of that generalist approach I just think that we've lost some cutting edge within the church’s life because when we're not taking the risk of exercising our gifts, what happens is we're not growing in faith, our faith isn't increasing, we're not seeing “Hey you know, God used me. God has blessed that person as a consequence”. Where has the acknowledgment by the pastors of the church that Joe and Jenny Bloggs have proven over time that they carry and humbly exercise a God given gift of healing for the benefit of the church? Where has that gone? A spiritual gift is meant to grow into a grace, and eventually into a recognised ministry, within a congregation. Where are the recognised specialists in our midst? Who are the prophets with a proven and a tried track record? Who are the healers, who are the miracle workers, and so on. As Henri Nouwen said: “The spiritual life is to be lived together; the spiritual life is to be lived together”. And the Spirit gathers us as believers into a body for two reasons: one is accountability and the second one is for mutual support. A person honestly seeking to know God's will and way will choose to be in community among his people, looking to serve and to bless them, because that's the place where faith grows.
The church dynamically grows as our faith grows and faith grows as each individual member discovers and learns to minister in the gift or the gifts that he or she have been blessed with within the community of believers. “So little faith” is an invitation to grow in faith by learning to exercise the gifts of the Spirit that God releases and blesses a whole community with, according to the Apostle Paul.
One final testimony: after a month’s absence I returned to playing tennis about 2 weeks ago. I was asked by the people that I was playing with “How did you recover so quickly from an achilles tendon tear?” because there's another guy who plays who has tried to recover for two years. I told them my story: I went to the doctor, under ultrasound had an injection of cortisone, it improved 65%, a week later God told me to go to the Capital Healing Rooms for healing prayer. “What's that?” they said, “I just sat there, they I prayed for me, that my leg would heal”. I said “Within 24 hours the other 35% was there and I was fine. I went for a run yesterday to make sure that I can play tennis today.” We then play tennis for two and a half hours. One of the people who turned up halfway through the play was the guy with the bad achilles. In one of the breaks between sets he said to me “You've had achilles trouble have you?” I said yes. “So how did you get that right?”. He hobbles around on the court, he’s a very good player but he doesn't get around the way he'd like to. He said to me “How did you get that done?” So I told him. I said “I had an injection of cortisone, improved about 65%, and then I went to a place where you can get prayer for healing. Within 24 hours the other 35% was there, it was fine”. He looked at me. We played another couple of sets. At the end of the day’s play, we were walking to where we put our racquets on a bench, just having a chat, he walks up to me in front of everyone he says “So, what do I have to pray to get healed?” Thirty minutes beforehand he’s using the Lord’s name as a profanity in the midst of a bad shot, and here he is asking me in front of everyone what he has to pray. I thought I could write down a prayer for him, I thought I could tell him how to get to the Healing Rooms, he might not, and then I thought “Well, I could really embarrass myself and offer to pray for him right here and now”. So that’s a question just right there - is there “so little faith”, or is there faith in the midst of the opportunity? See, that’s where you either have the faith for it or not.
Just last Friday I was playing, one old man, he’s 86, he still plays tennis, we were walking over after one particular set...and he said “Doesn’t Romans 12:3 say something about you being kind to your opponents?”. I stopped and I said “Do you know what Romans 12:3 says?”. He said “No, I don’t actually”. I said, “Let me tell you, it talks about allowing your mind to be renewed so that you think how God thinks, rather than how man thinks.” and he went “Oh...” It was just silence. And this older Roman Catholic guy turned to me and he said “You never miss an opportunity do you!?” But see, that's the point. That's the point. Who else will speak into these people’s lives? You may not convert them at that point, but you are at least exercising some faith. You’re giving some testimony.
And so going back to the story, I said to the guy “I'll pray for you right now if you like” and he said “Ok”. I said “Sit down on the bench.” He did. He said “What's the guarantee that this prayer work?” I said “Well that's really up to God isn't it. I don't bat 100% when I pray for people, but I reckon around 40% of people that I pray for significantly improve as a result of the prayer. That's not too bad. 100% of them feel better for having been prayed for, irrespective of whether the physical healing occurs. If you don't mind that sort of ratio, I'm happy to pray for you”. So I did. I prayed quickly, I prayed to the point, but I had lifted his leg, knelt before him and lifted his leg and my hands were burning - the heat in his leg was quite obvious. And I finished. I said “Well, you’ll know within the next 24-48 hours if you've been healed” and he jumped up off the seat and he said “I can tell you, I feel better already” and I just simply said to him “That's because the presence of the Holy Spirit is on you because I prayed for you. It feels pretty good doesn't it?” There are about eight people standing there, watching, people who are fairly arrogant in terms of their own intelligence and abilities and what they’ve achieved in life and yet here is an opportunity.
I didn't find out on Friday if you got healed because he's got the flu! However, I'm looking forward to finding that out next Friday if he's there. Now I don't want you to think that was the prayer that gave him the flu… But you see “so little faith” - we’re meant to exercise those gifts, we’re meant to seek after those gifts. I noticed in the newsletter the Healing Rooms are having team training - if you think you might have a gift of healing, what better thing to get involved? You'll find out whether you do in that environment. You will have opportunity to give expression to that gift. Or, the prayer teams after church. Or, there is an evangelism thing coming up in a couple of weeks. Have a look at those things. But ask yourself this: what is the gift that you have been given and how are you nurturing it? How are you seeking to develop it? There might be more than one gift. There are nine mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 but there are more than that, they’re a means of service as well. But we're talking specifically about gifts they come because of the Holy Spirit’s power operating upon us and through us for the benefit of the body.
You know, the phrase “so little faith” is actually an invitation to us to grow in faith by trusting and being obedient to the leading and the opportunities that God brings our way. We’re not meant to feel we have insufficient faith, we meant to be people who are growing in faith. That's why we’re works in progress. We haven't got it all, but we’re growing, we’re progressing in the works and the things that God calls us to be a part of. So let me leave you with this question: what spiritual gift do you function in, and is your faith growing as you use it to bless others?
I bless you with the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. May they rest and abide upon your heart and mind from this time forward, forever more. Amen