Sunday, October 03, 2010


Luk 17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, "Make our faith greater."

This past week has really been a rough week:I have sat with a number of people who are facing deep challenges in their lives:

• My friend Allen Rodgers – lies unconscious in hospital because he was knocked off his bicycle by a hit and run driver.
• My friends Dion and Megan had to sit at the bed of their twelve year old daughter while the doctors explained to her that she had a growth next to her brain.
• Andre is my friend and colleague in Pinelands. In 2005 his wife had an operation for a growth at the base of her skull - and this week they heard that it has grown back and the doctors are recommending another operation – one that will probably sever all the nerves to her face.

You tell me – what should I say to them?

The easy answer is to say to them “to have faith in God” – and yet this is the most difficult answer! Because having faith in God is not a guarantee that prevent bad things from happening!

This is the question that has haunted us thoughout our history:
How can bad things happen to good people? Surely if we follow God’s way then we should be safe / blessed / protected. But the fact is that “Bad things do happen to good people!”

Some people have answered this by suggesting “If only you had more faith – then this would not have happened” And sometimes there is even a suggestion that it is our lack of faith that caused the disaster: and so some people are tempted to ask “What did we do wrong to deserve this?”

But we all know genuinely good people who face disaster: in fact all we need to do is to point to the writer of Hebrews 11:36-37 who speaks of the great suffering endured by people of faith. So there must be more to this than the simple equation “small faith – great disaster”

Some people suggest that this is God’s way of testing our faith: we just need to learn to trust God and everything will be alright! If you only had stronger faith you will survive this disaster. This was the conversation between the disciples and Jesus in the New Testament passage we read earlier:
Luk 17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, "Make our faith greater."
And Jesus turns around and says to them – you do not need more faith! You already have enough to cope with life. What the disciples needed was not more faith – but rather a better understanding of faith. The prayer “Lord make our faith stronger/bigger/more successful/more glamorous” is the stuff of a consumer society that commoditisers everything and then wants ‘bigger/ better / and more successful’ possessions.

The answer of Jesus is that we do not need more – we need to learn to use that which we already have. This is a faith that embraces the challenges and the difficulties and chooses to trust that God will give us strength to cope. This is trusting that whatever life brings my way – I will find God alongside me, giving me strength and teaching me new things about living.

It is not the size of our faith that counts – it is the size of the God we serve.

So let me try to draw some conclusions:
Life is fragile –
 Life is filled with joy and filled with sadness
 Life contains good and bad experiences.
 Life has moments of great comfort and moments of great difficulty.
There are no guarantees in life….. so if we follow God because we think it will keep us safe from disaster, we are mistaken.

It is the child who gets angry and throws a tantrum because things do not work out as I want.
It is the adult who learns to find the faith to accept the things that life brings.

It is the child who demands that Life must work out my way
It is the spiritually mature who learn to accept both the light and the dark in life – and find God in it all.

I have been brought back to this over and over again:
It is my experience that just when I think my faith is strong – I am confronted by problems and difficulties that show me that my faith is weak: and in this moment I learn to trust God.
I cannot trust my faith – I can only trust God.

On a personal note: I have learned this very painfully over the past three months:
I thought that I was settled in the work that I do within Plumstead Methodist Church. I had begun to think of the next 5 years, only to discover that God had other plans: I have been asked to teach at the new Methodist Seminary in Pietermaritzburg. This forced me out of the place where I am comfortable, and has asked me to trust God.

In the process of this I have discovered that God is stretching the faith of the members of this church as well: I have heard some people say “What will we do without you?” and I realised that the members have begun to trust my leadership, rather than to trust God!

So I am reminded that this is God’s church: and we can hear the echo of Jesus words as he says to us : “you have enough faith for the next step.”

Whatever lies ahead of us – we do not need more faith – we need to learn to use the faith we already have.

And so I ask for your prayers. I have felt the pressure to finish my doctoral studies, while at the same time helping finish the year off in this church. But have I have run out of capacity to do everything. I am due my long leave (every 6 years Methodist Ministers get furlough) so I am taking two months off to finish my thesis. Please pray that I might have strength to finish the task – and pray for my congregation that the people might finish the year strong in faith


Jenny Hillebrand said...

All the best with the thesis . . . and the other things!

Anonymous said...

Amen to that !

Anonymous said...

God bless. Voorspoed met die studies en al die veranderinge.
Annelize Odendaal

Scout with the Cross said...

Why do bad things happen to good people is a question I often get asked. Thank you for your thoughts.

God has a way of shaking us out of our comfort zone as I have found out. I am sure that you and your church will succeed in what God is asking you to do. Not by your own efforts, but by trustung in God, praying and doing what he tells you to do.

You are in my prayers.