This week we’re talking about the kind of trusting, personal faith the Lord wants to develop in us. Our God is the ultimate example of what faithfulness means — and through growing in trust, we grow more like Him.
This is going to make a big difference to our prayer life and release us into the spiritual dimension of life generally.
• See The Living Word Bible study for groups and individuals that takes a close-up verse-by-verse view of the Bible readings set for Sunday, August 14 (Revised Common Lectionary, interdenominational)
• Watch this week’s video God Seeks the Trusting Faith that Gets The Job Done (13 min.) which tells the story and applies it through the Bible readings
Knowing that God Himself is faithful to His promises leads us to reflect that we are made in His image. And that means, He wants us to grow more like Him — and in this aspect of faith and trust, that means learning to live by obediently trusting Him in what He says.
When we don’t, or won’t, taking matters into our own hands, that demonstrates a lack of trust. It also denies the covenant relationship we have with Him, which works by mutual trust.
When we veer off into independence, it soon shows up in our relationships — or lack of them. Our attitudes lose God’s quality of love and become judgmental, discriminatory — and controlling.
What we are supposed to do — made in His image — is to reflect God’s love for us: we receive it and we give it out, with our love and forbearance of others. That’s good fruit, and people are attracted to good fruit.
God spoke through Isaiah and said some important things about good and bad fruit, to the people of Isaiah’s time, principally the southern-kingdom Judeans. This is God’s word, not an episode in ancient history. God’s word, like God Himself, is eternal, and so what He says continues to resonate and speak to us — it’s like God is saying it again today.
There are churches today with good fruit — these are the spiritual, loving (and not judging) fellowships and these are often the ones that are growing. And then there are others who have ‘church’ on the sign by the door but who are producing a different taste, sharp and sour. In the words of Isaiah chapter 5:
My loved One had a vineyard on a fertile hillside… planted… with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower…and… a winepress as well. Then He looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.
“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between Me and My vineyard. What more could have been done for My vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?
Now I will tell you what I am going to do…I will take away its hedge and… break down its wall, and it will be trampled… a wasteland… and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.”
The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines He delighted in. And He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
(Isaiah 5:1-7 excerpted)
Psalm 80 echoes these words — and, clearly pointing to the future coming of Jesus, it turns into a prayer for restoration and revival, no less.
Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, You who… transplanted a vine from Egypt; You drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land… Why have You broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes?…
Return to us, God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see! Watch over this vine, the root Your right hand has planted, the Son You have raised up for Yourself… Let your hand rest on the man at Your right hand, the Son of Man You have raised up for Yourself.
Then we will not turn away from You; revive us, and we will call on Your name. Restore us, Lord God Almighty; make Your face shine on us, that we may be saved.
(Verses excerpted from Psalm 80:8-19)
Jesus’ coming — God with us, fully God but also fully human — was the start of that revival. And in the 21st-century Jesus still comes, spiritually, and that is the hallmark of every true revival move of His Spirit. Jesus becomes evident to people. He becomes real to them in a way He wasn’t before.
Please don’t think this is about becoming more church-focused, more religious in form or order! It is the opposite in many ways. When faith is lacking, Jesus is distant, not evident, and we consciously or subconsciously compensate. We try harder, and crank up our piety and religious actions. Wrong approach! That is not seeking Jesus, it is being coercive, trying to move Him by what we do. He is looking for us to seek Him in a more needful, heartfelt attitude, believing Him in a more trusting kind of humble, personal faith. That is different from mental assent to a creed or a set of doctrines. It is loving the Person who first loved us, by taking Him at His word and trusting Him.
There will come a final reviving, restoring and saving, which we become more aware of as the time of His return draws near. When will it be? No one knows — but there are plenty of signs of the old order breaking down, from world climate and world peace, to the day by day spiritual battles that affect us and those we love.
Jesus goes on to teach about recognising the signs in Luke chapter 12:
“I have come to bring fire on the earth… Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.
“From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three… father against son and son against father… daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law…
“When you see a cloud… in the west… you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’… and when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’…You know how to interpret … the earth and… sky. How is it that you don’t… interpret this present time?”
(Luke 12:49-56 excerpt)
Beginning to see what Jesus sees requires a spiritual perspective. We get that through putting our full trust in Jesus, Son of God, and His divine exchange for us, carrying all our independence and rebellion and scepticism on Himself at the Cross. It’s not about us trying to live a better life — it’s about us trusting in Jesus alone to have paid the price for us to be made right with God and receive salvation and eternal life. And it’s about receiving Him as our Lord — and allowing His Spirit to open our spiritual eyes to grasp *in a spiritual way* what is confusing when taken in a purely logical way.
Any idea that we can contribute to our own salvation is a lie. The teaching or example of salvation coming through church ordinances is a man-centred deception (read the Book of Galatians). We need to defer to Jesus as Lord, and humbly receive what He has done, that we could not do.
And then we start to see the signs, and become caught up in God’s greater purpose. He has been carrying this out through the faithful people He has found in every age. The end of Hebrews chapter 11 reads like a roll-call of these heroes of faith:
By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but… the Egyptians… drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.
By faith…Rahab [who] welcomed the spies, was [kept safe].
[There is a long list, including] Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah… David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.
Women received back their dead, raised to life again… Others…were tortured, refusing to be released… Some faced jeers and flogging… they were put to death by stoning; they were… killed by the sword. They went about… destitute, persecuted and mistreated — the world was not worthy of them…
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised…
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles… Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
(Hebrews 11:29-12:2 excerpted)
These were all people who believed and trusted God beyond what they could see and experience for themselves. They were people who ran the race well, often at great personal cost.
And now the relay has come down to us. How will we run our stage? Will we keep on keeping on, towards Jesus, no matter what?
That’s the challenge of living by faith which, like any sporting win or other notable achievement is both impossible seeming — and exciting!
And this takes us full circle back to Isaiah’s words and our present context:
“He looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit… What more could have been done for My vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?”
Is church for us about bringing the recognisable signs of God’s kingdom — a fellowship of lives transformed, health restored, love shared, forgiveness and grace always flowing, and the wider community continually drawn in? Or is it a cliquey kind of club that guards and practises a particular kind of worship order and where lives are unchallenged and unchanged?
God looks for good fruit — the fruit of our loving trust of Him and response to Him. It only needs two or three — and He promises He will presence Himself there in a remarkable way!