David Jeremiah - Overcoming Fear with Faith
When he was in college, my friend Ken Davis delivered a talk to his speech class on the law of the pendulum. This law says that when a free-hanging weight swings back and forth, it will swing a shorter and shorter distance due to the effects of gravity and friction. Eventually it will stop and hang dead unless it's restarted. To demonstrate from a pivot at the top of a blackboard, Ken hung a three-foot string with a small weight attached at the bottom, creating a simple pendulum. Setting the pendulum in motion so that it would swing parallel to the blackboard, he made a mark on the blackboard at each outward point where the pendulum reached its arc. As the pendulum continued to swing, the length of each arc decreased causing the marks to grow closer and closer to the center of the blackboard.
That demonstrated the law of the pendulum in action. The law states that a swinging pendulum never again reaches the point from which it began its previous arc. Ken declared, "Who believes that statement is true"? And a show of hands indicated he had convinced both his professor and his class, but Ken wasn't finished. Next he asked his professor to stand with his back against the wall and using a much heavier weight, which he had previously attached to the ceiling with a strong rope, he pulled the weight from its center point and held it one inch from the professor's nose and he let it go. And the weight swung away from the professor, reached the end of its arc, and started back heading straight for the professor's face, but it never came close to touching the professor because he scooted out of there in a hurry. The sight of the weight heading straight at him was more than he could take and he dove out of the way.
Now, the professor said he believed in the law of the pendulum, but he wasn't willing to put his faith in the test. Ken's point was faith can only be proven by our actions. For followers of Jesus, a lack of faith is seldom a matter of disbelief. It's usually a matter of fear. As C.S. Lewis wrote, "Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods". Our moods, that is, our emotions like fear, exert influence that unless we master them, they can destroy our trust in what we know to be true. Now, we usually think of faith as a biblical or theological term, but we live by faith every day. Even if we didn't know God, we still live by faith. Think about flying for instance, the faith it takes to step into a metal tube and hurl through the air at 30.000 feet above the ground while going 500 miles per hour. And the terminology defining air flight doesn't help.
For instance, we end our flight at a terminal, which the flight attendant assures us we'll reach as we make our final approach. Then we're told to stay seated until the plane comes to a complete stop, and I've always wondered what an incomplete stop would feel like. I mean, who comes up with terminology like this? I mean, we don't help matters by choosing the airline that offers us the cheapest flight. Yet despite all these opportunities for fear, most everyone in this room has gotten on an airplane and trusted people you've never met, you've never vetted, you don't anything about them, and an aircraft which you don't know if it's been maintenanced right or anything, you just get in. That's what we call blind faith. Every day, you act on faith in human life. If you put your faith in the pilot of an airplane, surely you should be able to figure out a way to put your faith in Jesus Christ.
So, we come to this forth military implement that's in this series of war things that we're talking about from Ephesians 6 and in 6:16 here's what it says, "Above all, take the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one". Now, when Paul wrote that, he was describing a large shield, a Roman infantry used to protect their whole bodies, and you've probably seen movies about this or you've read about it. These shields were 4 feet tall, 2-1/2 feet wide, and they were made out of leather that was stretched over wood. They were reinforced with metal at the top and at the bottom. And in ancient times, enemy warriors would dip the tips of their darts or arrows into a solution of lethal poison. Even if these darts only grazed the soldier's skin, the poison would spread through his bloodstream and he would be dead in a moment. On other occasions, the enemy would dip their darts in pitch and ignite them and shoot them into the Roman camp setting it on fire.
So, having a shield to protect yourself from these darts which came from outside was really critical. And of all of the implements of warfare included in Paul's list in Ephesians 6, this is the only piece that is given a specified purpose. Paul tells us that the purpose of the shield of faith is to protect us from the fiery darts of the wicked one. And if you're a Christian, throughout your lifetime you will be bombarded by thousands of fiery arrows launched by Satan and his helpers and the only way to protect yourself is through faith. This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. So, how does faith work? How do we get faith? How do we develop faith in our lives? How does it overcome fear? Someone has said that faith is an act of practice built on belief. The future's made real for men and women of faith. Faith is not ambiguous, it's not unsure. It's a concrete conviction.
Sometimes you hear people talk about faith and you get the idea that it's sort of a hope so, wished so kind of a nebulous thing, but faith isn't like that at all. Faith is an attitude based upon fact. By faith, we move forward, even when we do not know what's ahead. We take our faith from the Word of God and we know the destination is clear. Faith says that what God has promised is gonna happen and it's so certain that it's almost as if it's already happened. Faith treats things that are hoped for as a reality. That's what Hebrews 11:1 means when it says, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen". You may be among many of us who sometimes feels like your faith is kind of small, but Paul tells us that we don't have to be happy with our faith where it is.
How do we increase our faith? How do we grow our faith? How can we find in the Word of God the principles that will help us not have little bitty faith when God wants us to have great faith? I know that faith can be increased because Paul looked forward to the increase in the Corinthians faith. The Bible says, "He longed to visit the believers in Thessalonica," watch this, "to strengthen what was lacking in their faith". In his second letter to them, he commended them for the growth in their faith. I don't know if I've ever heard this before but, you know, faith grows. You can grow your faith. Your faith doesn't have to be small. God wants our faith to grow and to be better than it is now. So, here's what the Bible says is necessary for your faith and my faith to grow. To grow your faith, you need preaching.
You say, "Well, pastor, I expect to do that 'cause that's what you do". But I'm not making this up. This is right from the Word of God. The Apostle Paul said, "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God". He did not mean all who hear the Word of God become believers, what he meant was that faith can't exist unless there's a message or a report of facts and events that lead us to believe. If you never sit under the sound of the Word of God through preaching, you are missing an important opportunity to grow your faith. The Bible says, "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God". When God tells us to do something and we do it, we strengthen our faith. We strengthen our ability to believe him. We discover that he's for us and he's directing us in the things that we should do. Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the Word God. Say that with me, "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God".
So, to grow your faith, you need preaching. All you pastors here, I just did a shout out for you and your people need to come to church and hear you preach so that they can grow their faith. Number two, this isn't as exciting. To grow your faith you need problems. I guess that means all of us are candidates tonight 'cause we all got problems, right? None of us wants problems. I mean, I don't wake up in the morning and say, "Lord God, give me some problems today" 'cause I know he's already in the process doing it. We want life to be smooth. We'd rather not have problems. We want happy relationships, fulfilling jobs, great health, obedient children and problems get in the way of all of that, don't they? Problems hit us like storms and they bring waves of fear and disruption. I don't like problems. I wish I didn't have so many of them all the time. But problems are God's way of driving us to him. Problems drive us to the Lord and teach us to lean on the Lord. They grow our confidence in the unseen reality of God and in his involvement in our lives.
And that's what God does with problems. He put us in situations where you can't look any place but up. If you're in a hospital bed with cancer, like I was several years ago, the only direction you can look when you're in a hospital bed is up and that's where you need to be looking all the time. Our default tendency is to trust in ourselves and lean on our own understanding. Can I get a witness? When we encounter a problem that's bigger than our ability to handle, that's when we learn that our own resources are inadequate and that we can truly rely on Jesus till we stop trying to rely on ourselves. God uses problems to deepen your faith and to deepen my faith. Ideally, we reach out to Jesus as a first resort, not the last. I get so tired of people coming to me and saying, "Dr. Jeremiah, we worked on this and worked on it, and I guess the only thing we have left is to pray". And I want to tell them, you've just been reduced to the most powerful influence in the world. When we pray, we enter into all that God can do and we pray in faith believing that God can make a difference because we know from our past experience that that is true.
So, we grow our faith through preaching when we hear the Word of God, and we grow our faith when God sends us some problems. What do you do when problems come? If you're like all of us, you probably say, "Lord God, make this go away," or maybe we get in perspective and we say, "Lord God, why"? But I'll give you a new interrogative. "Lord God, what, what you are you trying to teach me through all these things that I'm experiencing right now"? When you use that interrogative, then God can go to work in your life and stretch your faith and grow your faith, and guess what. When God carries you through a problem and you look back on it, it gives you the muscles to believe him the next time you go through some problem because you know he was with you back then and he's gonna be with you in the future. So, we grow our faith through preaching. We grow our faith through problems. We grow our faith through people. We need people.
Let me tell you something, faith grows better in community than it does by itself. We grow better together, amen? That's what the church is all about. That's what groups are all about. That's what ministry teams are all about. Don't be an isolated person. Don't put yourself in a position where you only have you. Put yourself in a position where you have others and the others have you as well. To grow our faith, we need purpose. Daniel Ritchie was born without any arms. It was challenging for him just to function by using his feet and his toes to dress and groom himself, to eat and open doors and drive, but he did it. His greater challenge was dealing with the attitudes that were toward him by the people he met. He endured stares and insults and rudeness, and his family was even asked to leave a restaurant because his eating with his feet offended other people in the dining room. The worst was the assumption sometimes expressed directly that he was a helpless mistake, a misfit, insufficient to lead a full life.
As a result, Daniel came to believe that he wasn't worth anything and he developed a hatred for himself and for the people who hated him. Daniel was not a Christian, had almost no friends. One night a classmate took him to church. That evening the preacher gave a simple devotional on the love of God for all people. He quoted Psalm 139, verse 14, "I will praise for you I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are your works". And that message penetrated Daniel's heart and he realized God created him for a purpose and that he was a marvelous work of God every bit as much as those who had arms. And that night, Daniel Ritchie gave his life to Christ. And shortly afterward, he felt called to the ministry. He now preaches and speaks at churches, and conferences, and youth events in the U.S. and all over the world. As he put it, he uses his empty sleeves to point people toward God.
I love these stories because they, not just tell us the truth, the show us the truth. God often gives us a purpose that requires us to trust him in special ways, that's one reason why Jesus loved to give his disciples tasks and challenges to build their faith. He always did that. He would take them out in the middle of a storm and go to sleep in the boat. What was he doing? He was teaching them faith. Were they gonna worry about the storm even if they had to Creator of the universe in their boat? Yeah, they did. And he told them they didn't have much faith and that was true. He sent them out two by two to preach and cast out demons and heal the sick. On one occasion he commanded them to feed 5.000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish and another to do the same with 4.000 and seven loaves and a few small fish. And then at the end of his earthly ministry, he sent them ahead to Jerusalem and told them to wait 'cause the Holy Spirit was gonna come. God gives us a sense of purpose as his way of stretching and strengthening our faith muscles.
When I meet people across the country who know what we do in radio, and television, and at our church, one of the questions they often ask me, "Did you envision this when you first started"? And I sort of smile at that because no, I started in a mobile home church with 35 people. Could I have seen what God was going to do now? Absolutely not. But all along the way, God kept putting things in front of me that I couldn't, in my own mind and heart, believe but I knew God wanted me do. It was build this building, grab hold of this station, and every time I took a step of faith, almighty God showed me that's what he was teaching me. We learn faith by stretching our faith muscles. If we're only gonna trust God for what we already have, we cannot grow our faith. We need projects. We need problems. We need challenges to trust God for what we cannot see ourselves capable of doing and then watching God do it. To grow our faith, we need problems, and to grow our faith, we need people. To grow our faith, we need purpose and perspective. What perspective do we need? The disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith and Jesus said to them, "If your faith is as small as a mustard seed, you can uproot and cast a mulberry tree into the sea".
Now, I've heard that preached on and misapplied many times. In other words, Jesus was saying this, it's not the size of your faith that counts, it's the size of your God that counts. Jesus's disciples needed the proper perspective in order to grow their faith. I get an object lesson on perspective whenever I drive my car. With power steering, I can turn my two-ton automobile around with one finger, not because my finger is that strong, but because the power steering in the car is. My finger just acts to engage the power and that accomplishes the task. That's how faith works. Biblically speaking, faith is a mere human activity. It possesses no virtue, holds no merit, contains no power. The power of faith is in God. So, don't sit around say, "Well, my faith is"... No, it's not your faith. You just need to get a bigger God in your head and realize that God is able to do above and beyond all that you can ask or think.
When I was going out witnessing back when we started the church in Fort Wayne almost every night, I used to use this illustration about faith 'cause faith is really critical to somebody becoming a Christian. If they don't understand faith, they can't become a Christian so you have to work on them, and they have all kinds of questions. Well, somebody gave me this little illustration, here it is. Suppose you went to Minnesota in the wintertime to go ice fishing. I want to give you a question, would you rather have a little bit of faith in two feet of ice or a whole lot of faith in an inch of ice? I ask that question everywhere and, you know, the majority of people would say, "I think I should have a whole lot of faith in an inch of ice". And I would write down, don't ever go fishing with that guy, you know? Isn't that an interesting thing? It isn't how much faith we have, it's how secure the object of our faith is. I'd rather have a little bit of faith in two feet of ice. I feel secure doing that, how about you? Instead of having a whole lot of faith and a little tiny bit of... you can get wet if you do that, but that's really the key. That's the perspective we need.
The Bible says we have not because, what? We ask not. When was the last time you asked God for something that required a little faith on your part? Sometimes we just ask God for stuff that we know we can get on our own so we can give him a little credit along the way. What if we stretched ourselves? What if we said, "God, I don't know how this is gonna happen, I don't know where this is gonna come from, but I know that you are strong and powerful. And I believe you can do this and I'm gonna believe you to do it". And by God's grace, we put him to the test. Problems are not big or small in God's sight. It's our perspective that needs enlarging so we can see God as capable as responding to the faith that we have. No matter how small and insufficient you think your faith is. Men and women, keep praying, keep trusting, keep seeking the Lord. Remember, it's the object of your faith, Almighty God, not the size of your faith that's important. Shift your focus from yourself to him and then go on and ask him for great things.