This month we are exploring the 5 things God uses to grow our faith and while these 5 things aren’t listed in the Bible, we clearly see God using them in the faith development of His people. Today, as we turn to look at how God uses relationships to grow our faith, I want to invite you to take out the next steps found in the bulletin and ask you spend just a few moments considering the first 2 questions.
#1 Can you identify a particular person who helped spark your interest in God?
#2 Can you think of a person or persons God has used to help make your faith bigger and stronger?
Last week I shared how I grew up in the church and the truth is that there are many people I could name who helped spark my interest in God. There was Judy Mack, our youth choir director who inspired and challenged us to do amazing things musically and she made church fun. There was Mrs. Barrett my 5th Grade Sunday School teacher who I liked so much I asked to stay in her class for a second year. Then there was Ed and JoAnn Foster, my youth group advisors, who loved us like we were their own children. Ed and Jo willingly gave up huge amounts of their time to hang out with a goofy group of High School students. They constantly reminded us that we were part of the church and that made it possible for us to do so much through the years. These people all helped spark an interest in God. They made me want to know more and experience more and simply be part of the great family of faith we call the church.
I have also shared several times about a person God used to make my faith bigger and stronger. His name was David DeGraaf. I met Dave in that Bible Study that met in the frat house my freshman year of college. I thought Dave was an amazing man because he was majoring in linguistics because he wanted to spend his life translating the Bible into new languages. He talked about God like he actually knew God and it was through Dave’s life that I began to actually see and experience the fullness of Jesus. There is no doubt in my mind that God brought Dave into my life for just that purpose and as I look back I can see God’s hand at work making that relationship happen. For me this was a providential relationship.
That’s the kind of relationships we are talking about today, providential relationships, or those relationships that when we look back we can clearly see how God was working to make it happen. That I even met Dave was an act of God that tied back into all those people from my home church. I met Dave in a Bible Study sponsored by IVCF and I first attended IV because a friend from my youth group told me I should check out the group because her sister had been part of it years earlier when she had been a student at MSU. My friend told me that IV would be like our youth group and would be a good place to make friends – which I desperately needed. So because of my youth leaders who helped me stay connected to my friends in the church during high school, I was led to IV at MSU and to a Bible Study where I meet a man named Dave DeGraaf who set as his life goal being a bible translator and who translated the life of Jesus into a living breathing person in my life. God used Dave to grow my faith. It was a providential relationship.
I hope you can identify someone in your life that helped open the door for you to experience a deeper faith. I hope you can name somewhere who has either challenged you or inspired you or invited you to check out God in new ways which has led to deeper faith. None of us gets to Jesus on our own; someone invites us or leads us to him. Someone shows us Jesus in how they live or how they pray or how the love and care for us and it’s in seeing Jesus that we want to know more. There is always a person involved somewhere and God uses those persons in our lives go to grow our faith. One of the clearest examples of how God does this is found in Acts 8:26-39.
At just the right moment, God sent Philip to a chariot where a man just happened to be reading from the book of Isaiah. Philip asked the man what he was reading and at that very moment the man was reading about how the Messiah was going to suffer. This is a providential relationship. God ordained this. God made it all possible and God used Philip to grow this man’s faith. Now not all relationships are going to be this spectacular, but many of us can look back and see God’s hand at work in bringing people into our lives to help us grow in our faith at just the right moment.
I still remember getting a letter in the mail from my friend Cindy telling me to look for a group called IVCF. I got the letter right after walking by a huge banner for IV at the freshman orientation. I went back to the banner and found the students working there, Gary and Ruth Abbot who invited me to the large group meeting which was that night and it was at that meeting I met a bunch of students from my dorm complex and was invited to a Bible Study where I met Dave. At the time, I didn’t think anything about it – it was just life, but looking back, God’s timing was perfect and people were brought into my life at just the right moment to grow my faith.
Whenever we hear a story about someone’s faith growing it is a story of a relationship because God uses human relationships to grow our faith. God could simply implant information in our brains or speak solely through books or nature, but God doesn’t, God uses people. Think about it, God came as a living breathing human being in the person of Jesus because God wants to use relationships to grow our faith. God used his word spoken through the prophets in the Old Testament, but God knew that real power in our faith comes through human relationships so God came as a human being. God uses relationships to grow our faith, but the opposite is also true. Human relationships can undermine our faith. God doesn’t use them for that, but the truth is that some of our relationships have the potential to pull us away from God. I could ask you to reflect on those 2 questions we asked earlier, but just in a different way:
#1 Can you identify a particular person who pulled you away from God?
#2 Can you think of a person or persons that during a period of time in your life undermined your faith?
We all wrestle with peer pressure from those who might not believe in God or people who find our faith and trust in Jesus foolish. It might be people we work with or an influential teacher or coach who doesn’t acknowledge the presence or power of God. It might be a family member or friend whose presence in our lives just slowly undermines our faith until we get to the point where our faith or the living out of our faith just isn’t important anymore. When many people look back and reflect on what happened to their faith and how it eroded over time, they are often able to identify a person or persons who were part of that journey away from God. Relationships can impact our lives for good or for bad and relationships can impact our faith for good or for bad. Relationships can grow or faith or undermine our faith and this is a principle that is made clear to us in the Bible.
In the Old Testament we hear this from Proverbs 13:20. He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm. So when we surround ourselves with good and faithful people we grow wise. We learn how to live faithfully because we see the power of faith and righteousness lived out in others. But if we surround ourselves with fools we will suffer harm. We might be pulled away from God or simply pulled into unhealthy behavior. Intuitively we just know that this proverb is just true. We will be shaped by the people around us and God is telling us that our faith and spiritual life will also be shaped by the relationships in our lives.
We also hear this teaching in the New Testament when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:33, Bad company corrupts good character. This highlights the impact of negative relationships. It’s not that we are to only surround ourselves with people who are righteous and faithful and simply ignore or disregard the rest, not at all. Jesus spent a lot of time with bad company – but of course he was Jesus so he could handle it. What we do need to understand is that the bad company is going to be there in the places we work, the classes we take and the people in our lives which is why it is so important to make sure we have good people around us as well. We can’t handle the bad company without the balance of good and faithful people to keep us focused.
So God uses providential relationships to grow our faith, but we can’t make these relationships happen. We can’t go out and make that God ordained relationship appear in our lives, but we can do something to increase the potential of these relationships forming. When we put ourselves in places where we will be surrounded by people of faith, God can then can use to grow our faith. When we are willing to move from rows in worship to a circle in a small group and really get to know people, we are giving God the opportunity to bring the right kind of relationships into our lives. When we get involved with others who are seeking to learn and serve and live more faithfully we are providing God the opportunity to form those providential relationships. If I had not gone to IV and if I had not tried a Bible Study, I would never have met Dave Degraaf and my faith would not have grown. We stress small groups not just because it’s a program of the church but because of the relationships that can be formed. Those relationships are what God uses to grow our faith.
God uses the relationship to grow our faith so the groups we join don’t have to be centered on teaching. You could join the choir, work with children, meet with the Prayer Quilt ministry or healthy steps. You could serve with a group at the Faith Centre or volunteer to help at the Soup Kitchen. The group doesn’t matter, what matters is opening ourselves up to the relationships God can use in our lives. So it’s not about the programs it is about the people we meet.
Not only do we need to put ourselves in places where God can grow our faith but we need to be aware that God might want to use us to grow the faith of others. By joining a group, we might be the person that God uses to spark faith in someone else. We might be the person that inspires, encourages or challenges someone else to grow in their faith and so we have to look at these providential relationships from both sides. Who are the people God can use to grow our faith and who are those people that we can help. Today there is a Philip or Phyllis who God is calling to reach out to someone who is looking for a deeper faith. Are we willing to be that person even though we may feel ill equipped and?
God uses relationships to grow our faith. God brings people into our lives at the right time for the purpose of deepening our faith and while we can’t make those relationships happen, we can put ourselves in places where God can bring those people to us. This week I challenge us all to identify those whom God is using in our lives so we can maximize those relationships and may we also be intentionally in reaching out to others in order to help grow the faith of those around us.
1. Can you identify a particular person who helped spark your interest in God?
2. Can you think of a person or persons God has used to help make your faith bigger and stronger?
3. Read Proverbs 13:20 and 1 Corinthians 15:33. Can you identify the wise and foolish are part of your life today?
• How can you increase the influence of the wise?
• How can you decrease the influence of the foolish?
4. While we can’t bring Providential Relationships into our lives we can provide the potential for God to by placing ourselves among others in small groups. If you are not already part of a small group through Faith Church, consider joining one today. Please contact Cassie Marsh-Caldwell for more information firstname.lastname@example.org
5. Sometimes we are the person God wants to bring into someone else’s life to grow their faith. (Read Acts 8:26-40) To whom might God be leading you? Pray for them and then take a step of faith to deepen your relationship with them.