Help for Today — Hope for Tomorrow
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[Gary Petty] The man who came to Jesus Christ was suffering a parent’s most horrible nightmare. His mute son would go into violent convulsions and foam at the mouth. The disciples tried to heal the boy, but they couldn’t.
“Jesus said to [the man], ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:23-24).
You believe in God, but have you ever faced a personal loss so devastating, pain so deep, hopelessness so dark that you’ve suffered anxiety and doubt? Well today, we’re going to discuss those times in life when we all cry out “Lord, Help Me Believe!”
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[Gary] The people of the Bible are a wonderful source of encouragement.
We are inspired by the examples of Abraham and Sarah trusting in God to give them a child when Sarah was beyond childbearing age.
We’re in awe of the apostle Paul spreading the gospel throughout the Roman Empire in spite of persecution, and shipwreck and even fighting wild animals in the arena.
And we admire David, the shepherd boy who became king, standing up to the giant Goliath. The biblical stories seem to be about bigger-than-life-people with bigger-than-life-faith.
Then you consider your faith. I mean, you believe in God. You believe that the Bible is His inspired Word. But when you face your job difficulties, your bills, your marriage problems, your illnesses, your Goliaths, you find yourself filled with doubt and anxiety. You find yourself crying out with tears, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
Today we’re going to discuss three reasons why you may find it so hard to trust God when faced with anxiety, grief or just the stresses of everyday life. Faith is so much more than just believing in God’s existence. Real faith transforms your life.
And later we’ll talk about how you can experience transforming faith!
Now the first of the three reasons we find it hard to trust God is what we’ll call the “hero fallacy.”
1. The Hero Fallacy
The “hero fallacy” is the belief that only the men and women of the Bible could experience transforming faith because, well, they were somehow different than we are. We think that they never suffered doubts or anxiety.
Well let’s consider the example of Abraham who was called the “father of the faithful,” and his wife Sarah. God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child whose descendants would be in numbers like the sand of the sea. And then months went by. The months, they stretched into years, and Sarah didn’t have a child. That’s when the couple decided that God expected them to come up with a solution to the problem. They believed that they must have misunderstood God’s instructions.
That’s when Abraham, the “father of the faithful,” struggled with how God would answer His promise. Worry and doubt began to plague his faith. So he and Sarah arranged for Abraham to be with Sarah’s maidservant, Hagar, who became the family’s sort of surrogate mother. Abraham and Sarah thought this was God’s answer to the promise that He had given to them.
But, you know, this was not God’s plan for them.
Abraham and Sarah believed, but their doubt and anxiety led them to pursue a course of action that ended up being disastrous. Abraham and Hagar produced a child named Ishmael. God eventually performed a miracle and Sarah conceived Isaac. The sons of Ishmael, well, many of today’s Arab peoples are descendants of Ishmael. And the sons of Isaac, which included all the Israelites includes the Jewish people. And they are still warring today in a family feud that originated with two people struggling with “I believe, help my unbelief” (Genesis 12-23).
A powerful example of faith in my life was my own father. His trust in God never seemed to waver in the face of financial difficulties, sickness or even the death of loved ones. I’ll never forget him telling me though that there were times in his life, and he warned me that there would be times in my life, when a situation would seem hopeless. At that time the feeling of God’s abandonment could be so devastating that simply waiting for God would seem almost unbearable.
Well you know, so many years later, I have now lived long enough to know exactly what he meant. I have found myself crying out to God on numerous occasions, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”
Like Abraham and Sarah, or the man who came to Jesus for the healing of his son, the people written about in the Bible were just like you and me. They struggled with their faith. Just like you and me, they didn’t always know how things were going to work out. But in spite of their doubts and anxieties, they ended up trusting God. What they did, was they discovered that God was greater than their weakness.
Faith is your response to God’s stirring in your life. Transforming faith involves a struggle to trust in God when all your human reasoning tells you to do something different.
This leads us to the second of the difficulties we face in having transforming faith that causes the “I believe, help my unbelief” moments.
2. We don’t understand faith.
We can lack faith because we don’t really understand what it is, what it means.
I mean, how many times have you heard Christians say well, faith is simply accepting the existence of God and Jesus? What does the Bible actually teach?
Let’s look at what the apostle James wrote. Now listen to this. He says: “You believe that there is one God.” Now what follows is one of the most sarcastic statements in the entire Bible: “You do well. Even the demons believe—and [they] tremble” (James 2:19).
Well, the apostle James’ teaching is clear and powerful. If our definition of faith is simply—accept God’s existence, then what makes Christians any different than Satan and the demons who know God exists? I mean, they’ve been to His throne. They’ve seen Him in His glory.
The New Testament book of Hebrews has a lot to say about faith. Hebrews 11:6 states: “But without faith it is impossible to please [God], for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
Here we find that the first steps in defining faith, that give us this transforming faith.
First: You must believe that God exists as a personal being.
Second: You must believe that God is involved in your life. You must believe that His desire is for you to do good. He wants to do good in your life. And He wants to produce rewards. Rewards that will last for eternity.
Three: You must diligently seek Him. Your relationship with God can’t be a passive acceptance of His existence without a motivating desire to discover who He really is and follow His instructions for life.
So let’s go back to the story of the man with the sick child who approached Jesus. He came to Jesus because he believed that God existed and was involved in the affairs of human beings. He was seeking God’s help to heal his suffering child.
When confronted with the enormity of Jesus’ statement, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes” the man cried out in tears “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:23-24). But notice, Jesus didn’t chastise this man for his weakness. In fact, it was when the man recognized his weakness that Jesus healed his son.
You can experience transforming faith in times of anxiety and doubt by actively seeking to know God and His purpose. I mean it’s His goodness, His wisdom, His sovereignty in your life.
Transforming faith is found on your knees in moments of hopelessness and despair, weakness and doubt. It is in the moments when everything else has failed that many times God becomes our reality. Let’s face it. All of us face difficult times when our faith response is, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”
Sometimes we struggle with transforming faith because of the hero fallacy. We see the people of the Bible as supermen and superwomen who never had moments of doubt and anxiety. At other times, we struggle with faith because we don’t understand what it is. Transforming faith is more than belief in God’s existence. It involves trust, commitment, obedience and seeking God in those times of hopelessness and doubt.
Now this leads us to today’s third point:
3. Lack of faith experience.
Sometimes we find it hard to trust God because we lack the experience of living faith in the small, matters of everyday life.
So what do I mean by lacking the experience of living faith in the small, daily matters of life?
Well all too often, believers face the difficulties of faith like a boxer who knows he has a heavyweight fight in three months. He knows he should be training, but you know, there are distractions and urgent matters. He doesn’t worry too much about the fight because there is plenty of time to train. Days go by, weeks go by, and the day of the fight the boxer realizes he should’ve trained for that fight.
The Old Testament account of the young shepherd David confronting the brutal, physical giant named Goliath is one of the most popular biblical stories. Many young boys have wondered if they could’ve done that. Would they have had the courage to stand up like David did?
Well let’s go back to the story. The armies of the Israelites and Philistines faced each other across a valley. Every day Goliath would lumber out into the middle of the valley and challenge the Israelites to send a champion to face him. The Israelites were frozen in fear. But young David was willing to face the Philistine warrior.
Now, there is an interesting conversation between David and King Saul before David went out to confront Goliath. “Saul said to David, ‘You are not able to go [up] against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are a youth, and he a man of war from his youth’” (1 Samuel 17:33)
David taking on Goliath seemed like folly. How could he hope to defeat a vicious, trained soldier, who by some accounts was over nine feet tall?
“But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant used to keep his father’s sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it. Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.’
“Moreover David said, ‘The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine’” (1 Samuel 17:33-27).
You know it’s been said that David faced Goliath once. Saul must have faced him a thousand times. Imagine the guilt, the anguish, Saul felt as he relived David’s victory over and over and thought, “It should have been me. I should have trusted God. I would be the hero.” Think of the times he must have bolted out of sleep in a cold sweat from the nightmare of hearing Goliath’s taunts and remembering his fear and lack of faith.
Saul couldn’t face Goliath because he lacked faith training. David’s faith had been strengthened by the training of daily trusting in God. David learned to trust God by facing lions and bears long before he faced Goliath.
I guess we all would like to be spiritual giant slayers who confidently rush into battle against every Goliath we face. The truth is, if you’re not focused every day on seeking to know God and exerting the faith to walk His path in these “little things” of daily life, then when you find yourself facing a Goliath, it’s going to be one of those, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief” moments.
When I find myself struggling with daily faith training, I’ve learned to be open with God about it and sometimes I’ve prayed something like this, “Father, today help me to fulfill your purpose in my life. Today help me to treat everyone I meet the way Jesus Christ would treat them. And today help me experience the fruits of your Spirit.” In this prayer, I try to take faith and make it applicable to what I’m going through that day.
I have to admit, God has answered that prayer from time to time by giving me opportunities to follow His purpose when it seems like everyone else was going a different direction. He’s given me opportunities to help someone whose actions or words made them difficult to tolerate. And I find myself often struggling in situations where I must exercise the fruits of the spirit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). It seems like it’s a prayer that gets answered quite often, not very often in the way that I would like, but in the way that I need. You see, faith training requires doing, obeying.
You know, earlier we read the verse where the apostle James wrote, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19).
Now let’s look at what he wrote in the preceding verses. “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:14-18).
James isn’t teaching that we earn salvation through works. He is teaching that faith without works is meaningless. In fact, claiming to have faith and not living by the actions of faith is “dead.” James gives a perfect example. A brother or sister is hungry, you have plenty to share, but you declare your faith by telling them “be filled” and doing nothing. The brother stays hungry and your “faith” is worthless.
In a minute, we’ll be joined by the Beyond Today panel, but first, let’s review the three reasons why we can lack transforming faith:
First, the hero fallacy. This is the belief that only the men and women of the Bible could experience transforming faith because they were somehow different than we are. We think that they never suffered doubts or anxiety. In truth, the biblical stories are inspirational because they show us how God worked with ordinary people.
Two, we don’t understand faith. It is more than the belief in God’s existence. It is trusting in His greatness and goodness.
And three, lack of faith experience. We lack the experience of living faith in the smallest matters of everyday life.
Well, we welcome Darris McNeely and Steve Myers to continue our discussion about what James calls “living faith.”
I would talk about these times in life when you say, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” I know I’ve experienced those. Have you had those times in your life?
[Darris] Absolutely. I think all of us as pastors, Gary, have had moments where we find that our faith is being tested. Probably for me, it’s been in moments when you deal with people who are sick, terminally ill. Especially children or young adults who’ve not yet lived a full life. And you pray for them, you ask God’s healing and you expect that. You ask it in confidence and faith and then they continue in sickness and then they come to a point where they realize that they can die. And you continue to ask for God to give them even the grace to hold up under the time of trial. And then when you realize that even God’s purpose may be something other than what we want for those individuals, you pray that God will help them to accept His perfect will.
So, those are faith progressions. And I’ve been through many times, and they’re challenging. They are difficult. But it’s always been encouraging to travel that road with people and to, in a sense, be even strengthened by them as you see people grow in faith, even through those dark moments.
[Gary] Yes, and God’s involved.
[Steve] And I think that’s one of the challenges. Every one of us goes through times in our life that, it is hard to believe. We do question our faith. And yet when we do that, I think it gives us an opportunity to really step out in faith and recognize we need our confidence in God. We can’t do some of these things ourself. It’s difficult to understand why are these trials happening? Why does this little one have to suffer? Why does this happen in this way?
And some of these questions are unanswerable. And so we have got to put our faith, and our trust, our absolute confidence in God because He is our Creator. He knows every in and out of every situation, and it can help us to refocus on the One Who ultimately can make the difference, on God Himself. And when we do that, I think that does strengthen our belief. And so, it kinda fulfills that aspect of help my unbelief.
[Gary] You know, many times I’ve taken people to the Bible to try to strengthen their faith. I have gone to the Bible to strengthen my faith, but I have to admit, there’s times I’ve looked at the Scripture—I look at Paul getting beat up and then turning around and going back into the city, or Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego getting thrown into the fire and I’ve wondered, could I have that faith to face those issues? Cause I’ve never faced being thrown into a fire before. Have you ever wondered about that?
[Darris] Absolutely, I think all of us have. You mentioned Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego, that example from the book of Daniel. You recall that they were to renounce their faith and bow down to an idol. They wouldn’t do it. They were at the face of a furnace and they said, well our God can deliver us from this furnace but if not, He is still God. That critical phrase, “but if not” is one that always has lingered in my mind.
I watch the news of individuals in the Middle East who have been tortured and brutally murdered, beheaded and shot by ISIS when they would not renounce their faith, and convert to Islam. And, you see something like that, you don’t know what you would do in a moment of crisis yourself. But, those are teaching moments to help us to at least prepare ourselves and to think about that should we ever come to such a moment. But, to help us to even get through some of the daily challenges that are critical for us too.
[Steve] I think maybe that’s a key as well. When it comes down to those challenges when, “would I exhibit my faith if I was challenged?” with that ultimate question. And, at some level I would like to think, yes. If someone was going to execute me because I won’t renounce the faith, I would hope that I would stand forth for the truth no matter what. But I think the other side of the coin is that, will I stand for the truth every single day? When my life isn’t challenged? When there’s not that imminent threat? When those difficulties aren’t right there? I have to make a choice every single day. And when things are good and things are easy, and it’s not that much of a challenge, it seems that’s the time that we could walk away from our faith and just take things for granted. And a lot of the story of the Bible is just that. When times were good, people often looked to themselves, didn’t look to God and their faith waned. And so, to stand forth in truth every single day, in some ways is a bigger challenge to our faith.
[Gary] I appreciate having this discussion. Because a lot of people, they see a minister talk about faith and go to the Bible and it’s like wow, that’s so intimidating. But, we’re all in the same boat. We all have faced obstacles to our faith. I know I’ve faced some in my life. What’s an obstacle you’ve maybe faced in your life concerning your faith?
[Darris] Probably fear, at times. Our world today makes us fearful of every turn it seems like. We might fear terrorism. We might fear the economy. People might fear losing their job. We fear getting old. When I studied the Scriptures about faith, I find that the apostle Paul, Jesus Christ, addressed fear quite often. “Fear not,” many different ways. So I think probably fear has been something that I’ve had to battle and I notice that in a lot of other people, and conquering some of my fears has helped me in counseling others to get through some of theirs.
[Steve] Many times, I think doubts and fears are probably number one. Maybe a new twist on some of those things in our times is distraction. We are so easily distracted from what’s most important in life. And there’s so many gizmos and gadgets and all kinds of things and electronics that get our attention and entertain us. And so, we can be totally enclosed in our own little electronic world if we want to. We don’t have to even recognize what’s really happening out here and it can divert us. It can divert us from what’s most important. I think that is one of the challenges to our faith and trust in God—that we begin to trust this world that we live in and this electronic world, rather than putting our trust and faith in God.
[Gary] When I look at the Scripture, I have some people that I look up to as the great examples of faith. And some of my personal favorites are Hannah, the mother of Samuel and the apostle Paul because the man just wouldn’t give up. He just kept going forward. What are some of your favorite examples in the Bible?
[Darris] For me, it’s probably Jeremiah. Jeremiah, a prophet of God who had an unenviable job of going to his own people and tell them what they needed to do to get right with God. But he did it for more than 40 years. Day after day, despite all the challenges, the persecution being thrown in jail and hostility that he experienced from his own people when he was really trying to help them. And he was truly a patriot. And he kept at it year after year. It’s kind of like what you’re talking about Steve with just day in and day out grind of faith. That’s really difficult. I look at Jeremiah and I see a man who did that and he’s one I take a lot of encouragement from.
[Steve] From the stories in the Bible that I often think of is one you might think of exhibiting a lack of faith. And that’s where Peter gets out of the boat and starts to walk to Jesus. And we often think well, he’s sunk down in the water and Jesus had to save him, and then he talks about how you might lack faith. And yet, to have the confidence when Christ says come here and he actually steps out of the boat and starts to walk on the water—I mean, that’s phenomenal faith! And so, he did exhibit faith and then it started to wane and I think it reminds us, all right, when we have those times in our life, when our faith isn’t as strong as it needs to be, where do we look to? We’ve got to look to Jesus Christ. We’ve got to look to God the Father for those times of support. And Peter is such an amazing example of that. Sometimes we just got to get out of the boat, start walking right towards God and recognize He is our Savior. That’s where we need to put our trust and our confidence.
[Gary] I would’ve been one of the other disciples saying, Peter you do it! You do it! Show Him your faith. We all struggle with this.
In today’s program, I’ve discussed how there is a real crisis of faith in the lives of many people. Faced with worries and troubles, many simply have no confidence that a better tomorrow is possible. Perhaps you feel this way—but the good news is—you don’t have to! You can have genuine faith if you look to God and rely on His Word, the Bible.
Now to help you learn much more about faith and how it can help be a vital part of your life, I encourage you to order a copy of our free Bible study aid, You Can Have Living Faith. This important and easy-to-read booklet will help you discover just what faith is, and how you can grow in it, and the many wonderful things that can happen through faith.
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Lord, help me believe!
To experience transforming faith, first let go of the hero fallacy. The people of the Bible were just like you and me. They had moments of anxiety and doubt, but God was greater than their weakness. He is greater than your weakness.
Study the Bible to understand that faith is more than belief. It involves total commitment, trust and obedience to your Creator.
And learn to live daily by faith in the “little things” of life. This faith training will prepare you for the bigger problems.
Join us next week on Beyond Today as we continue to discover the gospel of the Kingdom. We also invite you to join us in praying, “Thy Kingdom come.” For Beyond Today I’m Gary Petty. Thanks for watching.
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