We are starting a new series today. It’s called “Five Things God Uses to Grow Your Faith.” Over the next six weeks, we’ll look deeply at these five things, but today I want to start by talking about BIG FAITH.
What Would Big Faith Look Like?
I want you to use your imagination. Whether you’re a Christian, not a Christian, used to be a Christian, been a Christian all your life, everybody gets to play.
I want you to imagine what your life would be like if you had absolute confidence. I mean absolute, perfect confidence and assurance that 1) there really is a God; 2) a personal God who knows your name; 3) a God that will walk beside you every day through anything that comes your way and has promised to never leave you or forsake you.
Imagine if you had that kind of BIG FAITH.
Big Faith is the kind of faith that…
- When things are really, really bad, you say, “Well, there’s nothing I can do about that, but I can trust God to see me through it.”
- When you face a huge temptation, you say, “God, you know what, I don’t know how in the world I’m going to say no to that or avoid that. Everything on the inside of me wants to go that way. But I have absolute perfect faith that you are bigger than that, and I’m just going to trust you.”
- When something really great happens, the kind of great that blows your mind – all of sudden you may have way too much money and you’re like, “God, you know what, I believe you brought this my way, and I have absolute, perfect faith that you are going to use this for your good. And I’m not going to become a different person just because things are going my way.”
- When things get worse, you say, “You know what, God knows this is going on. God has a plan for my life. God has a perfect will for my life. I’m just going to put one foot in front of the other, and just trust in God.” And you’re totally at peace. No fear. No anxiety.
Imagine the kind of amazing, out-of-the-box faith that no matter what happened you just trusted God? Imagine having no fear about your kids, your marriage, your finances. It’s not that everything goes your way, but you just have this unbelievable faith that God is with you, working through you, and seeing you through.
Imagine that kind of faith. Wouldn’t that be incredible!
Big Faith: That’s Where God Wants to Take You
You’ve probably met people who have big faith like this. Maybe it’s your mom or grandmother or one of those amazing ladies who taught you in Sunday school. They’re one of those people who nothing seems to really rock their boat. You tell them all about something horrible happening in your life or in this world and instead of them getting concerned and fearful, they say, “We just have to trust the Lord with that, honey.” And your like, WHAT?! You try to tell them again, giving more information this time, all the facts, and they are not even slightly rattled. They just have this remarkable, amazing faith.
When you meet a person that has extraordinary, and I mean, big old, out-of-the-box, mind-boggling faith, even if you are not a God-fearing person, there’s just something very attractive about them. Now imagine if that was you.
I’m starting the series this way and talking about BIG FAITH because that’s where God wants to take you.
Big Faith: It’s All About Trust
When you read the Old and the New Testaments, you’ll see that God is trying to build into people an extraordinary, out-of-the-box, over-the-top, are-you kidding-me kind of confidence in Him. The reason this is the story of the scriptures and also the story of your life is because, in the beginning the break with God and man happened around the issue of trust.
In the beginning, the break between God and man wasn’t simply a matter of disobedience. It wasn’t because God gave Adam and Eve a “to do” list and they only did three out of four things. The thing that broke the relationship between God and man was man’s refusal to trust God.
Man decided that God was withholding something good from him.
Therefore, He can’t be trusted.
God doesn’t know what’s best for him.
Therefore, He can’t be trusted.
God didn’t tell me about everything.
Therefore, He can’t be trusted.
The relationship break between God and mankind happened over the issue of trust, and God has been reworking the trust thing ever since. God’s will for your life, regardless of where you are in terms of religion, church, or your background, is to draw you into a relationship that is built around absolute, perfect confidence.
God wants you to have really BIG FAITH in Him. Just imagine if you woke up every day with that kind of confidence. Everything about our lives – our relationships, our money, our anxiety, our outlook, our friends, our enemies, our work, our school, our society – would be greatly impacted with that kind of confidence in God.
In the Old Testament, God showed the rest of the world what it was like to have a relationship with Him. When God launched Israel as a nation, the first thing God did wasn’t to give them the Ten Commandments telling them how to live. In fact, it was a long time before God gave them the Ten Commandments. The first thing God did was to deliver the nation of Israel from slavery saying, Trust me. I want you to trust me. And once they had established this trust relationship, then God said, Here are some commandments that will help you stay in relationship with me and help you to live a full and blessed life. Live by these laws. But the law didn’t precede the relationship; the relationship preceded the law because God’s real desire is a relationship of trust with mankind.
So then when we come to the New Testament, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that the message of Jesus isn’t, here are ten more commandments; it’s not, be really good and maybe you’ll get to heaven; it’s not, here’s a “to do” list and if you do four out of seven God will love you. The driving message in the New Testament is God saying, I want you to put your trust in me because I’m trying to re-establish a relationship. Just as a lack of trust broke it in the garden, a realignment of trust will bring us back together.
The more confidence and the more trust you have in a relationship, the better the relationship is. That’s true in marriage. That’s true in our relationships with our children, our friends, our co-workers, and the same is true in our relationship with God.
So what is God trying to do? He’s trying to blow up your faith. He’s trying to make it BIG, because faith and trust is the essence of relationship. More than your obedience and more than you simply knowing stuff about Him, God wants a relationship characterized by:
I trust you. I don’t always understand you, but I trust you.
You don’t always answer my prayers, but I trust you.
Life doesn’t always go my way, but why fear when you’re on my side. I trust you.
The Roman Centurion’s BIG FAITH
In Matthew 8:1-13, Jesus performs two miracles. Two different guys express faith, but here’s what’s so awesome about this scripture – this is the only time in the bible that I’ve found where Jesus is amazed by something somebody else does. A lot of people are amazed at what Jesus did, but in this particular passage, this is the first time you ever see Jesus go, Whoa!
How would you like to be the only person in recorded history that did something that made Jesus go, Whoa, did you see that? And what’s interesting, is it’s not somebody doing some extraordinarily obedience thing. It has nothing to do with law. Let’s read.
Matthew 8:1-10 (NIV)
1 When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
I love this passage. This guy with leprosy falls down before Jesus and he says, I don’t know if you’ll do it or not, but I believe you can. Now that’s a lot of faith.
3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.
Jesus did it! That’s great. But the people had seen that before. No big deal – Jesus did another miracle. That definitely was a lot of trust, but the next one is even bigger.
5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help.
A centurion is a Roman soldier who has 100 men assigned to him, and whatever he says these 100 men have to do. Now we have to use our imaginations here. But here’s Jesus with this healed man and all of a sudden here comes this Roman centurion, possibly with men on his left and his right. So, of course, the disciples are thinking, Oh, we are so busted – like what have you done, why are the police coming?
Yet here comes this Roman centurion and he’s going to ask Jesus for help. Now a couple of things you should know. First, the Romans are the bad guys in first-century Judea. They are the invaders; the people who took over the Jewish land and are oppressing the people greatly hitting them with things like large taxes. These are the people that say, You, you, and you accompany me, and you never see them again. These are the people you hide from. And here comes a Roman, pagan, non-God fearing, heathen to Jesus saying, “Jesus, I need you to do me a favor.”
6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.”
At this point, I’m reading between the lines, because the Jews hated the Romans. Jesus’ followers are listening and are probably thinking, Well that’s your problem. It’s probably what you and your servant deserve, so just go away. Jesus, come on, let’s go help some Jewish people.
7 Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.”
To which Jesus’ guys are going, Wait, you can’t start helping the Romans. I mean look; the Jewish leadership already thinks we’re a little bit crazy. You start running around helping the Romans, it’s over for us. We’re all going to have to leave town.
8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.
To which, Jesus’ disciples are thinking, Well, that is true. You don’t deserve to have us come under your roof, and we don’t really want to be under your roof. But listen to this:
8 But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.
In other words, Jesus, I’ve been watching and I don’t need you to come home with me. I think if you just right here, eight blocks away, said something, do that thing that you do, I think you could heal my servant, you know, wirelessly, long distance. I think you have the power – whatever that is you got going on – to just heal my servant from here. At that point, I imagine a long pause. They’re looking to him like, wow, that is a lot of faith. And then he gives this explanation. Verse 9, just the first part:
9 For I myself am a man under authority
Implying, Jesus, you and I have something in common. I’ve been watching you, and I’ve seen the authority you have as illnesses and death obey you. I have authority over my men who do whatever I say. But the only reason these 100 guys do what I say is because I represent Rome. Now if these 100 guys do what I say because I represent Rome, and sickness and death do what you say, obviously you’re representing somebody.
So what we have in common is we’re both under authority. I get my way because I’m under the authority of Rome. I don’t know whose authority you’re under, but whoever it is, it’s way bigger than you, so you don’t need to come to my little house to heal my servant. Whoever you represent can heal my servant long distance. You’re probably going, “Is that’s what he was thinking?” Yes, that IS what he was thinking. He made an observation that nobody else thought. Here’s the rest of the verse.
9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. (Like you have sickness and death under you)
I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
Now listen to this next verse.
10 When Jesus heard this, he was thaumazo… a Greek word meaning amazed, astonished, astounded.
In other words, He went, Whoa. This is the only time this word is ever associated with Jesus. And it’s not associated with someone’s act of obedience; it’s associated with somebody’s incredible faith.
And as we see in the rest of verse 10, Jesus has to be thinking, Wow, I wish all the Jews were like this Roman centurion. Peter – pay attention. Matthew – pay attention. I wish you guys were more like the Roman centurion. The only time Jesus is ever astounded in the whole New Testament was because of somebody’s great faith and confidence in Him, because somebody realized, you’re Jesus, but there’s somebody way bigger than you, and whoever that is, is working through you. And I can put my confidence in you because of who you represent. You don’t need to come to my house; you just say the word and my servant will be healed.
Here’s how it finishes.
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.
13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.
This is such a put down. This is such a slap in the face to the Pharisees, his followers and every person in Judea. You know what moved Jesus? BIG FAITH.
And here’s a guy, who for all we know still worships Zeus. He didn’t know the Ten Commandments. He had never been to the temple. He couldn’t even get in the temple. But he recognized that Jesus had something going on bigger than Jesus. He recognized that Jesus was somehow connected to the creator of life and death, and he expressed that faith.
And Jesus said, Wow, that is what I have been trying to tell the rest of you. That’s what I’ve been trying to accomplish. This is the whole reason I came, so that men and women would say, I have absolute confidence in Jesus, because Jesus represents God, and what do I have to worry about? If I’m in the presence of Jesus – you don’t even need to come to my house, if you just say the word… I have absolute confidence, because of who you are and who you are working for. That’s BIG FAITH.
The thing that is most honoring to God is your faith. And the thing that thrills and honors God more than simply, I’m going to do what you tell me to do, and more than, I’m going to read what you want me to read, is our expressions of confidence because that’s the essence of relationships and that’s what God is after.
So What Grows Our Faith?
First, the answer is not a list you do, like if you do these five things God will make your Faith BIG. Secondly, this is not a list that’s in the Bible. And thirdly, we may be wrong. This is just an observation. You may get to the end of this series and say there’s a sixth or a seventh. That’s fine.
Again, this is just an observation. But here’s why I want to talk about these five things: because I think as you evaluate your experience up to this point, and as you continue on your faith journey, you’ll see that God uses at least these five things to grow your faith. So I want you to be aware of them.
The first one is Practical Teaching. Practical teaching is basically biblical teaching. When somebody talks about his or her faith journey, part of the story is always, And then somebody invited me to a small group; then I started going to this church; then I went to a bible study.
Somewhere along the way, somebody exposed you to practical biblical teaching. You may have grown up in church, had your own bible and never read it, and never knew there was anything in there for you. But then there was a moment when you went to this church or this study and opened God’s word and was like, Wow, I had no idea that was in there, and I had no idea the bible could be so practical.
The second one is Providential Relationships. When anyone tells his or her story, part of the story is… And then I met this person; then we met this couple; then my boss came to me and started asking me questions. All along the way, one of the things that God uses to grow our faith is people.
When you look back on your journey, you can often clearly see (sometimes years later) someone who was providential. Like God put them in your life for a reason, specifically planted them there. That group of women that invited you to their group or that group of guys that invited you to go with them to breakfast. It feels like God just plopped them down right in your path. That’s not just a relationship; that is a providential relationship.
The third one is Private Disciplines. This is that part of your life where somebody taught you how to spend time alone with God. Somebody encouraged you to begin praying on a regular basis. Somebody gave you a Bible and encouraged enough to open it and actually start reading. Somebody gave you a journal. Somebody gave you a book to read along with your Bible. Somebody challenged you to begin giving on a regular basis. Somebody may have taught you how to fast. These are the private disciplines that you begin to do on your own. And through these disciplines, God begins to do something in your heart and your faith gets bigger.
The fourth one is Personal Ministry. Generally, part of the faith story is, And then they asked me to teach; and then they asked me to volunteer. And then they signed me up on this mission trip and I said yes. These are the moments where you are moved into service to serve other people in Jesus’ name, even if you are scared to death.
Oftentimes it’s those moments that we feel so under-qualified, and we feel so in over our heads that we are just hanging onto God wondering how in the world He’s actually going to use me. And then He does it. And people write you letters that say, It changed my life. And you wondering, Who me? Is this the right address? Or you come away from those moments and all of a sudden, your faith is BIGGER because of what God did through you and because you were so dependent on Him through it.
And then finally, the fifth one is Pivotal Circumstances. This is when somebody tells the story of something big that happened in their life, that grew their faith in a really BIG way. Somebody died, somebody got sick, went through a divorce, lost a child, maybe had a child, got married. When people tell their faith story, there’s often a pivotal circumstance that could have gone either way and sometimes it’s bad and sometimes it’s good. But all so often, God uses this pivotal circumstance to build your faith.
Now again, this is NOT a to-do list. You can’t go out and do a pivotal circumstance. Right? You can’t go out and do a providential relationship. Those are things that you look back on. But here’s why it’s important to know the list. If you’re a parent, you can help your kids get into environments where these things are being leveraged. If you’re a Christian, you can get yourself and keep yourself in environments where these things are more easily leveraged. When you become aware of this and somebody asks you to serve and you’re thinking, No, no, no, no. And then you remember God uses things like this to grow my faith. Or when you lose that job, or your daughter shows up with bad news, or the doctor calls, you remember, God uses pivotal circumstances to make my Faith BIGGER.
That doesn’t take away the pain, but you remember that God will use it for good. When you begin to fall away from your spiritual disciplines, and you stumble across your dusty bible or journal, you remember that God uses this to make your Faith BIGGER.
Being aware of these things prepares us and makes us more sensitive to the ways of God, as He seeks to grow our faith. And why does He want to grow our faith? Because the greater the faith, the greater the relationship, the more intimacy you have with your Heavenly Father. And when you get bigger and bolder and more confident faith, there’s something in you that just wants to please him…because you trust him. His heart’s desire is to make your Faith BIGGER.
You know, it’s so ironic when you read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the accounts of Jesus’ life, that the men who knew the Old Testament the best and the men who were the “best” people in the whole culture didn’t recognize Jesus. Apparently, there was no moment-by-moment faith, dependency and trust in the Heavenly Father.
Jesus came along and he said, “Could I have your attention please, all of you good Jews. I’d like to introduce you to my friend, the centurion. He doesn’t know squat about the Old Testament, he’s never been to the Temple, but this man right here has more faith than anybody I’ve met, and I’m astonished, because that’s what I want for my people.”
Here’s what we’re going to do for the next five weeks. We’ll look at each of these five things. And at the end of the day, you will be a little smarter, and I hope you will be more obedient. But even more so, I hope we are all more dependent on God, more confident in God, trust Him more as we grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ. I hope that we have BIG Faith.
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, we thank you that you put so much effort and desire into getting our attention and growing not only our faith and trust, but our relationship with you. Thank you for loving us so much! We love you! In Jesus’ name, Amen.