“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but think of yourself with sober judgment, according to the measure of faith God has given you” (Romans 12:3 Berean Study Bible).
Faith has often puzzled me. In the scriptures we are taught about the importance of faith. We read of men like George Mueller, who set up orphanages and cared for thousands of orphans in his lifetime, and whose faith was sufficient to overcome every obstacle, whether lack of money or resources. Once a ship that Mueller was sailing in was caught in a terrible storm, and the captain sought him out for prayer. Mueller said a short prayer, thanking God for the deliverance. When the captain set to follow his example, he informed him that as the sea would soon grow calm, no more prayer was needed. Besides, reasoned Mueller, the captain lacked the faith to pray effectively.
I have often felt that my faith was insufficient to pray effectively in many situations. Many Christians I know, seem to have greater faith than I do, and have seen ‘breakthroughs’ in their lives that I could only wish for. Will I ever get there, I wonder? Yet reflecting on Romans 12:3, I find that God allots to each believer, a measure of faith – a specific measure of faith – more for some, and less for others. He expects us to be faithful only with what we have been given. Unlike Pharaoh, God does not command us to ‘make bricks without straw’. But, as we wisely use the little that we have been given, we will see an increase.
Great faith versus little faith
What does great faith look like? When the Roman centurion sent his men to Jesus, he did not doubt for a moment that the job would be done and his servant’s healing secured simply because he knew that the Lord had the authority to command it to be done. The Syro-Phoenician woman was not put off either by the Lord’s apparent rebuffs, or by her lack of personal worthiness, even when Jesus pointed it out to her in rather graphic terms, because she reckoned – and was bold enough to inform Him – that He as a good Master, would not withhold crumbs from His bountiful table to His ‘dogs’, that is, to even the least deserving. Such people seem to instinctively understand that the key to success in prayer lies in the power, authority and goodness of the One to whom we pray. If Jesus has the power, what is there to keep Him from exercising it on our behalf, and in answer to our prayer, to achieve a good end. Yet, how many of us waver at this very point. Great faith leaps happily over obstacles to reach the finish line, while wavering faith crawls along sluggishly hoping to get there.
There are, therefore, degrees of faith, as well as unbelief. At the very bottom of the ladder were the poor, faithless Israelites convinced that God hated them, and had led them out of Egypt, not to bring them to the Land of Promise, but to let them perish in the wilderness, or be killed by the hand of their enemies (Deuteronomy 1:27). Though we may stand aghast that anyone could ascribe such horrible motives to God, the truth is that many of us will have entertained similar thoughts, on occasions when everything we value lay in tatters before our eyes. “Perhaps God does not, or cannot, love us, unloveable as we are…”
The bottom-line is that we doubt the extent of God’s love, and wonder whether it will adequately cover our unworthiness to receive it. These former Israelite slaves seemed totally unable to see God as their loving father, and in the hour of crisis, He had morphed – in their imaginations – into the likeness of someone they feared intensely, the cruel Pharaoh. Of course, the same people had just a few weeks earlier celebrated their mighty deliverance from Egypt singing praises to God. But fear had warped their thinking that they wavered and were tossed about, and finally, never to reach their destination. James warns us that double-minded people will receive nothing from God. So the Israelites had to undergo the long process of being detoxified from their past fixations, and cured of their double-mindedness, before they could enter Canaan.
Then, there are many who, like the father of the demon possessed epileptic, will come to Jesus crying, “Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.” “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked [bluntly]. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”(Mark 9:21-24 NLT). Here, we have someone hovering between faith and despair. Again it may seem shocking that any Christian who believes that Jesus rose from the dead will then question His ability to do comparatively minor things. Yet our minds can become so conditioned by past failure that our faith is crippled and we cannot so much as stretch out a hand to receive good things from the Lord. The question in that father’s mind “Can He do it?” however, quickly gave way to the realisation of his own lack. So he prayed for himself – “Help my unbelief” as much as for his child. The good news for all of us, is that the Lord chose to answer both prayers, and set the child free.
There is the story of another father whose son became seriously ill and was about to die (John 4:46-52). He begged Jesus to come and heal him. “Unless you people see signs and wonders”, Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” How hopeless everything must have seemed to the father. He was clearly in a state of panic and time was of essence; that Jesus seemed in no hurry at all added to his desperation – “Sir, come down before my child dies.” His hope was nearly extinguished, but Jesus had an interesting way of reigniting it. He did not go with him as he requested – for this would have only deepened the man’s impatience and sense of despair every step of the way. Instead He gave him His word, “Go… your son will live” and sent him home. The man “believed the words of Jesus and started back home” or, as the NIV puts it, “he took Jesus at His word”. Clinging on to that precious word, leaning on it, initially, as lame man holds a crutch, his faith began to soar as he drew closer to his home. His son was healed, as his growing faith had come to expect. “So he and his whole household believed.” What a transformation from the point of near unbelief to the place where his whole family became believers in Jesus.
Father, forgive us our past unbelief, and increase our faith. Help us know You better, trust You more and walk in faith, so that we may be pleasing to You. In Jesus’ name.
– To be continued