We all struggle with fears and anxieties. Will I be successful? Will I marry? Will I stay married? Will I always have adequate finances? Will my retirement be secure? Will I be able to avoid sickness and disability? Will I always be wanted and needed?
Such fears cripple.
In Matthew 14:22–31, we read that the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water. Peter loved Jesus so much that he made a rather bizarre request “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”
Peter’s request was impulsive—but Jesus said to him, “Come.”
Confidently, Peter jumped out of the boat and walked on the water. His eyes were on Jesus. But what began as an exciting, impulsive adventure almost cost him his life.
Suddenly he looked around. What am I doing? How stormy it is, and how deep the water! Panic! Then Peter began to sink into the circumstances.
Why? Had Jesus changed his mind, or run out of power, or lost interest in Peter?
Once the circumstances were over Peter’s head, his attention turned quickly back to Jesus: “Lord, save me!” Jesus could have let him drown to teach the others a lesson on crippling fear but his eye never left Peter for a moment. Peter shifted his focus, but Jesus never did. How wonderful it was for Peter to feel Jesus’ hand rescue him!
Then Jesus said, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Have you made decisions by faith, believing God has led you, but then doubted this guidance in the midst of trying circumstances? Have you started by faith only to end with fear? Have you wondered if God really led you into this marriage, or this occupation, or this financial situation, or this friendship, or this location?
Things are not going well, we think. Will God see me through? I’ve made mistakes—will he still help me? Will God finish what he started?
Our faith runs out before we experience God’s graciousness. Our doubts turn to unbelief, and what started as a faith venture becomes instead a detriment to our growth as we begin questioning God.
But Jesus used every situation with his disciples to increase their faith, and even when we blow it he cares enough for us to teach us to trust him.
The psalmist wrote,
As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy. (Psalm 123:2)
So “let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
“When we lift our eyes to God,” wrote A. W. Tozer, “we are sure to find friendly eyes looking back at us.”
What is faith? Faith apprehends as a real fact what is not revealed to the senses. Faith rests on that fact acts upon it and is upheld by it in the face of all that seems to contradict it. It is not a feeling—it is based on fact. Faith is real seeing. It is the firm grasp of the unseen fact. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).
HOW MUCH WILL GOD DO
How much do we believe God is willing to do for us? How much do we believe God is capable of doing for us? Isn’t it easier to believe God can and will do something good for someone else but not for me?
Are we honoring or insulting God when we pray? Do we approach him as the King who has unlimited power, unlimited resources, unlimited love?
In 1972 I was asked to pray about traveling around the world to minister to women in several countries. My immediate thought was, God wouldn’t do that for me. I didn’t have enough money. I don’t have that much to offer in ministry. I yearned for the experience, but I didn’t think God would do it for me.
Left to my own resources I would never have gone. But God provided everything for the trip because it was his will, and it was the highlight of my life.
When you’re faced with a problem or need, do you think of meeting it with your own resources and talents, or with the Lord’s? He “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).
Even though Jesus had already done all manner of miracles in the presence of his disciples when, in John 6, he raises the issue of feeding the five thousand hungry people, it never occurs to the disciples that Jesus himself would feed them. Faith, however, begins when we come to the end of our resources.
What did the young boy lose that day by bringing his little lunch to Jesus? Nothing. He ate till he was satisfied, as did more than five thousand others. If the boy had kept it to himself, that lunch would have met only his needs; but offered to Jesus it ministered to multitudes.
If I offer what I love to the Lord, he may indeed take it away—my husband, my children, my home, my career, my talents, my possessions. But God gave us everything we have anyway—not to exploit for ourselves, but to put at his disposal and use for his glory.
THE WAITING, THE SUFFERING
Our fears reveal our view of God. Wrong concepts about his concern for me or about his power are reflected in whatever I find difficult to believe God for.
That doesn’t mean that if I have the right concept he will answer my prayers exactly the way I want him to. But he does always answer. The real issue is whether I trust him to answer by doing the right thing the right way at the right time.
While we wait for his answer, do we see the waiting and the suffering as his means of perfecting our character and fulfilling his purposes for us—not only his purposes for us personally, but also those regarding our part in fulfilling the Great Commission? Will we be like Job, who cried, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15)?
For many of us, our ability to wait on God through suffering is questionable. In an article entitled “A Salvation of Suffering” in Christianity Today (July 16, 1982), Anita and Peter Deyneka, Jr., included these quoted observations:
There is nothing like the happiness of the early Christians, not despite, but because of their acceptance of suffering for the sake of Christ. As far as the capacity of godly suffering is concerned, we are the poorest and least advanced. We want comforts; we do not want to be destitute and suffer for the sake of Christ.” (Lebanese statesman Charles Malik)
A fact which cannot be disputed is the weakening of human beings in the West while in the East they are becoming firmer and stronger … We have been through a training far in advance of Western experience.” (from Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 Harvard address)
“You Western Christians often seem to consider material prosperity to be the only sign of God’s blessing. On the other hand, you often seem to perceive poverty, discomfort, and suffering as signs of God’s disfavor. In some ways we in the East understand suffering from the opposite perspective. We believe that suffering may be a sign of God’s favor and trust in the Christian to whom the trial is permitted to come…. Knowing this, of course, does not mean that our sufferings are not agonizing. But it does provide healing and redemption in our sufferings.” (an East European Christian)
We who are preoccupied with personal happiness and comfort are missing out on discovering the greatness of God’s power to overcome circumstances. Instead of offering ourselves to the Lord for his purposes, we try to manipulate him so that he will help us be successful, comfortable, or popular. When God doesn’t perform accordingly, we doubt his goodness and power.
How can we convert our fears to faith? If you want increased, creative faith, try offering yourself with no mental reservations to the will of God. You’ll get answers to prayer beyond your wildest imaginations.
What are you more concerned about getting what you want in life, or fulfilling God’s purpose? Instead of asking God to release you from situations that bring pressure and suffering, ask him to complete in your character whatever is necessary for you to become more like Jesus Christ. Ask him to develop in you the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Ask him to accomplish great things through your life for the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
I recently heard this definition of worship: “Worship is submission—total submission to the will of God.” Offer yourself unconditionally to the Lord, and be willing to become and to do whatever he asks. Accept suffering, trials, and ridicule as the norm for the committed servant of the Lord, rejoicing like the apostles that you can suffer for the sake of your beloved Jesus.
Remember impulsive Peter? Listen to his words when he was older and more mature:
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6–7)
What’s the most difficult thing for you to believe God for in your life now? What’s the most difficult thing to believe him for in the future? Are your answers something selfish—a person or a thing to which you look to meet your need? Someone or something other than the Lord himself and what he provides? If so, beware of idolatry.
Fifty days after the disciples abandoned Jesus at the cross, they were courageously preaching the gospel to thousands. They started with little faith, but they grew to be men of outstanding faith, for they lived with and learned from Jesus. After being beaten and humiliated and imprisoned, they sang and praised God. Their whole lives were consumed with Jesus, and with spreading his good news. They were men on fire, men who turned the world upside down.
We, too, can become courageous men and women of faith, thankful Christians who believe God and claim his promises and who make a difference in our world by giving to God all we are and have.
You’ve been reading from Discipleship Journal issue #15. This article is by Helene Ashker. Helene travels throughout the western United States as a Navigator representative to women.