Overcoming Unbelief, Part 3
In the last two weeks, I’ve discussed the unbelief of the people of Nazareth toward Jesus’ ministry, and how unbelief can be a stumbling block to faith. Think of all the miracles Jesus performed, but sadly the unbelief of His hometown affected miracles from occurring in their midst:
Now 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 NKJV
Through the gospel accounts, we discover that few things seem to cause as strong a human reaction in Jesus as a lack of faith, or conversely, great faith.
Lack of faith can be caused by offense toward God and unbelief. Offense, doubt, and unbelief often develop when God fails to act as we expect. Our human reasoning and preconceived ideas place God in a box or limit Him to our understanding. But this isn’t faith or Spirit-led living. Honestly, some of us think we could do a better job than God!!
But God’s behavior can be unpredictable. God does not conform to our preconceptions about Him, nor does He need our permission to act as He deems appropriate. His ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts our thoughts (Isa. 55:8).
Faith Overcomes Unbelief
Today, I want to look at Abraham and Sarah and how their faith overcame unbelief. Let’s look at Abraham and Sarah, and what Paul wrote about their faith in his letter to the Romans:
As it is written: I have appointed you to be the father of many nations. So Abraham is our father in the eyes of God in whom he had faith, the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that don’t exist into existence. When it was beyond hope, he had faith in the hope that he would become the father of many nations, in keeping with the promise God spoke to him: That’s how many descendants you will have. Without losing faith, Abraham, who was nearly 100 years old, took into account his own body, which was as good as dead, and Sarah’s womb, which was dead. He didn’t hesitate with a lack of faith in God’s promise, but he grew strong in faith and gave glory to God. He was fully convinced that God was able to do what he promised.” Rom. 4:17–21 CEB
The NKJV of verse 20 translates, “He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God.” The English word waver in this translation is from the Greek diakrino, which has two meanings, 1) to judge thoroughly or decide between two opinions 2) denotes a conflict within oneself, to hesitate, have misgivings, to doubt or waver between hope and fear.
We could paraphrase what Paul wrote by saying Abraham didn’t fluctuate between two opinions, hesitate and doubt, or waver between hope and unbelief. Rather, during years of waiting for the promise of Isaac, Abraham’s faith grew stronger. Keep in mind that Abraham and Sarah weren’t perfect; on more than one occasion they deviated from God’s perfect will.
Yet, the Holy Spirit through Paul indicates that Abraham remained faithful to what God promised. Why?
I believe the answer is discovered God’s nature and in the power of the promise. God spoke a living word to Abraham. The word was active in his heart creating faith to believe the promise spoken to him. Abraham grew strong in faith because of the power of God and the power of the promise.
The Holy Spirit is effecting faith in our hearts; God’s power is at work. But there is also the power of God’s promise. God watches over His word to perform it; His word is His bond!
God’s word or promise is like a seed. Seeds, although small, have life in them. You could say “power and life are in the seed.” And so, it is with God’s Word. His Word is living and active; life and power are in it (Heb. 4:12).
When God’s Word is received in a heart that is fertile, it takes root, grows to maturity and produces a harvest (Mark 4:1–20). But doubt and unbelief are like rocky, unfertile soil. It is difficult for seed, except for weeds, to take root easily in rocky, unfertile soil. But in good soil, a crop can be expected.
James has some thoughts about faith and doubt:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” James 1:5-8 NKJV
Doubting in verse 6 is also from the Greek word diakrino. James, like Paul, states that to receive anything from God, our prayer must be asked in faith without wavering between hope and unbelief. Otherwise, it’s a faith as unpredictable as a wave driven by the wind.
By the way, if you’ve ever observed a storm-tossed lake or ocean, with waves driven by the wind, you will quickly conclude it’s not a safe place to be. Wavering between faith and unbelief isn’t safe, it’s as dangerous as high waves on a lake or ocean! In fact, a wind-driven body of water is not only unsafe, it can be deadly.
Faith Matures Over Time
Abraham received the promise of being the father of many nations in small seed form but cultivated it within his heart. His faith grew and the promise became reality.
Again, keep in mind that Abraham and Sarah weren’t perfect in faith. In fact, at one point they laughed at God’s promise of the son Isaac (Gen 17–18). But God, who can bring life to that which is dead, looked past the “deadness” of their circumstance and brought forth life. Faith became active in Abraham’s heart because of the promise spoken to him. Faith came by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17)
God’s promises transcend your perspective and circumstances. Focus your mind on what God has done or is doing. Refuse to entertain thoughts and reasoning that question God—that’s unbelief. Faith receives the promise as reality, often before your understanding or senses can fully grasp what God is doing.
Regarding prophecy or words God has spoken to you, understand that while yesterday’s word is important, and key words can be directive over a lifetime, we must learn to hear presently as we are led by the Spirit. In fact, sometimes the word the Lord is speaking to you is simply His peace. You hear nothing but sense His peace. “Happy is the man who finds wisdom…Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” (Prov. 3:13, 17 NKJV) Wisdom or understanding leads to peace. Remember, Jesus said He gives us peace, and His peace overcomes what we face in this world (John 14:27; 16:33).
God communicates or acts in ways that at times can offend our natural minds. To recognize what God is communicating and doing, we must be a people of His Spirit and Word.
When Jesus was born in a humble stable, many in Israel didn’t recognize the grace of God at work in their midst. The religious leaders and most of the people didn’t recognize the Messiah walking among them performing miracles, healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead. Why? They didn’t recognize the Spirit upon His words and actions.
Abraham and Sarah were promised a son, and 25 years later the son of promise, Isaac, was born. Sometime later, God directs Abraham to offer Isaac on Mt. Moriah as a sacrifice. Genesis 22:1 begins the account by stating, “Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!…” (NKJV) Abraham obeys God for his faith had matured.
Upon their arrival, he prepares an altar, binds Isaac, and lifts his arm to sacrifice his son! Just then, God sends an angel who declares, “Spare your son!” Ultimately, God provides a ram in the thicket for Abraham to sacrifice. To say that Abraham was tested is an understatement!
Genesis 22:12 says of Abraham’s obedient act, “And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”(NKJV) Abraham had reached a place in his walk with God that he trusted God to raise Isaac from the dead if necessary! You see, the same God who brought life to Sarah’s womb for Isaac to be conceived and born is the same God who can do the impossible once again—Abraham’s action demonstrated his faith!
“Your Son Will be a Quadriplegic!”
Last week I attended one of our Wednesday night Life Groups at our church. Most of my sermon, which is this blog, was already done for Sunday. The leaders Pete and Sandy were doing the bible study and suddenly began to share a story about their son. They had no idea what my sermon was about for the following Sunday!
They shared how their teenage son was in a terrible auto accident twenty-two years ago. His car had flipped over and his neck and back were severely injured. When Sandy arrived at the hospital, the doctor’s report was dire, “It’s very bad, the x-rays show his neck has been broken and we need to get him into surgery right away; he will most likely be a quadriplegic.”
Pete and Sandy were new Christians, who, in their words, “had one foot in the world and one with God. We weren’t fully committed to Him yet.” But they began to pray, and they committed themselves to follow God whole heartily. The hospital staff also began to prepare them that their son would be in rehab for thirty days, and they needed to prepare their house for a quadriplegic. But their son was confident, “No, I’ll only be in rehab for two weeks!”
The surgery went well, and their son said he could feel numbness in his right leg—a good sign. Once in rehab, to the shock of the staff, he began to regain movement quickly, and within ten days was released from rehab with almost all motor functions! The only exception was some slight loss of movement, which he still has, in his right hand! God worked a miracle! Even the doctors later said it was impossible, based on the x-rays, for their son not to be a quadriplegic!
Fill your heart and mind with God’s Word and stories of His faithfulness. Refuse negativity and pessimism about God and His promises. Let your faith grow in a fertile heart that is free of doubt and unbelief. When you pray, pray with confidence that God hears your prayer and is ready to answer! Remember, it is God Who calls those things that are not as though they are, and it is He who gives life to the dead and impossible situations!