Standing Firm in My Faith

I want to tell you about 2 friends; they run in different circles and have nothing to do with each other, but my heart aches for both of them! 

For decades, one of them has struggled with heroin and popping pills, while the other has struggled to stay out of the Joint for very long. Even though they run in very different circles, and one of them is a lot more violent than the other, they are united in the same struggle. They struggle to stay on the narrow path. They struggle to stand firm in their faith.  

I know both these guys, I know they were both trying. They were staying on the path, trusting God and making the right decisions. The first guy had been resisting the needle and other narcotics for a short while, while the second guy had stayed out of prison for about 4 or 5 years; which for him was a major accomplishment. They were both telling me how excited they were about their progress! They were both thankful to God and would constantly talk to me about how difficult it was and I would encourage them to stay focused. 
Unfortunately, last month, both of my friends went through a rough patch, and slipped up. One ended up in the back of an ambulance, while the other went away, cuffed, in the back of a squad car. These 2 didn't want to mess up, they didn't want to succumb to their old ways, but they did! They want to overcome their hurdles, but when the going got tough, when it got super tough, they returned to what was easier, (the needle and swinging fists), and now they're both paying the price! 

As a result of the rash decisions these 2 fellas made, one lost his housing, while the other got housed in the last place he wants to be! Like the person who asked tonight's* question said, both these fellas were doing good, but something bad came along, they found it harder to trust that God would deliver, so unfortunately, they resorted to their old ways. 

One thought escaping with substances was the only solution, while the other thought violence was the only answer! They both didn't wait for God. They trusted themselves, and their own solutions, more than God and His ways, and now they're reaping the consequences. 

I'm telling you these stories, not to judge my 2 friends, but to illustrate a point. I'm guilty of doing the same! I'm guilty of the same mistrust. Whenever something bad comes along, whenever life gets hard, I want to trust in my solutions more than God's! I don't want to wait for Him! I don't wanna go through the hardship! I say to God "hurry up, I need You now", and when He doesn't seem to answer or care, I start plotting "plan b", or my escape route! When I give in to the temptations, and do things my own way, I pay the price too! 

And, if we're honest with ourselves, we all struggle with this; don't we? We all struggle throughout our lives to stand firm in our faith! We all struggle to stay on the path, especially when temptation and bad things are striking us from all sides. We don't wanna wait on God, we're scared to wait on God, we all wanna go our own way, especially when life gets so damn hard! 

There's a little verse in Mark, it gives me hope in my struggle to stay firm in my faith! It's a prayer that I've started praying, especially when I feel weak and my world starts caving in on me; it goes "I do believe! Help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24) 

Let me give you the context of this verse: It was a man who said this, he was a father of a very sick child, who was possessed by an evil spirit; this child was unable to hear or speak and would often be thrown into fire and water. This father obviously loved his son, wanted him well and didn't want him to be killed by this spirit. The disciples tried to help this dad, but they couldn't, so in desperation, the man approached Jesus, explained what was going on and said these words....

".....If You can do anything, take pity on us. Please help us."
Jesus said to him "'If you can?' All things are possible for the one who believes." 
Immediately the boy's father cried out and said, "I do believe! Help my unbelief!"
‭‭(Mark‬ ‭9:22b-24)‬ ‭

After this brief conversation, Jesus casts out the evil spirit, the boy has his final violent convulsion, is revived and is then able to speak and hear. The boy is healed. He is well! The father is happy!

Like us, the father didn't have it all together. His faith wasn't rock solid. He had doubts; just like you and me! He wanted to wholeheartedly believe, but he was struggling. He wanted his faith to be stronger, so in humility and honesty, he cried out; "I do believe! Help my unbelief!" 

I find hope in this story, because the dad reminds me of me. He believed, but at the same time, he was wavering in his faith! This man had doubts, Jesus could have written him off; He could have said "you're not firm enough in your faith", but he didn't, He heard his honest cry for help and met him in his time of need. Jesus saw what little faith he had, but He also saw his honest and humble desire to grow in faith! That's where we need to be! 

I have faith, I have doubts, but I also need to be honest with God. I hear and know the promises God makes, but I waver between faith and doubt. I read his promises, but I get impatient and scared, because I don't want to wait for Him to act.  

The Bible is full of people, like King Saul, King David and the disciples who were in tough spots and had big decisions to make! They had to choose between God's way or their own way! They knew what they had to do, the enemy was coming or the problem was increasing, they needed to wait, but doubt and fear crept in, so they resorted to trying to fix it their own way and ended up reaping the consequences. 

The Kingdom of God is hard to live out! Living in faith is difficult; it opposes our natural instincts. It tells us to wait! Patiently! It tells us to be courageous, when we wanna run and hide! It tells to love when we wanna hate! It tells us to forgive, when we want revenge. It tells us to give, when we wanna take! It tells us to be compassionate, when we'd rather ignore!

It's hard to live a life of faith; think about it! Let me give you an example: Someone does us wrong and hurts us badly, Jesus tells us to love our enemies and do good to them, while God tells us "leave them to me, vengeance is mine; I will repay", but when we don't see God taking care of it, what do we do? We doubt, we want revenge, so we start making plans take care of this problem ourselves. It's not easy to be firm in our faith and to leave someone who's hurt us, in God's hand. His way is not our way, His timing is not our timing, and in this struggle to do it His way, we need to cry out, just like the distressed father; "I do believe; help my unbelief!"

The bible is full of promises. If God has said it, it's absolutely true! The problem with us is; He calls us to be patient and wait on Him, and we don't like that, do we? He calls us to have courage when we're full of fear, and we don't like either that, we do? He calls us to leap into the unknown, and if we're honest with ourselves, most of us don't like that either! 

The longer we have to wait, the rougher the circumstances get, the tougher it is to stand firm in our faith. That's when we're tempted to say to God "forget You, I'm going to do it my own way". When we know we're lacking courage, when we know we're impatient, when we know our faith is faltering, that's when we need to cry out to God, just like the father did; "I do believe! Help my unbelief!" 

Let me close, by encouraging you all: God knows we're weak! God knows we lack faith! God knows we need His help! God knows we need Him! God also understands us, forgives us and loves us. He won't leave us, and when we cry out to Him, He'll help us grow in our faith! 

Remember, God did just that with King David and the disciples, they screwed up big time and went on their own paths, they reaped consequences, but they also repented. Their stories didn't end with screw ups, no, God forgave them, gave them another chance and they grew in their faith and God used them mightily for His Kingdom! 

My 2 friends had come so far, but as I mentioned, they recently fell. All is not lost! God is a God of grace and has not forgotten them! Just like He forgave David, He forgives us and takes us from faith to faith. We may fall, and we may go down our own paths, but He forgives us and let's us start again. He uses our mistakes for our good and the good of His Kingdom. Jesus didn't cast aside this father, or the disciples when they lacked faith, He still brought healing and hope, and they were stronger in their faith because of this!

My 2 friends paid a costly price, they screwed up, but they've repented and now they've had to start again. Like us all, they're learning to stand firm in their faith. God hasn't forgotten them, He's still holding them in His arms and is helping them grow stronger and stronger, from "faith to faith". Remember, God uses us in our weaknesses for His glory! 

As we go out; don't forget that God is a loving God, He's a forgiving God, who has our backs, so when you know your faith is dwindling, don't be afraid to cry out, just like the distressed father did: "I do believe! Help my unbelief!" 

*A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms.....
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about?

Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question. Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10 minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".
 
This was a sermon preached on 9/22/15, in response to this question;“Standing Firm in My Faith!"
Sometimes I feel like I’m doing good, and then something bad comes along, and suddenly I’m not really standing firm in my faith. I say I’m believing that God will work it all out, but meanwhile I’m already plotting on “plan B”, to hook myself up, just in case God doesn’t come through. I don’t want to go back to my old ways and the bad consequences that go with all that. But what do I tell myself to do instead?
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