When our dog, Jack, comes to me, makes eye contact and then turns toward the door, Jack is illustrating faith that I will come and take him for a walk. He has no doubt. He doesn’t glance back to make sure I’m coming. He just walks to the door and waits. He knows I will be there. Has Jack somehow whipped up some faith from within himself? Of course not, Jack’s faith is simply him believing in me.
In Matthew 17 we read about the disciples of Jesus attempting to cast out a demon and bring healing to a boy suffering from this demonic hold. The disciples couldn’t do it so they asked Jesus why? Jesus responded with the words in verse 20, “You don’t have enough faith. I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” I’m sure we all understand that this is not a lesson in moving literal mountains. The earth would be in great chaos if mountains kept moving around.
The words of Jesus, “You don’t have enough faith,” has caused a great many to berate themselves over and over because somehow, they cannot manage to muster up enough faith that their prayers would bring about a miracle. Doubt sets in. Depression follows. Satan is having a good day when he sees one of God’s children walking around ineffective due to their own self loathing. You see, the lesson here is not to concentrate on our faith to do something powerful. The lesson is to concentrate on Jesus, knowing that He can do something powerful. That is pure faith.
In Matthew 8 we read the story of a Roman soldier who came to Jesus asking that He heal his servant. Jesus told the officer that he would come, but the officer replied to Jesus, “just say the word from where you are and I know my servant will be healed.” Jesus replied, “I have not seen faith like this in all of Israel.” The officer wasn’t trying desperately to whip up faith that his petitions would bring about what he desired for his servant; rather, his faith was in Jesus, that Jesus alone could bring about what he desired for his servant.
Do you see the subtlety of focus here? It is easy to misunderstand the lesson of the mustard seed, and to spend wasted time trying to conjure up our faith in our prayers, when all along the lesson is about having faith in Jesus that He can and will do what is needed. It is nothing of ourselves, but everything of Jesus. It is trusting in Him, His timing, and His way. It is trusting when He says yes, no, or wait.
You may still ask yourself if you indeed have faith the size of a mustard seed. Have you prayed to receive Jesus as your Savior? Do you believe in your salvation? If you answered yes, then you have faith the size of a mustard seed. You concentrated on Jesus alone to save you; concentrate on Him alone all the days of your life, and faith will blossom. It’s all about on whom you focus.
Most of you reading will be familiar with the Old Testament story of David. Before he became king of Israel he was hunted by his enemies. David wrote many Psalms concerning this dark period of his life. To add to the turmoil of keeping away from those who wanted to kill him, we read in Psalm 55 that he had been betrayed by a trusted friend. In this Psalm David pours out the anguish of his heart. In his agonizing situation he writes something most interesting; rather peculiar, in verse 22, “Give your burdens to the Lord, and He will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.” You may well be thinking, what’s so interesting or peculiar about that? We know of a certainty that God helps us in our times of need.
The peculiarity comes when looking at the original Hebrew text. The word “burdens” is the Hebrew word jehobecha which means “gift or portion.” Now do you see why this is rather peculiar at first glance? We see here that the very burden we are to give to the Lord, actually came from Him in the first place — as a gift!
This makes me think of military boot camp. My father spent 22 years in the United States Air Force before going to seminary and serving God as both pastor and missionary for over 40 years. My father said boot camp was no picnic. The drill sergeant, who was training the men to succeed, was the very one who put obstacles in their path. The assault courses were just that — an assault on the body and mind. At first glance it seemed insurmountable. The men were often angry at the drill sergeant, but they pressed on in the challenges given to them.
By the end of boot camp, these same men were strong mentally and physically. They could act independently or as a team reaching out to each other. By the time graduation came these men could actually thank the drill sergeant for the gift of the assault course. Without it, they would never have grown so robust and courageous. They would have doubted their ability to stand strong in situations the future held for them.
When we understand this, can’t we also say with David, to our loving Heavenly Father, “I give you my gifts of burden and hard times to mold me in strength and character, and I thank you, knowing I have the strength I need, because of You, to see me through the darkest of days.”
In the Old Testament books of Genesis and Jeremiah, there are nearly identical verses that asks the question, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” In Genesis the words are spoken in regard to the promise that Sarah and Abraham would have a son even though they were both old and well past child bearing. In Jeremiah the words are spoken in regard to Israel’s abandonment of God, their punishment, and the promise that when they came back to God they would be blessed again. Nothing is too hard for God, and He keeps His promises to us, even when we know we don’t deserve it.
Think about this: You and I may make a promise of some sort to God, but it’s not surprising to us when we break that promise. You and I may make a plan, knowing it will succeed, but it’s no surprise to us if the plan fails. You and I may set out to overcome something in our own strength, believing that all will be well, but it’s no surprise to us if we find ourselves weak, unable to achieve what we set out to do. We fail often — God never does.
Therefore, doesn’t it make sense that in hard times we look to God, asking for His guidance? Doesn’t it make sense that we read His Words and follow His instructions? After all, we know His Words are without mistake. Doesn’t it make sense to tell Him all of our troubles? Doesn’t it make sense to make God our first port of call when our ship is in a storm? Doesn’t it make sense to worship Him in our most difficult of moments, just because we know He is God who loves us more than we can measure? Doesn’t it make sense to trust Him in the dark when we can see no way out, because He promised in Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you, plans for good and not bad, to give you hope and a future?” Doesn’t it make sense to climb into our Father’s lap and cuddle up in His comfort? Why would we want to do anything else or be anywhere else in times of trouble when He loves us, and when we know that nothing is too hard for Him?
This week my mind went back to a memory of 25 years ago. I was on vacation with my parents in Panama City Beach, Florida. While there I contemplated having a parasailing experience. Watching others being harnessed and go up, up, and away both excited me and made me nervous, too. My excitement won out. I paid the fee and swam out to the waiting boat. Onboard I was placed in a harness and the parachute tossed into the wind where it was caught up quickly. In minutes I was in the air. The attendants were letting out the cord that attached the parachute to the boat. Higher and higher I went. I watched the water at first and the boat, but as I relaxed, I looked at the beach and over the rooftops of the hotels lined up along the way. Everything began to look smaller and smaller, but the thing that made the biggest impression on me was the sound — there wasn’t any. I don’t believe I have ever experienced absolute silence like I did then. The beauty of the silence, the scope of all I could see at once, brought peace that washed over me like the gentle ocean waves gliding onto the shore below.
What brought on the silence to the noisy world below? What brought on the scope of seeing so much at one time? It was the height to which I had risen. As I have recalled this memory I have also reasoned that the same thing happens in our spiritual worlds. We can become so bogged down when all we listen to is the complaining, the slander, the lies, the rudeness, the evil of this world. We can feel we are drowning in sorrow and despair when all we look at is the darkness of this world. Hearing becomes used to the din of nothing but noise, and seeing grows so accustomed to the dark that we forget to turn towards the Light.
Just as parasailing higher turns a deaf ear to the world’s noise and broadens the scope of sight, so looking up to the Lord trains our ears to hear Him above anything else, and sharpens our sight to see Him working out His plans for our lives “to bring good and not bad, to give a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11, NLT) I also love the verse in James 4:8 that tells us to “draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” When we purposefully come close to Him, we both hear and see Him in better clarity. We take on an understanding of His ways and of His will for our lives. Trust grows in what He tells us to do. Joy escalates. Peace comes.
May you rise higher today, leaving noisy, unsightly troubles below, as you rise in nearness to the One who sees all, hears all, loves perfectly, and guides you without mistake.
This morning Jack, our dog, and I were taking our first walk of the day. It was 6:00am. I like that time of the morning. It’s still quiet from human activity as we walk around the neighborhood. Seagulls are swooping, calling out greetings to each other, and the sky is pale in color as it waits for the sun to fully rise.
As I was enjoying the sights and sounds of nature, Jack was lost in important sniffing pursuits — I call it reading the canine morning papers. He neared a tree, walked over to have a sniff when suddenly, and very quickly, he backs up and sits down, paw lifted, panicked eyes locked on mine. “What is it boy?” I speak soothing words to him as I stoop down to investigate. Had something stung him? Did he step on a thorn? No, he had kerplopped his paw into a little pile of poo! Oh, no! I found a leaf and did the best I could to remove the unwanted, awful mess between his toes. His panicked gaze was steady on me the whole time. Having done the best I could I stood up and said, “It’s okay now. All gone.” Just like that, with a smile, as if nothing had happened, he pranced along happy as can be. We purposefully walked through dewy grass after that to finish the cleaning job, and when we got home, I took his doggie wipes and sterilized his paw and pads —and sterilized my fingers, too!
I was warmly touched that he came immediately to me when something bad had happened to him. His stare of panic never left me. He trusted whatever I chose to do, believing that I was helping him. I would remedy his problem and ease away his troubled spirit, of that he was sure.
Poor Jack, stepping into mess, but we step into mess, too, don’t we. Sometimes it’s an accident. We didn’t see trouble coming. Sometimes it’s our own wrong or foolish choices that lands us in a pile of life’s poo! We can fret. We can talk to others. We can try to pretend it never happened. We can do lots of things but the only right thing to do is — come to Jesus. Remember what He told His followers in Matthew 11:28-29: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Jesus never gets overburdened Himself. When you come to Him, He never thinks, “Oh no! Not this one again!” Just as I was warmed in my heart when Jack looked to me, Jesus is warmed all the more when we come to Him, trusting that He will know what to do, and His comfort will come quickly. When we turn to Jesus, He will stoop down with assurances that all will be well. He will clean up the mess of our troubled souls. He will urge us onward. He will never leave our side. He will walk us on fresh, dewy grass of joy, to wipe away our fears. He will do all that is needed and best for us. His compassions never fail; they are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23)
Never forget, while it’s comforting to turn to a friend for help, go to Jesus first. His comfort is like no other.