In continuing the spiritual gifts series, I want to discuss why the need for God to grow our faith is so vital to our removing of "Self" from our Christian life. I have already established that self is one of the greatest barriers to a healthy church. It is also one of the greatest barriers to properly using spiritual gifts in the church.
The reason for this is that spiritual gifts have nothing to do with self but have everything to do with others. I have already talked about how the solution to self is to present ourselves a living sacrifice to God as outlined in Romans chapter 12.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
We are commanded to present everything we have and everything we are to God as a living sacrifice. We are also commanded to not be conformed to this world but rather be transformed by the renewing of our mind through the study of the Word of God and through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. One of the primary ways in which God stirs us to further transformation is by increasing the one thing that causes us to seek God more and more: Our faith.
By growing our faith, we believe in God all the more which produces greater obedience to His Word, greater trust in His Word, and greater trust in God as we navigate life's trials and tribulations. God wants to grow our faith so that we can be better equipped to serve Him and a greater faith in God will produce Christians that serve and love the brethren all the more through our spiritual gifts.
Our faith helps us to realize that what we believe is not only real and is based on the truth of God but that it is worth living for and dying for if necessary. The truth of God and our faith in God will impact, change, and transform how we think, how we act, and how we worship God. The greater our faith the more we will ultimately present ourselves as a living sacrifice.
In reference to the text before us this time in Matthew, chapter 14, we see Peter's faith challenged and ultimately it grows through the experience of walking on water towards Jesus. There is a lot of things we can learn from Peter. Too often, many will think of Peter as some sort of failure. They will point to the fact that he began to sink, they will point to the fact that he denied Jesus 3 times, and they will even point to the fact that Peter like the rest of the disciples fled after Christ's crucifixion.
This point of view, however, is not accurate. Peter, as we will see, demonstrates great faith in just simply getting out of the boat and taking some steps towards Jesus. Does he begin to see the wind and sink? Yes, but this just means he still had room for his faith to grow.
Everyone wants to ask "why" when the storms of life come. We want to have full explanations. We want to have all the answers. While God never promises to answer all the "why's" in life, He does promise to be with us through the "why's."
So much research over the years has produced similar statistics that Christians, by and large, are not totally committed to investing in their own spiritual development. Depending on which survey you look at you will see something akin to 25% or far less of "self-identified Christians" not being fully committed to the Christian life, much less presenting themselves a living sacrifice.
Without a full determination to live like Christ and for Him, the path to complete transformation is blocked.
We certainly have a very serious problem in our world today. There is a serious lack of Christians who take God seriously. For if they took God seriously then the statistics of how many Christians are fully committed to God would be greatly different. I feel that we are seriously ill-equipped to fight the daily battles we all will certainly face during this life. This largely comes from the fact that Christians in today's world are very lazy, entitled, want to be entertained, and would never voluntarily sign up for something that would cause their faith to grow because they know what that would involve.
God wants to completely transform us, and it's a process. You don't get saved and then immediately be 100% Christ-like and as I have already stated one of the greatest ways God conforms us to the image of His Son is by growing our faith.
We have a lack of growing faith in Christianity today. The one thing we lack the most is the one thing God is looking for the most.
God wants to grow our faith!
God grows our faith by allowing or initiating challenges to our faith so that we can learn to trust Him, and stay focused on Him so that our faith will grow as we go through these challenges. So, the question remains: If God is ready and perfectly able to help our faith grow then why are more Christian's faith not growing? Let's consider the text of Matthew 14 and see what we can find out regarding this lack of growing faith.
Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. (Matthew 14:22-24 NASB)
One thing I want to point out from the beginning here is something that I think all of us as Christians neglect and that is prayer. Notice, and this is not tied to Peter's actions but to Jesus' actions but notice that after He sends the crowds away after a long period of teaching and preaching, He goes off by Himself to pray. Prayer was an important part of Christ's ministry and life as it should be for us as well in following His example while He was on earth. Christ is our perfect example and we are to be transforming into more Christ-likeness each and every day. One of the areas in which we could all grow is in our personal prayer life.
Also, I want to note that in verse 24, we get information about the situation the disciples found themselves in. A lot of times in our life, opportunities for growth in our faith comes in the midst of a trial. We are usually not pre-warned that something is coming and because of that we should follow Christ's example and be prayerfully ready for any and all things. Such is the case with the disciples here. Peter is in the same boat with the disciples and they are already out at sea and the conditions are already troubling due to the wind and waves that were around them.
We too often approach trials and tribulations in life as something to "get through," rather than seeing them as divine opportunities for God to grow our faith. The Bible speaks very often of how we are to approach our trials and specifically in the book of James it states that we are to:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4 NASB)
Here in the book of James, we read that we are to approach our trials with joy because of the results that come from them and they result in our spiritual maturity, our endurance, and our completeness in Christ. Christians in today's world in large degrees approach trials in the complete opposite manner that the Bible instructs us to here in the opening verses of the book of James. We want comfort, good health, plenty of money in the bank, no trials, no worries, and we want it all right now. The idea of trials, persecutions, and discomfort in any way flies in the face of the plans that we have for ourselves.
The text in Matthew, chapter 14, moves on to show us Peter's response in the midst of this storm.
And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid."
Jesus comes to the disciples walking on the water towards their boat where they were at. Obviously, and I don't think anyone would blame them, they were terrified. I would have been. To see a man walking on the water out on the sea should be enough to terrify anyone. The disciples even thought that it was an actual ghost or spirit. However, even in the midst of their storm and in the midst of their terrified state, God in the 2nd person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, comforts them in their trouble.
Jesus says, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." So many times in Scripture we are told to not be afraid. We are told to take or have courage. We are told to trust God. No matter what we face in life we can take comfort and trust in the very words of God.
Peter said to Him, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." And He said, "Come!" And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus.
In this account of Jesus walking on the water and now Peter asking to come out and walk as well, we get a great example of what it looks like when God wants to grow our faith. Peter gets out of the boat at the Lord's command and he takes some steps towards Jesus. Notice that none of the other disciples got out of the boat. This mirrors the state of many Christian's faith today. Many Christian's faith is so small they would never get out of the boat, to begin with, let alone take any steps towards Jesus on the water.
What does the boat represent? Comfort. It is what the disciples knew. It is what they were used to. It was there comfort zone. Notice that the text does not mention them being afraid of the conditions of the sea or the troubled waves or the contrary winds. They were seasoned fishermen. They were used to this type of storm. It came as no surprise to them. The text only points out that they became terrified when they saw Jesus walking towards them.
Many Christians never step out in faith because they love the comfort of their boat. They like their comfort zone, they like their comfy, stable conditions that they have around them and they certainly don't want to do anything to change that. The only problem with that mindset is that no growth ever comes without change or friction. There must be change and change usually comes from us being pulled, stretched, or pushed out of our comfort zone. Jesus Christ is the perfect Son of God and He knows us perfectly. He knows exactly what it will take to grow our faith. When we resist that which would grow our faith then we remain stagnated and never grow.
So, there is a certain amount of praise to be given to Peter for at least having the faith to get out of the boat. The other disciples certainly didn't. Now, I will grant that it is at least possible that another of them might have and possibly Peter just beat them to the punch so to speak. However, given the account, as it is stated in revealed Scripture, it definitely mirrors the current state of Christianity today in that many Christians are most likely in the boat because they are too afraid to face circumstances and life events that while are not easy and may even be hard they will grow our faith and make us better witnesses for our Lord and Savior.
Regardless of the other disciple's intentions or what they may or may not have done if Peter didn't do what he did, the fact remains that they stayed in the boat and many Christians today simply stay in the boat. Our faith will never grow as long as we remain in the boat.
But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:30-31 NASB)
Finally, let's consider the opportunity for Peter's growth in his faith. There may be some that would call Peter's sinking a failure. I would disagree. I would call it what Scripture calls it and that is a lack of faith. If you take Scripture seriously then you have to allow for the fact that if Peter's faith in God's power was all that it should be then he would not have sunk at any point. It is only when Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus and lacks in faith that he begins to sink. Thus, it was an opportunity for Peter's faith to grow.
We face many types of challenges in life. Everything from financial issues to health issues and trials concerning our jobs as well. When the challenges of our life come if we focus on the wrong things then we will sink just as Peter did when he took his focus off of Jesus and began seeing the wind and became frightened.
Peter was fine and was actually walking on the water when He was focused on Jesus. In fact, the reason why Peter was doing so well is that his faith during those moments was rock solid in the power of God and what he could accomplish with the power of God on his life. Now, I grant that this was most likely not the exact thing going through his mind at the time. However, my point is demonstrated when he begins to look at the wind and then begins to sink in the water.
At that point, Peter immediately began to question if he could do it on his own because he had become frightened by the wind. If a Christian believer only focuses on what they can accomplish in their own strength then our faith will waver and we will begin to sink as Peter did. While we won't literally sink in water as that was a unique thing for Peter, we will sink and fail to accomplish all that we should accomplish due to our lack of faith.
God doesn't always tell us what we will face. We can't run or hide from the storms of life and sometimes the worst part of things will come once we have gotten out of the boat and have begun to take steps in faith. This is exactly what happened to Peter. Those challenges to our faith, however, should not be viewed as something to harm us but as an instrument to grow our faith for greater service to God.
This is exactly what happened in Peter's life. While he had a lack of faith here, he would go on to accomplish much more for the Kingdom of God because his faith continued to grow throughout the course of his life. The challenges of life if handled correctly will help to grow our faith in God and will spur us onward to accomplish great things for the Kingdom by the power of God and through our faith in Him.
Sometimes in life, we will have doubts. Sometimes in life, we will have failures. However, we find in verse 31 of this account that even in the moments of our doubting, Jesus is still there to reach out His hand to us and help us get back up and keep moving forward. No matter what, Jesus is always with us. God will never leave us or forsake us. God is always with us.
He was there for Peter and He will be there for us. However, one must notice that He was there for Peter out on the water. Peter had to first get out of the boat and step out in faith. Notice also that Jesus didn't rebuke Peter for getting out of the boat and walking towards Him. He also did not rebuke Peter for not having the power to walk on the water all the way to Him. Peter never had that power in himself, to begin with. It was always the power of God. God only required the faith necessary to get out of the boat and simply walk.
The reason Jesus questioned him was because of his lack of faith. The Greek word translated "of little faith" is a word meaning low in value or quantity. It does not mean that Peter lacked faith completely or that he did not possess any faith. It meant that his faith was not sufficient for what was needed or required. This is why Peter's faith and our faith must be stretched and grown. God has many things for us to do and if we are to accomplish all that we were meant for it will require a growing faith in God.
Jesus reminds Peter at that moment that there is no need to doubt. There is no need to waver in our faith. We only need to trust and have faith in God and He will see us through. God will be there for us to see us through all of life's challenges and He will grow our faith in the process.
The key take away from this entire account is the following:
DOUBT SINKS BUT FAITH WALKS!