We’re in the fifth part of this series, Five Things God Uses to Grow Your Faith. I want to begin today by pointing out what I think is one of the most fascinating things about the Bible. All throughout the New Testament, the theme is that individuals are invited to connect with God, not through ritual or tradition, but people are encouraged to connect to God through Jesus Christ through faith.
The big word here is FAITH. A person connects with God by placing his or her trust and confidence in Christ as their personal Savior, understanding that Christ paved the way for us to reconnect to God. So a person coming to God through Christ is an act of faith, of trust, and of confidence.
That’s so amazing is because the theme of the Old Testament is how humankind broke the relationship with God when they failed to trust Him. The New Testament is all about God trying to re-establish that relationship of trust through Jesus.
Humankind was separated from God in the beginning when the first two people who ever lived basically said to God what all of us have said in our own way. They said, “God, we don’t trust you. We don’t think you have our best interest in mind. We think you’re keeping something good from us.”
How many times have you gone against your conscience or disobeyed what you thought God wanted you to do because you thought you had a better way? Or how many times were you afraid if you obeyed God or did the right thing, you would miss out on something good, something fun?
We all have that story. That’s how this whole thing started. What was broken was trust. So guess what? You come back into God’s good graces, and you become, in a significant way, a child of God through an act of faith and trust, not through doing a bunch of good stuff. The relationship wasn’t broken through doing a bunch of bad stuff. It was broken through a decision of trust. So it makes sense that in the New Testament the relationship is healed through an act of faith and trust.
The point being this: your faith and my faith in God is extremely important to God. It is the essence of our relationship with God. God wants to grow your faith because as your faith grows, matures, and develops, your intimacy with God grows, matures, and develops. This is the kind of relationship He wants us to have.
So consequently, throughout our lives, God is working to grow our faith. You very likely have met people with BIG faith. They just trust God in good and bad times. They give Him credit for the good, and they trust Him in the bad. They just have this uncanny, almost sometimes irritating confidence and faith in God’s presence in their lives. That’s because they’ve worked with God to allow Him to grow their faith, which is what He wants to do in all of us.
What we’ve observed in faith stories is that there are at LEAST five things God continually uses to grow and mature people’s faith.
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.
Now you won’t find those things listed somewhere in the Bible. There may be more than five. But these five things keep showing up as the most important kind of pivotal things that God uses to grow our faith. So I want you to be aware of them. When we are aware of them, we can put ourselves in places where God can utilize them.
Now, today I want to talk about the fourth one, Personal Ministry.
If you were to tell me your faith story and answer the question, “what are the things that God really used to blow your faith up big”, you would probably tell me a story about a time in your life when somebody presented an opportunity to you to do something or told you about a need. After that conversation was over, you just couldn’t get it off your mind. You felt this internal nudge to get involved. It might have been a ministry. It might have been something in the community. But you just felt this inner nudge to get involved with something that served and benefited other people.
You’d likely talk about how scared and unprepared you were. Maybe you went into it with fear, thinking “This is going to be a disaster. I’m probably going to embarrass myself.” But as you got involved, you began to see God do amazing things, which makes that moment a part of your faith story.
Today I want to talk a little bit about that dynamic, that tension and fear we all have in these moments. One reason I want to talk about it is that some of you could very well be in the middle of a tug-of-war with God right now over something. There may be a need, a ministry in this church, or maybe something that would take you out of this church that God keeps bringing to your mind and heart.
The issue in that wrestling match you’re having with God is not just that people need somebody to help them. That’s certainly part of it. Likely the bigger issue for you is that God wants to use you outside of your comfort zone in order to stretch and build your faith. That tension, that wrestling match that you’re having (and if you’re not having it now, you will) is something that God uses over and over again. What I want you to understand today is that that is a faith issue. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s more about faith.
You may remember earlier in the series, I talked about how faith is like a muscle. The more often you wear out a muscle, the more it grows. The same is true of faith. God will bring you to places where He will almost exhaust your faith, because after exhausting it or stretching it, guess what it does…it grows. God wants to exhaust your faith muscle in order to build it up, and this is how He does it.
One of the best examples of this in the Bible is also one of the most familiar stories in the Bible. It’s in Matthew 14. As soon as I start reading this, some of you are going to know right off the bat the whole story. But in the middle of this familiar story, there is a statement that Jesus makes to His disciples that I think describes (better than anything else in the whole New Testament) the issue that we all wrestle with at some point in our faith journey; The idea of getting outside of our comfort zone and serving God.
Matthew 14:13 (NIV)
13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.
Jesus heard that his cousin John had been put to death by Herod. Herod had arrested John, because John kept preaching against Herod’s marriage to his sister. Herod and his wife got tired of hearing about it, so they arrested the preacher and put him in jail and eventually beheaded him. That was Jesus’ cousin. And so when Jesus heard about this, He went away to be by Himself to mourn John’s death. But it didn’t really work out too well.
Middle of verse 13:
Matthew 14:13-32 (NIV)
13 Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.
The crowds heard Jesus was heading across the lake to be by himself. So desperate to hear or have a part of Jesus, they all walked all the way around the edge of the lake to find Him.
14-15 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy some food.”
So the disciples caught up with Jesus. (Maybe by foot too?) I imagine they’re tired, hungry, and not really concerned for the people. Maybe they were also thinking of Jesus as He came out to the middle of nowhere to mourn and has yet to do that. It’s getting late (and again they are in the middle of nowhere where’s there’s no food) so they tell Jesus to send them away. Tell them to leave you alone. And now this is where the story gets really interesting as it relates to your experience and mine.
16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
Again, they are out in the middle of nowhere, and Jesus says, I recognize they’re hungry, and I recognize there’s no food around here. But guys, they don’t really need to go anywhere. You feed them.
This is the tension that at some point as a Christian you are going to face. It’s that tension you experience when you sense a need, and feel a nudge as if God is telling you to meet the need. And your reaction maybe, No, no, no, no. I don’t meet those needs; I pray for the people who are going to go meet those needs. God, please send someone to my neighborhood to help them. But God knows, and you know, they need help.
There’s going to be a time in your Christian journey where you’re going to feel God saying, I want you to be involved. Meet that need. It’s not a voice. It’s on the inside. It’s not guilt. It’s something you just can’t get away from. The disciples did exactly what we do. In verse 17, they started making excuses.
(Something to consider about the disciples’ excuses vs us making excuses… It’s one thing for us in our prayer lives or in our lives to kind of dodge those bullets. But when Jesus is standing physically in front of you and asks you to do something, you don’t go, Nah, we’re not going to do that, are we guys? We talked about it, Jesus. Sorry, nope, we can’t do that. Instead, here’s their excuse.)
17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
In other words, we can’t do it. We’re not prepared. We’re not equipped. You got the wrong guys. It’s just not going to happen. And then Jesus says in verse 18 (I picture the disciples rolling their eyes)…
18 “Bring them here to me,” he said.
It’s like Jesus says to them (and I think He says this to all of us), “Just bring me what you have.”
And we say, “But, God, I hardly know the Bible.”
Jesus says, “Well, just bring me what you know.”
And we say, “Well God, I don’t have that much time.”
Jesus says, “Bring me how much time you have.”
And we say, “But, God, what if they ask me hard questions?”
Jesus says, “Just bring me the answers that you have.”
And we say, “But God, I don’t have enough experience.”
Jesus says, “Well, just bring me whatever experience you have. Just bring me that fear. Just bring me what you have.”
And so they do.
19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks, he broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples,
This is how imagine this… They’re all standing there facing Jesus in a line, and behind the guys is the crowd, the 5,000 people or so. Jesus takes these loaves and fish and He breaks it up and He hands it out to the twelve guys. So they had basically enough food in their hands just for themselves. Now they’re standing there looking at him like, “What are we supposed to do with this? Is this just my portion?” Jesus had basically just given back to them what they had handed to Him. Do you know what they did then?
Once He handed them the bread and the fish, they did what they knew how to do, because that’s all they could do. They didn’t know how to feed 5,000 people with that little bit of food, but they knew how to turn around and start serving the people. They simply did what they knew how to do. Listen to how it’s stated. This is the end of verse 19:
19 and the disciples gave them to the people.
They did what they knew how to do, trusting that Jesus was going to do something unusual. They did what they knew how to do, trusting that Jesus would do what only Jesus could do. You see your responsibility and my responsibility, every single time is really simple. You just do what you know how to do, and then you trust your Heavenly Father to do the rest, to do what He knows how to do.
The tension you feel and the fear you feel is your faith and confidence muscle being stretched and worn out. That is God doing something on the inside of you. That is God exercising and growing your faith. The tension isn’t just about fear and the tension isn’t just around your insecurity. It’s bigger than that. Your faith and the future, the size and strength of your faith are at stake.
It’s not just simply the needs that might go unmet if you don’t do something. The other issue is that God wants to do something in you and in your faith. So what’s at stake is the size of your faith, which impacts your intimacy with your Heavenly Father. That’s why our responsibility is to say, Okay, I’ll do what I can do, and I’m going to trust God to do what only God can do.
In fact, if you look anywhere in the world or anywhere in history at the amazing things God has done – through missions, organizations, individuals, or churches – that have impacted the world in some kind of spiritual way, every single time you will find somebody who said okay to God and trusted Him to do what they couldn’t. These are also the people who give God all the credit.
That is the story of every major move of God in the world since the beginning of time. This is the way God works. And in the process, our faith muscle gets stretched and we come out on the other end of the process strengthened. Just think about what you would have missed out on if you had not said, Okay, God.
The story continues in verse 20. They all ate. You know the story…
20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about 5,000 men, besides women and children.
The disciples were used to seeing Jesus do miracles, but I think the reason this one is so familiar, is because this one was different. Jesus wasn’t simply doing this miracle because He’d run out of miracles and said, I’ve got one. It wasn’t like He was trying to come up with something creative to do. The purpose of this miracle is important to know. As you read the New Testament you’ll find that Jesus had a very, very specific agenda. He knew He was going to hand the whole thing off to this group of people. He knew that if their faith and confidence in God weren’t strong, it wouldn’t work. So all of this is simply to teach the disciples to trust Him. Trust Him more than you ever thought possible. So as soon as that lesson was over, here comes lesson #2. Jesus wasn’t done.
Verse 22. The Bible says “immediately”, which tells us these two stories are connected.
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.
This image is interesting to me. How do you dismiss 5,000+ people who followed you to the middle of nowhere, where you healed them and just fed them in an amazing way? I just don’t picture them wanting to leave, but somehow, Jesus dismisses the crowd.
23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.
Remember how we talked about private disciplines?
23 When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Now the disciples are in the boat. They’re heading back across the lake. They’ve left as the sun went down. (here comes lesson #2) The disciples are rowing across the lake. Doesn’t sound too difficult, right? They row across and around this lake all the time. A bunch of these guys are fishermen. Yet, they get about halfway out, or a considerable distance out into the lake; It’s pitch-black dark, and they’re rowing against the wind. And they realize they’re not getting anywhere. Yet, rowing a boat is something they’re good at. This is something they’re trained for. This is something they’ve done before.
The story continues. They’ve been out there all night.
25 About three o’clock in the morning Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
One of the things that, to me, gives the Bible credibility is that the guys who wrote this made themselves look really, really bad. In church tradition, Matthew, Mark, James, John, and Peter are definitely the superheroes of the faith. But when you look in on their lives the way they describe them (because Matthew wrote this, he’s an eyewitness of all this) they never look good. I mean come on, if you were going to make this story up, and you’re in the story, you don’t write yourself into the story as a coward. You don’t write that the whole group were cowards. So in the story, they see Jesus, and say, “It’s a ghost!” They cried out in fear! No great faith here, right?
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
And in that moment, Peter has an epiphany. Peter is like, “Oh, I see what’s going on. He gives me a little handful of gooey fish and bread and says, feed this crowd of 5,000+ people. I can’t feed these people. Yet I turn around and there’s enough food to feed these people. And then Jesus told us to get in the boat and row across, and He knew we couldn’t do this. He knew the whole time! We’re out here going nowhere, just working on our arm muscles. So I think this is a lesson. I think that we can do anything Jesus asks us to do if we’ll do what we know how to do and somehow trust Jesus for the rest.”
So Peter decides to test his theory. Listen to what happens.
28 “Lord, if it’s you, [And I’m really hoping it’s you] Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
This is so important. Please listen to this.
Peter didn’t say, Okay, I’m going to just jump out of the boat and just trust Jesus. That’s not faith; that’s stupidity. You don’t just jump off a cliff and say, “It’s okay, Jesus will catch me.”
Peter understood the lesson is that whenever the Savior asks me to do something I’m incapable of doing, whenever He invites me out of my comfort zone, whenever He invites me to do things that don’t make any sense, if I simply do what I know how to do, He does what only He can do.
So Peter says, “Jesus, come on, invite me. Please invite me.”
The other guys in the boat, they’re thinking, “What?” If you want to get out there, just get out there.”
Peter is going, “No, I understand this. He’s got to ask me first. Because if He asks me, then I know if I do my part, He’ll do His. So, Jesus, come on, invite me. Invite me out of this boat.”
Isn’t that dramatic? You can’t make this up? So Jesus says….
29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.
And you know what Peter did? He did the same thing he did when Jesus passed out the fish and the bread. Peter said, I don’t know how to walk on water, but I know how to get out of a boat, and I know how to walk. That’s it. So now that Jesus has invited me, I’m going to trust Jesus to do His part.
Now, folks, that is the Christian experience to a great degree. I dare you to start praying the Peter prayer: Lord, please me invite me out of my comfort zone. God, I want you to use me in the lives of other people, but I don’t want to come up with an idea. I want the assurance that you are inviting me out of my comfort zone. And then, God, I’m going to do what I know how to do. And I can’t wait to see what You are going to do.
For some of you, He’s inviting you right now. For some of you, it means volunteering in one of our children’s ministry or youth ministry. And there’s a part of you that just can’t get the kids out of your mind. But you’re think you’re not cool enough to work with the teens or smart enough. What if they ask me tough questions? What if, what if, what if? And Jesus is saying, Come on. You know how to say yes. You know how to walk down the hall. Come on. I’m inviting you. I want you to do what you can do and then I want you to watch and see what I’ll do on your behalf.
You know the story, but listen to this word. This is so huge.
30-31 But when he [Peter] saw the wind, [He was reminded of what he couldn’t do, wasn’t he?] he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
What’s the big word again? Faith. This is all about faith. This is all about Jesus trying to teach you to trust Him for what you can’t do. Oh, you of little faith, he said, why did you doubt me? Peter began looking at his own ability and when he looked at his own ability, he forgot to trust Jesus.
I don’t know how this went down, obviously. But I don’t think Jesus was chastising Peter. There were eleven other guys in the boat, and none of them got out and tried what Peter did. At least Peter was bold enough to test the lesson. I think maybe this is the parent in me, but I think He grabs Peter’s hand and He’s going, Oh, you almost had it. You were so close. Why did you doubt me, Peter?
I love the way it ends.
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
We suspected it before, I mean that whole bread and fish thing, but I’m telling you, we are definitely all-in now. You are absolutely, once and for all, the Son of God.
So look, just as you sit in this building you should know that there were a group of people who experienced this is in their lives and said, “We’re getting out of the boat.” – people who stepped out of their comfort zones when Jesus called them to build this church building. And if you are enjoying any small group or Sunday school class, there’s somebody leading that group that said, Okay Jesus I’ll get out of the boat. I’m telling you, anywhere you see God doing anything, you dig down far enough, and you are going to find somebody that this is their story.
See, aren’t you glad someone stepped out of their comfort zone to do that for you? Aren’t you glad someone introduced you to Christ? They had an awkward conversation or invited you to church. They just felt God put you on their mind. God put you on their heart. And instead of saying, Well I’m just going to pray that God brings someone along that can fill the need, they did what they knew how to do. They picked up the phone and called. They invited you to sit down for a conversation. They invited you into their group. And you may look at them like they are a saint or something, but they’re going, No, no, no. I’m a coward. I’m insecure. I’m afraid. That’s why I give God all the glory.
So here’s the question: Where is God nudging you? What is God urging you to do? What keeps coming to your mind, and you just can’t get rid of it? You try to make excuses like, “all I’ve got is four pieces of bread”, but it just won’t go away. Remember, the issue is your faith. God wants to do something in you and in your faith and in your intimate relationship with Him. This is one of the areas where you have a role to play. You’ve got to turn around and feed those people with what’s in your hands, even though you know from day one it’s not enough. And you’ve got to throw your legs over the side of that boat and take a step, even though you don’t know the first thing about walking on water. This is a part of everyone’s story.
So are you willing to do what you know how to do and trust God to do what only God can do? Are you willing to do what you know how to do in terms of serving other people where you feel God nudging you? Would you be willing to take that first step, not because you’re ready but because God has called you out of the boat? Because if you do, you’re going to experience God in a brand new way, and if you don’t you will never, ever know what God might have done through you if you. If you are willing, it will grow your faith like crazy! And just think, someone will be better off, some kids may be served, or some women in your neighborhood may know more about the Bible.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss out on an opportunity for my Faith to grow BIG.
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, thank you for the invite, for the call to step out of my comfort zone and serve You. Thank you for loving me enough to keep working to grow my faith. Guide me where you are calling me and nudge me until I say yes. In Jesus’ name, Amen.