Little Faith,
Great Faith
Participating Faith

Little Faith

The first thing we shall look at is the times when Jesus says people had little or inadequate faith. I want to say straight off that Jesus never said to any sick person "You remain sick because you lack faith." The closest He ever comes to that is when the disciples fail to heal the epileptic boy..and there He blames the disciples and not the boy. It was the failure of the disciples faith not the lack of the sick person's faith that worried Jesus.

Secondly lack of faith can have many causes and we will look at them later. But basically lack of faith is the inability or refusal to see, grasp and use spiritual truth.

Matthew 6:30 (NRSV) But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you--you of little faith?

Here Jesus says anxiety over God's ability to provide the necessities of life is a lack of faith. God obviously provides food for the birds and clothes the lilies of the field in splendor, then He who knows what we need will not fail to supply. I remember reading this verse as a rather poor missionary and telling God off and saying that I was not well enough clothed and would He kindly keep His promise. Shortly afterwards a friend of a friend who owned a fashion store in Hong Kong sent me two suitcases full of silk clothes of the very highest quality and I lived in silk for years. God keeps His word -even to those of little faith.

(1) Little faith is saying God's clear promises, can't, won't or don't come true.

Luke 8:13-14 (NRSV) The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. 14 As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.

Here faith lacks roots in the heart of the person. They are easily discouraged and give up under hard times or become barren and unfruitful Christian worriers rather than God's warriors. (2) Little faith gives up easily on the things of God.

Matthew 8:23-27 (NRSV) And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him up, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!" 26 And he said to them, "Why are you afraid, you of little faith?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. 27 They were amazed, saying, "What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?"

What a fantastic passage of Scripture. These faithful disciples follow Jesus into the boat. Then up comes a storm and they are close to sinking. They are terrified and wake Jesus. He says to the wind and the waves "Peace be still" (in Luke) and tells them off for having such little faith. The disciples are expected to believe that God cares for their lives and will not let them come to an untimely end. Jesus expects them to look past the natural circumstances to the power and provision of God.

(3) Little faith only sees the circumstances and cannot grasp and apply God's truths at the necessary moment.

Mark 16:13-14 (NRSV) And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. 14 Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.

Luke 1:20 (NRSV) But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur."

Here we see people who have put God in a box and said "he can do this much and no more" and "God would not do that for me.." We dare not ever limit God. Jesus knew of this tendency and the gospels record Jesus saying "All things are possible to those who believe"or "Nothing is impossible with God" 9 times. We need to become people who genuinely see nothing as impossible with God.

(4)Little faith limits God. Little faith says "This is not possible - even with God, at least not for me".

John 5:44 (NRSV) How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God?

Pride makes it impossible to grow in faith. God does not allow us to rely on other people for our "glory" and self-esteem. Faith needs us to be dependent on God for all things especially for our sense of who we are. Faith says " I am a humble child of God and He is my heavenly father who loves me therefore I am OK". Worldliness says "I am rich and powerful and attractive therefore I am OK" such an attitude is deadly to growth in faith.

(5) Little faith is not humble toward God . Little faith loves the praise of men and seeks human reputation rather than the approval of God. It lacks the spiritual insight to focus on heavenly rewards.

So the five sources of little faith are :
Hardness of heart,
Giving up easily,
Being overwhelmed by circumstances and unable to apply God's truths.
Deciding what is possible and impossible for God,
And pride and the seeking of respectability.

Great Faith

If these things bring little faith then we would expect the opposites to bring great faith - and you would be dead right. The five ingredients for great faith are.

1. Softness of heart (fruitful soil, parable of the sower)
2. Persistence and endurance in the faith.
3. Seeing, believing and acting on God's truths despite anxieties and circumstances.
4. Believing that nothing is impossible with God.
5. Humility, lowliness and glorying in God alone.

Lets see how Scripture supports this:

Matthew 8:5-13 (NRSV) When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him 6 and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress." 7 And he said to him, "I will come and cure him." 8 The centurion answered, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and the slave does it." 10 When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, "Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, "Go; let it be done for you according to your faith." And the servant was healed in that hour.

Matthew 15:21-28 (NRSV) Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon." 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us." 24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." 26 He answered, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." 27 She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." 28 Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly.

Luke 8:15 (NRSV) But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.

If you notice something the same about the Canaanite woman and the Roman Centurion it is that both had a deep sense of their unworthiness before God but an unshakable belief that God would act on their behalf. The centurion is commended for his great faith in understanding the nature of Jesus's authority...that all Jesus had to do was speak the word and his servant would be healed. He does not strut around before God but comes very humbly to Jesus. Jesus was willing to visit this man's house but he did not feel worthy to have Him. His word would be sufficient. Here we see four of the five principles of great faith at work. The Centurion had:

A soft and merciful heart.
An understanding of spiritual principles and God's authority.
He believed that nothing was impossible with God.
He was very humble and did not take up the opportunity to big-note himself in front of the crowd or Jesus or even to have the Messiah for lunch.

The Canaanite woman with the demon-possessed daughter shows the this quality of persistence - to the point of annoying the disciples. She possessed an unshakable faith in the mercy that Jesus would bestow.

Again we see a soft and merciful heart,
A grasping of spiritual truth despite adverse circumstances. In this case the truth that even Gentiles were not outside God's mercy .
Faith that nothing was impossible to God.
A humble heart that abased itself before God.

Both the Roman Centurion and Canaanite woman were Gentiles and are the only people in the gospels commended by Jesus for their great faith.

Growing Into Great Faith

Now for the conclusion of the matter - how can you and I become men and women of faith who see things happen when they pray and whose lives please God. What qualities shall we try to work into our lives so that we eventually grow into great faith?

1. We will aim at being soft-hearted caring and merciful, open to the truths of God and the needs of others. As Luke puts it people who "hold fast the word in a good and honest heart".

2. We will aim at grasping spiritual truths and believing them. We will not scoff at the miraculous or the power of God but seek to understand His mercy, justice and power and how it operates.

3. We will believe that nothing is impossible with God and that no circumstance is too difficult for Him to change.

4. We will hold onto our faith like a pig-dog on a bone. We will persist before God with our requests and not let go. We will keep on believing even though circumstances would cause many others to doubt and give up.

5. We will not grandstand around before God or men but be gentle and lowly and humble of heart. We will seek our approval from God, not from the world around us.

May I suggest four steps, the intials of which form the word ROPE.

1. Repent of your pride, skepticism and unbelief. Confess to God that you are a person of little faith, that you do not believe as you should and that you want help to grow in faith. "Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief.."

2. Open your heart to the word of God. Treasure the truths of God. Seek to find out how God acts and to trust God in all circumstances on the basis of what you have learned of Him.

3. Persist in prayer and faith. Never, never, never give in. If its worthwhile hold on to it - and your faith is worth much.

4. Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God. This was the motto of a famous missionary -either C.T. Studd or Hudson Taylor. The centurion and the Canaanite woman expected great things from God.

The apostles after Pentecost were filled with faith and expected great things from God and attempted great things for God - and they succeeded

Lets go over that again R - repentance of unbelief and pride, O - openness to God, P - persistence in prayer and faith, E - expect great things from our great God.

Participating Faith

The Bible doesn't use these exact words but they summarise for me the Hebrews 11 gift of exceptional faith. Though the centurion had great faith it was not the same as a Paul or a David or a Moses or an Abraham. These giants of the faith participated in the plans and purposes of God. They took God at his word and launched out not knowing where they were going. They sought a Kingdom that was not of this world. They ACTIVELY AND DELIBERATELY PARTICIPATED IN THE PROMISES OF GOD. Lets look at this a bit further.

(Hebrews 11:1-8 NKJV) Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. {2} For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. {3} By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. {4} By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks. {5} By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, "and was not found, because God had taken him"; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. {6} But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. {7} By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. {8} By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.

Each of these people demonstrated their inner conviction by outward actions that participated in the plans , purposes and promises of God. Abel offered an acceptable sacrifice. Enoch lived a life pleasing to God. Noah built an ark. Abraham went out not knowing where he was going. They took on God's plan as their life intent. Faith is the "substance of things hoped for". For these people faith was not wishing or hoping it was reckoning on God's promises as "substantial", as reliable, as something they could walk out on like a plank of wood.

The minimum level of faith is specified as believing that God is and that He rewards those who seek Him. (v6) The maximum is the ability to forsake all for God's Kingdom purposes as Abraham did many times and many saints have done since. These people know that though this life's rewards may be few that they WILL inherit something greater still in the resurrection. For them this is not fanciful theology or religious conjuring but a real hope - a hope with substance. Something that they can and do build their lives on.

(Hebrews 11:13-26 NKJV) These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. {14} For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. {15} And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. {16} But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. {17} By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, {18} of whom it was said, "In Isaac your seed shall be called," {19} concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense. {20} By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. {21} By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. {22} By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones. {23} By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king's command. {24} By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, {25} choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, {26} esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.

The desire of those who have decided to participate in the plans and promises of God is for His purposes alone. They desire the heavenly city - not the earthly. They esteem the reproach of Christ to be greater riches than the treasures of Egypt - and how great those treasures were has only recently been revealed by modern archaeology. This is the true love of God - to enter in to all He calls us to without reserve or hesitation and leaving this world behind as a vapour and a cloud. Will you set your heart on the purposes of God and start the journey, the pilgrimage, of participating faith?

by John Edmiston © John Edmiston, Eternity Online Magazine 1997
This article may be used for non-profit purposes without charge.

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