What’s happening here? Why is Jesus frustrated & who is He frustrated with? And what can we learn from this encounter?
The context for this passage is that;
- The disciples had seen Jesus heal many, raise a girl from the dead and deliver people from demons (Jesus’ authority over sickness & demons)
- They had witnessed Jesus calming the storm, making wine from water & miraculously multiplying food twice & walking on water (Jesus’ authority over the natural world)
- Then Jesus had authorized the disciples to go and do the very same things they had seen him doing; “And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” Matthew 10:7–8 (Jesus had delegated His authority to them)
- Peter had just had the revelation that Jesus was the Messiah in front of all the disciples & Jesus confirmed that this revelation was given to him by God (Matthew 16:16)
- Lastly, just preceding this moment, Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John. God revealed Jesus in a visual display of His glory & with an audible confirmation from God as to who Jesus was and how the disciples should relate to Him – with obedience. (Matthew 17:5)
It appears that while Peter, James & John were up the mountain with Jesus, witnessing His transfiguration – a man had brought his epileptic son to the other disciples of Jesus and asked them to heal him. But they couldn’t.
When Jesus arrives, the man approaches Jesus with faith (he addresses Jesus as Lord, not rabbi). He tells Jesus of his son’s problem and that Jesus’ disciples had been unable to help set the boy free.
Jesus appears to be frustrated. But who is He frustrated with? The context implies that Jesus is frustrated with the disciples – after all, the man and his son had not done anything wrong. And it is the disciples whom Jesus later addresses (vs19-21).
Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.”Matthew 17:17 (ESV)
Passages like this surprise us at first – if we are honest. It is surprising to see Jesus frustrated. We know Jesus never sinned, but He feels frustrated at the disciples’ lack of faith and their distorted view of Him – failing to perceive the authority He had invested in them.
“How long am I to bear with you?” Jesus appears to be lamenting the lack of progress in His disciples’ faith. Jesus knows His time on earth is short, and these slow, simple guys are the ones He is entrusting His world mission too!
This encounter is both challenging & comforting to me!
Firstly, if I place myself in the disciples’ shoes, I am aware that my lack of faith and courage to step out and deal with sickness and the demonic through the power of Jesus frustrates my LORD – that is challenging.
Secondly, if I place myself in the shoes of my LORD, also as one who disciples and leads others, I empathize with Jesus’ feeling of frustration that they hadn’t grown or grasped more by this stage in light of all they had seen and heard – and so this is comforting to me. Jesus didn’t get a new group of disciples but kept shaping faith in them.
Turning back to the man’s request and his son’s problem, Jesus rebukes a demon that is causing this boy’s problem and instantly, the boy is set free.
I love how the demonic influence in this boy is dealt with so instantaneously without any fuss, but Jesus, with absolute authority’s diagnoses the problem as being demonic influence and deals with it – setting the boy free.
How often do we/I overlook the potential root cause of some sickness as being a demonic influence?
Although it is not always the cause of sickness (as Jesus did not always rebuke a demon to heal people), it was the cause sometimes in the Gospels.
So, may we not overlook this potential cause of sickness and suffering, but rather may we not be like the disciples who were seemingly stumped by what Jesus intended for them to have clear authority over (Matthew 10:7-8).
When the disciples and Jesus are alone, the disciples approach Jesus. They must have felt the frustration of Jesus towards them and the chasm of contrast between their ineffective help and Jesus’ towards the epileptic boy. So the disciples ventured to ask Jesus why they were so ineffective? (Vs19)
He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”Matthew 17:20
But was it the amount of faith the disciples did/didn’t have? Or was it more that they didn’t have any – even a little faith?
Although all the translations I have looked at translate ‘oligopistian’ as ‘little faith’, this contradicts what Jesus goes on to say to the disciples.
So, humbly I suggest that a better translation is ‘lack of faith’ or ‘ineffectual faith’ (see Louw-Nida 31.95) for the following reasons;
- Jesus’ teaching in the remainder of vs20 points not to the size of their faith but the lack of their faith that was the reason they were unable to deliver the boy from the demonic influence. Jesus says to them that even faith as small/tiny as a mustard seed can cause “nothing to be impossible for them”! If oligopistian – is translated as ‘little faith’, then there is a contradiction in vs20.
- Translating oligopistian as ‘lack of faith’ or ‘ineffectual faith’ also fits vs17 better where Jesus exclaims, ‘Oh faithless and twisted generation.’ Jesus is lamenting not the amount of faith in those he is speaking to but their lack of faith (apistos).
Jesus’ frustration with the disciples appears to be that they did not have any faith to heal the boy, despite all they have seen & the mandate He had given them to go and heal and deliver people in His name.
Jesus knew that even just a tiny mustard seed size of faith would have been sufficient to deliver the boy – but they didn’t even have that amount of faith – they had a lack of faith…
It reminds me of how the issue is not the size of our faith, but rather who that faith is in! If even your little faith is in Jesus, then ‘nothing is impossible for you’ (vs20).
Lord, I thank you that all we/I need is some faith in You. Help me see everything in life and ministry through this lens of faith in You, the only One worth trusting. May I/we be both challenged & comforted by seeing these truths in this encounter.
pistĕuō (Greek): to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), to entrust, to believe, commit (to trust), put in trust with.
Faith is believing God. Faith is to put one’s trust in God regarding something when one has yet to still see the outcome. Faith is believing and acting according to that belief. Faith is always rooted in SOMEONE or something.
Jarius the Synagogue ruler had a need, his daughter was desperately ill. Jarius has seen or heard of myriads of people being healed by Jesus and on that basis Jarius believes that Jesus is worth approaching and reveals his faith when He says to Jesus (Mark 5:21-23); “Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live”.
Coming to Jesus revealed his belief that Jesus was worth coming to, imploring Jesus to lay His hands on his daughter puts his belief about what was possible with Jesus on display.
Similarly, the woman who has seemingly unsolvable long-term medical issues believes, has faith. Scripture clearly explains that the reason for her action was;
She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” (Mark 5:27-28)
Her thinking was, Jesus is the answer to my unsolvable problem – that’s faith! And faith is what God loves. Jesus commends the woman for her faith (vs34) and Jesus urges Jarius to keep believing (vs36) when he hears the news that his daughter has passed away.
Why does God love faith?
Is it because of the relational component that there is to faith?
I remember teaching my children to swim in the pool and in the ocean. I remember so clearly just wanting those little freaked out kids to trust their dad, to believe that he would not let them get hurt or worse, to believe that he knew what they could handle. I know what it feels like now teaching my 18yr old how to drive, when she is panicking that she can’t do something I know she can do, or drive somewhere where I know she can drive, I know what it feels like to just want her to trust me, to trust that I’ll help, I’ll direct and counsel and together we will achieve things she will be proud of and delighted with in the end… Faith has a relational component to it.
God loves it when we trust Him, when we choose to believe He is good, He is loving and all powerful and that He knows what’s best for our lives. Will you trust Him, will you have faith like this woman, faith like Jarius? They saw their unsolvable problems solved because they believed!
In closing, Mark 6:1-6 is set in stark contrast to this. Jesus goes to his hometown and He encounters the exact opposite of faith, people don’t believe they disbelieve He is anything special and so it says;
And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. (Mark 6:5-6)
Jesus still did some miracles, but it was not much, He was astounded at their unbelief and as a result of their unbelief, His hometown lost out on what might have been if only they had believed like the woman, like Jarius.
Will you believe?
Do you trust Jesus in everything?
Are you living today, filled with the faith that God loves?
After a long time had passed, as Joshua is close to the end of his life he gathers all of Israel and speaks to the leadership of the nation in a way that is very reminiscent of Moses’s Deuteronomy sermon in the last moments of his leadership (see the whole book of Deuteronomy but especially chapters 29-33.
Joshua re-iterates very similar words to those of Moses, as their leader he calls them to remember three things;
- To remember what God has done for them (vs3,9-10, especially vs14)
- To remember what God requires of them (vs6-8, 11-13) to do and not do
- To remember the warning of God’s jealous wrath should they turn away from God in compromise and idolatry (vs15-16)
The call to remember is a repeated refrain in the Old Testament, passage after passage points back to the covenant with Abraham, the actions of God for His people to deliver them from Egypt, the covenant and commandments given to Moses, the sin and unbelief in the wilderness, God’s punishment on that generation, God’s faithfulness to ‘every word’ of His promises to His people in giving them the Promised Land and fighting for them…… As you read on in the OT, the refrain goes on and on, through the prophets and God’s various mouthpieces and even into the NT with books like Hebrews having a definite call to remember in them.
Well we so easily forget. More than this, remembering God’s faithfulness to us in the past (past faith) is the foundation we need to have faith in the present with all its challenges and its the foundation we need to have faith for the future we can not yet see.
Remembering, recounting, telling and re-telling the ‘God-stories’ of our lives, reading the ‘God-stories’ of Scripture are so vital to our faith.
I want to urge you to remember how God has worked in your life (starting with what Jesus did on the cross for you) and spend time thanking God again.
Remember things you can and have thanked God for and let the memory of those God-stories fuel your faith again for the present and the future.
Lastly, remember that warnings are no good to us unless we are warned by them. God promises to deal with the compromise and sin of Israel, the breaking of covenant (vs15-16). We live under a new covenant of grace but sin is still an offence to our Holy Father. We will never be punished for our sin because Jesus was crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:4-6) but we can miss the life and the nearness and blessing of God that He wanted us to experience.
Is there any ongoing sin in your life that you know you need to repent of?
I urge you to repent & to turn from it, to seek out help if you need help.
Caleb’s request to allow him to go and take possession of the land (Joshua 14) allotted to him sets off a succession whereby all of the tribes enter into their God-apportioned inheritance over an extended period of time (this is covered in Joshua 15-21).
The summary statement at the end of this section reads as follows;
Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. 44 And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. (Joshua 21:43-45)
God was faithful to every word, to every promise He had made, everyone of them came to pass. These people entered into the land God promised, God did fight for them, protect them and now provided for them with this good land. Scripture says, ‘God gave them rest on every side’ (vs44).
God’s word is clear, God is faithful, God can be trusted, God will do what God has promised to do. When God utters promises/commands – the words God speaks will accomplish what God intended for them to do (see Isaiah 55:10-11).
What can you and I learn from this summary about how God treated Israel?
What significance can this have on your life?
Is there anything you know God has promised to you personally?
Are you still trusting God?
God is worthy of our trust.
Caleb is one of the true heroes of the faith. His story is recorded mostly in Numbers 13-14, the moment in Israel’s history where God promised to give them the Promised Land and Moses sent 12 spies into the land to survey it and 10 came back with a bad report, a fear-filled report that made the ‘heart of the people melt’ in faith eroding fear. On that day two of the spies had a different spirit, they believed God at His word and were willing to follow God fully (Numbers 14:24 & 32:12). Their names were Joshua & Caleb.
Because of their faith, God promised that they would be the only two of that whole generation who would actually enter the Promised Land and that they would receive the inheritance God had always planned to bless them with. Here now in Joshua 14, Caleb approaches Joshua and asks that he be given his inheritance that God promised to him.
Caleb has waited patiently for 45yrs for this moment! Caleb, held on to to his faith, remained steadfast in his belief in God even when circumstances must have caused him to wonder and doubt. His whole generation passed away in the Wilderness – they never entered into all that God has planned to give them. But Caleb remained full of faith and he says to Joshua in this moment as an 85yr old man;
“And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. 11 I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. 12 So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.” (Joshua 14:10-12)
What an inspiring burst of faith and confidence in God. The book of Hebrews urges us to imitate people like Caleb;
“And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Hebrews 6:11)
Is there something God has promised to you which is seemingly not happening, seems delayed, you know God said it, but you don’t see any evidence of it on the horizon?
Friend, I assure you, if God truly said it to you, promised it in His word, you might have to wait half your life, but God is faithful, never doubt that. Psalm 22:4-5 in the NIV translation says this of David’s ancestors;
In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. 5 They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.
God will not change, God cannot be unfaithful (2 Timothy 2:13), let’s be like Caleb, let’s patiently wait trusting in God because we believe that He is faithful to His promises.
Faith is believing God. Implicitly, faith is believing when you can’t see or when you haven’t yet seen God’s answer or intervention. For this reason, faith is not easy, it is totally rational if God is who the Scriptures say He is, but at times faith is a real challenge.
We know from Scripture that God wants us to believe, to trust Him, our Father loves it when we believe in all that He has revealed to us about Himself. We should be able to believe because of what’s revealed to us in Scripture, we should be able to believe in the basis of the testimony of others in Scripture and in life because we know that God does not, can not change (Malachi
But in my experience sometimes I need to see God do something that I can experience and testify to to help me with my faith, as a handle for my faith…
Here in Joshua 3 I see God graciously giving His people a ‘faith handle’. As they looked ahead at the Promised Land and all the challenges that were to face them, you could say they should have had faith because of all the things God had said and done leading up to this point. God’s faithfulness in providing for 1million people in a desert, God’s words & miracles through Moses…
But God knows our fickleness. And so God says through Joshua;
“Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you….when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.” (Joshua 3:10-13)
God is so gracious to us, we should believe without seeing but God knows that sometimes we need handles as it were to grip onto for our faith. God’s people needed to trust God going forward for all that lied ahead, God graciously gives them a visible tangible handle for the faith He wants them to have in Him.
How’s your faith right now? Full or flagging?
Why don’t you ask God for something tangible even something small to help you trust Him for the BIG things like salvation…?
God is so gracious, so forbearing with us. Ask Him.
Watching a documentary series on television, I became intrigued by the strength of the family bond. In this series, the presenter and staff pull out all the stops in an impressive detective display, reuniting long lost family members – adopted children seeking biological parents, children raised by single mothers searching for their father, parents looking for children with whom they’ve lost contact due to broken relationships…
And each time the reunion confirms this one fact – there is a link between members of the same family that spans continents and cultures. Parents never forget the children born to them, and children have an unidentifiable want that is only satisfied by either meeting their parents, or at least gaining a better perspective and more information on who they were.
So the story of Joseph intrigued me. Here is a much loved son, who is betrayed by his brothers and becomes traumatically lost to his family. He goes through a series of trails, pain and unfair situations. But eventually God turns it all around and he becomes a super-powerful person in a super-powerful nation.
And after many years, he comes face to face again with his family. The intricate storyline that follows may be a reflection of the deep emotional turmoil he experiences. Surely that same strong family bond identified in the stories I mentioned above made him want to be reunited with his family? But he doesn’t know whether he can allow himself to trust them again. They were, after all, to blame for the trials he had experienced.
So, he tests them. And he finds them changed men.
Genesis 45 paints a touching portrait of a powerful man exposing his vulnerability – weeping aloud “so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it.” (v 2). Maybe all the years of pain also came to the surface.
Joseph shows tremendous spiritual maturity when he reveals his identity to his brothers. He is able to forgive them. But even more than that – he is able to look past the people who should carry the blame, and see the hand of God.
I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now, do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. (v 5-8 – my emphasis)
What a perspective!
With distance in space and time from all that happened, God had revealed to Joseph that His plan was at play here and ultimately it was not even limited to Joseph’s good, but would benefit a whole nation.
Of course, with hindsight one can more easily identify the hand of God in troublesome situations or relationships that cause your life to take a different direction. It should give us hope and increase our faith in God for each subsequent trial.
Because blaming people cannot give our pain purpose. God, who knows the end from the beginning, uses every person and circumstance in our lives to bring His purpose to fulfillment.
Letting go of blame and the need for justice (or revenge), allows us to love again.
Blaming people obstructs our eternal perspective, obscures our view to God. Forgiveness is an act of faith. It expresses our trust in the goodness and faithfulness of God. It acknowledges that God is omniscient, all-powerful, eternal and always fully in control.
by Lise Oosthuizen
Reading the story of how Abraham sent out his servant to find a wife for his beloved son, Isaac, it seems that finding a marriage partner was a very calculated activity. But it is in fact the opposite!
God knows the desires of our hearts, He knows our personalities and habits. Only He can perfectly suit two people to each other. And His choice for Isaac was perfect, because the two of them loved each other dearly. And what a wise servant, to stay close to God in this pursuit (Gen 24:21)
“The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the Lord had prospered his journey or not.”
I have experienced a very similar story recently when a dear friend of mine’s daughter got married. And to illustrate how much God is involved in the choosing of a marriage partner even today (as much as, and even more than, He is involved in every part of our lives), let me briefly recap the story to you.
There was a young South African woman who dedicated her life to God and purposed to also trust Him to provide her with a husband. She set out to get a clear picture in her own mind about the qualities a man should possess to make him a good husband. She allowed herself to dream of her perfect man, and entrusted these dreams to her Father.
On the other side of the world was a young man who, amidst constant pressure to join the dating game, and constant ridicule for not doing so, trusted God to point out to him whom to marry. He decided to keep himself pure until that day.
So the young woman went to the other side of the world for a short period of time, attending a course at the very insitution where this young man worked. And sure enough, God pointed out to him that this is the woman whom He has chosen for the young man. And although the young woman recognised many of the attributes of a good husband in this young man, she had no idea of the conversation between him and God and in due course she returned to South Africa.
Almost despairing, the young man asked God for wisdom in ways to start courting the young woman. Telling the story in detail astonishes everyone as to how God’s masterplan came together in ways no human being can conceive.
The two of them got to know each other through e-mail and a deep appreciation and love for each other grew in their hearts. God opened the way for them to get engaged and then married, and they now have a beautiful little girl and another child on its way.
Their lives still speak of God’s miraculous dealings as they move forward in His plan for them.
Are they a unique couple? Is God really interested in helping young men and women today, find their perfect life partner? YES!
It is not only the old, Biblical story of Isaac and Rebekah, or the recent, modern story of my two young friends above – it can be your story too!
You have entrusted God with your life when you answered “yes” to His call. Won’t you trust Him and WAIT until He shows you the one He has chosen for you?
by Lise Oosthuizen
And so we encounter the first mention of the word “worship” in the Bible.
In Genesis 22:5 we read that Abraham leaves the young men travelling with them behind with these words: “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you” (my emphasis).
This chapter (Gen 22) is an amazing picture (shadow) of the sacrificial journey of Jesus:
He is the only Son of God, just as Isaac was the son of promise, the heir.
Abraham placed the wood for the sacrifice onto Isaac’s shoulders, foreshadowing the way Jesus’ cross was placed on His shoulders and He had to walk with it through the streets of the city to Golgotha.
Isaac cried: “My father!” and received the comfort of his father’s reply: “Here am I, my son” (verse 7). In contrast, Jesus called out in anguish and pain, forsaken by God (Matt 27:46) so that we never have to go through the utter desperation of ever being without our Father.
And then there is Abraham’s profound answer to Isaac’s concern about the absence of a sacrificial animal: “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (verse 8). God, the Father asked His Son, and Jesus offered Himself, to once and for all atone for the sins of the world.
What great courage, what great FAITH! No wonder Abraham is mentioned several times in the faith hall of fame as described in Hebrews 11! He was willing to literally sacrifice this son for whom he had to wait so long!
Abraham had an absolute trust in God – that He would provide an outcome. In Hebrews 11:19 it says that Abraham “considered that God was able even to raise him (Isaac) from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”
Abraham understood something of the awesome power of God. Some say that he saw a vision of the future redemptive and death-conquering work of Jesus – the Lamb of God, on the cross. He didn’t look up to see the ram God provided, because it was caught in a bush behind him (verse 13).
So, worship, in this context could be interpreted as submission to the will of God, a picture of humility before the sovereign King. The Greek word “shachah” (worship), used here, speaks of a posture of homage, bowing down in worship to God as a response to His great power.
“This act of worship is given to God because He deserves it, and because those who are speaking are people of His pasture” (Strong’s Concordance).
There is a special, priviledged relationship between God and those who are called as His own. As believers, we have the intimacy of children with their father, but we always, always have to remember with reverence that our Father is the Almighty, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Eternal, Immutable God!
We have free access to the innermost parts of the throne room, and our response is to bow down, to submit in immediate obedience, to pay homage to our Great God.
“Shachah” is more than a posture of the body, it is a position of the heart, which influences the actions, words, thoughts and lifestyle of one who worships God. It is a life focused on God.
by Lise Oosthuizen
One of the strong oppositions to our complete trust in the Bible is the theory of evolution. From an innocuous start as a theory, it has become the norm of thinking for many people on how the natural things around us (and ourselves as the human race), came into existence. It heavily impacts the world view of Christians and non-Christians alike, and affects the way science, medicine, history and many other subjects are perceived, researched and taught.
As a child, I grew up with the idea that evolution has a strong standing, and I tried to consolidate it with the creation story of Genesis. So, possibly, the days of creation were actually long periods of time. Isn’t there a verse somewhere that says to God a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day? And so, although I desperately wanted to believe the creation story of Genesis 1, there was always the confusion of the evolutionary process. In the end, I decided it must not be that important. I believe humans were created in God’s image, and for the rest – however that happened really has nothing to do with my faith.
Wrong!! I didn’t realise how much this point of view impacted the way I trusted the Bible to be (or not to be) the infallible Word of God.
A number of years ago a friend gave us a set of DVDs on various themes of this subject, from the view of Creation Science. As a family we watched the whole series and I was set free! The Word of God really was true in respect to the six days – yes, literal days! – of creation! And as my knowledge grew, I realised how many Christians were being led astray and confused by the religion of evolution.
There is in fact no evidence for evolution on such a grand scale as to allow one species to develop into a totally different one, as is taught in schools, and accepted as truth. Many people are being deceived by half truths and even open lies. And what is promoted as a science, is in fact a philosophy of deception that many choose to believe, and work very hard (spending unbelievable amounts of money) to prove. With every so-called discovery to prove evolution, the media goes into a frenzy, but when the half truth or lie of the “discovery” is later exposed, it is kept quiet.
Obviously, it will take more than a quick blog to explain the depth of deception of the evolution perspective. The point I am trying to make is this: it brings immense peace and freedom to be able to believe that the whole of the Bible is truth.
The truth of the creation account as set out in Genesis 1 confirms and underlines the truth of the rest of God’s Word. God is in fact the Creator, and He chose to tell us openly how He created. Not over periods of millions of years (which incidently becomes millions and billions more with each new “discovery”), but in six days. And on the seventh, He rested.
“And God saw everything that He made, and behold, it was very good.” (verse 31)
To accept the truth of God as the Creator God, impacts our faith in all aspects of God’s character as revealed in His Word and our experience. If we can fully trust Him in one aspect, we can fully trust Him in all. To me, it brought tremendous relief. Because, how can we as mere mortals judge and discern which passages of Scripture to believe and which not? We can’t! We can only rely on God – that He has given us His complete, infallible Word – the whole Truth!
by Lise Oosthuizen
Are we also a generation like the one Jesus encountered while ministering here on earth? In Matthew 11:16-17, the Master Storyteller paints one of the most interesting pictures to me, of children sitting in the market place, calling to their playmates:
“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
We sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.”
This generation sought every reason to disparage the signs of the coming Messiah. They were comfortable in their current paradigm. There was no space for a huge change as would be implied by the evidence of Jesus’ ministry.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry He was confronted by those who chose not to believe Him or in Him, but rather criticize what He was doing. They needed to find a different explanation for the miracles He performed, for the lives He changed. And what was easier and more controversial than blaming His power on the work of the devil?
Today there are still many people who chase after miracles, as if that would bring them faith. But I do not believe that miracles can create or sustain faith. A miracle may spark in a searching heart, the reality of a living God, but true faith is only sustained by a relationship with the Faith-giver.
I have witnessed the craze of “miracle rushes” (like “gold rushes”), but the outcome was usually sensation and controversy – often with the character of the miracle working preacher exposed as bearing fruit contrary to the gospel. And even in this, Jesus gives us a tool to discern when His Spirit, or the enemy, is at work – “Yet, wisdom is justified by her deeds.” (verse 19). A tree can be evaluated by the fruit that it bears – and so each ministry stands or falls by the fruit of its minister/s, no matter how many or spectacular the miracles/”miracles”.
Where does faith come from then? Can we work up faith within ourselves like they proclaim in many movies: “if you only believe”…?
Faith originates with God. He gives everyone a measure of faith.
So why do some people not believe the gospel message? It comes back to God’s original design – that He gave man a free will, an ability to choose for himself. Some choose to use their faith for the purpose it was given – to believe in God. Some choose to deny this gift of faith and reject God, or use their faith to believe in something contrary to God (it is obvious, for example, that due to lack of evidence, evolution is a faith based competitor to Christianity).
It boils down to the choice we make.
By the grace of God, I chose to believe the gospel message of salvation through the completed work of Jesus on the cross. I choose to believe in the Bible as the infallible Word of God. And in my walk with God, there were times when I was confronted with arguments against this choice, and I had to examine my faith, and the reasons for it. And still, every time, I choose to believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
God is faithful in every way. And when you choose to enter into a relationship with Him, He confirms your faith and allows it to grow as you come to know more and more of His awesome person.
Yes, He performs miracles! Yes, the way He shows His living involvement in our daily lives is an amazing encouragement that helps our faith to grow.
Let us seek His miracle-performing power for the reason of His glory, not as a crutch for our faith.
by Lise Oosthuizen
A lot can be said about what praise is – what does it mean in our context of following God, to praise Him? One definition that makes a lot of sense to me is “to tell of all the wonderful things God has done”, to testify. So praising God has an aspect of reminding the next generation of how great, powerful and faithful God is, and so encourage and strengthen their faith.
We learn more about the person of God each time we experience His living involvement in our lives – we get to know Him uniquely as Saviour, Provider, Friend, Father, Counsellor… Some of those moments or glimpses of His care and love may fade or even go unnoticed, but nothing sticks in the mind like a miracle!
Psalm 66:5 – 7 is a song of praise – it says: “Look what God has done!” So I had a look at the two parallel miracles that verse 6 speaks about:
“He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot.”
Exodus 14 tells the story of how God did the amazing miracle of parting the Red sea so that the Israelites could escape the pursuing Egyptian army, trekking through the sea on dry land.
“Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and his servant Moses” (v 30-31).
Exodus 15 records a song of praise by Moses and a praise dance and song by his sister Miriam. These songs probably became part of the cultural heritage of the Jews, so that the generation who experienced the wonder, could inform and encourage their children.
Unfortunately this generation was destroyed during their 40 year wandering in the wilderness, and when the next generation is standing at the threshold of their inheritance – the promised land, God renews their faith by doing the miracle that probably immediately brought back their parents’ testimony – He dried up a path for them to cross the Jordan river!
At the Red sea God protected and saved them from the pursuing enemy. At the Jordan river God promises to “without fail drive out from before you the (enemy)…” (Jos 3:10). He affirms His protective involvement with His people.
These two miracles gave the nation of Israel an amazing testimony. But God’s work is never one-dimensional and for both Moses and Joshua these miracles were God’s confirmation to them and to the nation that God elected them to lead His people.
Let us hold on to the miracles God performs in our lives. They may be little things that happen in answer to heartfelt prayer, they may be breathtaking and make us want to run out and tell everybody. I make a point of sharing my big and small testimonies with my children, but I’m challenged to also record what God does in my own and my family’s lives, to be able to carry the testimony to the next generation. Each testimony strengthens our faith in the living God we serve!
by Lise Oosthuizen
As I grow older I realise more and more that nothing on this earth has true security. Time is constantly changing, money easily loses value, property prices are unpredictable and if the political situation in a country is perceived to be unstable, all the securities in terms of investment goes out the window.
Families often drift apart as siblings grow older – whether emotionally or, in the case of many South Africans, many people emigrate and then families are literally torn apart. Friends can be a great source of comfort and encouragement, but even this can be lost through misunderstanding, conflict or a change in one or the other’s circumstances.
In this life we are constantly challenged to find a firm foundation, an immovable rock on which to stand. A place of security and rest.
How easily we become distracted from putting all of our hope and trust in God. This one thought is like a repeated chorus in Psalm 62:
“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress, I shall not be shaken.”
David reminds himself and us, that there is only One who can fulfil that role. There is only One who can give us hope, who can be a fortress of true safety in the midst of uncertainty, who can be our Refuge when the storms of life are raging all around us. God alone!
“Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.”
by Lise Oosthuizen
Are you like me? Sometimes thinking; “If only God could speak to me audibly, then I’d follow or obey!” But then I read the account in Luke leading up to Jesus’ birth and I realize that’s probably not true. I am not sure about you but I sadly tend to give myself more credit than I should – assume I’d have more faith would be more obedient than is the case in reality.
Luke 1 is an account of ordinary people with very ordinary responses to an extra-ordinary God and His dealings with us.
In Luke 1 we read about a guy called Zechariah, he is one of the priests in the temple, he is advanced in years and he and his wife have not been able to have children up to this point. One day while serving God in the temple the angel Gabriel appears to him in response to his prayers.
I identify with Zechariah maybe more than some might as you could say that like me, Zechariah was “in the ministry”. So he should be a man of faith, prayer, should expect God to answer prayer, to be present when we seek Him…
But that is not the case in Luke 1. Zechariah is serving God in the temple, there are a multitude of people are outside praying, he is making sacrifices to God – which is all good. But then God does something! God actually shows up. God shows up in His temple of all places, in response to the prayers of a His people, of all things!
Zechariah is flawed, shocked, even “troubled” Scripture says. He clearly was not expecting this manifestation of the presence of God.
I am slow to criticize Zechariah though, because I see myself in him. Maybe you are like me, often no different from Zechariah? I know that I can easily slip into “low expectation mode” – and I have to fight it off. I pray for healing but do I actually anticipate God responding and healing, I along with others pray for His presence in our meetings every week but would we be shocked if He sent an angel to represent Himself?
Although I have never served in the temple like, Zechariah I do spend my days ministering to God’s people. There are many times that I have prayed for people and they have sadly not been healed but there have been quite a few times that I have prayed for people and they have been healed. And in those moments my response often has been similar to that of Zechariah’s, I have been surprised, even doubtful in the moment of this other persons rejoicing of pain that is gone…!
I wish it were not so but it often has been.
Or we will be driving home from a Sunday meeting where God was tangibly present in some way, and while reflecting on the morning yes we are grateful but sometimes I catch myself in conversation together with Nadine and there is a hint of surprise in the conversation, “wow that was unexpected”, even though what we had just witnessed is what we pray for weekly…!
Are you like me? Like Zechariah?
Have you ever thought, “I will believe if God speaks to me audibly”?
Reading Zechariah makes me wonder whether we will in fact believe in those moments. Zechariah is in the temple, people are praying, an angel of a God appears and makes some monumental and good promises to him and his response is to be terrified, his response is unbelief and a request for more confirmation please.
“And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”
“How can I trust you?” – that is essentially what he asks. “How can I believe you?”
Here we have the extra-ordinary (Zechariah is speaking to an angel of God) and a very ordinary response (How can I believe?). We know that Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had not been able up to this point to have children, we know that Elizabeth was considered barren, so we can empathize with the struggle for faith but Zechariah is speaking to the angel Gabriel after all.
Will we believe even when faced with the extra-ordinary and God speaks to us audibly with a visible manifestation of His glory?
The good news is that a God is very patient and gracious in His dealings with guys like Zechariah, yourself and myself. God could have changed His mind, chosen someone else who was “performing” better, had more faith than Zechariah – but God didn’t!
God is so gracious and forbearing, His work in our lives is always by grace, never by our works our good effort. In my 30+ years of following Jesus, I have had so many “Zechariah moments”, even in the past 11 years of serving God as a pastor, I have still had and still will have so many “Zechariah moments”, but my Father is gracious, He is patient and He loves me very much even though I and my faith are so ordinary.
And for that I am so grateful.
Having said that, my Father and your Father does want us to believe, He does want us to have expectation and faith in Him and for His in-breaking power, and faith is always better than unbelief or just low expectations…
After all, Zechariah’s stumbling faith did cause him to loose his voice for nearly a year! Our unbelief does have consequences, but this is the amazing thing…
God used even that unbelief for a His good plans. God doesn’t waste anything, uses all things to work all things according to His good plans and purposes for us.
I can’t say for sure, but I have a feeling that Zechariah being mute all those months probably ended up being used by God to prepare people for the extraordinary work God was going to do through John in preparation for Jesus Himself. Word would have gotten out about Gabriel’s appearance, even if it was the genesis moment for a game we now call Pictionary. Word would have spread of Zechariah’s being struck mute and sudden burgeoning art career as he tried to communicate with Elizabeth and others about what happened to him and what had been promised. And once John was born to this couple who were previously barren, and Zechariah could speak I have no doubt that his account and his experience prepared the hearts of people for what was going to be an extra-ordinary ministry.
So God can and does use all things for His purposes, even our unbelief, our very ordinary faith. God is so good and gracious, He does not waste anything and can even use our weak faith and low expectations, our being so ordinary to work in extra-ordinary ways to fulfill His amazing purposes for us and for His glory through simple ordinary people like you and I.
I identify with Zechariah, do you? In his story I see the ordinary of my life and the extra-ordinary of God colliding and I am encouraged that God is not shy of ordinary people like me, God is not limited by our weak faith, God is not impatient with us but works through us to bless us and to use us in His amazing purposes, to bring glory to His Son, Jesus.