The Faith of a Father
The Faith of a Father
August 31, 2008
And now, for something completely different, here are some words of wisdom from from Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God Day-by-Day:
The Agony of Prayer
Being in anguish, He prayed more fervently, and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.— Luke 22:44
Prayer is not difficult to understand. It is difficult to do. When was the last time your heart so grieved for those you were interceding for that your entire body agonized along with your mind and heart? (Heb. 5:7).
We are a generation that avoids pain at all costs. This is why there are so few intercessors. Most Christians operate on the shallowest levels of prayer, but God wants to take us into the deep levels of intercessory prayer that only a few ever experience. Deep, prolonged intercession is painful. It involves staying before God when everyone else has gone away or sleeps (Luke 22:45). It involves experiencing brokenness with the Father over those who continually rebel against Him. How many of us will experience this kind of fervent intercession?
We long for Pentecost in our lives and in our churches, but there is no Pentecost without Gethsemane and a cross. How do we become mature in our prayer life? By praying. When we do not feel like praying is precisely the time we ought to pray. There are no shortcuts to prayer. There are no books to read, seminars to attend, or inspirational mottoes to memorize that will transform us into intercessors. This comes only by committing ourselves to pray and then doing so.
Why not accept God's invitation to become an intercessor? Don't allow yourself to become satisfied with shallow, self-centered praying. Stay with God in prayer until He leads you to pray at the level He wants.
I’ve been beginning my message with quotes from Henry Blackaby’s devotional. He is one of the godly men I admire, and read often. But I have many favorites, among them are John MacArthur, John Piper, Warren Wiersbe, R.C. Sproule, Chuck Colson, A.W. Tozer. I encourage you to read them. But beware, there are many authors claiming to be Christians, writing works with teachings contrary to Scripture. They are sold in Christian books stores too! Don’t assume that because someone says they are led by the Spirit that they are. The same applies to Christian television. There are many charlatans using Christian television for their own devious purposes (keep in mind that the only qualification to be on Christian television is that you have enough many to pay for their air time. So, guard your hearts! If you like to read fiction, that’s fine, but make a practice of reading at least one non-fiction book for every fictional one you read. If you need help or direction in selecting books or authors, please feel free to call me.
I’ll tell you up front that I’ve agonized over this message for the past two weeks, and I’ll warn you right now that it’s not a sugar-coated, feel good message. God did not give the prophets the messages the people wanted, He gave them the messages the people needed. Unfortunately, the people did not respond as God wanted them to and they stoned the prophets. Fortunately, stoning is no longer socially acceptable. God does not want us to feel good! He wants us to feel convicted, repentant, ready to change, ready to grow. This message is far too easy to ignore if it’s sweetened up.
I’ve recently read John Piper’s book, “Don’t Waste Your Life.” I guess you might say that it was the prompt I needed. One statement he makes is particularly poignant: “I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider this story from the February 1998 Reader’s Digest. A couple took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years go when he was 9 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball, and collect shells …. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment; “Look, Lord. See my shells.” That is a tragedy.
If you are currently parenting, I strongly suggest that you read James Dobson from Focus on the Family. I love the title of one of Dr. James Dobson's books: Parenting Isn't For Cowards. As a father of four, I, too, know that raising kids is not for the faint of heart. Here’s a quote:“I remember reading about a guy who stopped in the grocery store on the way home from work to pick up a couple of items for his wife. He wandered around aimlessly for a while searching out the needed groceries. As is often the case in the grocery store, he kept passing this same shopper in almost every aisle. It was another father trying to shop with a totally uncooperative three year old boy in the cart.
The first time they passed, the three year old was asking over and over for a candy bar. Our observer couldn't hear the entire conversation. He just heard Dad say, "Now, Billy, this won't take long." As they passed in the nest aisle, the 3-year-old's pleas had increased several octaves. Now Dad was quietly saying, "Billy, just calm down. We will be done in a minute."
When they passed near the dairy case, the kid was screaming uncontrollably. Dad was still keeping his cool. In a very low voice he was saying, "Billy, settle down. We are almost out of here." The Dad and his son reached the check out counter just ahead of our observer. He still gave no evidence of losing control. The boy was screaming and kicking. Dad was very calmly saying over and over, "Billy, we will be in the car in just a minute and then everything will be OK."
The bystander was impressed beyond words. After paying for his groceries, he hurried to catch up with this amazing example of patience and self-control just in time to hear him say again, "Billy, we're done. It's going to be OK." He tapped the patient father on the shoulder and said, "Sir, I couldn't help but watch how you handled little Billy. You were amazing."
Dad replied, "You don't get it, do you?" I'm Billy!"
So, when you begin to lose patience with my rambling this morning, be calm and remind yourself, “We’ll soon be done and I’ll be in the car and everything will be okay!” But, all kidding aside, I hope you won’t be okay. I hope the Word of God this morning greatly challenges and convicts you to re-re-examine your walk with God: your degree of faith!
Please turn in your Bible to John, chapter 4 and we’ll read verses 43 through 54. And after the two days He went forth from there into Galilee. For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country.
So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast. He came therefore again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain royal official, whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him, and was requesting Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. Jesus therefore said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe." The royal official * said to Him, "Sir, come down before my child dies." Jesus * said to him, "Go your way; your son lives." The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he started off. And as he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living. So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. They said therefore to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him." So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives"; and he himself believed, and his whole household. This is again a second sign that Jesus performed, when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.
Fatherhood can be a challenge! Consider the first-time father who was taking his first turn at feeding his baby some strained peas. Naturally, there were traces of the food everywhere, floor, ceiling, and especially on the infant. His wife comes in and sees the huge mess. She looks at the baby, then at her husband who appeared to be just sitting staring off into space oblivious to the whole situation. She asks, "What in the world are you doing?"
He replied, "I'm waiting for the first coat to dry, so I can put on another."
While shopping and feeding may be challenges, nothing is as hard for a parent as watching a little one get sick or hurt. Every parent knows the feeling of wishing they could trade places with an ailing child. If you have ever watched your sick child struggle, you know a little bit about what this unnamed father in our Bible story was going through. The gospel doesn't tell us a lot about him. What we do know paints a graphic picture. He was a nobleman, probably a member of the royal family of Herod Antipas. He had servants, so we presume he was fairly wealthy. Here is the heart of the matter. This nobleman was also a father. More than that, his son was so sick that he feared he would die. Wealth and rank all become secondary when your child is sick.
John includes several interesting details in the story. The most important is probably the fact that this was the second of what John calls miraculous signs performed by Jesus. John will later say that the stories of these seven miracles he records are intended to bring those who would later read his account to faith (John 20:30-31). I think this sign, in particular, teaches some important lessons about the various forms that faith can take, some good and some bad. In this story, we can see illustrated five different levels of faith
The first level is miracle-seeking faith. For some this may be the starting point for real faith. But often it is a dead end. Such a faith is only as strong as the next miracle. Too often the plea of the miracle seeking faith is "Lord, what have you done for me lately?"
John points out the prevailing attitude toward Jesus. First the locals in Nazareth didn't regard Him as anything special at first. "A prophet has no honor in his own country." But when the fame of Jesus' works elsewhere preceded His return to Galilee, everything changed. He was a star!
Jesus' first response the nobleman's plea for help was a comment more about the public than about this particular father. Jesus replies in the plural. "Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders," Jesus told him, "you will never believe" (v. 48). What is wrong with such faith?
First, it easily degenerates into testing God, as if we are offering God a deal. "Wow me, and I'll do you the favor of believing in you." This turns the whole experience of faith upside down. Secondly, such faith is easily deceived. Too many people have been hood-winked and bamboozled by every sort of crook and charlatan skilled at magic and manipulation. Jesus warned that in the last days, "... false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect - if that were possible" (Mat. 24:24). Many believe that we are now in the last days. Even if we’re not, we are getting closer each day.
The sad reality is, however, that such faith is seldom ever enough. Most people treat miracles, real or pretended, simply as an opportunity to demand another one. Jesus offered a penetrating observation in His conclusion to the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16. In a strange expression of last minute compassion the Rich Man, now dead and in torment, condemned for his callused life, cries out to Abraham and the poor beggar. He had ignored both his God and his needy neighbor in life, but requests the help of both now that he is in an eternal predicament. He asks for personal relief and then asks that someone from the dead be sent to warn his family of what is to come if they don't turn their lives around. In Jesus' story, Abraham replies, "'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead'"(Luke 16:31). Miracle seeking faith is never enough! I call the miracle-seekers the “Jesus plus” believers. Why, because Jesus isn’t enough for them. Their faith is in the miracles, not the miracle-maker. They do not believe the Holy Spirit indwells believers at salvation and no other experience is ever enough.Jesus is enough folks! He is enough to meet any need you will ever have! If you never see another miracle, you must still trust and believe that Jesus is enough. Don’t get me wrong! I love miracles! I love to see God supernaturally heal the sick (like He did with Donna). I love to see God seek and save the lost. Anytime God reaches down from heaven to protect me, or lead me, or ask me to pray for someone, these are miracles. I love them, but my faith does not depend on them, because Jesus (and Him alone) is enough.
The father wanted Him to come to his boy. Jesus chose to perform a long distance miracle. Faith is never about where you are, but who you turn to.
This brings us to another aspect of faith. Some people's faith is casual. Praying and worshipping on Sunday provides a nice respite from the routines of life. But religious matters remain on the fringes of what really matters. We all know people like that. Church membership roles are filled with such folk. We call them Sunday Christians. Their faith is saved for the four walls we sit within this morning. But, to their credit, they at least come to church every Sunday. Can you say that? We are the body of Christ in Cut Knife – if only half of us are here, we cannot possibly be effective (WE ARE SPIRITUALLY WHAT A QUADRAPALEGIC IS PHYSICALLY).We are the bride of Christ – what kind of bride skips the wedding ceremony? Faithful attendance at church is one of the very elementary steps the new believer takes. Early in their walk with Christ, they realize that He expects them in church on Sunday morning (barring serious illness or when they’re out of town) and they soon obey. We are the body of Christ in Cut Knife – if half your body fails to function, how do you manage. How does the body of Christ manage if half its members aren’t here. We become an incomplete, ineffective body. What would your reaction be on Sunday morning if you came to church prepared to praise and worship and found that, because it was such a nice day, I decided to play golf rather that come to church? You’d be pretty ticked, wouldn’t you? How do you think Jesus feels when part of His body, His bride, decides to skip church because it’s a nice day at the lake, or they have family or friends drop in, or there’s something exciting you want to do? When you stand before His holy and righteous throne, how will you give account for you unfaithfulness. Don’t give Him the lame excuses you give me! He won’t buy them! Will He say, enter my kingdom good and faithful servant or will He say, as He does in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.' If other things are more important to you that walking in obedience to Christ, then you are in serious trouble at the very root of your Christian faith. Jesus, Himself, says "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” If you stay home because family or friends drop in, what does that say to them about the importance of your faith? It says that it’s not very important to you, doesn’t it? You might just be a stumbling block to them. Why not invite them to come with you? If they decline, tell them you’ll be back in an hour or so. If pleasing family or friends is more important than pleasing Jesus, then He isn’t very important to you is He? Examine every area of your life the same way. Is it more important for you to live a self-serving, self-indulgent life than it is to sacrificially give to support His work and to do the work He asks His people to do. What is this called? Jesus calls it obedience! It’s part of what it means to be His disciple. If we aren’t convicted of the need to transform our lives so that we might be faithful servants, the all we’re doing here is playing church. And if that’s all God’s people are doing, we might just as well lock the doors for good and stop pretending that we really are His disciples. Coming regularly, coming faithfully, that’s a very early step in walking in obedience. Will you take this step? Once you have, Jesus will move you on to the next step. Pretty soon you’ll be walking closer to Jesus than you ever have before, and you will ask yourself; “Why, oh why, didn’t I do this sooner?” As you grow deeper and deeper in your faith, Jesus will speak to you more and more often; He will use you more and more; you will become a faithful disciple; He will say to you, “Well done good and faithful servant!” Please, oh please (for your sake, not mine) stop playing church, stop playing games with your Father in heaven, and His Son your Savior and Lord. There is nothing I desire more deeply than to see each one of you walking in intimate relationship with Him. I despair when I see you wasting your lives on the trivial, superficial, temporal things of this world when you could be storing up treasure in heaven and building a mansion there – heaven is where you will spend eternity! So, stop waiting for signs and wonders and ecstatic experiences; start walking in obedience. Start manifesting the fruit of the Spirit in your life! (that’s love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control)
Here’s an example of what I mean. This is from Neil Anderson’s “Daily in Christ” devotional for August 21: An African pastor was overwhelmed by rebels who demanded that he renounce his faith. He refused. The night before they took his life, he wrote the following lines on a scrap of paper:
I am part of the "Fellowship of the Unashamed." I have Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I've stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of His. I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals!
I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don't have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or re-warded. I now live by presence, lean by faith, love by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by power.
My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I won't give up, shut up, let up, or burn up till I've preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ.
I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till He comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till He stops.
And when He comes to get His own, He'll have no problems recognizing me. My colors will be clear.
Our circumstances are nowhere near as grim as this godly man faced, so our commitment to applying our faith to every aspect of our lives should be easier and less threatening. Nevertheless, keep in mind that one day your life may be on the line – will you respond as this pastor did? Will I? I hope so! But none of us will know for sure until that day arrives.
Have you ever seen the skit about the crawling Christians? A church is filled with people who have crawled in on all fours. The preacher emphatically exhorts them to stand. One by one they do stand, praising God and standing in amazement that they no longer have to crawl. They are joyous. The service finally comes to an end and they all walk to the door, but on crossing the threshold, they all drop to their knees and crawl away from the church. They do not take their newfound faith with them. What will it take for us to take our faith with us? To make it a priority? To live our faith daily?
Let’s go back to our nobleman in John 4:43-54. Does life have to come crashing in? I have no idea what this nobleman's faith or religion was like before. But when his son almost died, everything changed. The father responds to Jesus statement as if to say, "I don't know anything about what other people are thinking or doing or what signs they are demanding. I just want my son to get well. Can you help me?" Did you note the words the father used? John says the nobleman's son was sick. When the father himself speaks, the terminology changes. He says, "My little boy is dying." He was desperate. A desperate faith is better than a casual faith, but it is also dangerous. When we are desperate we are prone to turn to anything for help.
I cannot say this strongly enough; faith is only as good or effective as its object. Desperate faith in the wrong object always disappoints. Faith without a reliable object is mere superstition or gullibility. Desperate faith is one thing, blind faith is another. Faith is not about how strong you feel or how good your intentions are. It is always about trusting the right object. I can believe/have faith that the pill I take from the medicine cabinet is my prescription for diabetes, but if it is something else, no matter what I believe or think, it will either do me no good or actually cause me harm.
The nobleman turned to Jesus. He probably rode twenty miles across Galilee to find Him. He could have gone elsewhere and been just as sincere and desperate about it. Sincerity alone is never the issue. It wasn't for this desperate father and it isn't for you.
Our desperate father went to the right source. He also put his faith into action. Faith is always more than emotion and tingly feelings. It never just stops at words and sweet professions of sincerity. Observe what the nobleman did. "He went to Jesus. He pleaded his case. He listened intently. And then he took Jesus at His word. Jesus replied, "You may go. Your son will live." The man took Jesus at His word and departed" (v. 50).
Faith that saves for eternity and sustains in the emergencies of life always produces a positive action. It takes God at His word and obeys. The hymn we often sing teaches this: "Trust and obey, for there's no other way, To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. What He says we will do, Where He sends we will go, Never fear, only trust and obey." I recently heard I said like this, “We are to be too blessed to be stressed and too anointed to be disappointed”! Stress and discouragement are faith-killers. Trust and obey! For there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey! But the nobleman's story doesn't end here. He takes Jesus at His word. A little later, he is met by servants who had been sent to tell him that his son was well. He asks about the timing. He learns that the fever had broke at exactly one o'clock, the very time Jesus' had pronounced the boy healed. Coincidence? This father knew better.
It is like what the old country preacher replied to a skeptic. "All I knows is that when I pray, coincidences happen. When I don't pray, they don't."
People who turn to Jesus in faith don't believe in coincidences. They believe in God-incidences!
John records an interesting note in the story. At this point, when the father realized the timing of the event, he believed in Jesus. Hadn't he believed before? Hadn't he turned to Jesus? Hadn't he taken Him at His word? Of course he had. But there is an important progression in faith. First he came out of desperation, then he believed in a specific event or power. But once he understood who Jesus really was his faith took on a new dimension.
It is one thing to believe that Jesus answers my prayers of desperation or helps me in emergencies, it is altogether another matter to believe that He is Lord of life, that He is worthy of following and obeying all of the time all of the way.
At this point in the story, the Nobleman becomes a follower of Jesus, not just a miracle seeker or desperate father. He became a personal believer.
There is an interesting footnote to this story that some Bible scholars point out. We have no way of knowing for sure, but some feel this same nobleman is referred to by name later in the New Testament. In Acts 13, Luke records the call of Barnabas and Saul to their missionary ministry. He notes that among the leaders of the church in Antioch through whom the Lord issued this directive was a man named "Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch)" (cf. Acts 13:1). Perhaps, Manaen first came to Christ as a desperate father and then followed as a true believer who would be an important leader in the early church.
There remains one other fact about the faith of the nobleman that takes it to another level. His new found relationship to Jesus was contagious. He not only believed personally, his family followed. This is the acid test of a true conversion. When those who know us best are so impressed by our testimony and transformation that they want to follow too, then something very significant has happened.
Of course, there are no guarantees. All of us know that after a certain point we have no control over the actions and decisions of our children. Despite the fact that everyone of us who love and know Jesus want our families to follow, that does not always happen for lots of reasons. But I am sure of this, the deeper, the more genuine, the more sincere and personal our faith, the more likely it will rub off on those around us. A hypocritical, inconsistent, compromising, miracle seeking, shallow faith has little appeal to those who live with us day in and day out.
This desperate father received more than he bargained for. He came wanting his sick boy to become well. Apparently, his boy not only lived; he also came to believe in Jesus!
This was the second of Jesus' seven miraculous signs John tells us about. As Professor Merrill C. Tenney observed, these signs seem to operate in the very areas of life where we are most powerless, where we most need divine intervention. Our families certainly qualify as such an area. Who among doesn't desperately need and want Jesus' help in the lives of our children and loved ones?
Faith may start with a search for a miracle. But that is never where it should stay. Real faith is a desperate turning to the right source for help. That right source for life and eternity is Jesus Christ. But faith must move beyond desperation to trusting obedience. It must be personal and hopefully contagious. We can pray that those we love will catch it as well.
At what stage is your faith? Are you ready to take it to the next level? You can today, right now! Let’s pray!