We are in the 4th week of the series called Five Things God Uses To Grow Your Faith. The idea of this series is that when people tell their faith story, the same five things seem to pop up over and over again in their stories.
They are five things that God seems to consistently use to grow BIG Faith. These five things are not listed in the Bible. It’s not a checklist you can do. But they are five things that when you know them, you can look back and see how every faith journey has them. And when you are aware of them, you can put yourself in places where God can utilize them.
This is when we are in an environment where we open God’s Word in a very practical kind of way for the very first time.
This is when God brings people into our lives that grow our faith BIG.
These are the things we do in private to grow our faith BIG.
These are the moments when you are moved into service to serve other people in Jesus’ name.
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.
These are five things that over and over again, we see God using to grow faith in BIG ways and to build our confidence and trust in Him.
When you look through the pages of the Old and the New Testaments, it quickly becomes evident what God is trying to do in all of us is re-establish a relationship of trust and confidence. As I mentioned earlier in the series, man’s problem with God began not just simply through disobedience; man’s problem with God began when mankind decided not to trust God. The story of the Old Testament is God re-establishing a trust relationship with a nation as a model for the rest of the world. In the New Testament, we find God re-establishing a trust relationship with the rest of the world through Jesus Christ.
It’s a relationship through His Son, Jesus, whose message 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 “todo” list and if you do four out of seven God will love you. No, the driving message in the New Testament is God saying, I want you to put your trust in me. And just as a lack of trust broke it in the first place (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, right? That’s true in marriage. That’s true in our relationships with our children, our friends, and our co-workers. The same is true in our relationship with God.
What God wants to do is grow BIG Faith in you, because faith and trust is the essence of a 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.“
So how does God grow our faith BIG? At least through these five things. There very well could me more, but we are focusing on these five things, and today I want to talk about the third one, Providential Relationships.
God uses human relationships to grow our faith in Him.
To get us started, I want you to think of someone that you feel God used to make your faith stronger or bigger. (I’d rather it not be a family member. If it is, that’s fine). Look back on your life. Who do you feel that God brought along and kind of intersected your life with theirs and as a result of that relationship, as a result of that person in your life, (It could have been a conversation. It could have been just watching his or her life) your faith in God got bigger?
If you wouldn’t say you are a Christian yet, I’ll ask it to you this way. Who in your life has God used to cause you to have an interest in faith, to re-examine faith, to give faith a chance, or to give God a chance? (It may be the person who gave you the link to watch this sermon.) Who do you have a relationship with that has caused you to take a new interest in, or become curious once again about your faith? (That really is the real reason you’re listening, right?)
I want you to hold that person in your mind. Think about what he or she said or what happened that caused you to begin to explore your faith again or for your faith to grow.
For me, three people come to mind. (Since I asked you not to make it a family member, I’ll try to stick with that too.)
Jeanine taught Sunday school in my home church. When I was about 12 years old (I was the only one my age – others were a few years older or younger) Jeanine took me under her wings and asked me to be her assistant with the younger children’s Sunday school class. I knew it was hard for her to get up and down from sitting on the floor due to an old hip injury so I was happy to help. She is a pillar of faith. Her faith in my view, especially as a child, was HUGE! She is humble, quiet, and such a sweet person. She’d be blushing and looking down right now if she heard me talking about her like this. But I looked up to her as a child and still do. Her love for children, her humbleness, her determination, her trust in God, and her love for God are truly things to admire. She encouraged me greatly over the years. And I will forever be grateful that she found an interest in me and took me under her wings.
Diane is a friend I met while working in a small office with about a half dozen women. We had fairly long lunch breaks due to the long days we worked, so we would eat lunch together and walk all around Gettysburg for exercise. I wasn’t into it as much as she was but she drug me along. Talks about faith slowing crept into our newly developed friendship and we’ve been friends for over 15 years now. She is steady, strong, good at private disciplines, and she challenged my faith in many ways. On those walks, she helped me to see what God was doing in my life and even why He was doing some of it. She helped me to see a different side and perspective of God. We didn’t always agree on the topic, but we respected each other enough to challenge each other to see from one another’s eyes.
John became a dear friend as he became my pastor – the pastor I had just before I started in ministry. In fact, I tell him it’s his fault I’m a pastor. He’s learned to just say thank you. He slipped me books like “From Pew to Pulpit.” I couldn’t figure out why he would do such a thing. But over time I learned that he was doing just what God wanted him to do. He was the one who was there, the first one I told when I realized God was calling me into ministry. It was like God was using him to shape me once more and affirm the call. John even helped me to see how prayer truly works. He would say, I prayed for this and God did it. I remember thinking…God does that?! I knew God answered prayers, but they were some pretty big things that John prayed for and God actually answered in very practical ways!
When I look back on these three relationships I can easily associate them with the word providential – meaning God-given, or put-there-on-purpose, kind of relationships. It’s as if God allowed these three individuals to intersect with my life at just the right juncture.
Now, I had a part. I could have said, “No, I don’t want to help with the kid’s class”, “I don’t want to take a walk”, or “I don’t have time to read your book”. It’s not like God forced His way into my life.
I chose, by the grace of God, to participate and to lean into these relationships (even though oftentimes they were uncomfortable) they shaped, and in some cases rescued my faith. They shaped my view of God, my understanding of Christianity, my view of the world, and helped me understand how the truth of God intersects and integrates into real life. I, therefore, consider these to be Providential Relationships.
Faith Stories always include providential relationships.
I’ve never heard someone say, (maybe your story is the exception) “I discovered God on my own. I grew in my faith in God. I became everything God wanted me to be, and it had absolutely nothing to do with anyone in my life.”
Generally speaking, when people tell their faith story (they don’t use the term, but) they describe Providential Relationships. That’s why we’ve made the case that one of the five things God uses on a consistent basis in our lives to grow our faith is providential relationships. The relationships that, looking back, seem to be God-given, or put-there-on-purpose.
Again, sometimes it’s just a conversation. I’ve heard stories that a whole life changed around a conversation. For other people, it’s a series of conversations.
Some of us would say…
“You know what, it really wasn’t anything they said I just watched them live their lives. I just watched them do marriage. I saw them prioritize their families. I saw them walk away from deals. In our relationship, I saw them mirror a completely different set of values than what were in my life, and consequently something happened in my faith. I began to think maybe there is a God; maybe there is a God that would intersect with my life.”
Others might say…
“I came back to church.” Or, perhaps, “I came for the first time because of a relationship that seemed to intersect perfectly with my life.”
The point of today’s message, is simply that God uses human relationships to impact our faith in Him. That’s it. God uses human relationships to blow up, influence, and impact our faith in Him.
Relationships also have the potential to undermine our faith.
Now you know, the opposite is also true. This is a principle, like all principles – it works both ways. The other question I could ask you (which may be more awkward to answer) is: Has there been anyone in your life who undermined your faith in God? Are there any relationships in the past that kind of took the legs out from underneath your faith, caused you to believe less, and as a result, you found yourself further from God and further from where you wanted to be in life?
Oftentimes relationships have the potential to undermine our faith. If you were really honest, would your greatest regrets (if you were to trace them back) lead to…relationships? Perhaps there is an invitation you wish now you had said no to, a date you wish you had never gone out on, or a business opportunity you wish you’d walked away from. Generally, if you would trace back your greatest regret, you’d trace them back to relationships.
I don’t meet many people who say, I got into trouble all by myself and no one else was involved. (That’s a little bit hard to do. I’m sure it’s possible, but hard to do.) The habits that you have such a hard time breaking were probably introduced to you through a relationship. Why? Because relationships are powerful things. That’s why (we can count on this for the rest of our lives) God uses the power of relationships to build our faith. But because relationships can intersect with our faith for good and for bad, the wrong kinds of relationships have the potential to undermine our faith. The right kinds of relationships, however, have the potential to build and to grow our faith.
Now, the challenge is what you do with that. (I doubt too many people would argue with me here.) We have enough history to see that there really aren’t any neutral relationships. Everybody you come into contact with in some way either erodes your faith in God or helps to build it. But if that’s the case, what do you do with it? I mean, a Providential Relationship isn’t something you can just go out and do. It’s God-given. It kind of just happens. It pops into your life at the right time.
Providential Relationships are something we can leverage.
I believe by being aware of the significance of relationships as it relates to our faith, we can leverage this principle of providential relationships.
You may have been raised in a religious tradition where you’ve never heard anyone talk about this. In your religious tradition, faith was all about Sunday morning events, someone reading something to you, or your prayer life. Faith was this personal, private, Sunday kind of thing. So consequently, you’ve never asked this question: How can I leverage current relationships for the sake of building my faith?
If you’ve never asked yourself that question, you may be missing out on one of the primary things God would like to do going forward to build and establish your faith.
I feel like we need to figure out how to leverage this principle for our good because every single day you are around people who could care less about your faith. You are around people that have the potential (even though it may not be a reality yet) to undermine your faith. You live in a culture that is not pushing us toward greater faith in God, but instead away from it.
Every single day we are introduced to circumstances, events, and things on the news that have the potential make us think maybe God is not in control. Maybe God is not so faithful. Maybe I can’t wake up every single day confident that God is with me in spite of what I see. Our culture is rarely towards good things. It’s always towards bad things and tries to drive you in that direction.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m rarely tempted to do the right thing. Just think about that. Rarely do I think, “You know I really wasn’t going to be kind, but I just gave in and was kind anyway.” That’s not normal. You may be nudged by God to do the right things, but you are tempted by culture to do the wrong things.
My human nature and our culture cause me to drift away from confidence and faith in God. So, that being the case, if there is a way to leverage providential relationships that will help build, establish, and create greater confidence in God, I don’t want to miss it.
Here’s what I believe is true.
There are things that we can do to work with our Heavenly Father to create a Providential Relationship.
In every relationship you are in, you have a choice to make. It could be that there are relationships that God is keying you up for right now and if you’re not careful, you’ll miss them.
I imagine that most of us could look back on a time in our lives where we could say we missed it. I bet many of us have stories that might go something like this: “Looking back a year ago, five years ago, or even ten years ago, there was a person who came into my life who was constantly trying to talk to me about God. There was that person who kept wanting to have lunch with me. There was that couple that kept inviting me to church and I just kept putting them off.”
Perhaps that was God’s way of trying to get your attention through this principle – through a relationship. You had a choice to make and you decided to walk away. I want to encourage you to think about that today. Let’s not do that anymore. If relationships can be providential, if God uses people to pump up, build, and create greater faith, then we need to ask the question, “How do I leverage that?” not “how do I go another season of my life and miss out on that?”
Let’s look at Scriture
I want to show you just two verses of Scripture. One is in the Old Testament and one is in the New Testament. The reason I’m showing you these verses is that they reiterate for us what our experience already tells us – God uses relationships to impact and to grow our faith.
The first one is found in the book of Proverbs. In the original language, this is not a command; it’s more an observation.
Walk with the Wise
Proverbs 13:20 (NLT)
20 Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.
You don’t have to be a Christian or a religious person to understand this verse. (This goes back to what I said a minute ago – our greatest regrets stem back to a relationship.) Here’s the promise of this verse. (The wisest man in the world, by the way, says this.) The people you choose to surround yourself with have the potential to impact your spirituality. If you choose to walk with wise people, do life with wise people, surround yourself with the right kinds of people, then God uses those relationships to create something good in you, in this case, wisdom. (For some of you, this is not new. For others, it could be, but we all need this reminder.)
The second verse is from the New Testament.
There is a spiritual nature to relationships
1 Corinthians 15:33 (NIV)
33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”
This seems like common sense, right? If you have kids you may be thinking, I need to hang that in my kid’s room: Bad company corrupts good morals. See the Bible says so!
You don’t even need to be a God follower or a religious person to know relationships can have a negative impact. But the God who loves you and has invited you to call him Father, who cares about your character, and cares about the consequences of your decisions says, You know, it’s more than simply common sense; there is a spiritual component too relationships.
The wrong kinds of influences impact you in a way that creates the wrong kinds of outcomes and behaviors. Why? Because relationships are power things. There is a spiritual nature to relationships, and just as he or she who walks with the wise has the potential to grow wise, so in the same way bad company corrupts good morals. Now again, we’ve all seen that in some way.
The question is if this is a principle that works for us or against us – if this is a principle that God wants us to leverage in order to blow up our faith – what do we do with it?
We can create the potential for Providential Relationships
This is why we around here do church together, and not just worship, but small groups, and mission work. This is why this church is so good at creating relationships. It’s not that we think we can create a Providential Relationship. We know we can’t. But we have learned that we can create the potential for Providential Relationships, one of those God relationships where you look back a year from now and realize it had an impact on your life.
The way we leverage this is to be intentional about putting ourselves in environments where God may create one.
This is why if you are exploring faith, please just don’t sit here and listen to me preach week after week. Please get in a small group because in a small group you don’t simply get content, you meet people and you interact and you begin relationships. And I’ve heard a lot of stories where that example alone made a difference in someone’s life.
When you join a small group, do know what you’re saying? You’re saying, God, I can’t create a relationship, I can’t make something happen but God, I’m going to do my part. And I trust that YOU will grow my faith big through relationships that I’ve yet to establish.
To all you parents…
This is why if you have kids, you need to get them in a circle where another adult is speaking into their lives. I promise you, the day will come when you’ll wish they were in that environment. But I also promise you this: if you wait until you feel the need for it, it is too late. The best thing you can do for kids is to get them in a group of relationships that, as time goes by, God may providentially connect them to a group leader or to someone in that group who gives them a brand new vision of faith and of life. You can’t wait until the 11th grade. Now is the time to do that. It’s not about a church program. It’s about teeing up potential relationships that God may use in an extraordinary way to pump up their faith because God uses our human relationships to grow our faith in Him. It’s just that simple.
You need to be intentional about getting in a place where God can connect you with other people to grow your faith.
For some of you it has nothing to do with church. For some of you it’s something in your neighborhood or something at work or something in the community somewhere that you have been invited to. And you may think: I really should, but I’m not going to. I really ought to, I know that would probably help me but I’m not going to. See, as you feel that tug, it’s bigger than a program, it’s bigger than a Bible study, God may want to use a relationship to do something big in your life.
The Flip Side
There is a flip side to all of this. Your issue may not be that you need to get in a place where you build relationships, because you may already be doing that. For some of us the issue is, are we willing to be available to God to be THAT person in someone else’s life?
Let me tell you what I mean. For some of you, just about every time when you pray, you find yourself praying for someone who needs God or who needs something new in their life. And it’s not that you think you’re better than them, it’s not that you are being judgmental, but I bet many of us know people and their circumstances break our hearts. When you think about them you’re concerned for them, you’re concerned about the relationships that they’re in, you’re concerned about the direction they are going, you’re concerned about the way they talk about their marriage or the way they don’t talk about their marriage, or you’re concerned about their humor. You just listen to them and you are burdened, and you think they just seem so far from God.
You’ve prayed for them and you’ve talked about them (in a prayer request kind of way) and you have all the feelings, but you have never intentionally come crashing into their lives. And you know why you don’t? The same reason I hesitate. Because it’s none of my business.
God, I’m putting myself out there, because if you want to intersect these two lives, I’m available, even if it creates an awkward situation.
Let me tell you about Providential Relationships.
Providential relationships often start around awkward moments, and awkward conversations.
Providential Relationships often start with:
Okay, I know this is none of my business, but I couldn’t help but hear…
I know that you haven’t really asked me about this, I know you probably don’t think I know anything about this…
or in the back of you mind you think…
I know this is awkward, but I can’t just sit back and be concerned, I can’t just sit back and pray. I don’t want to go, “Well, whatever; it’s her life; it’s his life.” At the risk of what little relationship we have, I want to have an awkward conversation.
You are thinking, God, I’m putting myself out there, because if you want to intersect these two lives, I’m available, even if it creates an awkward situation. Why? Because God uses human relationships to do something in our hearts as it relates to faith.
God can do amazing things in those awkward moments. How many of us can look back and say, “You know what, even though it started off as ‘that’s none of your business’, God brought them into my life at a critical time. I’m so glad they decided to make my business their business. I’m so glad they invited me for the fifth time. I’m so glad they didn’t give up. I’m so glad they created an awkward moment because looking back, the intersection of my life with their life is what started me on this journey of faith and blew my faith up big.”
So that’s my challenge. Be more intentional. Put yourself out there and take some risks and get in some structured environments where God might want to do something relationally. For others of you, you need to be more available. Get involved in some sort of structured way of leadership, or probably more to the point, have an awkward conversation. You need to start an “I know this is none of my business…” conversation. You may need to write that letter or send that gift or email the messages. Each week, you can go online and copy the link and send it out to friends and family.
But the point is this: this is a principle that works ALL THE TIME, and we either work with it and benefit from it or we ignore it and miss out. A good line to give your teenagers…Your friends determine the direction and quality of your life. And if you’re a parent and you’re going, “That’s good; I’m going to use that.” Pause. Because it’s true of you too, it’s true of me. Our friends determine the direction and quality and the depth of our faith in God, because God uses providential relationships to impact and to grow our faith in Him.
How do you need to leverage providential relationships in your life?
Do you need to leverage it by being intentional about some new relationships and giving God an opportunity? Or do you need to leverage this by being more available as a person who’s willing to intersect with a person who maybe needs to hear what you have to say, and maybe needs to know what you’ve known for a long time, who maybe needs to hear your perspective about what’s going on in his or her life.
God wants our Faith BIG because BIG Faith means great confidence. And that kind of faith and confidence leads to intimacy. Intimacy not just with people, but with God. But we have to choose to cooperate.
Let’s pray together.
Heavenly Father, we want to do our part. Show us again the opportunities where we could potentially have a Providential Relationship that you may use to grow our faith. Thank you for all of the people so far that have made a difference for good in our lives. Thank you for the lessons from the ones who have not been a good influence. Help us to see and take notice to where we can do our part. In Jesus’ name, Amen.