Enduring and Miraculous Faith (Part 3)
Matthew 14:22-33 (Please Read this passage before beginning)
In our passage, I have several things I want to point out that have been lessons in particular on enduring faith. I have seen the instant miraculous power of God in healings and even in dire situations, but there have been times when I had the same sense of certainty that God was moving only to see delays that at times have required active faith for years. I say active faith because the promise, that I was certain was from God, required believing even during the delay. Sometimes, during the delay, other exciting things were being offered that would have detoured me from the promise. Sometimes, faith is refusing second best.
One example that immediately comes to mind is a situation that I presently find myself in. I am in a season of fulfillment that I could have easily missed if I had not maintained faith even though it took years. And, during those years of waiting, I had to refuse other enticing offers that would have caused me to be out of position to receive this promise when the opportunity finally arrived. Many years ago, there were a series of prophetic words spoken over my life that I would travel to nations preaching the gospel and especially focused on encouraging pastors and churches. A few years ago, my time of pastoring in Indianapolis came to an end and I was considering moving to a place where I didn’t know a soul and just becoming a faithful member in a church where no one would have any expectation of further pastoral care from my wife or me. I was done. But my wife had other plans. She was determined to return to St. Louis and for me to renew my friendship with the man who had been my pastor for many years. She kept telling me that I wasn’t done and that I just needed to reconnect with my roots of ministry.
Over the past few years, I have primarily been a maintenance man in the church where I pastored many years ago. I have determined to be a faithful friend and member. When I pastored here many years ago, the one legacy that I diligently sought to leave was a heart for missions. I have always devoted myself to Philippians 2:3-4 which in the context of Philippians 2:1-11 encourages us to live sacrificial lives for the sake of others. I have a driving desire to see others fulfill their calling in Christ and in particular that is directed toward those who desire to be missionaries. When I had pastored in St. Louis, my most precious accomplishment was sending missionaries into the field of labor. So, when I returned to St. Louis, I continued helping those I had previously helped send into the mission field and I determined to influence others to pursue missions as a calling.
Since returning to St. Louis and focusing on encouraging those on the mission field, I have found myself drawn over and over to Western Africa. The work is great and the Lord is doing so much. As I have pressed into this field of labor, I found so much satisfaction and in the last year, I came to the realization that the words spoken over my life so many years ago have been taking place for many years and I have been completely oblivious of the work that the Lord has been doing in my life. As I look back over the years, I can’t help but realize that the most anointed and fruitful times of my life have been ministering in foreign nations. Time and time again the Lord has caused an anointing to be there that far exceeds anything I see happening in my ministry at home.
So very often we carry such a heavy burden in taking on responsibility in the extreme. So many Christians are distressed in their walk in the Lord because they allow themselves to believe that all decisions concerning the will of the Lord are completely on their own shoulders. I have written about this elsewhere, (see my book “I Will Build My Church”), but the majority of the time even in the big decisions, I find myself not knowing where I’m going. Isn’t that what the Bible says concerning Abraham, that he went out not knowing where he was going, but knowing what he was looking for, Hebrews 11:8-10? So often we find ourselves in the very center of God’s will and realize we did not make the decisions based on any conscious awareness. He directs our steps.
In many ways that is the underlying story of Peter walking on the water. The moment he thought it was his responsibility, he realized he couldn’t do it and he sank. But Jesus was immediately there to pick him up and convey him to the place he was called, the other side. Jesus had told them to go to the other side and the Bible says that as soon as he stepped into the boat, the storm stopped and they were on the other side.
Often when I tell people that it might take years of faithful serving without the promise, they turn and walk away. It’s not just a young people’s issue either. It is an underlying attitude that drives many into strange doctrines and makes many susceptible to the sleight of hand and trickery of men (Ephesians 4:14). It is a spiritual disease of western Christianity; it’s called impatience and it is a symptom of unbelief. By the way, unbelief has its roots in self-centeredness, or love of self. We don’t trust God because the only one we really trust is ourselves.
The three scriptures we have covered in this 3-part series are scriptures that have drawn my heart for the past year and that illustrate some simple thoughts about faith that have become a foundational mindset for me over the years. For many years as a young minister, I wrestled with the hyper-faith teachings and the strong sense in my heart that God really does encourage us to live with a supernatural expectation, and yet the reality is that not only does He not always do what we ask in faith, but in the not doing, at times, I felt a deep peace that the will of God was being done. My heart began to rest in the sovereignty of God and in the realization that faith is founded in not knowing the details of the will of God. God seldom gives us as much information as we want. Submitting ourselves to the will of God means that we must have a living relationship with Him. We are never allowed to be presumptuous in our relationship with the Holy One of God.
It took me many years to settle in my heart that I could live with a supernatural expectation without having a presumptuous attitude. As I experienced supernatural visitations that were not from some worked-up emotional frenzy and as I began to come to a realization of faith that was also deeper than an emotional feeling, I found myself becoming more confident in ministering to others. The issue I find myself wrestling with now is the troubled and confused state of much of the church. I hear anger and sarcasm in the voice of those who are cessationists who see the poor theology of many Charismatics and Pentecostals. But their theology is just as misguided because it is deeply rooted in fear and misconception. But I also recognize the extremes of many Charismatics and Pentecostals and also the desperation that has driven many to embrace what is possibly heretical and deceptive practices. In our desperation and fear, we have often diluted the Holy and deceived ourselves into accepting a contrived and diminished spiritual sleight of hand. We contrive ways to bring the supernatural into the realm of human manipulation. We deceive ourselves into thinking that we can teach people how to do the things of the Spirit without the need for the anointing or seemingly at the whim of our desire. If once in a while it seems to be right then we use the seldom to prove that we’re doing it right. My challenge would be to show where in the Bible anyone is ever given permission to represent the name of the Holy Lord in man-contrived playtime. The sense of the New Testament is awe at the supernatural visitations of the Spirit. The story of Acts is not that they gathered to practice the prophetic or to practice ministry, but that the Holy Spirit sovereignly broke into their righteous activity of sharing the gospel. It’s all very discouraging and disheartening and yet I am always reminded that it is His church and He is building it according to His specifications and in His own way. I do have a deep sense that judgment will soon begin in the house of the Lord and that the Western church will be purged from all this sinfulness.
So, what do I see in this passage about Peter walking on water? First, I see that Jesus has a tendency to come to our time of need on the waves of our calamity. Remember that it was Jesus who sent them on the water. It was His will for them to go into the potential for a storm. I also see that it is so often the storm in our lives that brings him close to our lives. So often we want miracles to divert or even avert the storm. There truly is a difference, by the way, between divert and avert. To divert means to move the storm in another direction rather than dissolve the storm. To avert means to dissolve the storm before it forms. I have found that much of the time the miracle is actually enduring and surviving the storm. And yet, some of the time the miracle is dissolving the storm. Jesus did both. What would diverting the storm look like? Maybe that would be turning the storm back upon the sender. Proverbs 26:2 says, “Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, a curse that is causeless does not alight.” A curse without a cause returns to the sender, there’s nobody at home.
Another thing I see in this story is that the event takes place during the 4th watch. This would have been approaching dawn. These men had been battling the waves for quite a while. Sometimes we are made to endure the storm until we are physically exhausted; when we have reached the end of our own strength and all that’s left is God. Delay brings us to the end of ourselves and often that’s the only way we encounter the Spirit and the true place of faith. Delay is one of the main and oft-used tools of God to develop us in our walk with Him. Martha said to Jesus, “If you had been here my brother would not have died…” (John 11:21). I have faith that you could have healed him, but Jesus delayed to bring them to the end of their faith and to take them up a little higher. Delay challenges our faith in two ways. First, it teaches us patience and trust; secondly, it causes us to anticipate a greater time of need, which will require an even greater measure of faith. Remember that faith is active, an in-the-moment belief that God can and will. Jesus once asked the question, “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven, or rise up and walk’? My question is which is harder for God, healing the sick or raising the dead? It’s God who does the miracle so does it take more faith to believe He can heal the sick or that He can raise the dead? Does God ever need us to believe harder or does He just require us to trust more?
Next, I see the point of this little teaching, and that is, faith is seen from different angles. When Jesus says, “Come” to Peter I can’t help but try and imagine the scene. I don’t know if Peter jumped out of the boat or tentatively stuck his toe out to see if the water would hold him up. I can’t imagine that the disciples just kept on rowing. I imagine that they stopped and watched and maybe even a few of them were shaking their heads and saying to themselves, ‘Of course, Peter wants to try this’. Somehow, Peter ends up out of the boat and begins walking on the water. Say what you want, but it took faith to step out of the boat! Peter had faith! I don’t know how far he got before doubt entered his heart, but he started out well. But, at some point, Peter began to look around and took his eyes off Jesus. When he looked around, he saw all the things that God was not doing. God was doing a miracle but Peter suddenly saw that his friends, who should have been encouraging him, were frightened. The waves were still crashing and the winds were still blowing strong and worst of all, Peter saw that he was out of the boat. The boat was the sensible place to be, the safe place, the place where all of his friends were. And Peter began to sink.
At least in the middle of his crisis, Peter did not turn to his friends to cry out for help. Instead, Peter cries out to the Savior. “Where else could we go, you have the words of life”. I love the emphasis on the scriptures at that moment, it’s a Peter moment, “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him”. Then Jesus says something that, to me, gives us two views of faith. Jesus says to Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus is not denying Peter’s initial faith, he is questioning how short-lived his faith was. The term “little” here does not indicate an amount, Peter didn’t start out with faith and use it all up getting out of the boat, but rather, his faith lacked endurance/life.
Remember when Jesus told the disciples that in order to remove a mountain all you need is faith the size of a mustard seed? Jesus is teaching that it doesn’t take a lot of faith, but it does take living faith. It is God who does miracles and only God can suspend the natural to do the supernatural. It’s not about how powerful you or I are, it’s completely dependent upon an omnipotent God. Faith is the pathway that God has chosen to allow us to participate in His work, according to His will and purposes. He doesn’t need us to do miracles, but at times He allows us to be participants in His suspension of the natural ways. Mustard seed faith is most often simply obeying His nudges. But I have learned over the years, that once we step out, the seed must continue growing. If we, out of fear or confusion, decide to pull back or choose to uproot the seed of faith, that is our choice to make. Thankfully, when we begin to sink, we can still call on Him and He is always standing next to us ready to take hold of our hand in rescue. Enduring faith brings us to the end of His purpose through us in any situation. Enduring faith brings us to salvation, deliverance, healing, and the miraculous.
Many years ago, the Lord showed me a picture of myself and gave me reassurance concerning His love for me. I had a dream of a shepherd carrying a little lamb that had wandered off and gotten lost. The little lamb was not happy. He did not want to go where the shepherd was taking him even though it was for safety and provision. The little lamb had been very happy where he had been and so he was kicking and crying and trying his best to get free of the shepherd, but the shepherd was having no part of it. In the dream, I remember thinking, ‘of course, no shepherd is going to let an ignorant, unknowing little lamb dictate where he wants to be. The lamb belongs to the shepherd and the shepherd is not going to just throw up his hands and say, ‘ok, have it your way’. When I woke up, I thought of the parable of the one lost sheep and had this deep knowing that the dream was from the Lord and that the dream was about me. Since that time, I am reminded as I look back over my life and my choices, and I have often realized that the Lord has picked me up kicking and screaming, and even against my choice He has put me where He wanted me to be. Maybe that sounds like a violation of my will and at the moment, I suppose it was; but ultimately, I have made my decision and I have chosen the Lord. He has bought me with His blood and I have many times repeated to Him my willingness, even against my momentary desires, to serve Him. The Lord takes those times of dedication seriously and He holds us to those vows. Thankfully, He also knows our deepest most anchored desire to do His will. Matthew 10:22 “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
This concludes this 3-part series on Enduring and Miraculous faith. I hope it has been a blessing and that you have found some insights that help. I long for people who will believe in the real. Some may believe that God used to but doesn’t any longer, but I choose to believe that He still does. But I will not compromise the truth. My heart is not consumed with a demand for power in the hands of people, too many are misled by that mindset, but I am consumed with a desire for the nations to experience the Living God through the revelation of His Word and the Awakening of the Voice of Life through the reality of His Spirit.