The Bible says in Matthew 9:29 "According to your faith it will be done unto you." That’s one of my favorite verses in the Bible. What are you expecting God to do in your life? This is the law that God has established. It’s called the Law of Expectation. The fact is, we tend to get what we expect out of life. We tend to see what we expect to see. We tend to hear what we expect to hear. We tend to feel the way we expect to feel. We inevitably accomplish what we expect what we’re going to accomplish. This is the law of faith. God says you get to choose. Because "According to your faith it will be done unto you."
Another important verse on faith in the Bible is Hebrews 11:6. "Without faith it is impossible to please God." How many of you are parents? How many of you are pleased when your children trust you? God is the same way. God is our heavenly Father and God is pleased when we trust Him. That’s why the Bible says without faith it’s impossible to please God.
You can obey God. You can do the right thing and still not be pleasing God because you’re not doing it in faith. So it’s important to learn how to live expectantly as you learn to live by faith.
"Whatever is not of faith," the Bible says in Romans 14, "is sin."
Because that’s true we need to talk today about how do we grow in our faith. In Luke 17:5 the apostle said to Jesus, "Lord increase our faith." How do you do that? I’d like to have more faith. I know you’d like to have more faith. If that’s what pleases God then I want to have more of it. The question is how? If faith is what makes my life rewarding and fulfilling and confident how does God build my faith?
Let me ask you this: do you take vitamins for it? No. Is there some kind of therapy you go through to have your faith built? No. Is there some seminar that’s going to build your faith? No, not really.
Here’s the secret. And it’s not really something you’re real excited about when you first hear it. But the truth is God builds your faith and my faith by testing it. He builds our faith by putting it to the test, by trying it. Faith is like a muscle and when it’s stretched and it’s pulled then it develops. When you test your muscles against weights then your muscles develop. And your faith develops as it is tested.
You don’t develop your faith just setting on your blessed assurance in church. James 1:3 says this "The testing of your faith [circle this] develops perseverance [circle "develops perseverance"] so that you may be mature and complete." He says the purpose of these tests is that our faith, our perseverance will grow and will be mature and complete.
Job says the same thing speaking from experience in Job 7:17-18 "What is man that You make so much of him and that You give him so much attention and that You examine him every morning and test him every moment." Did you realize that God is testing you every moment of your life? Life is a test and it is temporary assignment and it’s a trust. These are the facts of life. Every moment of the day your faith is being tested. In fact all this past week it was tested and all this next week your faith is going to be tested.
Every day you have faith building opportunities. The problem is most of us don’t recognize them when they’re there. We flunk the test because we don’t even realize it is a test and that God is trying to help us grow.
So if God wants me to live by faith and if God builds my faith by testing it then the natural question is how does God do it?
I want to give you the four ways that God tests our faith so that you’ll be aware of them. Actually there are more than these but I just want to cover the most common. These are the four most common ways that God tests and builds our faith. You’ll probably get tested on every one of them this week. Count on it. In fact you’ll probably have them sometimes in a day.
1. God tests our faith through difficulties.
That’s trials, problems, pressures, tough circumstances. All the stresses of life. 1 Peter 1:6-7 "For a little while you have had to suffer great and all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." That’s a very powerful verse. The trials and the problems and the difficulties that come into your life come to test your faith and to prove your faith.
Nothing ever happens by accident in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. Everything is Father filtered. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that God plans all the bad things that happens to you. He doesn’t have to. We live in a broken world. A lot of problems we bring on ourselves and things like that. A lot of problems other people bring on us and we’re innocent victims.
What I am saying is that nothing comes into your life if you’re a child of God, nothing comes into your life without God’s permission. It couldn’t happen without God’s permission. There are no accidents in the Christian life. There are accidents in life. Of course there are. But God uses them and our disappointments are His appointments.
Sometimes God has to custom make a problem to teach you faith, to test you.
Jonah had a custom made problem. It just swallowed him up and got his attention. Sometimes God creates problems that swallow you up. You say, "There’s nothing else to look at except the Lord." And I’m sure that’s the way Jonah felt. In fact in Jonah 2:7 the Bible says, "When I lost all I once again turned my thoughts to God."
God uses these kinds of things to test our faith. Notice it says "all kinds." If life were easy then it wouldn’t require any faith. If you could feel God all the time then you’d just go by your feelings. Sometimes God removes His feelings -- the feelings of His presence -- just so you learn to trust Him in the difficulties.
Here’s a great verse when you’re going through tough times. Isaiah 48:10 "I have refined you though not as silver. I have tested you in the furnace of affliction."
What is the furnace of affliction? You’ve been there. It’s when the heat’s on. When the heat’s on it’s a real test. How are you doing in the furnace of affliction? Are you feeling the heat right now? Have you felt it this past week? Are you under pressure? Is it getting a little hot under the collar? The Bible frequently compares our problems and difficulties to a furnace. The furnace of a refiner’s fire who heats it up so high that the gold and silver melt and all the impurities are burned away.
I heard of an old silversmith who was once asked, "How do you know when the impurities are burned away in the silver?" He said, "When I can see my reflection in the silver." When God can see His reflection in you then He knows that the impurities in your life have been burned away. That’s a test.
So what should I do when I’m going through difficulties? How should I respond?
The Bible tells us. When the problems come that God’s trying to test my faith James 1:2-3 "Consider it pure joy... whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." He says when you’ve got a problem relax. In fact he says, rejoice. Take it easy. Thank God. Praise God. Why? Because I know that God is with me. God has a plan for me. He has a purpose for my life and He’s going to help me through it. God’s purpose is greater than the pain or the problem or the difficulty I’m going through right now.
This is the first lesson. If I want to learn to live by faith I must learn to rejoice continually. James says "Consider it all joy when you go through problems." Notice he doesn’t say be thankful for the problems. God doesn’t expect you to thank Him for bad things in your life. Like if you get cancer you don’t say "Thank You God, for this cancer." Of course not. It says, be thankful in the problem." I must learn to rejoice in the situation continually if I’m going to learn to live by faith.
I want you to evaluate yourself on each of these four tests of faith. From one to ten. How quickly do I praise God when things go wrong? If you say "never", you rate yourself down at the bottom -- "1" or "0". If you say "Sometimes I thank God, I praise God in the problem," you get a "5". If you say, "I always do it. It’s my habit to continually rejoice when I’m dealing with a difficulty because I know God will help me." You get a "10."
The Bible says "Rejoice in the Lord always [That means all the time] And again I say rejoice," because God uses difficulties. And He tests our faith and He builds it not in the easy times of life but in the difficult times.
2. God tests our faith through demands.
He asks us to do things that are seemingly impossible. There are, in just the New Testament, 1050 commands for believers to obey. Of all these commands, some of them seem unreasonable. Some of them seem inconvenient. Some of them seem down right impossible. So what do you do when you have an impossible command that feels like a demand?
They are there; you realize they are there to test our faith.
When you have a command and it seems like I can’t do that, the issue at that moment is, Who am I going to believe? Who is it I’m going to trust? Am I going to believe what God says to do or am I going to believe what I think is right to do? All of the promises, all of the commands are there to test us. Some of them may seem simple at first but when you look at them that is demanding.
A command like "Don’t worry about anything." Anybody struggle with that one? That can be a tough one. Or a command like "Do good to your enemies." Or "Forgive other people." Or "Be thankful in everything."
Every time. Every time God gives us a command in the Bible it is a demand that is placed on our life and it’s a test. Like "Confess your faults to one another." That’s a test. The test is am I going to trust what God says to do, what He says is right. Or am I going to trust my own opinion, what I think is right in my own eyes?
There are literally hundreds of examples in the Bible of people that God said, "Do this" and they trusted Him, they had faith, even though it didn’t make sense to them, even though it seemed impossible to them.
The people of Israel on their way from Egypt where they had been in captivity to the Promised Land. God put a demand on their life, something called manna. It was a command. Manna you might remember was the bread like substance that fell from the sky, flaky stuff. They had to go out each morning to gather enough to eat. God said here’s the command. All you can get is enough for that day.
Exodus 16:4 "The people are to go out each day and gather enough manna for that day. In that way I will test them and see whether they will follow My instructions." There were all kinds of reasons why that command didn’t make sense. "Just enough for today? Why can’t I gather enough for the week? It’d be more convenient that way. It’d be a better use of my time that way. Just enough for one day? What if I get sick tomorrow? What if I trip and hit my head on a rock and a snake bites me? There’s all kinds of reasons why I need at least two days worth, God."
But that wasn’t the point. The point wasn’t does it make sense to you. The point was I want to test you so that you’ll trust Me in a day to day way. Follow My commands. I want to grow your faith. That was the point.
Often God asks us to do the impossible. Why? He wants to grow our faith.
A guy by the name of Abraham. You remember his story. He was seventy-five years old. He was about to hang it up and God said I want you to take it down. I want to take you out somewhere to make a difference in this world. I want you to go somewhere where you’ve never been, you don’t even know where you’re going. Abraham says, "Where exactly am I going?" God says, "I’ll tell you." "How am I going to get there?" I’ll show you. "How will I know when I get there?" When you get there I’ll tell you that you’ve gotten there.
How would you do with a command like that? We might say, "God, could I Google that first? I’d like to check it out. I’d like to get on MapQuest and get a point by point direction. Then I’m ready to follow Your directions."
Faith is often a risk. When it’s a risk it means you can’t understand it all in advance. Why would God do that? He’s not just interested in making us comfortable, helping us to see all the directions and points on the map. He’s wanting to test and grow our faith.
As we end I’d like to give you the chance to personally have a few minutes with God and talk to Him.
The question again is do you want to live by faith? Are you willing to pray? I want to encourage you to pray that dangerous prayer, Lord, increase my faith. It’s dangerous because the way God increases our faith is by testing our faith. All these ways we’ve talked about this morning and many others. But if you’re willing to pray with courage, that prayer, just say it to God right now. "Lord, increase my faith."
You might need to pray specifically, "Father, by faith I’m going to begin rejoicing continually no matter what happens because I know that You’re in control." Or you might need to pray, "Father, my faith, I’m going to begin obeying immediately. When I see something in your word, when I hear it in church, or a tape and You speak to me and touch my heart, I’m going to do it. I’m not going to procrastinate by faith I will act."
Maybe you need to pray, "Father, by faith I’m going to begin giving generously. I realize it all comes from You in the first place." Or maybe your prayer needs to specifically be, "Father, by faith I’m going to begin waiting patiently. I don’t know when the answer is going to come. I don’t know when the miracle is going to happen, I don’t even know how You’re going to work it all out. But by faith I do know I can trust You. So by faith I’m going to begin waiting patiently."
If you prayed that prayer of faith just now God’s smiling on you. Because the Bible says He is pleased whenever we trust Him. Without faith it is impossible to please God but by faith we please the heart of God. So today He’s smiling on you. And Father, together we thank You. We thank You for Your word that builds our faith. We thank You, Jesus, for Your unconditional love for us. Thank You that we do not have to earn Your love. That just in faith we can receive it. Lord, I pray that we would trust You to use these tests in our lives to make us more like You. We pray this together in Jesus’ name. Amen.