Andy Stanley: “God often uses moments to launch faith but those moments were never designed to be the foundation of our faith. Those moments often launch our faith but never ever, as we’re gonna see, are we to lean our faith in God up against those moments, because those moments come and those moments go.”
John Fuller: And there might be a moment for you today on “Focus on the Family,” as Pastor Andy Stanley explains how to build a stronger foundation for your faith. Our host is Focus president, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, this is an exceptional program that we featured in February and it got such a tremendous response that it became one of our most popular programs of the year and we’ll be sharing these with you throughout the month of December. So, I want everybody to lean in. It’s gonna bless you.
And what Andy is about to share is one of those foundational messages that every Christian needs to hear. Why? So that your faith will be strong enough to weather the storms that inevitably come to all of us. And John, I just want to get right to it.
John: All right, well, here’s Pastor Andy Stanley of North Point Ministries on today’s “Focus on the Family.”
Pastor Andy Stanley: We’re gonna talk about the difference between faith and hope and luck. I want to try to help unravel the mysteryof this thing that all of us experience. And you may experience this as a Christian; [in the] homeyou were taught, you know, you ask God and God answers prayers. And you try to get Him to say yes. And maybe you were taught, if you have enoughfaith, you can get God to say yes.And if you get a lot of faith, you’ll get God to do stuff.
And then you hear people tell these amazing stories of, you know, I lost my job on Monday, but then I fasted and prayed on Tuesday and on Wednesday, the guy came and gave me the whole company, you know (Laughter). It’s like, wow! You know!
So, we’re gonna talk about what is that? And how does that work? And maybe how do you work it and how do you get it to work? And how, you know, how does faith impact God? And what’s the difference between hoping for something and being able to say, “God, I’m trusting You to do this.” And if you’ve been around a lot of Christians, you’ve heard things like that. “We’re just trustin’ God for that.” And you’re thinkin’, “What does that mean? And how do you know God’s gonna do it?” And then you meet people that have all this incredible faith and you think, “Boy, I’d like to be like that.”
I want to talk specifically about what you lean your faith against, okay or what you prop your faith up on or another way of thinkin’ about it is what is the foundation of your faith or your belief system?
Nowthe thing that would probably make that a more intriguing conversation is not so much to talk about what the foundation is, but maybe to talk about what your foundation has been or what it was. And so, what I want to do for a few minutes is kinda turn the corner. And I want to talk to those of you who have lost faith or who have abandoned your faith. Because a discussion about losing faith or abandoning our faith is really the discussion that helps us understand how important it is and why it’s important to have the right thing to lean our faith against to begin with.
Because if you’re a person who has lost faith or has abandoned your faith or maybe you’re here listening to this message because you’re in the process of losing it and you feel like your world’s kinda coming apart and you don’t know what to say. You don’t know how to pray. You don’t know what you can expect from God. You’re not even sure there is a God, then what’s happened is, whatever you had been leaning your faith against, it has moved.
And so, consequently, when the foundation or the thing you lean your faith against moves, then your faith begins to crash. And perhaps your faith has crashed. Or perhaps your faith is crashing. And so, I want to talk about why that happens, because in discovering why that happens, we’re gonna discover today why it’s so important to understand the right foundation for faith.
Now here’s my observation andbein’ a pastor for a long time and talkin’ to lots and lots of people, when I meet people who say they’ve lost their faith or they’ve abandoned their faith or they just don’t know what to believe or to think anymore, generally it’s because of two things–lifestyle decisions and unexplainable circumstances;thatlifestyle decisions and unexplainable circumstances do more to erode faith and kinda chip away at what was probably an insecure foundation to begin with than anything else. Let me try to illustrate that for you.
Perhaps you were raised in a home, maybe a Christian home or some kind of religious home, where you were taught that cheating and being dishonest was a bad thing and so, you grew up as a child, thinking that’s right. Cheating and being dishonest is a bad thing. And even though you cheated and even though you were dishonest, you still believed it was a bad thing. It was part of your belief system. And that was fine when you were in high school and you know, middle school.
But then you move to the big city and you got a job and you became a part of a company and an industry where cheating and being dishonest was a business practice. And it wasn’t super overt, but as you got involved in this company or this industry, you realized that being a little bit dishonest and not exactly disclosing everything was just how business was done. And now you had this dilemma on the inside, because you’d been raised to believe, well, this is wrong. But you looked around the vicinity of the company and the office and it didn’t seem to be bothering anybody else.
So now you had a real dilemma and you had three choices. I can either work here and feel guilty all the time. I can quit my job. That’s not a good option. Or maybe what I’ve always believed isn’t true. Maybe in an environment like this, being a little dishonest and cheating a little bit isn’t really bad. Maybe I’m bein’ too hard on myself. Maybe my conscience is a little bit too wired.
And over time and all of us have experienced this, over time because of a lifestyle decision—whether it’s a job decision or whatever—we begin to change what we believe, not because of great research, not because God revealed to us that, “You’ve been wrong,” you know. We begin to change what we believe because of a lifestyle decision. I’ve decided to stay in this company. I’ve decided to be a part of this company. I don’t want to feel guilty about what I’m doing. And so, I’ve decided like everybody else around me, that you know what? What we’re doing really isn’t bad. And suddenly, your belief system or your faith in something has shifted.
And over time, you will begin to adapt a different lifestyle, which impacts your belief system, not because of research, but because of the people you’re around, because of culture. This happens to us to some extent, all the time. All of us feel those pressures.
But here’s my point. What slowly happens is, we change the way we behave and then, we change the way we believe, as if to say, what we used to believe was wrong, but we don’t quit believing, because what we believe was wrong. We quit believing because we behaved in a different way. And our new behavior impacts the way that we believe. Now again, there are many, many illustrations of that and all of us could think of our own, so that’s just something to throw out.
Now the other thing that chips away at our faith oftentimes isnot only lifestyle decisions, butunexplainable circumstances. That’s the second thing I mentioned. By that I mean this. You were raised to believe that God would never … and then it seemed like God did anyway.
You were raised to believe that God will always … but then it seems that God didn’t. You were raised to believe that if you doA,B, andC, you can expect God and trust God to doD,EandF. And so, you have doneA,B, andCconsistently and God hasn’t doneD,EorF. And all of a sudden, there is a life circumstance that doesn’t line up with your thinking about God and your faith is shattered.
This happens all the time.And you look aroundfor a job and God hasn’t answered your prayer. And you fasted and prayed. You’ve done all the things people told you to do. Some of you are back in church, tryin’ to get in good with God, because you’re not sure how God works, but you’re thinkin’ church is a part of it. And you don’t even like church and you’re havin’ a hard time even payin’ attention right now, but you’re hopin’ God sees you in here (Laughter) and God’s going, “Oh, look, look, look. She’s in church. Okay, put a check. She’s got three checks and fourX‘s.”.
But you’re thinkin’ that somehow you’ve gotta kinda win God’s favor and get on God’s side. And you don’t know how that works. And you’ve begun to lose faith, because God isn’t actin’ the way you think God oughta act. And many people, I’ll be every one of you in this room, knows someone or is someone who said, “You know what? My faith took a big hit. My faith got a big ding, when I expected or trusted God to do somethin’, because somebody told me that’s what God was like and God didn’t do it. And now I don’t know what to believe.”
The two things again that erode faith faster than anything else are lifestyle decisions that eventually impact what we believe and unexplainable circumstances, where God doesn’t seem to do what we think God oughta do.
Now here’s what both of those scenarios and there’s lot of spinoff both of those, here’s what both of those things have in common. For the purpose of this series, we’re gonna call that “circumstantial faith.”Circumstantial faith is this: I’m trusting God and I’m believing in God, based on my ability to find God in my circumstances.” And when you were 12-years-old, livin’ at home in whatever town that was and Mom and Dad said, you know, this is how you’re supposed to behave in a relationship with a young man or a young woman, you believed that and it worked for you and you held onto that.Then when you moved to the big city and that didn’t seem to be so practical anymore and nobody else was behaving that way, you abandoned that based on what? Your circumstances.It was circumstantial faith.
You always thought that God would protect you if you did certain things. It seems like God’s not protecting you. You look around your circumstances. You don’t feel protected and you’re not sure you believe in God anymore. Why? You have circumstantial faith.
And to some extent, all of us have an element of circumstantial faith. That is, our beliefs about God and our faith in God, whether weak or strong, is impacted by what we see, by what we experience,what the people around us do.
The problem is, circumstantial faith is always very, very fragile, because I don’t know if you have recognized this or not, life is not consistent. There is a randomness to life. Seemingly, there is a randomness to God. There is a randomness to the events of life. And every time you think you have figured out the formula, you know, two prayers, read my Bible and go to church, I’ve got it worked out, you know, every time we think we’ve got it figured out, somethin’ doesn’t work out and we look around our circumstances and say, “What’s wrong with God? Or what’s wrong with me?” That’s called circumstantial faith and it’s always very fragile.
The reason it’s fragile and you’re probably already kinda figurin’ this out, the reason it’s fragile, one reason is because we’re not very good at interpreting events anyway, okay? I mean, the problem with circumstantial faith is, I look in the vicinity of this week or this month and go,”Well, since this happened and since the job didn’t work out, since he never called me back and since my son hasn’t returned, maybe God doesn’t love me.” I’m lookin’ at my circumstances. But we’re bad at interpreting events anyway.
You know, the classic case is,if you dropped into [seeing] me interfacing with one of my kids and asked them, “Does your daddy love you?” there would be times when my kids would probably look at you and say, “No, he doesn’t love me.” “Well, why?” “He’s makin’ me go to that dentist.” (Laughter) You know? And of course, as an adult, you’re going, “Well, actually that is evidence that he does love you.” But if you ask my kids, or if you’d asked me as a kid, I’d sayno. That’s evidence that he hates me, okay? Because it hurt last time; it’s gonna hurt this time. Why would somebody who loves me, take me and sit me in a chair, put things in my mouth and then walk out of the room and just let them have their way? I mean, that’s not evidence of a father’s love. That’s some kind of weirdness. He probably needs counseling.
So, the thing is (Laughter) we know from personal experience, that at times in our life, we have been very, very bad at interpreting circumstances. Chances are you had an event in your life that in the moment, you thought it was terrible. Three years later, you look back and you say, “I am so glad that happened.” Well, wait a minute. Was it good or was it bad? Well, ultimately it was good, but it seemed like it was bad.
The other thing that makes us bad at interpreting circumstance is that our time frame isn’t long enough, right? I mean, if somethin’ happens on Monday and you pray on Tuesday, you know, you’ll give God Wednesday, but by Thursday, somethin’ needs to be goin’ on, right? (Laughter)Okay, God, I’m gonna be a gracious person; I’m gonna give You two weeks to work this out, right? Our time frame is so short and when we–now this is so important–when we evaluate God’s faithfulness,when we evaluate God’s intervention in a time frame that’s short enough to suit us, but that doesn’t suit Him, we often conclude somethin’s wrong with God. I pulled the lever and things aren’t linin’ up. And I thought I knew how to do this. I thought God always … I thought God never…
John: Pastor Andy Stanley on today’s “Focus on the Family.” And just a reminder, you can get a CD of this program with extra content or a DVD of the entire five-part series about faith when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or get an audio download at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. Let’s go ahead and return now to more from Pastor Andy Stanley on “Focus on the Family.”
End of Program Note
Andy: One of the most fascinating stories in the Bible, it’s one of the longest stories about a person in the whole Bible, in fact, it might be the longest, is the story of Joseph.Joseph was the key to getting the nation of Israel into Egypt.And in Egypt they were persecuted and then Moses and all that famous part of the story.
But Joseph was a critical element and when you read his story, it’s so fascinating. For 15 years, 15 years God didn’t do anything for Joseph and Joseph remained faithful. And when you read the story, it’s very evident as an outsider that God is up to something, but when you’re with Joseph and you’re in the story, there’s no evidence that God is up to anything. And time after time after time, Joseph continued to believe God, not based on his circumstances, but based on something entirely different that we’ll talk about in just a minute.
And when you read the story, you go, “Look what God did!” And you go, “Yeah, but what if at any point in the story, Joseph had said, ‘You know what? Clearly this ain’t workin’.Clearly there’s not a God and if there is a God, He doesn’t love me.’”But see, fortunately, he understood the time frame of God is oftentimes not the one that lines up with our time frame.
So, one of the things that makes circumstantial faith so fragile is, we don’t interpret events very well. We don’t know what God’s up to half the time. And our time frame is too short. And then, the other things is and maybe you can relate to this, maybe not. We don’t often interpret the voice of God very well. Every once in a while, you run into somebody or maybe you are again, one of those “somebodies” that hears from God. And somebody says, “You know, well, God told me to …” And “God showed me that I need to …” And “God led me out of …” And I listen to those people sometimes and think, “Wow! I think I wish God would speak to me that much, but that’s a lot of accountability. Maybe not. I’d rather go with a hunch, you know. Then I could say, “I didn’t know. (Laughter) I misunderstood, you know. (Laughter)
But you’ve met people and I don’t doubt that God speaks to people. I’m not sayin’ that at all. But the problem is, when you are sure God has spoken to you and then God doesn’t do what you think God’s promised to do, the tendency is to go, “Well, I don’t know if I can trust God anymore.” Well, maybe, maybe you misunderstood God.I mean, Sandra misunderstands me sometimes.I misunderstand her.I misunderstand my kids. They misunderstand me. If we kinda of have that thing goin’ on between human beings that we can see and get clarification, is it possible that maybe we misunderstand God? I think the answer is absolutely yes.
But,if your faith is leaning upon your ability to always hear from God and always get it right the first time, that’s fragile faith. That’s circumstantial faith. That is, “I’m trusting God, because I’m trusting in… in the sphere of my environment and my experience alone, fragile faith.
Now let me back up and quality it and then we’re gonna look at the verse together. For many of us, it’s true that God will oftentimes use an event or a set of circumstances to launch our faith. Now this sounds like I’m contradicting myself, so follow me carefully. You’re goin’ along. Life’s great. You’re not really interested in God. You know, it’s fine if there’s a God. You don’t care; you’re busy. You’re makin’ a living, you know, tryin’ to get life goin’, get your kids through school, whatever.
And then somebody invitedyou to church and you’re just sorta like, whatever, you know. They promised me lunch. And you show up and the music starts, you know, how the music starts.And thenthere’s a message.
And all of a sudden, you’re kind of overwhelmed with this emotion and you look back to that moment and you would say, “You know what? I just feel like God met me there.” We hear those stories all the time at baptism.Or maybe you’re goin’ through a real tough time. And one night you turn out the lights and got on your knees beside your bed. And you don’t know that you’ve ever done that or you don’t remember when the last time you did that was. And you started callin’ out to God out loud, saying, “God, I don’t know if You’re there, but if You’re there, I need You.” And in that moment, somethin ‘happened and you look back to that moment and you say, “Wow! That’s when it started for me. That’s when God became real. That event launched my faith. That event, that God moment, waslike the catalyst to my faith.” Or maybe it was an answer to prayer.
Now here’s my point.God often uses moments to launch faith.But those moments were never designed to be the foundation of our faith.Those moments often launch our faith, but never, ever, as we’re gonna see, are we to lean our faith in God up against those moments, because those moments come and those moments go. And sometimes God miraculously answers prayers and sometimes He seems to be silent.And sometimes He works within our short time frame and sometimes it seems like He ignores our time frame. We’re lookin’ at our watch. He’s lookin’ at the calendar, right?
So, the thing is, we have to be careful going forward and we’re about to narrow this down a little bit. Your confidence in your faith is resting against something. If it is circumstantial, it is fragile and eventually, it will fail and here’s why. Because the sorrows of life and the tragedies of life will eventually cause there to be so many random experiences in your life that don’t make sense, you will no longer feel like you canput your confidence in or trust this.
At the same time, the pleasures of life, thepleasures of life will eventually cause almost every single element of your belief system to become inconvenient.In order to continue believing, you’re gonna have to give up some pleasure. And at the end of the day, if your faith is purely circumstantial, you will opt for pleasure over faith every single time. And you will adjust your belief system to match your lifestyle, which isn’t necessarily a problem, except for this.
It means that what you have believed, really probably isn’t worth believing and that what you believe today, probably isn’t gonna be what you believe tomorrow. And none of that’s a problem, until you come to a place in life when you really, really, really, really need somethin’ to be able to lean on. And if all you have is circumstantial faith—faith based on what I can see around me, experience around me, what I believe, what I expect God to do—eventually that will not hold you up.
Now here’s one of the reasons. I love bein’ a Christian. And here’s one of the reasons that, you know, the more I read, the more I explore, the more I travel, the more I talk to people, the more I come back and I’m just grateful to the point of bein’ emotional about my faith in Christ and that’s this. That unlikecurrent-day philosophies and neat philosophers and all kind of the cool stuff that’s goin’ on today that’s fun to read about or really all other world religions, the foundation of Christianity is not an experience.
The foundation of Christianity is not my ability to make the world make sense. The foundation of Christianity is not an event with God. It’s not an answered prayer. It’s none of those things that are oftentimes the catalyst of our faith.
The foundation, the thing that we lean Christianity on, the thing that we lean on as Christians is so different than any other thing. It’s the thing that makes Christianity stand out and it’s the reason I believe that some of you are coming back to church, because you spent a season of your life trying to propyour belief system up and prop your worldview up on something that worked for a while. But you’re smart enough to know that you keep adapting your belief system to follow your behavior and adapting your belief system to follow your behavior and at some point in life, you look up at the sky and you realize, I don’t believe anything. I believe in me and I’m not enough. And maybe you’re back, because you’re hoping there’s more to life than that.
And here’s some great news. There is. Now I just want to read one verse to you today. It’s found in Hebrews, chapter 4, verse 14. The book of Hebrews was written to Christians who were Jewish. They were Jewish Christians and they had no real good reason to continue following Jesus, because life was really bad for them. They lost their jobs. They lost their place in society. They were told that Jesus was gonna come back soon. So, in other words, I don’t mean like in a few years. They were told like, don’t even sit down. He’s gonna be back in a minute, okay?
They believed He was comin’ back so soon, they sold all of their things and gave it all away, ’cause they didn’t think they were gonna need anything, because Jesus was coming back. Now Jesus didn’t say that.In fact, Jesus said, “I want you to go tell everybody in the whole world about Me; then I’ll come back.” They missed that part. They just thought He was coming back in a minute.
So, when He didn’t come back,they were losin’ faith. And so, the writer of Hebrews writes these Jewish Christians and he’s pleading with them, “Don’t give up your faith. Don’t abandon Christianity. Don’t abandon Jesus just because of your circumstances. In other words, don’t make the mistake of propping up your faithfulness on what you can see and those, you know, God moments that have …happen every once in a while.
And then in this verse, he gives us in no unmistakable terms, the foundation of our faith and this sets Christianity apart from everything else. And you know what? This is the only place,this is the only place to prop up your worldview and to prop up your belief system.This is the foundation of faith, verse 14, Hebrews 4:14. I’m gonna kinda pick through this verse real quickly for ya.
He says, “Therefore,” and now he reviews everything he’s said so far in these four chapters so far. “Therefore, since we have–present tense, right now–we have a great highpriest, who has–past tense–has gone through the heavens.” And that’s a summary statement for Jesus’ entire ministry and His whole life. If you read the other parts of Hebrews, that becomes clear.
He says, “Since we right now have this high priest, who in the past”–a few years ago from their perspective,a few years ago showed up on the earth, walked around, performed miracles claimed to be the Son of God, validated that through His life and miracles, Who died on the cross, Who rose from the dead and went to be with the Father, he said, “Since, you know, we right now have a high priest who did all of that, Jesus, the Son of God,” and then listen to what he says next. “Let us hold firmly,” as in right now. “Let us holdfirmly to the faith we profess.” Now let me put all that together and here’s the answer to the question, “What is the foundation of our faith?”
He was sayin’ to them, “Guys, I know it’s tough. And I know it ain’t workin’ out and I know Jesus didn’t show up. And I know you’re havin’ a hard time bein’ a Christian in a primarily Jewish culture, where they’re pretty hostile right now. I know that God’s not answering your prayers. And I know your children aren’t buying into it. I know things are tough, but don’t quit believing.
“Why?Well, not based on what you see around you. Don’t quit believing, because listen to what we have. We have in history a person who showed up and walked this earth as one of us, who was seen, who was touched, who was loved, who spoke, who performed miracles, who died on the cross in front of all of us, who was raised from the dead and seen by over 500 people and who claim to have a unique relationship with God and who claims to be the one who represents us to God that’s who we have, and since we right now currently have that, that’s why we don’t give up believing. In other words, the foundation of our faith is a person. The foundation of our faith is not an experience; the foundation of our faith is not an answer to prayer. The foundation of our faith is a person, Jesus Christ the Lord.
John: Pastor Andy Stanley of North Point Ministries on today’s “Focus on the Family” and you’ll hear more about how to make Jesus Christ the foundation of your faith and your life next time.
Jim: John, there’s a reason why this was one of our most popular programs of the year. We heard from thousands of listeners who were impacted by this message and who wanted to get a copy to pass along to family and friends. One young mother wrote to us and said this: “I lost all hope after a traumatic divorce, but have learned to rely on God. Your program with Andy Stanley was mind altering. It inspired me to really be sure that my young son has a solid faith with a firm foundation that can withstand the storms of life, especially when he grows up and gets married someday.”
I’ll tell you what, this mom caught it. It’s especially important to share this message with our teens and young adults who can be so wobbly in their faith at that age. And like this mom said, a firm faith is an essential part of a strong marriage and that’s just one reason why it’s important to us here at Focus on the Family.
And over this past year, we have helped about 575 people a day commit or recommit their lives to Jesus Christ–575 a day. Maybe that number represents someone in your family or maybe a friend that you know. And I’m hopeful we’ve helped build your faith over the years. And if so, would you consider making a generous donation today? We need your help and when you give, we want to