Bread – Faith

June 14, 2010

Readings for Monday, June 14th
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Num. 9:15-23, 10:29-36; Rom. 1:1-15; Matt. 17:14-21
    Psalms 77, 79, 80

Today’s lessons are about faith.  In Numbers, the Israelites follow the presence of God without hesitation in faith.  If the cloud (the presence of God) moves, they move.  If it stays over the tabernacle, they stay.  If it moves in a hurry, they move in a hurry.  If it moves slowly, they move slowly.  Whatever direction God set, they follow.  Although the word "faith" is not used, it is clear that faith is in action.

In Romans, Paul is writing to Christians, those who have "come to the obedience that comes from faith."  Rom. 1:6. He is writing to the church in Rome, whose members have a "faith which is being reported all over the world."  Rom. 1:8.  Paul desires to be there so that they together might mutually encourage each other through their faith.

In Matthew, Jesus explains to the apostles that their difficulty with casting out a particular demon is "Because you have so little faith."  Matt. 17:20.  It is in this passage that Jesus says something difficult to understand (with our own understanding), because He says that "if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, … Nothing will be impossible for you."  Matt. 17:20.

So what is faith anyway?  The definition in Hebrews is "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."  Heb. 11:1.  I have heard it described as a "radical trust," the kind of trust which we put into our chair when we sit on it (we have a "radical trust" that it will not break under our weight).  The actual Greek word "pistis" and its variations are defined in "Lexical Aids to the New Testament" notes in the Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (NASB, Ed. Zodhiates, 1990) as "being persuaded, faith, belief, in general it implies such a knowledge of, assent to, and confidence in certain divine truths, especially those of the Gospel, as produces good works."

These may sound like conflicting views, but they are not.  We are rational beings, with a mind to think given by God.  Faith results from thinking, contrary to popular anti-Christian "intellectual" theory which asserts that faith destroys thinking.  Faith is based upon a knowledge of divine truths, rational consent to those divine truths, resulting in confidence that those divine truths work, producing action based upon that confidence.

So, if faith is so rational, then how come we can’t argue someone into belief?  How come we can’t appeal to man’s mind and awaken him to the truth of Jesus Christ through persuasive speech?

Jesus actually gives us the answer in Matthew.  Nothing is impossible with even the smallest amount of faith.

Where does that smallest amount of faith come from?  Where is the starter?  Can I learn it from books?  Can I acquire it in the bazaar?  Can I pluck it from observation of my world?

The answer is simply "no."  And there is a good reason.  We are dead to our sins before we have faith, and dead men do not walk, they do not breathe, they do not talk, they do not listen, and they do not think.  It is impossible to obtain any "knowledge of" divine truth while we are dead.  So we can’t even begin the faith (belief, trust) process until we are jump-started by the Holy Spirit acting in our lives to wake us up and to give us that "mustard seed."

Our natural response to Jesus’ statement is to say that we must not have that "mustard seed" of faith, because it seems like sometimes, and maybe most or all of the time, that everything is impossible for us.  And yet, that is not true.  Prior to receiving the mustard seed of faith, it would have been impossible for us to enter into the presence of God, much less claim a family relationship.  Prior to receiving the mustard seed of faith, it would have been impossible for us to be reborn into new life.  Prior to receiving the mustard seed of faith, it would have been impossible for us to love God.  Prior to receiving the mustard seed of faith, it would have been impossible to love our very unlovable neighbor.  Prior to receiving the mustard seed of faith, it would have been impossible to discern where God is going, much less have the confidence in Him to pitch our tents and follow Him into the scary horizon of life.

When you think of it, in fact, there are a lot of impossible things we do every day because act with the spirit of hope, charity, integrity, love, and truth which we have because of our knowledge of , our assent to, and our confidence in the divine truths which have graciously been revealed to us by the sovereign action of God in our lives.

The final explanation of faith that I have heard I love.  It is analogous to the law of large numbers, which is that a very small number multiplied by a very large number is itself a very large number.  So, a very small and weak trust (the mustard seed) in a very strong object (God) is itself very strong and capable of achieving God’s purpose in our lives.

The lessons today are very instructive about what it means to have faith and do impossible things.  But without close looking, we miss the important middle step.  This is shown best in our reading in Numbers.  In Numbers, the nation of Israel had faith in God.  This did not result in an impossible task being accomplished by them.  Instead, this resulted in a daily obedience to God’s plan for them.  It involved them paying attention to what God was doing and then following God.  When they followed God, when they let their faith play out in radical obedience to His guidance and His plan, three impossible things occurred.  The first was that a nomad tribe of individual slaves was forged into a unified nation under God.  The second is they traveled through the desert, through a wasteland, and grew (and did not diminish) during that time.  And the third is that arrived at the land promised by God, at the place where God promised He would take them.  God is the one who did the impossible – Israel participated and received the benefits as a result of their obedience which came from faith.

With the mustard seed of faith, all things are possible because the outcome of faith is obedience (see our reading in Romans) and the outcome of obedience is that God does all the heavy lifting.

And God can do things that to us seem impossible.  And not only can He, but He does, every day.

All we have to do is tag along.



One Response to “Bread – Faith”

  1. KathyK Says:

    Part of faith is waiting patiently while the seed of faith grows. We cannot force it to grow. We can water it with prayer and fellowship. And you’re right. There is action required to follow God’s leading. It’s a trial and error process, since we don’t have the cloud by day and fire by night to guide us. But God plants the seed and causes it to grow.

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