I’ve been thinking about faith again** and mulling over something that Andrew Murray wrote about it. To illustrate what faith is like, Murray said that “when a man wishes to learn to swim, he goes into the water while he cannot swim, because he knows that once he begins, he will learn to do it in time.” That’s so true. You don’t learn to swim sitting on the shore. I’ve been watching Clara on webcam as she masters the art of walking and I’ve been reminded that a baby does the same thing. If all Clare ever did was watch adults and her big sister, she would never learn. She had to start toddling and falling and picking herself up again, over and over and over again. I don’t know how many times a baby falls while learning to walk but it must be hundreds of times.
Too often I view faith as something that I should be able to do perfectly all the time, rather than something I have to practice. To have more faith doesn’t mean hoping God will dish out a bigger portion to me. Instead I learn to exercise faith by tottering along. Rather than get frustrated that I don’t have perfect faith, I can accept I am almost guaranteed to fall down and I will have to get up and start again. I say, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”**
Faith isn’t a possession as much as it is a muscle that grows with patient practice and repetition. Even Peter couldn’t walk perfectly when he saw Jesus on the water before him, but stumbled. How much harder is it for us who don’t see Jesus with our physical eyes, but only with our eyes of faith. I just have to keep walking with Jesus, holding out my hand like a baby holds out her hand for her mother when she starts to lose her balance.
The hand of faith
Interestingly, that image of reaching out a hand is found at least three times in the gospel of Matthew**. The first time, it was a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years. She had gone to many doctors and spent all her money trying to be cured without success. She was desperate, not only because of her physical problem but also because it made her ritually unclean. Anyone and anything she touched would also become unclean. I imagine that people must have kept their distance from her. She decided that if she could touch the edge of Jesus’ cloak, she would be healed. She came up behind, where no one would notice her. Maybe she didn’t want to embarrass Jesus. Or maybe she didn’t want to risk having Jesus reject her because of her condition. Whatever the case, she went ahead and took a baby step of faith with life-changing consequences.
The next time, it was a man with a withered hand that was shrunken and paralyzed. The Pharisees were in the middle of a tiff with Jesus about whether it was right to heal on the Sabbath. To prove his point, Jesus told the man to stretch out his hand. The man obeyed and his hand was restored to health. I suspect he didn’t mind being used as an object lesson but I wonder if he hesitated when Jesus asked him to show his hand. Sometimes faith requires exposing our weaknesses, brokenness, and damaged parts.
The third time it was Jesus who offered his hand, to a sinking Peter. Peter had taken a bold step, getting out of the boat and starting to walk on the water towards Jesus. But he began to lose his courage, just like Clara would take a few steps and then realize how far away she was from the safety of the couch or a chair. She wasn’t always confident enough to keep going.
“Beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said. “why did you doubt?” [Matthew 14:30-31]
That’s the hand I like best, the one that comes to rescue me when I stumble and fall. Since walking by faith is not something that comes naturally to me, chances are I’m going to take a lot of tumbles. Like a loving parent, God doesn’t mind holding my hand or staying close beside to give me confidence, or coming over and comforting me when I’ve fallen yet again. I don’t think He ever tires of pulling me up out of the slimy pit and setting my feet on solid rock ground again. And when I am able to walk more steadily, He enjoys holding my hand as we walk along.
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you!
Don’t be frightened, for I am your God!
I strengthen you –
yes, I help you –
yes, I uphold you with my saving right hand!
Links and notes
** see the “Six-month prayer challenge” for earlier musings about faith
**Matthew 9, Matthew 12, and Matthew 14