Sunday, July 15, 2012 am

Help my unbelief!

 Mark 9:14-29 records an occasion during the ministry of Jesus when a man comes to Him with his demon possessed son.  The demon was powerful and made the child mute and display epileptic symptoms.  It was on this occasion that we read of the failure of the disciples of Jesus to cast out this demon.  This promoted Jesus to say, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you?  How long shall I bear with you?  He proceeds to permanently remove the demon and heals the boy.   Later, His disciples come to Him and ask why they could not cast out this demon.  Jesus responded, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”  (9:29).  Matthew’s account tells us that the failure of His disciples was “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt. 17:20)  While we understand the days of such miraculous works are completed, there is very much a lesson on the need for faith in our lives.

Back in Mark’s account, we find that when the father comes to Jesus, Jesus says, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23)  We then read that the father of the child cried out with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”  (Mark 9:24)  What a remarkable statement.  Today I want to talk about this faith for a few moments.

I challenge each of us to honestly examine ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5).  This morning I challenge us to examine how strong our faith is.   Is my faith as strong as it ought to be?  Do you struggle with your faith? I’m not talking about believing in God and Jesus Christ.  I am not talking about a firm belief  that Jesus lived upon this earth and all that is spoken of Him in the Bible is true.  NOR am I speaking of our faith in our salvation through the blood that He shed upon that cross for our sins.  I’m talking about a faith that completely TRUSTS God.  I am talking about living where we completely trust Him above the ways of the world.  When we speak of faith in such terms, do the words of the father of the demon possessed son ring in our ears, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief”?

 This morning we will take a few moments to discuss what faith is and notice some things we can do to increase our faith.

 I.                    The need for faith

a.        What is faith?  L&N (31.85), “to believe to the extent of complete trust and reliance.”
Vine’s, “primarily firm persuasion, a conviction based upon hearing.”
Heb. 11:1 describes it as, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
When we discuss faith we note that it is more than mere belief (though the word “belief” is a derivative of the same root and it is certainly related).  True faith means not just that you believe IN God, but you believe God and you TRUST Him!

b.       The way God has created this world is incredible.  It is perfectly suited for each of us to make up our own minds as to whether or not we will obey Him.  Does He exist?  Certainly there is great  evidence for His existence – in both the vastness of the universe (Psa. 19:1, 8:1, Rom. 1:20, etc.) and the structure of the cell and its DNA (cf. Acts 17:26).    But the evidence is such that it requires faith to fully accept.  It is because of this that man can deny Him if he so chooses (Rom. 1:21-23, etc.)
The same is true with His Word – the Bible is absolutely the most remarkable book in all of history.  It is the WORD of GOD and sufficient to give us all the direction we need! (2 Tim. 3:16-17, 2 Pet. 1:3).  The evidence for its genuineness is staggering and beyond compare with anything else ever written.  There is plenty of “proof” to take it seriously.  BUT, with all that evidence it still requires faith to fully accept it.  It is written in such a way that if you don’t want to accept it, you don’t have to. You can reject and dismiss its authority and teachings.
I BELIEVE that God created this world, His word and other things the way He did on purpose!  I believe that the nature of the Bible, the church and other things were in His eternal plans (cf. Eph. 3:10-11, Heb. 8:5ff).  He created such things as He did to require us to have FAITH in Him.  A faith that trusts Him and His word even if we don’t fully understand everything!

c.        Godly Faith Exemplified:

                                                   i.      Perhaps the greatest example of faith is that of Abraham.  AT least 3 times in the NT we are told, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” (Rom. 4:34, Gal. 3:6, Jas. 2:23).  We see in the example of Abraham a faith that matured to the point that he willingly offered his “only begotten son” Isaac (Heb. 11:17-19).  If you study the life of Abraham you find this as the culmination of his faith.  He trusted God so much that he believed God would raise him up, even from the dead.    As we talk about FAITH this is what we have in mind!

                                                  ii.      Ezra is another example of this faith.  IN Ezra 7 & 8 we find that the temple has finally been rebuilt in Jerusalem after the return from Babylonian captivity.  It had laid in ruin for some 70 years (586-516 BC).  About 50 years later (ca. 466 BC) Ezra, seeks permission from Artaxerxes  to go to Jerusalem (from Babylon) and rebuild the city.  God is with him and not only is he granted permission to go, the king supports the mission, even offering to send an armed escort to the city.  As Ezra prepares for the journey he calls together the leaders and proclaims a fast and prayers to God for guidance.  Ezra 8:22-23 records, “For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, ‘The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him.’  So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer. “   IN summary, they made the trip without an escort and without incident.  God was with them.  Here we find an example of what it means to TRUST God.  Ezra’s actions manifested his faith to the world.

d.       Some passages to consider in dealing with our faith:

                                                   i.      Without faith it is impossible to please Him! – Heb. 11:6.  We HAVE to have faith!  IF you study the 11th chapter of Hebrews you find the trust and obedience that manifests what TRUE faith is!

                                                  ii.      James 1:6-8 calls for Christians to go to God with our requests.  But as we pray we are told, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.  For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”  NOTICE how when we pray to God, we MUST have faith.  We must BELIEVE that God can and will answer our prayers.  Is that not what John noted in 1 John 5:14-15 says, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. 
When we go to God in prayer, do we have doubts?  Do we have confidence that He will answer our prayers (according to His will and terms)?  Do we sometimes doubt our own worth as we pray for forgiveness of sins and strength to overcome?

                                                iii.      Rom. 12:3 is an interesting verse which calls for our humility as we asses our self-worth.   Instead Paul says, “…but think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.”  Paul tells us that we each have “a measure of faith”.  What does that mean?  Is that measure equal in each of us, or do some inherently have more faith than others.  I believe that in matters of faith, we all have the same measure of faith.  IN other words, we all have the ability to believe God and trust Him. 
IF that is so, why do some have more faith than others?  The answer has to do with WHAT WE DO with the faith we have.  We can let it stagnate or we can work to build it up.  That is what we are discussing in this lesson.  Someone noted, Arnold Swartzenegger, when he was born had the same amount of muscles as everyone else.  But what he did with them is what caused his faith to increase.

                                                iv.      1 John 5:4 says, “This is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.” The victory that overcomes the world – our faith!  I ask, how is it that with our faith we can overcome the world.

                                                  v.      Finally, we turn to Luke 17:5.  On another occasion where Jesus was teaching His disciples about forgiveness which prompts the apostles to say to Him, “Increase our faith.”  Jesus responds that with the “faith of a mustard seed” they would be able to do great things.   What is interesting about this is that His apostles, who had been with Him and upon whom He had imparted incredible powers they make this request of Him, “Increase our faith.”  That demonstrates to us that faith is certainly something we need to build up.

e.       Most of us struggle with our faith from time to time.   There are times when we struggle with trusting God. 
I am reminded of examples like that of Peter when he saw Jesus walking on water and said, “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  Jesus said, “Come”.  Peter did and began walking on water, but then he became fearful at the “boisterous seas” he began to sink and said, “Lord, save me.” (Matt. 14:26-31)  Or later, after denying Him 3 times and Jesus asks him, “Do you love Me?” (cf. John 21:15-19.  In the conversation you find Peter’s hesitation to answer him straightforward.
Does such ever happen to us?

 II.                  How do we build up our faith?

a.        We can see from the above texts, the need to develop our faith and overcome whatever unbelief we have in our lives.  Chances are, if we have a weak faith it is NOT in the fact that God exists or that His word is inspired, but rather it lies in those areas of life where we have doubt and things aren’t as crystal clear as we would like for them to be.  So HOW do we increase our faith in these areas.  Following are some suggestions.

b.       Realize that you are NOT going to understand everything!  
One of the wonderful qualities of the Bible is that its learning potential is NEVER exhausted.  And quite honestly, there are some things in there that we will NEVER understand.  Deut. 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.  While written to Israel, it certainly reveals the character of God that doesn’t change.
Peter spoke of things that are hard to understand, (2 Pet. 3:16).
So the problem is not perfect knowledge, as that is something we must continue to develop.  Let us not become frustrated just because we can’t understand everything and use ignorance as a crutch that leads to doubt.  (NOTE: I am NOT dismissing the importance of study, nor am I excusing ignorance)

c.        Know that God does care
AT times, when things aren’t going the way we want them to, and pressures are building up, we might be tempted to question God’s love and concern for us.  Resist that urge!  It leads to doubt, frustration, and can very easily lead to sin.
1 Pet 5:7 tells us to humble ourselves before God (that requires trust) and “casting all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.”
Psalm 37:25, David said, “I have been young, and now am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread.
Heb. 13:5, the Lord says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

d.       Make up your mind to trust God
THIS is the attitude that we need to develop - simply accept what He says (even if you don’t like it or fully understand it).  Sometimes this is tough to do, but when you are facing a troubled decision that you have carefully weighed and agonized over, you may need to just tell yourself, “I putting this in God’s hands!” 
Can you think of an example of this?  I can!  Jesus in the garden (Lk. 22:41-44) and on the cross! (Lk. 23:46)
Psalm 4:5 says, “Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord.”
Prov. 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.”

e.       Evaluate what God has done for you
We sometimes sing, “Count your many blessings, name the one by one and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”  That’s not just an exercise to get us to realized how blessed we are, it can also serve as a reminder that the promises of the Lord are sure.  He has taken care of us (Matt. 6:33) over and over! 
David observed, “Many, O Lord my God, are Your wonderful works which You have done; And Your thoughts toward us cannot be recounted to You in order; If I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.” (Psa. 40:5)

f.         Be patient -  A mature faith has to mature. 
Christians need patience – Jesus said, “By your patience possess your souls.” (Lk. 21:19)
James 1:4, “But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
You are not going to have a perfect faith overnight.  David said, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him.”  (Psa. 34:8)   Even Abraham had to develop perfect faith – recall the tests of faith he failed – he lied to Abimelech (Gen. 20:2), and Pharaoh (Gen. 12:11-20); he tried to help God fulfill His promise by conceiving with Hagar (Ishmael – Gen. 16) 
Seek to develop your faith – like everything else it needs time and “nourishment” to grow.  Consider the tight wire performer pushing a wheelbarrow across a canyon.  Do you believe he can do it? Do you believe him enough to get in the wheelbarrow? 
Look for ways to use and build up your faith. 
An example: 2 neighboring farmers are living in a drought ridden area.  They both pray to God for much needed rain.  One sits at home and waits while the other goes out and plants his crops.  Which one has the greater faith? 

g.        You have to obey God – Rom. 10:17 – faith comes by hearing.  Obviously hearing is more than audibly receiving the words.  It involves accepting them and putting them into practice.  There are so many passages that address the need for obedience.  Jas. 1:22 says, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”  Vs. 25 says, “But he who  looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” 
Friends, if you want God to bless you, you have to serve Him!  True faith always wants to obey God.

h.       Pray regularly and properly – This is the other side of communicating with God (studying is listening).  Recall how James 1:5 says if you lack wisdom, ASK for it!   The same could be said of faith – recall the text we began with, “Help my unbelief.” 
But you have to ask for the right things –James 4:3, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
I know of so many whose prayers are filled with self-serving requests.  They treat God as their “cash cow” that they turn to for whatever they want.  And they have plenty of false teachers on television and other places encouraging them to seek materialistic blessings. 
Friends, God is NOT going to give you everything you want.  And if that is your expectation, your faith will suffer when you don’t get it!
1 John 5:14 tells us, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”

i.         Do your part Don’t expect a miracle!  I don’t say that because the days of miracles have reached their completion (and they have), but rather as a challenge for us to get up and be busy doing what we ought to be doing.  When you go to God in faith, you need to do what you can do.  Let Him take care of what you cannot do.  The raising of Lazarus is a good example of this.  John 11:39, “Take away the stone” and vs. 44, “Loose him and let him go.”  Notice how Jesus let THEM do what they could do.
If you want to reach the lost, you can pray to God in faith to help you – but then you need to go out and start looking for opportunities!  You need to prepare for it! 

j.         Associate with others of “like precious faith.”  The final thing we mention is the need to be around those who have a great faith.  Just as evil company corrupt good habits (1 Cor. 15:33), so good company sustains good habits.  As brethren we build each other up which is why we need to prefer one another.  Heb. 10:24-25 AGAIN says, “Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.”  This is followed by the need to assemble!
Rom. 1:8, Paul commended the brethren at Rome because, “You faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.  Similar words were uttered concerning the church at Thessalonica (1 Thess. 1:8)  the implication is that it was a strength to others. 
If you want to build up your faith, find those who want to help you.  Stay away from doubters and cynics and agnostics! 

And thus we can see the importance of increasing our faith.  It is my hope that we have been reminded of some things we can do to build up our faith in Him.  Think about it. 

 “Most Christians feed their body three hot meals a day and their spirit one cold snack a week.  And they wonder why they’re so weak in faith.” F.F. Bosworth