Scripture Reading: Genesis 16:1-16
Key Verse(s): Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar the Egyptian servant and gave her to Abram as a wife. (This happened ten years after Abram first arrived in the land of Canaan.) (Genesis 16:3)
Sarai took matters into her own hands by giving Hagar to Abram. Like Abram she had trouble believing God's promise that was apparently directed specifically toward Abram and Sarai. Out of this lack of faith came a series of problems. This invariably happens when we take over for God, trying to make his promise come true through efforts that are not in line with his specific directions. In this case, time was the greatest test of Abram and Sarai's willingness to let God work in their lives. Sometimes we too must simply wait. When we ask God for something and have to wait, it is a temptation to take matters into our own hands and interfere with God's plans.
Scripture Reading: Exodus 14:1-31
Key Verse(s): As Pharaoh and his army approached, the people of Israel could see them in the distance, marching toward them. The people began to panic, and they cried out to the LORD for help. Then they turned against Moses and complained, "Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren't there enough graves for us in Egypt? Why did you make us leave?" (Exodus 14:10-11)
Trapped against the sea, the Israelites faced the Egyptian army sweeping in for the kill. The Israelites thought they were doomed. After watching God's powerful hand deliver them from Egypt, their only response was fear, whining, and despair. Where was their trust in God? Israel had to learn from repeated experience that God was able to provide for them. God has preserved these examples in the Bible so that we can learn to trust him the first time. By focusing on God's faithfulness in the past we can face crises with confidence rather than with fear and complaining.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 3:1-17
Key Verse(s): Prove by the way you live that you have really turned from your sins and turned to God. (Matthew 3:8)
God's message hasn't changed since the Old Testament--people will be judged for their unproductive lives. God calls us to be active in our obedience. John compared people who claim they believe in God but don't live for him to unproductive trees that will be cut down. Just as a fruit tree is expected to bear fruit, God's people should produce a crop of good deeds. God has no use for people who call themselves Christians but do nothing about it. Like many people in John's day who were God's people in name only, we are of no value if we are Christians in name only. If others can't see our faith in the way we treat them, we may not be God's people at all. To be productive for God, we must obey his teachings, resist temptation, actively serve and help others, and share our faith. How productive are you for God?
Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 4:1-21
Key Verse(s): I will come--and soon--if the Lord will let me, and then I'll find out whether these arrogant people are just big talkers or whether they really have God's power. (1 Corinthians 4:19)
Some people talk a lot about faith, but that's all it is--talk. They may know all the right words to say, but their lives don't reflect God's power. Paul says that the kingdom of God is to be lived, not just discussed. There is a big difference between knowing the right words and living them out. Don't be content to have the right answers about Christ. Let your life show that God's power is really working in you.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 14:22-33
Key Verse(s): Then Peter called to him, "Lord, if it's really you, tell me to come to you by walking on water." (Matthew 14:28)
Peter was not putting Jesus to the test, something we are told not to do (Matthew 4:7). Instead he was the only one in the boat to react in faith. His impulsive request led him to experience a rather unusual demonstration of God's power. Peter started to sink because he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the high waves around him. His faith wavered when he realized what he was doing. We may not walk on water, but we do walk through tough situations. If we focus on the waves of difficult circumstances around us without looking to Jesus for help, we too may despair and sink. To maintain your faith when situations are difficult, keep your eyes on Jesus' power rather than on your inadequacies.
Although we start out with good intentions, sometimes our faith falters. This doesn't necessarily mean we have failed. When Peter's faith faltered, he reached out to Christ, the only one who could help. He was afraid, but he still looked to Christ. When you are apprehensive about the troubles around you and doubt Christ's presence or ability to help, you must remember that he is the only one who can really help.
Scripture Reading: Luke 24:1-12
Key Verse(s): Peter ran to the tomb to look. Stooping, he peered in and saw the empty linen wrappings; then he went home again, wondering what had happened. (Luke 24:12)
People who hear about the Resurrection for the first time may need time before they can comprehend this amazing story. Like the disciples, they may pass through four stages of belief. (1) At first, they may think it is a fairy tale, impossible to believe. (2) Like Peter, they may check out the facts but still be puzzled about what happened. (3) Only when they encounter Jesus personally will they be able to accept the fact of the Resurrection. (4) Then, as they commit themselves to Jesus and devote their lives to serving him, will they begin fully to understand the reality of his presence with them.
Scripture Reading: Mark 9:14-29
Key Verse(s): The father instantly replied, "I do believe, but help me not to doubt!" (Mark 9:24)
The attitude of trust and confidence that the Bible calls belief or faith (Hebrews 11:1, 6) is not something we can obtain without help. Faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). No matter how much faith we have, we never reach the point of being self-sufficient. Faith is not stored away like money in the bank. Growing in faith is a constant process of daily renewing our trust in Jesus.
Scripture Reading: Romans 14:1-23
Key Verse(s): Accept Christians who are weak in faith, and don't argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. (Romans 14:1)
Who is weak in faith and who is strong? We are all weak in some areas and strong in others. Our faith is strong if we can survive contact with sinners without falling into their patterns. It is weak if we must avoid certain activities, people, or places in order to protect our spiritual life. It is important to take a self-inventory in order to find out our strengths and weaknesses. In areas of strength, we should not fear being defiled by the world; rather we should go and serve God. In areas of weakness, we need to be cautious. If we have a strong faith but shelter it, we are not doing Christ's work in the world. If we have a weak faith but expose it, we are being extremely foolish. Whenever in doubt, we should ask, Can I do that without sinning? Can I influence others for good, rather than being influenced by them?
Scripture Reading: Luke 17:1-10
Key Verse(s): One day the apostles said to the Lord, "We need more faith; tell us how to get it." (Luke 17:5)
The disciples' request was genuine; they wanted the faith necessary for radical forgiveness. But Jesus didn't directly answer their question because the amount of faith is not as important as its genuineness. What is faith? It is total dependence on God and a willingness to do his will. Faith is not something we use to put on a show for others. It is complete and humble obedience to God's will, readiness to do whatever he calls us to do. The amount of faith isn't as important as the right kind of faith--faith in our all-powerful God.
A mustard seed is small, but it is alive and growing. Like a tiny seed, a small amount of genuine faith in God will take root and grow. Almost invisible at first, it will begin to spread, first under the ground and then visibly. Although each change will be gradual and imperceptible, soon this faith will have produced major results that will uproot and destroy competing loyalties. We don't need more faith; a tiny seed of faith is enough, if it is alive and growing.
Scripture Reading: Romans 5:1-11
Key Verse(s): Since we have been made right in God's sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. (Romans 5:1)
As Paul states clearly in 1 Corinthians 13:13, faith, hope, and love are at the heart of the Christian life. Our relationship with God begins with faith, which helps us realize that we are delivered from our past by Christ's death. Hope grows as we learn all that God has in mind for us; it gives us the promise of the future. And God's love fills our life and gives us the ability to reach out to others.
Scripture Reading: Hebrews 10:19-39
Key Verse(s): A righteous person will live by faith. But I will have no pleasure in anyone who turns away. (Hebrews 10:38)
Effective faith grows under pressure.
Hebrews encourages believers to persevere in their Christian faith and conduct when facing persecution and pressure. We don't usually think of suffering as good for us, but it can build our character and our patience. During times of great stress, we may feel God's presence more clearly and find help from Christians we never thought would care. Knowing that Jesus is with us in our suffering and that he will return one day to put an end to all pain helps us grow in our faith and our relationship with him (see Romans 5:3-5).
Effective faith becomes stronger through endurance.
The writer encourages his readers not to abandon their faith in times of persecution, but to show by their endurance that their faith is real. Faith means resting in what Christ has done for us in the past, but it also means hoping for what he will do for us in the future (see Romans 8:12-25; Galatians 3:10-13).
Scripture Reading: Hebrews 11:1-40
Key Verse(s): What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see. (Hebrews 11:1)
Effective faith is hopeful anticipation.
Do you remember how you felt when you were very young and your birthday approached? You were excited and anxious. You knew you would certainly receive gifts and other special treats. But some things would be a surprise. Birthdays combine assurance and anticipation, and so does faith! Faith is the conviction based on past experience that God's new and fresh surprises will surely be ours.
Effective faith is quiet certainty.
Two words describe faith: sure and certain. These two qualities need a secure beginning and ending point. The beginning point of faith is believing in God's character--he is who he says. The end point is believing in God's promises--he will do what he says. When we believe that God will fulfill his promises even though we don't see those promises materializing yet, we demonstrate true faith (see John 20:24-31).