The following are excerpts of a sermon given recently by the Rev. Phil Powers at Forcey Memorial Church in Silver Spring.
It’s a dangerous thing not to have faith. Hebrews 11:6 warns us, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”
But what is faith? Verse 1 of the same chapter describes faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” It is assurance and conviction. It is not blind, though it deals with the unseen. Faith is based on the facts of evidence — that God exists, that His character involves perfect love, justice and complete sovereignty. It responds to what God has revealed with a belief that steps out in obedience. Faith is convinced that following God is worth it and the only thing that really matters.
Many times Jesus rebuked His followers for not having faith — even in times when naturally there was no reason for faith. When caught in a middle-of-the-night storm in a fishing boat, their only assurance and conviction was that they would die.
After telling His disciples they need to keep forgiving someone who repents, even if they do it seven times in one day, the disciples ask for more faith — not give us faith, but add to it; this kind of forgiveness will take supernatural faith, more than I have. But Jesus changes the focus. The problem is not quantity but presence of faith. You just need to have faith. If you can’t do this, you do not even have faith. As the smallest of garden seeds, the mustard seed was often used to represent the smallest, most basic amount of something. Jesus says it is the total absence of faith that prevents results, not the smallness of faith. With a graphic and exaggerated illustration, He says the smallest amount of faith can do anything.
The power is from God, not faith. But faith completes the connection between God and me — it is the crucial catalyst.
How do I know if faith is really present? A primary test is what I do with prayer. To say that we have faith for God to do something means we keep asking Him for it — no prayer, no faith.
Since God is so holy and distant, what can my little prayers do? Why keep asking Him for things? Why should I expect my words will move the sovereign Creator of the universe to do anything? Because He is my Father. And because I have urgent needs.
Jesus tells a story to make the point. Jesus suggests, “Which of you has the nerve to wake up your neighbor — and his family — at midnight to ask for bread?” You know your neighbor will be mad, no matter what you say. But the “friend” is not so friendly. He is groggy and irritated. The problem is not that he doesn’t have the bread, but it is inconvenient.
Jesus makes the point: The man finally had his need met — not because the other was his friend, but because of his persistence; his shameless boldness. He would go to any length, even risk friendship, to be a good host and get what he urgently needed. God is contrasted with the neighbor. The comparison is made between the man in need and us. God is not just a friend, but our Father. We don’t squeeze out our needs from God by constantly asking Him. He is eager to give and He is never irritated. We are never a nuisance to Father. But we must have the same shameless boldness if we are going to come to Him for our needs.
Jesus gives three pictures to apply the story (Verses 9-10). We must keep asking, as an invitation to pray. We must keep seeking, as an invitation to pursue God and His will; an urgent desire to put first the things that advance God’s plan. We must keep knocking, as an invitation to come into God’s presence for blessing.
With each action is a corresponding response from God. God always supplies what we seek. God is ready and eager to give, so ask. We will not always get what we ask for, but always what is needed. Persistent prayer proves our faith — in God to hear and answer with what is best, even if it is not what was expected.