Phil Cox

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What we really believe

19th February 2009

Why do so many Christians live lives that seem to be so different from their beliefs? Many non-Christians use this question to discredit the gospel, and many Christians are discouraged by it - especially in its personal form, "Why does my life fail to live up to my faith?".

The answer to the question "why don't our lives better reflect our beliefs?" is that, actually, our lives do reflect our beliefs. If we believe a liquid is poisonous, we won't drink it. If we believe that if we put our hand in the fire, it will burn, then we don't do it. In the same way, we live out what we really believe about God and about morality, but:

What we really believe is not the same thing as what we think we believe

And it's certainly not the same thing as what we say we believe.

I hope this study from Mark chapter 4 will help us understand this idea.

If we read from verse 1, we see that it had been a good day. Jesus was teaching on the beach at Capernaum, as He often did. They had a good crowd in that day, and Jesus taught them all day. For the disciples, this was great, they came from that part ofthe world, several of them were fishermen, and they were totally in their comfort zone. But the end of the day was very different:

Mark 4v35-36
That day when evening came, he [Jesus] said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.

Jesus asked the disciples to go with him across the lake into Gentile territory. They were about to leave theIr comfort zone. But that was OK, Jesus would be with them in the boat. What could be better than to spend the evening on the local lake, in a friend's boat, with Jesus? Jesus gave them no indication that anything unusual was about to happen; he came just as he was, and there were other boats milling around.

Mark 4v37-38
A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.
Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?"

I'm sure that, until this moment, the disciples thought they believed that Jesus cared about them. But now, they knew they didn't.

The disciples weren’t questioning God’s power, but his love. When we get sick, or when we lose our jobs, or a relationship goes bad, we don’t necessarily doubt that God could have helped us, but we often doubt whether he truly loves us enough to help, "Doesn’t God care?".

Our cry to God is sometimes “If you loved me, I wouldn’t be in this storm”. He does love us. He does care. But do we believe that, or do we only think we believe it?

The disciples were scared for their lives. It;s true that we will all die, but we’ll die how and when God has already decided. There’s no point in worrying about it. As the great American Civil War general, Stonewall Jackson, said: “My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that”.

Jesus knew he wasn’t going to drown that night – he would die as and when God had ordained it – at Passover, on the Cross. Thus he also knew that the disciples wouldn’t drown that night. So he wasn’t frightened. But of course He cares.

God knows in advance how our lives will turn out. He’s not anxious about it. And if we truly believe in Him, then we won’t be anxious either. Is there a gap between what we think we believe and what we truly believe? Our level of anxiety is one way to measure this gap.

Mark 4v39
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

Changing our circumstances is easy for God to do.

But his concern is to change our hearts:

Mark 4v40
He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"

I used to read this as a rebuke but perhaps it’s better understood as a question and an invitation to think: Why are we so afraid? Do we really still have no faith? Have all that we’ve learned and experienced about God left us no better than were before? The answer to these questions, for every Christian, is “No”.

We do have faith! We know that God is both loving and powerful! We do know that He cares for us! We're afraid because we've never settled the matter in our own minds that we can completely trust God.

We can believe this - because it's true. And we thought we did believe it. And we can choose to settle the matter -decide that there is no situation where God will abandon us, there is no force that can thwart His purposes, nothing that will stop Him loving us.

The disciples had seen Jesus in action. They'd thought they believed in Him and in God’s power and love. But they’d never taken the conscious decision to put their faith in His ability and desire to protect them. The storm was a God-given opportunity for Jesus to make them think about this.

And, of course, the storms in our lives are God-given opportunities for us to remember that we do have faith in God, we do believe that he is powerful and we do believe He protects us.

Mark 4v41
They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"

Here's the truth:

Jesus is far more powerful than any storm - real or figurative - that seems to threaten us

The disciples' understanding had moved on. They now believed what before they only thought they believed. They'd needed to experience Jesus Christ in the storm before they could truly believe what they thought they believed.

Genesseret was coming next. They would meet a man who had so many demons, which had such an influence on him, that he called himself “Legion”. They needed to have it settled that they did have real faith in God.

Who knows what’s coming next for you and for me? God knows. And he knows what preparation we’ll need. But it must be right for us to settle once and for all that we do trust that God’s power and his love are enough to keep us safe.