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Exercising your Faith

Luke 8:22-25.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 16, 2018.

Today we are going to talk about the nature of faith.  Faith is such that it can be strengthened through its use.  Much like a muscle that is not used, our faith can atrophy to a point of spiritual danger.

This is not an attempt to inflate our egos with images of a spiritual Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Some people too easily think far more of themselves than they should and others too easily think far less of themselves than they should.  We must not err in either direction. 

No, this is recognition that God does want believers to become stronger in trusting Him.  He uses the difficulties of this life to strengthen our faith and accomplish the good work that He has for us to do.  In today’s story we are going to see a day in the life of The Twelve disciples, and how Jesus used it to strengthen their faith.

We must learn to trust the leading of Jesus

By the time we get to Luke 8:22, the disciples have followed Jesus for a while.  In verses 1-2 of the same passage we are told that they had already passed through every city and village “preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the Kingdom of God.  And The Twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities.”  I say this because it shows us that they had a certain level of faith already.  They had come to see Jesus as a wise teacher with the knowledge of God, and a powerful healer who could set people free from the worst of diseases and even evil spirits.  However, they did not yet understand completely who Jesus was.  Even when we know the stories of the Bible and what God can do, we did not walk through those times.  Thus we have to learn to trust God for ourselves in the things that we experience.

In this passage the disciples will be tested with a new set of circumstances.  Jesus tells them to get in boats and go across the Sea of Galilee towards the eastern side.  Now, several of them were experienced fisherman, but not all of them were.  Even then, this storm that they would encounter was the worst that they had ever encountered while in a boat.  

This highlights an issue in the area of faith.  We must resist the temptation to believe that if we are following God the way will be easy and without difficulty.  The devil can undermine your faith by getting you first to believe that you are not where God wants you to be and second that God has abandoned you there.  Even if the first part is true, God will not abandon the repentant.  Remember the prodigal son.  Jesus is always as close as the mention of His name.  So our faith is going to be tested whether we like it or not.  It is the only way to strengthen our faith and accomplish what God wants to accomplish in our lives.

However remember 1 Corinthians 10:12-13.  “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.  No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”  Notice that in verse 12 we are warned to watch out lest we fall.  God does not want us to become proud and arrogant in our abilities.  We can fall at any time, period.  However, verse 13 is the encouragement.  We can trust God’s leading.  He is faithful and it is His help that will enable us to deal with the trial.

Though this verse speaks of an escape, it also speaks of being able to bear our trials.  There is always a way through every test when Jesus is with us, but we should never see avoiding the test as God’s way of escape.  His way always leads right through the trial and out the other side.  The temptation is to treat Jesus like training wheels for the disciples.  Later the wheels will come off and they will be just like Jesus.  In truth, they would only do what they did later by continuing to follow Jesus by faith, and allowing Him to do what He wanted to do through them.  It was still God’s power that enabled them to do anything and the same will be true for us.  There will never be a time in this life that we do not need Jesus.  However, the key is that Jesus is with us, just as real as He was with those disciples that day on the boat when the storm threatened to destroy them.

He picks the best way for us

So let’s follow up on the idea that God has a way through our trial.  The idea to boat across the sea came from Jesus and He was not ignorant to what was going to happen.  He could have had them walk around.  God always has options, and yet he chose this one that lead to this difficult place.

It was imperative for the disciples that they come to the knowledge that Jesus was the Son of God, that in Him the fullness of the Godhead dwelt completely.  They needed to know that He was much more than a wise teacher, and powerful healer.  He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Though the situation looks like they are going to die, God is always watchful to the end that our faith is not overwhelmed.  Much like Israel pinned in against the Red Sea by Pharaoh’s army, they had nowhere to go.  Let me remind us of a verse in Exodus 13:17-18.  It says, “Then it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, ‘Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.’  So God led the people around by way of the wilderness of the Red Sea.”  God is always aware of what would be too much, what would overwhelm us.  Just as He was watching out for Israel, so He was watching out for The Twelve, and so He is watching out for you and me.

The truth is not that we can’t go through what is in front of us, but that we don’t want to do it.  We are capable of going through far greater things than we want to do and to be tested at levels far above our comfort zones.  It is not that we can’t follow the Lord, but that our flesh doesn’t want us to do so.  So the question is not can you follow the Lord, but will you?

Notice that God picked the easier way, but not an easy way.  We always think we have the toughest road, but the truth is that it could have been tougher.  The tests that Israel went through in the wilderness were tough, but they were also preparing them.  God taught them that they could trust Him for provision, healing, leading, and defense.  All these things were preparing them for the day when they would enter the Promised Land and have to fight giants.  It was all God’s preparation for Israel and in our story today, God’s preparation for the disciples.  They would face far greater storms than the one they faced on the Sea of Galilee that day.  Israel left Egypt unready for war against Egyptians, much less giants.  In the beginning God completely fought for them.  Moses told them, “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord!”  In the wilderness God had them assist in the miracles of the desert by going out and gathering the manna and the birds, but in obedience to God’s commands about how much.  He had them break camp and make camp, marching dutifully along, at the direction of the cloud that led them.  When they reach the Promised Land, they are ready to go to war against giants, not by themselves, but with the Lord working with them.  This is the careful preparation of God in all of our lives, helping us to grow in our ability to exercise our faith in Him.

If there is an impossible situation in your path, know this.  God has led you to this day.  If you haven’t been living for Him then repent and ask Him to help you.  If you have been living for Him, then reach out to Him to teach you how to come through even this impossible situation.  It may be, “stand still and watch me.”  It may be “Go up and fight and I will be with you.”  Regardless, we can know that He has picked the best way for us to become stronger in Him, to become more like Him.

Jesus is powerful enough for my situation

This brings us full circle to the story in Luke 8.  The Twelve are faced with a situation that is beyond them in the natural, but it is also beyond their faith.  Yet, in their time of need they turn to Jesus and this is always the right answer.  Satan can use fear and doubt to get you to question God’s love.  He does so to get you to walk away from Jesus instead of exercising your faith in Him by calling out to Him.  We may not have Jesus physically beside us, but He is just as close by the presence of the Holy Spirit and just as powerful.

How we turn to Jesus is important.  When we turn to Jesus, we do need to turn to Him in faith rather than in fear and accusation.  In the story the disciples are fearful and their statement to Jesus has a tinge of accusation to it.  Perhaps they waited longer than they should have to turn to Jesus, while bailing water and trying to keep the boat together.  Perhaps they resented the serene look on the face of Jesus as He slept.  Doesn’t He know that we are perishing?  Yet, Jesus was only asleep as long as they did not wake Him.  Why do we delay turning to Christ in our trials?  Don’t do that.  We don’t always get an answer right away, but the answer doesn’t start until we turn to Him. 

The good news is that we don’t have to be perfect to have God’s help.  However, we should learn and do better next time.  Learn to turn to Christ in expectant hope.  Lord, what would you have me/us do?  Is there anything?  I trust in You, Lord!  Clearly this is easier said than done, and none of us do it without error.  Yet, we can learn to become stronger in this area as we walk with the Lord Jesus.

Let us end with the obvious lesson of this story.  Jesus can handle the material world and the supernatural world in our lives.  In this situation the disciples recognize that Jesus is more than a man.  “He commands even winds and water, and they obey Him!”  When they hit the shore only one event happens before they get in their boats and go back, and that is meeting the Gadarene demoniac.  This guy was not just possessed with an evil spirit.  He had a legion of spirits within him.  He represents a satanic stronghold that only God could break down.  Christ demonstrates to His disciples (and us by the way) in back to back situations that He can handle both the natural creation and the supernatural creation.  He truly is Lord over all things. 

May God help us all to exercise our faith in Him by following Him today.  Whatever situation you are in, and whether you arrived there by following Jesus or running your own way, turn to Him today and let Him lead you into a place of stronger faith and victorious living.

Exercising Faith Audio