Imagine that you have witnessed healing after healing, miracle after miracle, one incredible wonder after another. You would be on your knees praising God, wouldn’t you? You would probably say to yourself, “I’ll never again doubt the healing and miracle-working power of Christ. From now on, I’m going to practice unwavering faith in my life, no matter what comes.”
The disciples had witnessed Jesus feed five thousand men, plus women and children, by multiplying five loaves and two fish. As they participated in the distribution of the food and witnessed the supply continuing to increase, one would think their faith would increase, as well. But in truth, Jesus had been reading their thoughts and he knew they were not understanding what was happening. The message of the miracles had not yet registered in their hearts and minds, and doubts still plagued them.
Later, after the day’s remarkable event, we see Jesus “constraining” his disciples to quietly get into a boat. “And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away” (Matthew 14:22, KJV).
The Greek word for “constrained” here means “to compel by entreaty, force or persuasion.” Jesus was urging his disciples in the strongest terms, “Brethren, just get in the boat. Go now.” Jesus was going to stay to dismiss the multitudes and meet the disciples later.
As they pushed off from shore, I wonder if Jesus shook his head in amazement, wounded by their wavering faith after all they had seen. At that moment, Jesus must have considered what he would have to do to bring his disciples into unshakable faith. What he did was dramatic. He walked on the sea toward them in the middle of a storm. When they saw him, “they were troubled, saying, ‘It is a ghost.’ And they cried out for fear” (Matthew 14:26). But Jesus said, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid” (14:27).
The disciples didn’t doubt that Jesus could heal multitudes with a touch or a word. But when they got away from the crowds, they grew worried about their own needs and those of their families. But when Jesus stepped into the boat, a semblance of faith began to rise up in their hearts. “They … worshiped Him, saying, ‘Truly You are the Son of God’” (14:33). Finally, they were beginning to get it, and a foundation of faith was being built in them.
Everyone wants to feel special. The world knows this, and businesses capitalize on it. They offer us different levels of “specialness” for doing business with them. Hotels, airlines and other services tout gold, silver and bronze levels for its participating members. The more you patronize their service, the higher level you achieve in their membership, with all sorts of discounts and rewards. They make you feel special for choosing their business.
Paul introduced the Philippians to a type of favor that God offers his people: “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart” (Philippians 1:6-7, NLT).
You might say, “Sign me up! I want the best of everything God has for me.” Yet the Lord’s favor is a lot different from the world’s, as Paul points out: “You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News” (1:7).
Paul was sent to jail — shackled and silenced. How does that make sense? He had preached to thousands and seen crowds fall to their knees crying out for salvation. He had appeared before kings and judges and received a personal revelation of Jesus. That’s what favor sounds like. So how does descending from all that to a prison cell become special favor?
Well, what Paul describes here has to be translated through a spiritual heart. He is showing us that God is likely to bring us into unlikely places when he wants to accomplish a special kingdom work in our lives.
People’s hurts are real and when their trials get worse instead of better, it can be very confusing. But God is always with his children, walking beside each one. He doesn’t look to take things away from us; he looks for ways to bless us. He is out for our good, even to restore what’s been taken away.
Paul wrote to a young pastor named Timothy about the promise of a bold, fearless Christianity through the indwelling Spirit. Timothy came from a family of believers. Both his grandmother and his mother were Christians before him: “When I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice” (2 Timothy 1:5).
So Timothy came from a faith-filled background. He was the spiritual son of the apostle Paul and eventually entered the ministry. Obviously, Timothy enjoyed great spiritual privileges from the very day of his conversion. But despite all those early advantages and godly examples, something was amiss with Timothy’s ministry. Thus, Paul challenged him, “I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power” (2 Timothy 1:6-7).
Paul reminds Timothy, and all of us, that we can be sincere in our faith and yet drift back into fear and timidity. Even Christians who love the Lord and study the Bible can be fearful and self-conscious when opportunities to speak for Christ arise. Sadly, in some situations, we seemingly can speak about anything but our Savior.
So, what did Paul tell Timothy to do? Did he tell him to try harder, to reach down for something deeper within? No. Paul told Timothy that the Holy Spirit was the only antidote to the virus of fear in his life. The Spirit’s fire had to be stirred up — nurtured and given attention to — for when God’s Spirit was ablaze, there would be boldness to replace Timothy’s seemingly natural inclination to timidity.
Two thousand years later, church history has clearly shown that when God’s Spirit moves, when believers and churches meet God in a new way, people become bold and radical for Jesus Christ. It is not something taught by a Christian minister. Spiritual courage only comes directly from the Holy Spirit.
Do not let a fear of failure stop you from doing what God lays on your heart. Be bold in the Spirit and don’t hold back!
Jim Cymbala began the Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn, he is a longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson.
Do you ever feel as though you haven’t accomplished much in life, and many promises are unfulfilled? If so, you’re in good company; in fact, you are standing among spiritual giants.
Many great servants of God throughout history ended up feeling that they failed in their calling. The prophet Elijah looked at his life and cried, “Lord, take me home! I’m no better than my fathers, and all of them failed you. Please, take my life! Everything has been in vain” (see 1 Kings 19:4).
David Livingstone, one of the world’s most useful missionaries, opened up the African continent to the gospel, sowing much seed and being used by God to awaken England for missions. Yet, during his twenty-third year on the mission field, Livingstone expressed the same awful doubts as other great servants. His biographer quotes him in his despondency: “All my work seems to be in vain.”
George Bowen’s book, Love Revealed, is one of the greatest books on Christ ever written. A single man, Bowen turned away from wealth and fame to become a missionary in Bombay, India, in the mid-1800s. He chose to live among the very poorest, preaching on the streets in sweltering weather, distributing gospel literature and weeping over the lost.
This amazingly devoted man had gone to India with high hopes for the ministry of the gospel. Yet, in his forty-plus years of ministry, Bowen had not one convert. It was only after his death that mission societies discovered he was one of the most beloved missionaries in the nation.
Like so many before him, Bowen endured a terrible sense of failure. He wrote, “I am the most useless being in the church … I would like to sit with Job, and I sympathize with Elijah. My labor has all been in vain.”
It is no sin to endure such thoughts, or to be cast down with a sense of failure. But it is dangerous to allow these hellish lies to fester and enflame your soul. Jesus showed us the way out of such despondency with this statement: “I have labored in vain … yet surely my just reward is with the Lord, and my work with my God” (Isaiah 49:4). Christ is saying, in effect, “The Father alone passes judgment on all that we’ve done and how effective we’ve been.”
The Lord wants you to leave all that “failure thinking” behind and get back to work. Nothing has been in vain! He is going to do abundantly more than you could think or ask!
“The children of Ephraim, being armed and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle” (Psalm 78:9).
In Psalm 78, we read about Ephraim, the largest tribe in Israel. It was the most favored tribe of all: numerous and powerful, skilled in the use of weapons, and well equipped for battle. Yet, we read that when this mighty tribe saw the opposition, they gave up and retreated even though they were better armed and more powerful than their enemy. They had resolved to fight and win, but once they came face-to-face with their crisis, they lost heart.
In this passage, Ephraim represents the numerous believers who have been blessed and favored by the Lord. They are well taught, equipped with a testimony of faith, and armed for battle against whatever may come. But when mounting trials and troubles seem too big, too much to handle, they turn back and quit, casting aside their faith.
Scripture says Ephraim questioned God’s faithfulness: “Yes, they spoke against God: they said, ‘Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? Behold, He struck the rock, so that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed. Can He give bread also? Can He provide meat for His people’” (78:19-20).
“[They] did not believe in His wondrous works … Nor were they faithful in His covenant” (78:32, 37). Finally, here was the result: “[They] limited the Holy One of Israel” (78:41).
Ephraim’s lack of faith and cowardice shook up the other tribes in Israel. Imagine the damaging effect when the others saw what had happened. “This highly favored people weren’t able to stand. What hope do we have?”
Beloved, we dare not condemn Ephraim, because we may be more guilty than they were. Think about it: we have the Holy Spirit abiding in us. Also, we have the Bible, the fully revealed Word of God, full of promises to guide us.
“Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Whenever we hold our faith position through hard times, we have the same affirmation from the Holy Spirit: “Well done. You are God’s testimony.”
As calamities increase, and the world falls into greater distress, the believer’s response must be a testimony of unwavering faith. There is hope for those who trust in God.