Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Leap of Faith

The title of today’s message is “The Leap Of Faith”. It is based on the book of Luke Chapter 5 and verse 4. Jesus commanded Peter to launch out into the deep and let down his net for a catch. Jesus actually commanded Peter to take a leap of faith into the deep or the unknown.

Peter’s boat was at the shore, and he had to launch it out. He had to exert some force to push his boat away from the shore, adjust his sails, and set out to the deep. The force with which he pushed his boat away from the shore can be likened to a leap of faith. Jesus only promised a catch, and Peter lurched forth, his mind most probably screaming all the negativities and the seeming foolishness of his actions.

But it was this first step that changed the course of Peter’s life forever. There is a Chinese proverb which says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” It was the first step which Peter took which taught him to realize that there is reward in obeying the Lord; he learnt that God could turn him from a struggling fisherman to a prosperous person within the space of a few hours; that first step away from the shore was to turn him from a fisherman to a fisher of men.

A ship or boat cannot move or maneuver much near the shore. The shore is too shallow to move around. The shore can represent all that stands in the way of us moving the boats of our lives forward. Things such as our experience, customs, traditions, religious ideas, mental strongholds, habits, human wisdom and understanding, security, comfort zones, etc, etc. The three chief forces are fear, doubt and unbelief. Fear makes us ask, “what if?”, and it is always with imaginations of the possible negative things that could happen. Doubt makes us wonder, “Will it work?” Unbelief makes us say with some finality, “It will not work.” The shore represents these, and all the negativity and forces arrayed against us taking steps of faith.

One of the reasons we Christians do not experience all that God has for us, is that we are content sitting on the shores of life. We hear a lot of good, anointed and powerful preaching, but we are either unwilling or afraid to put what we hear into practice. So we stay within our self-imposed borders – and we miss out on God’s best for us.

Somebody said there are three types of people: the immovable, the moveable and the moving. Some Christians are immovable. No matter how much they hear, they just will not change their minds or be willing to change and move forward. There are others who are open-minded and changeable. And there are others who are moving without much persuasion or force. What type of Christian are you?

The Christian life is a life of faith from beginning to end. Romans 1:17 says, “from faith to faith”, and “the just shall live by faith.” Psalms 84:7 says we go “from strength to strength”. God wants to take us from one level of faith to another. He does not want us to park at His minimum. Do you know what God’s minimum is? God’s minimum for us is salvation. God told Moses that the Passover night was to mark the beginning of the Israelites’ year (Exodus 12:2). It was only the beginning of their journey to the Promised Land. Getting saved is only the start. God wants us to go from that minimum to possessing everything else that is a part of His total salvation package.

We have to take leaps of faith – away from the known and what provides us comfort and confidence based on human experience, into the deep or unknown, where we rely totally on God’s guidance, protection, provisions, etc. Remember, on the shores you carry yourself; in the deep, the water carries you.

Faith is taking risks. In the world of business, some of the most successful people (who are not necessarily Christians), are those who take risks. They are willing to stake their savings on ventures which have as much chance of failing as succeeding. What makes them take those risks? Strong faith that somehow things will work out for them.

One man who started off living in his car and became a multimillionaire within 10 years said this, “Whenever I come to the edge of my world, or when I am about to take a step into the unknown, all I have at that moment is my trust in a power much larger than myself [i.e. God]. It is at such moments – moments when I know I must step over the edge – that I take a deep breath and take the step. It can be called a leap of faith. In my opinion, it is those first steps that have made all the difference in my life.” The same man made another statement: “The boundaries of a person’s reality often do not change until that person forsakes what he or she feels confident in and goes blindly with faith. So many people do not become rich because they are limited by their self-confidence rather than the limitlessness of faith.”

All successful people are risk-takers – people who are willing to leap forward in faith. One man who took such risks was Abram, who just packed up and left his country, tribe and family (symbolic of security and comfort) when God told him to do so (Genesis 12:1-4). Hebrews 11:8 says he left his homeland, not knowing where he was going, or where he would end up. All he knew was the promise of God that he would receive land and multitudes as children.

Another was Isaac, who risked his livelihood and that of his family by sowing precious seed in a year of drought (Genesis 26). As a nomadic, he carried seed wherever he went. When the Lord told him to plant that seed into the cement-like soils of Gerar, he took a deep breath and obeyed. And his life was changed forever as a result. From a wandering nomad, he became the richest man within the space of one year. The Bible records in Genesis 26:12-14, “The man began to prosper and continued to prosper until he became very prosperous; for he had possessions of flocks and of herds and a great number of servants. So the Philistines envied him.” (NKJV) Verse 16 records that Abimelech the king said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are much mightier than us.” When people who take risks succeed, those who sit within their comfort zones tend to criticize and become envious.

If we are to go from the minimum of God to His maximum for us, which is life in all its fullness (John 10:10), we must take leaps of faith into the unknown. Net-breaking, boat-sinking miracles are only found in the deep. If we hang around the shores, all we have will be clean strong nets and nice boats - but empty ones. God’s desire is that we might prosper and be in health even as our souls prosper (3 John 2). But He requires us to leave our comfort zones and step out into the deep in faith.

Simon Peter launched his boat into the deep and let down his net, and caught the largest number of fish he had ever seen in his life. There were so many fish his net began to break. When he called his partners over and they loaded the fish into two boats, both boats began to sink. The miracle caused him to bow down and worship Jesus right there on the deep seas, in a boat about to sink with fish.

When he landed on the shores, he left everything – fish, boats, and his business – and followed Jesus. He became one of the 12 apostles; he was among the 3 closest disciples (the others being James and John); he was the first man to walk on water on another occasion; his commitment was tested when he had to deny knowing Jesus three times; he was challenged by Jesus to feed His sheep; he was the leader of the church from the Day of Pentecost; he became a missionary to the Jews; and history says he was crucified up side down in Rome. All this started with the first step on the shores of Lake Galilee. That one step of pushing his boat into the deep sea changed the course of his life forever.

Mark 10:46-52 tells the story of Blind Bartimaeus. He was blind, and because he could not feed himself due to the disability, he lived off the generosity of other people through begging. One day he heard multitudes walking along the road where he sat. When he asked what was happening, he was told, “Jesus of Nazareth passes by.” He might have heard about Jesus from his relatives. From the stories, he was convinced that if he met Jesus, his sight would be restored. Now that Jesus was passing his way, this was his only chance – or as they say, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So he cried out with all his strength, “Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me.” When the people told him to shut up, he shouted even louder, “Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me.” It was a cry of desperation. It was now or never. Jesus heard him above the noise of the multitudes and stopped, and called for him to be brought to Him.

What I would like us to notice is how Bartimaeus reacted when he was told that Jesus wanted him to come to Him. Verse 50 says, “Casting away his garment, he rose, and came to Jesus.” Another translation says, “Bartimaeus yanked off his old coat and flung it aside, jumped up and came to Jesus.” (TLB). The Amplified Version says, “And throwing off his outer garment, he leaped up and came to Jesus.”

Bartimaeus did two very important things. Firstly, he cast or yanked off his coat – probably his only earthly possession which served both as a blanket at night and an umbrella during the hot day. That coat was the badge of his status as a beggar. Notice that before he even came face to face with Jesus, he threw the coat off his shoulder. He was casting down his identity as a blind beggar, in preparation for a new identity which he was certain he would receive upon meeting Jesus. Even before he received his sight, he was acting as if he was already healed of blindness, and he did not need the coat any more. What did Jesus say in Mark 11:24? “Believe that you have received it, and it shall be yours.”

The second action to note is that he leaped from where he was sitting, stood up and began to walk. What kind of leap was that? It was a leap of faith. He did not wallow in self-pity and wait for Jesus to come to him. Instead, he leapt to his feet and started walking towards Jesus. What did Jesus tell him? “Your faith has made you well…” (Verse 52).

There are many things that hold us back, and deprive us of life in the deep. A step of faith may be necessary in some instances, but in others, a leap of faith may be necessary. Do you know what a leap is? A leap is a long step up and out. Sometimes we need to take drastic action to cut ourselves free from what holds us back.

Do you know what the best way is that professional swimming coaches use to teach kids to swim? They just push them into the water! If the kids are about to drown, they go in the rescue them. But most of the time the kids swing their arms and legs and splash the water, and in no time learn how to swim or just float and let the water carry them. Sometimes we need to just jump into the deep waters, and sink or swim. It is risky, but it works.

Do you know how a mother eagle trains its chicks to fly? It carries them in its beak and flies as high as it can, then just lets the chicks fall down. The chicks are internally wired to fly, so they find a way to spread their wings and flap them and begin to fly, or let the wind carry them. Children have what it takes to swim. Eagles have what it take to fly. We have what it takes to live in faith (Romans 1:17; 2 Corinthians 5:7). If this were not so, God would not have commanded us to live and walk by faith.

The first step, or leap, as the case may be, is important. Peter’s leap resulted in a net-breaking, boat-sinking miracle – a miracle that changed the course of his life forever. Life-changing miracles may be waiting to happen in response to the steps we take in faith. I encourage you to take those steps and leaps into the unknown which you know in your heart you need to take. One lesson from the church’s experience as related above is that inaction dams up God’s blessings, while action releases them. As you take those steps and leaps, dams will break and blessing and prosperity will flow.

Many of you have million kina dreams and ideas. But you have been scared to do what it takes for those dreams to become a reality. You hesitate too much. You fear and doubt too much. You have been fearful of taking the first step towards making those dreams become a reality, because you just do not know how it will turn out. You are undecided. You think and see yourself failing more than succeeding. I encourage you to take a leap of faith. Just step forward. Do as the multimillionaire said: Trust in God, breathe deeply and take a leap into the unknown. Then you will say, ”Those first steps have made all the difference in my life.”

A story and a testimony before I close. Napoleon was a French conqueror. One time he commanded his troops to sail over the English Channel to conquer England. They landed at a place called Dover, which has very high cliffs running into the sea. This was the only safest route to enter England. Napoleon made his troops climb the cliffs, but left a few of them behind with specific instructions to burn all the ships. When the troops had climbed over the cliffs and turned around, they saw their only hope of retreat going up in flames. Napoleon told them, “Men, conquer, or be conquered! Win or perish!” The troops launched out and conquered England. The morale of the story is that sometimes we try taking a leap forward, but are not really determined to go on, so we make certain we can always fall back to our places of comfort and security just in case it does not work out. In other words, we are doubtful, and the Bible says that the doubtful person is double-minded, and a double-minded person will not achieve anything (James 1:6-8).

I would like to end with a personal testimony. I left a company I was working for in December 2000, and spent the next eight months of 2001 looking for another job. There were jobs in other centres which I could have applied for, but I did not want to leave Goroka. Fortunately, there were no jobs for my level of expertise and experience in Goroka. I say fortunately, because if there was a job then, I would today be slaving for somebody else.

In around August 2001, Pastor Peter came to our house to encourage us. The Pastor used an illustration which opened my mind to see possibilities which were closed to me up to that time. He said, “carpenters use hammers and saws; mechanics use spanners; farmers use spades and knives; for you, the computer is a tool which you need to make use of.” When he said this, a light came on inside my head, and ideas began to flood in. After he left, I sat at the computer and started writing a short training course for coffee exporters. Within four weeks of that conversation I made K12,000 from course fees. I don’t have that money now. In fact, most of it went to settling debts which were then up to our necks.

In 2000 I had been receiving K2,000 per month from the company I was working for, so the K12,000 from the course was equal to six months’ salaries. The significance of the story is this: when I worked for somebody else, I earned K12,000 in six months; on my own, I could earn K12,000 in one month. When I saw this, a new world opened before me. I saw that it was possible to become financially prosperous without a full-time job. I launched out in faith as a freelance consultant. In other words, I created my own job, rather than waiting for somebody to give me a job. I can testify that that decision has changed the course of our lives as a family. I have not made a lot of money yet (I am sure I would if I marketed my services well), but I do not regret having made the decision either. Based on what I have seen so far, I do not intend on working for another person job ever again.

In relating this experience, I am not recommending that you resign from your job and place the security of your family at risk. You will definitely leave or be kicked out one day in future, but don’t do it tomorrow. If you are unemployed and are looking for a job, may be this testimony can open your eyes to see options other than getting a job and working for somebody all your productive life, and get pushed around by bosses all the time. Is it possible that you could stop thinking about becoming someone’s tool and start working for yourself with what little you have in your hands? Be your own boss? Employ other people? It is possible.

If you are employed and have special skills, knowledge, experience or expertise, what I can say is that you are probably overworked and underpaid. Most skilled people are worth more than what they receive from those who employ them. To keep such people, employers provide additional benefits like houses, vehicles, school fees etc. The reason they are doing this is to make you feel secure so that you don’t go out and do something for yourself. It is also a sign that you are making more for them than what they are paying you.

To make the story complete, I must say that it was not easy for us at the start. When I was working for other people, they paid me fortnightly. So income was regular. On top of that, they paid rent for the house we were living in; they paid a monthly allowance for my vehicle, and even paid our school fees. This was the kind of life we were used to. When I became unemployed, and then launched out as a self-employed person, we found it very difficult to adjust to life without a regular pay packet. Many times Christians assisted us financially, gave us food, serviced our vehicle, etc. That is one of the benefits of being a Christian. You associate with people who are genuine about helping you, unlike relatives and wantoks who are mostly interested in getting from you. The children were in private school when I was working for a salaried job. When I became self-employed, we could not pay the fees, so we pulled the children out and enrolled them in public school. One time we were nearly thrown out onto the streets because rental payments for the house were six months in arrears. But it brought the family together. We prayed and cried together. And by the grace of God we have survived the last 4 years without a full-time job and a fortnightly salary.

The point is that when you launch out into the deep, it is painful. If you are a father and you have a family to look after, you really need the support of your family. Without their support, you will find it hard launching into the deep and living in it. People like Abraham and Peter just packed up and left everything to follow God without consulting with their families, especially their wives. Peter gave up a small business for full-time ministry. That must have been painful for him and his family. But things did work out later.

To end my testimony, we have been living in the deep the last 4 years. Sometimes when there have been short-term jobs, we have had money; many times jobs have not come by, and we have run short. But what I know is that it is possible to live without the security of a full-time job. Faith is essential for launching into the unknown. God requires us to believe first, then receive and see.

By way of summary:

· Peter took one step of faith, and he experienced life-changing miracles. The first step is important.
· Salvation is God’s minimum. It is only the start. There is more to the Christian life than getting saved.
· Faith is taking risks. Most successful people are risk-takers. Biblical examples include Abraham and Isaac.
· We must leap into the unknown to see net-breaking and boat-sinking miracles. On the shores we will only have clean nets and empty boats.
· Blind Bartimaeus cast off his coat and leaped forward to Jesus. That leap of faith changed his life and destiny forever.
· As Peter helped the lame beggar to rise up and leap forward, the word of God gives us a boost on the inside so that we can take action on the outside.
· Many things hold us back, including fear, doubt and unbelief. A leap of faith is what is necessary to cut ourselves free from the things that hold us back and go from the known to the unknown.
· Children have what it takes to swim. Eagles have what it takes to fly. We have what it takes to live in faith.
· When we start moving, God releases His miraculous supplies. When we wait, He waits, and sometimes he uses situations to shock us into motion, and when we start moving, He moves. The project at Shalom is testimony to this.
· Sometimes it may be necessary to burn our links to the known, the comfortable and the secure, launch forth into the unknown and meet God, and never be the same again.