This sermon was preached at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Cherry Log, Georgia on September 17, 2017 by Pastor Paul Mims. You can view this sermon at www.csbccl.org
WHEN FAITH FAILS
In a national study of Protestant churches done in 1990, Peter Benson and Carolyn Elkin surveyed hundreds of people and distilled seven characteristics of a mature faith. You may not agree with everything on their list, but it's still instructive to look at their conclusions.
- Trusts in God's saving grace and believes firmly in the humanity and divinity of Jesus.
- Experiences a sense of personal well-being, security, and peace.
- Integrates faith and life, seeing work, family, social relationships, and political choices as part of one's religious life.
- Seeks spiritual growth through study, reflection, prayer, discussion with others.
- Seeks to be part of a community of believers who give witness to their faith and support and nourish one another.
- Holds life-affirming values, including commitment to racial and gender equality, affirmation of cultural diversity, and a personal sense of responsibility for the welfare of others.
- Serves humanity, consistently and passionately, through acts of love and justice.
This is the way that we want faith to be. But there are circumstances that causes doubt to rise. This was the situation with Abraham and Sarah. You remember that in our study last week that Abraham’s faith grew and he experienced God’s protection, provision, and presence. You would think that such a faith could never be shaken. But it was. The promise was that Abraham and Sarah would have a son and enjoy many descendants. But it was not happening. They had waited for over 10 years. Abraham was in his mid-80s and Sarah was in her mid-70s. Life was good except for one major thing – they did not have a biological heir.
Reminiscent of what happened in the Garden of Eden, where Eve offered Adam the fruit of the tree of knowledge, Sarah offers her Egyptian slave girl to Abraham to conceive a child.
I can imagine that Abram thought to himself, “I have faithfully followed the Lord. I have moved from my homeland on the Persian Gulf and travel through the wilderness of Syria and down to this place called the Land of Promise. It may be the land of promise but I’ve seen nothing. I’ve had some rough times during these 10 years. When we got to Haran, my father, Terah, died. That was a very sad time. And then soon after we arrived here there was a famine. Also, a conflict happened between me and my nephew, Lot. He disappointed me in choosing the best grazing lands for his herds. Then I had to rescue him from the marauding Kings. For a while my life was in jeopardy and the promises that God made to me had not come about. I waited. I prayed. I listened. I looked. I struggled. 10 long years I have waited for a son and it has not happened. I have tried to do what God wanted me to do and He has not done what He promised me He would do.”
“Pastor, you told us last week that Abram was encouraged by God and that he believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness.”
Yes, that’s true. In chapter 15, Abram is a man of faith and the verse that sparked the Reformation 500 years ago is Genesis 15:6 and is quoted in Romans and in Galatians saying, “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness.”
Now in chapter 16, the man of faith stumbles and falls. His mistake had far reaching effects then, and we are still suffering the effects today. How can this happen to a person of faith?
FAITH FAILS WHEN WE DOUBT AND LISTEN TO OTHER PEOPLE.
It is not altogether wrong to doubt. Sometimes doubt is very creative and is good for us, but doubt can be very devastating and it was for Abram. After all, he had waited 10 years for the promise to be fulfilled. He was getting older, and what God had promised was impossible in the first place according to human reason, for both he and Sarah thought they were past the childbearing years.
One of the characteristics of women over men is that they want to “fix” things.
“So Sarai said to Abram, ‘Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go into my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children through her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.” (v. 2).
There are times in our Christian experience when it is good to talk over our spiritual journey with someone else to get their counsel and input. But that can never substitute for the personal and vital relationship with God through faith. What God says to us as individuals must take precedence over what someone else says. The conviction that must burn in our souls and the hope that He gives us in our minds must overrule what anybody says to us even though it may seem reasonable.
Did you notice how Sarah stated her suggestion? “The Lord has prevented me from having a child.” You can sense in that statement a resentment toward God and a question of why this is happened. You can see that part of Abram’s mind was open to that suggestion because of the doubt that was forming there.
Faith fails when someone suggests something to us based on that little niche of doubt about what God will do in our lives. Self-doubt is one of the major obstacles to living the life of faith. We all have those inner voices inside our heads that tell us we are not good enough, not strong enough and incapable of living the faith life. Often, these feelings are from childhood experiences and become ingrained in our very being. Over time, self-doubt can lead to anxiety and depression.
What can we learn from Abraham’s failure? First of all, he doubted the promise of God. The Bible is full of promises that God has made to his people. We can stake our destiny on their trustworthiness. Second, Abraham accepted Sarah’s ungodly suggestion of not only adultery, but polygamy. It is true that such a practice was used in ancient times among the pagan peoples. Third, Abraham did not ask God about it. Prayerless decisions are dangerous decisions.
FAITH FAILURES CAN HAVE LASTING EFFECTS
“And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight.” (v. 4).
Sarah became very angry at the way she was treated by Hagar following the conception. She then blamed Abram for the misery she was experiencing. He told her to do what ever she wanted to do to Hagar. She treated Hagar so harshly that she fled from the presence of Sarah.
Then God intervenes in the life of Hagar by sending an angel to minister to her by a spring of water in the wilderness. The angel instructed Hagar to return to her mistress and submit to her authority. A promise was made that Hagar’s descendants would be multiplied so that they would be too many to count. The angel instructed Hagar to name the child Ishmael. “And you shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has given heed to your affliction and he will be a wild donkey of a man, his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him; and he will live to the east of all his brothers.” (vv. 11-12).
The name Ishmael means “God hears.” Hagar said, “Thou art a God who sees me.” This was something new to her because her ancestral gods in Egypt did not see people as individuals. Hagar was another result of Abraham’s mistake in going into Egypt.
All of this changed God’s perfect will for Abraham into his permissive will. It was not God’s will for Abraham to have a son like this. The angel gave a prophecy concerning him saying that he would be a “wild donkey” of a man. This meant that his free-roaming lifestyle would put him in conflict, friction, and antagonism with others because of his way of life.
Abraham is the father of Ishmael. The Muslims trace their spiritual lineage back to Abraham through Ishmael. They believe that Ishmael was the son that Abraham offered on Moriah. In their view Ishmael was a prophet and a great ancestor of Mohammed. Therefore, in the Muslim view, Abraham is seen to be the father of the great Muslim peoples. The Muslims now number about 2 billion of the earth’s population. In the United States, they number about 3.3 million.
Abraham is also the father of Isaac. Isaac and his descendants are the Jewish population of the earth. Jewish population in the world is about 17 million with almost 7 million in the United States. When you add the Christian world population of 2.2 billion, you can see that the descendants of Abraham through Ishmael and Isaac are about the same. We as Christians consider our Judaic heritage in the Old Testament to be the foundation of our faith. So the total descendants of Abraham number over 4 billion of the earth’s 7 billion people.
Tracing the present world conflict between Muslims and Jews-Christians back to Abraham’s faith failure is reasonable. His mistake in going into Hagar rather than waiting on God’s promise to be fulfilled is causing world conflict today. The fastest growing religions in America today are Islam and atheism.
HOW TO KEEP YOUR FAITH FROM FAILING
Perhaps you have a situation in your life that you have been waiting on God to solve. The breakthrough for which you have been hungering has not happened. You have prayed and claimed the promises in holy Scripture and still you are waiting. What do you do now?
First, claim Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” The verb tenses in the Greek indicate that “God is now working all things together for good.” This means that God is always working in the background to bring about his desired result for our good.
Second, claim Psalm 27:13-14. “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.” Remember that we just have to live with the situation until God does something about it. But also remember that the answer to our prayers can come suddenly. Our situation can change very quickly. We all have to wait.
Third, control how you wait. You can wait passively just hoping that something good will happen to you. This is how Abraham waited. Finally, he said, “That’s it! I have waited 10 years and nothing has happened.
Another way to wait is expectantly. With this approach you are hopeful every day and are expecting to see God work at any time.
Fourth, keep serving God faithfully. Daily devotions minister to the spirit and keeps hope alive. It is important to be in touch with God through prayer and Bible reading in personal devotions and to experience the strength and encouragement that public worship in church gives to our lives.
John Yates was the manager of a hardware store and Batavia, New York. He then became editor of a local newspaper. One day he was reading First John 5:4 which says, “And this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.” He then wrote the hymn, “Faith is the victory.”
“Encamped along the hills of light, you Christian soldiers, rise, and press the battle ere the night shall veil the glowing skies. Against the foe in vales below that all our strength be hurled; faith is the victory, we know, that overcomes the world.
His banner over us is love, our sword the Word of God; we tread the road the saints above with shouts of triumph trod. By faith they, like whirlwind’s breath swept on o’er every field; the faith by which they conquered death is still our shining shield.
To him that overcomes the foe, white robes shall be given; before the angels he shall know his name confessed in heaven. Then onward from the hills of light, our hearts with love a flame; will vanquish all the hosts of night, in Jesus’ conquering name.
Faith is the victory! Faith is the victory! Oh, glorious victory, that overcomes the world! Praise be to His Name!