Most historians agree that the Book of James was written shortly before he was martyred by fanatical Jewish Leaders for preaching the Gospel. So to have him exhorting fellow Believers to look at the trials in their lives as something good not bad is incredible. James went on, telling them, he knew they were completely aware of all their past afflictions, trials, and persecutions, and how their faith had been tested each time…but that they needed to continue to persevere with patience and endurance… learning to suffer well with a tranquil mind. I don’t know about you, but suffering well these past many weeks has been difficult! And now with the “Stay at Home” order being extended another month for COVID 19…looking at it with good cheer and gladness of heart is very difficult. But Jesus reminds me in the Beatitudes that I should rejoice and be glad in my trials, (Matthew 5:12) and that I need to continue to persevere so that when I have done the Will of God, I’ll receive what He has promised. (Hebrews 10:36) Thus with all this encouragement, I will joyfully accept persecution. (Hebrews 10:34)
How do we go about increasing our faith? First, it’s about believing and accepting the Gospel Message…that Jesus came to save and redeem us from eternal punishment by His life, death and resurrection. Secondly, our faith is built up every time we trust and obey God and then see Him working in our life. Thus, over time, our faith increases, like layers of bricks being built up to form a strong wall. Finally, with that increasing faith comes a confidence that there’s nothing impossible for God.
Jesus asked Martha a pointed question in John 11:25-26 after telling her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” To know Jesus and believe in Him go hand in hand in both theses Scriptures. To truly understand someone means spending time with them…getting to know them well and developing a deep personal relationship. Kinda like when you met your future spouse…you wanted to know everything about them! And after a while, your trust and assurance grew as you got to know that person better and better…finally resulting in committing and entrusting your life together as a married couple. The same goes for our relationship with Jesus Christ. We need to know Him before we can believe in Him. For our faith can only grow out of our understanding of Him.
This story about the boy and the evil spirit was important enough to be in three of the four New Testament accounts by the disciples. Matthew, Mark and Luke all give slightly different takes on this event, but the main thought rang true throughout all three…the disciples couldn’t heal the boy on their own. But instead of admitting defeat, giving up, or walking away, they came to Jesus searching for answers. In Matthew 21:21 Jesus replied to their inquiry by telling them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt…” Doubt is being double-minded or having a divided mind. So when we doubt, we sway back and forth between faith and fear…never achieving full confidence and trust in what God can do. But just like the disciples, if we will go to Jesus admitting our shortcomings, He will speak truth in order to dispel our doubt. And if, like the boy’s father we ask Jesus to, ” Help me overcome my unbelief!” He will show us the way.
Earlier in Genesis, God had promised Abraham and Sarah a child. ” I will make you into a great nation.” (Genesis 12:2) But like most of us…they allowed fear and doubt to overshadow their hope and expectations. For in this verse, God led Abraham out into the cloudless night sky to observe the stars, (they estimate there are 1 Billion Trillion stars in our universe), and then reassured him that his offspring would be as numerous. God does this for us also. He can cause a Bible verse to suddenly become alive and take on new meaning…banishing doubt and bolstering our faith in Him. He can strip away fear and strengthen our trust by bringing into remembrance all the things He’s done for us in the past. And just like Abraham, we too can look up into that starry sky and see God’s wonder, power, and majesty…and be assured of His love and faithfulness for us.
It tells us in Genesis 5:22-24 that Enoch lived for 365 years…faithfully walking with God…and then he was no more, because God took him away. The word used here is “translated”, or conveyed to heaven without tasting death. The only other person to experience this was the Old Testament prophet Elijah. But unlike Enoch, Elijah’s departure was witnessed as he was carried off by a whirlwind. (II Kings 2:11) What these two men did have in common though was their unshakable faith in desperate times, godliness in the face of persecution, and the boldness to speak the truth no matter what.
I listened to a song the other day…its title a declaration that a lot of us might not say with any conviction…”I am ready for the Storm.” Now I realize that it’s not if but when trials will come into my life…but to proclaim that I’m ready for them gives me pause. So how can I prepare? The Psalmist here shows us that it’s the daily renewing of our heart and mind that will enable us to do this. Our faith is renewed and given new life daily…ever-deepening, ever-increasing, as we put more and more of our trust in the Lord. This divine restoration is spoken of in Isaiah 40:31, ” But those who put their hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” So I may not like it, but I can now say with certainty… Yes Lord, with Your help, I’m ready for the storm.
The gist of this Scripture is repeated in Habakkuk 2:3-4 where it says, ” But the righteous will live by faith. And if they shrink back, I will not be pleased with them.” We all claim to have faith and trust in God…but do we really? Shrinking back is hesitation and self-doubt that we can really do what God is calling us to. Sure, we can believe for great miracles in someone else’s life…but when it comes down to trusting God in our own, we falter. Self-doubt can effectively stop any Kingdom work the Lord has for you…for when you hesitate, you’re essentially telling God you don’t trust Him. We are to live by faith, believing that if God calls us to something, He will equip us also.
I encourage you to read the entire 11th Chapter of Hebrews, for in it you will read of many kinds and shades of faith. Faith is an ongoing lifetime journey of trusting God. It’s a way of life, not just a one time action done at conversion. Our faith grows as we grow in Christ…confidence in Him is forged and built every time we make the decision to trust Him. But as you read through Chapter 11 you’ll see the different nuances of faith shown… there’s expanding and growing faith, there’s beyond logic and reasoning faith, there’s sacrificial, persecuted, and impossible faith. Our life of faith begins with an internal response, which leads to faith-filled action. From there, it’s a life based on God’s promises…not on circumstances. Though, when you get to the end of this chapter you’ll read, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.” Every person you read about here in Chapter 11 was praised for their faith, yet not one saw their promise fulfilled in their lifetime. Instead, they all persevered under pressure, never giving up, and always putting their confidence in their Lord.