Episode 1. Starting at the End
Things get tough sometimes. We all know we need faith. We want to have faith. Yet all too often, we become downcast and afraid. We lose the plot, just when we need the sort of faith that moves …
Things get tough sometimes and it’s in those times that we need our faith to be strong. We want our faith to be strong. And yet all too often, we become downcast and afraid. We lose the plot, just when we need the sort of faith that moves mountains.
You know something – I’m really excited today – because today on the program we’re kicking off a four-week series on faith. I’ve called it – Having Faith that Moves Mountains.
See Jesus once said to His disciples:
Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:22-24)
Now, if you take Him at His Word – and I’m one of those crazies who absolutely do – then this is an outrageous statement. Right? Does He really mean that for you and for me?
I mean, I for one have believed until I burst for something and I didn’t happen. And I’ve seen people who take this whole faith thing way to far, believing for outrageously selfish things.
And yet, this God who sent us His Son – He talks a lot about faith. And the only sort of faith He seems to talk about is the sort of faith that, well, moves mountains.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that. So if you’re up for it, let’s kick off a few weeks just chatting and exploring and let’s see what we come up with.
I visited an elderly man recently who was in the last few weeks of his life. He was dying of cancer. I’d spoken to him on the phone a few weeks before – this is what he said, “Well I’ve believed in Jesus most of my life, but … I’m not sure where I’m going when I die.”
Well, what an amazing time that was. I’d frankly felt a little uncertain about visiting him. “This whole ‘pastoral thing’ isn’t really my strong point,” I was telling myself as I pressed the doorbell. He showed me into his lounge room. He sat in his favourite soft chair over in that corner, me in a dining chair on the other side.
As we began talking, I looked down at his feet – he was wearing a pair of slippers, both of which had holes in the toes. My immediate thought was, “Oh, he needs new slippers.” But then it struck me. At this point in his life, the very last thing he needed was a new pair of slippers.
As the time passed, I felt more and more at ease in his presence. Whereas before, I’d been wondering what if anything useful I could share with him (a preacher, you can tell!) as the moments ticked by I was overwhelmed with a sense of deep privilege at being allowed in this place with him. It was such a special time.
The last thing he said to me as we shook hands on the front porch in the bright sunlight, was a confident, “We’ll meet again. But not here.” Sometimes, it’s just a little encouragement that we need to discover that the seed of faith that God’s planted in our hearts, has in fact grown into a mighty tree.
And that’s exactly what he needed. Not sage words of advice, or a sermon on faith. Just the quiet assurance that comes when we rediscover the faith within – a faith that had become clouded by the deep cares of the present.
Because that’s what had happened to him. He’d been walking all his life with his faith in Jesus. As long as he could remember he told me. But with cancer ready to take his body, all of a sudden, the realities of his circumstances started to take over.
I wonder how you and I will feel when one day, we don’t need new slippers anymore. I wonder how we’ll confront the greatest reality of all – that one day, we will breathe our last breath on this earth. How healthy will our faith be when on that day, the things that we struggled so hard for, the things that we always took for granted, the things that somehow we’d duped ourselves into believing would be for ever, don’t matter anymore.
Ever wondered why we need faith? For me, beginning at the end brings it into sharper focus. It’s not just death that we have to confront one day, all of us. But life. Today, tomorrow, next week, next year. Everyday life. And in that life that you and I lead, we know all too well that there are things that happen that are bigger than us. Things that overwhelm us. Things that are outside our control. Every day we face challenges. Every day things happen that can rob us of the confidence to live life.
It seems to me that the central reality that demands faith is this:
That there are things out there, outside our circle of control or influence, things that sometimes we can’t even see and don’t even understand, that can impact negatively on our interests.
On our health, our wellbeing, our finances, our career prospects, our relationships. On our very lives. You name it – any hope, any dream, any desire – and there’s something lurking out there that can rob us of the good things that in our heart of hearts we have planned for ourselves. And they don’t have to be particularly selfish or self-centred plans either. Just the ordinary, everyday, very reasonable things of life.
Sometimes, they’re even good things. The dreams that we have in our hearts to serve the Lord. The deep desire we have to be part of His plan for this world. No matter what it is, there are inevitably things out there that can rob us of what we have planned. And those “things”, they show up in a number of different ways.
They can show up as fears and worries. We brood over the possibilities. They are after all, outside our circle of control. We can’t control them. We can’t change them. We can’t fix them. So what we do is we worry about them. It’s our cheap substitute. And the more we worry, the more fear grips us and immobilises us.
They can show up as insurmountable obstacles or barriers. Things we just can’t overcome. That’s what happened to elderly gentleman when he started to focus on the reality of death that confronted him. Doubt snuck in under his guard.
They can show up as challenges that we would love to meet, but can’t. Have you ever had this sense that ‘I should be able to do this, but …’ The salesman preparing to make that big sale who’s afraid to pick up the phone to make the appointment.
They can show up as a deep sense of inadequacy. The man addicted to pornography who try as he may, simply can’t break the cycle of shame. So he lives in his secret shame. The woman who deep within the fibre of her very being knows that she simply isn’t good enough and, what’s more, she never will be.
They can show up as deep regrets from the past. That bad financial decision. That divorce. That abuse. So many people for whom the past destroys their present and robs them of their future.
And here’s what I know – for each one of us as there are one or two of those that resonate deeply. And as we each examine our hearts and look into those darker recesses that we try not to look into too often, there’s an ache. A cry of our hearts that goes something like this:
If only. If only I could be set free from these things. If only those things out there outside my control, those things that I’m afraid of, those things that can rob me of the good hopes and dreams and plans of my heart – if only I could be rid of them. How wonderful my life would be.
I can’t promise to take away all the difficult things in your life. But you can be free of them. Free by faith from the fear and the worry that comes with them.