I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions. It’s not that I don’t want to have better habits and routines in the New Year, or live a healthier lifestyle – I want that very much, it’s just that I’ll make a resolution, have no plan for following through on it and then get discouraged and give up sometime about January 3rd. What is important in any changes we are going to make in life is to have some kind of road map on how we are going to get there. It’s not enough to say, I’m going on a diet, we have to look at what foods we are going to eat, plan our meals, shop for the healthy foods and then make sure all those extra cookies are out of the house. If we resolve to live within our means financially then we need to sit down and track our income and our expenses and create a workable budget. The same is true with our faith. Many people may resolve to deepen their faith in the New Year, but without any plan on how to do that, they give up and then feel discouraged and unworthy.
Well, whether you have made a resolution to grow deeper in your faith or not, this month we are going explore the 5 things that God has consistently used to deepen faith in people. We can’t find this list in the Bible, it’s not like God told Moses to write these 5 things down in stone, but they are things God has used throughout history to draw His people closer to him. And what is wonderful about these 5 things is that it doesn’t matter where we are in our faith, these 5 things will work. Whether you are brand new in your faith and starting the year right by being in church today for the first time, or the first time in a long time, or whether you are well along in the journey but feeling a desire to simply go deeper, these 5 things work in all of us. The 5 things God uses to grow our faith:
• Practical Teaching
• Providential Relationships
• Private Disciplines
• Personal Ministry
• Pivotal Circumstances
Today we start with practical teaching. The key word here isn’t teaching but practical. For teaching to really change us and grow us it has be practical and something we can apply to our lives. Practical teaching needs to be relevant, understandable and applicable to our lives. If it is not, it can still be good information but it will not grow us.
I grew up in the church and attended worship and Sunday School on a regular basis. I sang in the children’s choir, played in our bell choir, was a leader in the youth group and loved being part of the church. I learned a lot about God while I grew up and I knew a lot of information about God, the Bible and Jesus. Even if people didn’t grow up in church, many still know something about God, the Bible and Jesus. People know some of the stories like Noah and the flood or David and Goliath. Many people know the Christmas story and how Jesus was born in a manger and they know he died on the cross and may have heard that he rose from the grave. Many people hear about God and learn about God and have the information but it doesn’t change them because it is just information. What really opens the door to greater faith is when suddenly the teaching we hear becomes practical and we see how it connects and fits with our daily lives.
Jesus was really the master of this because while he taught people about God and life, he taught for application more than information. Jesus sermons were filled with practical applications for life and his teaching called people to change, to actually live differently. The greatest example of this comes from Jesus Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. In this sermon, Jesus said that if people wanted to have a strong faith and really experience the fullness of God, then this was how they should live. He said, if you really want to trust God then do these things: Matthew 5:39-42, Matthew 7:1
So the practical teaching of Jesus is right here, but that is only half the equation. For growth to take place, we have to actually live this way. It really is obedience to the practical teaching that changes us and it really does. Our faith would grow by leaps and bounds if we would obey the teaching of Jesus and the reason is because when we obey we are stepping out to trust God in some really big ways, and when it comes right down to it, what grows our faith is trusting God.
Let’s go back to the beginning and look at what destroyed our faith with God. In the Garden, Adam and Eve failed to obey God. They ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil because they thought they knew better, they didn’t trust God. They lived life their way and their lack of trust broke our relationship with God. Ever since that moment, God has been trying to reestablish a relationship of trust with us. Throughout history God has worked to prove he is trustworthy and God’s faithfulness calls us to trust Him and once we do – once we fully trust God and show that trust by acting on it in obedience to God’s word – God comes alive within us, our lives change and our faith grows.
So what shows God that we trust him is not listening to God’s word, but putting that practical teaching into practice and this is exactly what Jesus said at the end of his Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 7:24-29. Jesus has just spent many hours teaching people how to live with faith and how to really trust God and experience God’s faithfulness and at the end he says, none of what I have told you is any good if you don’t act on it. Jesus didn’t preach to simply give information, he preached for application. Jesus told us how we needed to live our lives so that when we did we would experience the fullness of God but none of it is any good if we don’t do it.
Now let me be clear on something, Jesus is not saying that we need to be obedient to God’s word to earn God’s love or favor and we don’t obey God to earn our salvation. God’s love is unconditional and our salvation is a free gift of God through faith in Jesus. What Jesus is saying is that if we want to experience the fullness of life and really the fullness and power of God – then this is how we need to live. Obedience to the practical teaching of Jesus grows our faith and exposes us to the power of God because when we do these things we are showing God just how much we trust him and when we take that step of faith – God is right there to show us his faithfulness and power. When God shows up in our lives with this kind of power, we are taken to a deeper level of faith – we are taken to deeper level in life. When we step out in faith, God honors that obedience by showing up in very real ways.
Peter had a few moments like this. One came when he was on the Sea of Galilee in a storm. The disciples feared for their lives and in the middle of the storm Jesus came out to them walking on the water. Peter asked Jesus if he could come to him on the water and Jesus said come. Peter obeyed that practical teaching and stepped out of the boat and in that moment his faith and trust in Jesus met the faithfulness and power of Jesus and Peter walked on the water. When our obedience meet’s God’s faithfulness – life is simply amazing and it leads us to trust God more. It leads us to a deeper faith.
Another moment for Peter came after Jesus had ascended into heaven. We don’t have any record of Peter teaching the crowds before and he certainly had not been courageous enough to publicly proclaim his faith in Jesus during these dangerous times, but after Jesus was gone, Peter stood up in the crowded streets of Jerusalem during the feast of Pentecost and preached to thousands of people. In that moment, Peter’s obedience to God met the faithfulness of God through the Holy Spirit and at the end of his sermon, 3,000 people placed their faith in Jesus as the Messiah. When our obedience meet’s God’s faithfulness – life is simply amazing and it leads us to trust God more. It leads us to a deeper faith.
When we are obedient to the practical teaching of Jesus, God meets us and deepens our faith. It doesn’t always mean that things will go well or that we get our way, in fact, many times when we step out in faith we end up facing conflict or persecution. Many times when Paul was obedient to God and went into a new community to tell people about Jesus he ended up in jail. He was often dragged before the religious and community leaders and was event sent to Rome to stand trial. Through all the turmoil Paul went through, the power of God was right there and those moments of conflict strengthened Paul’s faith. The truth is that many times we grow most in our faith through times of conflict. Standing firm in the face of persecution is not easy but it strengthens our resolve and we often see the hand of God providing and caring for us in some pretty remarkable ways.
When I was a new pastor in Altoona and we faced some conflict for trying to do some new things and reach out to new people. It was not an easy time to get through but we saw the hand of God move in some pretty remarkable ways. When someone on our staff quit, many people thought that was going to be the end of the church, but we found another person who was even more gifted. When people thought the church would die, we grew. We saw the faithfulness of God. God honored our faithful obedience by showing up in many ways that encouraged us to trust him more.
I think about what it must be like for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. They are being obedient to the practical teaching of Jesus by holding fast to their faith and many have lost their lives and many more are being driven from their homes because of it. What keeps them going is that they are experiencing the presence and power and peace of God. Their faith is strong because as they are being obedient to God’s word – God is showing up in their lives with power. We not only need to pray for them but we need to learn from them how to stand strong in our faith and be obedient to the word of God.
God grows our faith through practical teaching – but only if we are willing to live it out. This means in the coming year two things are needed. First we need to put ourselves in places where we can learn the practical teaching of God’s word. This can be worship, but we will learn so much more and understand how to apply all of God’s word if we will study with others in small groups. Sunday School classes, Bible studies and small groups are so important to our faith because this is often where the application is learned and where we find encouragement, support and challenge to live it out. If you are not part of a small group of some kind that centers on the word of God, I want to encourage you to be part of one.
If you are currently part of a small group, Sunday School or Bible Study, I want to encourage you to think about leading a group because you will grow deeper as a leader. We grow as a leader for two reasons, first it is a step of faith and every time we step out in faith God is there to meet us with his faithfulness and power. Second, as a leader you wrestle with God’s word in different ways and spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make it practical and applicable for others. Every single leader will tell you that they learned more by leading then they did by being a participant in a group. So I want to invite you to consider being a leader of a group this year and if you are interested in exploring this then please talk with Cassie who can help you in this journey.
So listening to God’s practical teaching is important and we have provided 2 classic teachings of God for you to consider this week, the 10 Commandments and Jesus Sermon on the Mount. But as Jesus said, listening is only half the equation and growth doesn’t come with just listening so the second thing we all need to do is live out our faith. Growth comes with doing. Growth happens when we apply God’s word and live it out, so I invite you this week to take the practical teaching of God apply it – live it out and watch your faith grow. .
1. Each day this week read these Scriptures and name the practical teaching provided. Identify at least one teaching you can live out during the week in a specific ways. Do it.
Monday – Deuteronomy 5:1-16
The first 5 of the 10 Commandments
Tuesday – Deuteronomy 5:17-21
The second 5 of the 10 Commandments
Wednesday- Matthew 5:21-37
Jesus Sermon on the Mount, Part 1
Thursday – Matthew 5:38-6:18
Jesus Sermon on the Mount, Part 2
Friday- Matthew 6:19 – 7:7
Jesus Sermon on the Mount, Part 3
Saturday- Review and Reflection
Which teaching, when put into practice, had the most impact on your life? Which helped you trust God more?
2. In this New Year, consider being part of a small group, Sunday School class or Bible study to learn God’s word in more depth.
3. If you are already part of one of these groups, take a step of faith and become a leader of a new group. We look to start new groups during the season of Lent which begins February 10. Contact Cassie Marsh-Caldwell for information on available groups and becoming a leader.