[How do we, under God, grow our faith in him?? My previous post submitted 5 avenues]

Sixth avenue, by putting our faith into action. Dr. Jordan Peterson (below) is a world-renowned Canadian behavioural psychologist and emeritus prof. at the University of Toronto. He’s a high achiever but simultaneously wonderfully in touch with his own and others’ emotions. In recent times he’s abandoned atheism for a journey toward God, weeping at the mere mention of Jesus’ name. Peterson argues cogently and enthusiastically that ‘belief absolutely necessitates acting on it!’

2000+ years ago the apostle James made the same point in writing to scattered, persecuted Christian groups about ‘Listening and Doing’ (I guess most of us are poor at both?). His readers were surely familiar with the many ‘religions’ of the day – James writes concerning a unique, ‘pure religion’ of God the Father: “Don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word but don’t obey it, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it! If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows and refusing to let the world corrupt you’ (1:22-27/NLT) (‘world’ here = the idolatrous, humanistic, egoistic, materialistic society-system of every age). And so we could be long-time professing believers, kidding ourselves about the genuineness of our faith and practice! If so, let’s repent and act, beginning with v. 26-27!

There is need not only for individual repentance but corporate repentance. A week ago News24 in South Africa published an article by Dikeledi Molatoli,‘The Dead Faith of Christian Churches.’ In it he highlighted the SA Council of Churches’ response to one of the deadliest floods ever to hit our country (in Kwazulu-Natal), claiming the lives of some 500 people and leaving 8,000 homeless. The message included condolences and a request to ‘set aside a moment of prayer’ on Good Friday. The author expressed dismay at this inadequate response: not even calling the Church to contribute finances, food, water, blankets, clothing and equipment. All this when the local Islamic ‘Gift of the Givers’ was already on the ground with immediate practical aid, many churches working alongside that organization because of its proven record in SA and abroad. Molatoli then goes on to quote Jam. 2:14ff, ‘”My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? … Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. What if one of you said, ‘Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!’? … In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity!” (CEB)

I’m reminded of a powerful, personal encounter with Jam. 1:26-27 many years ago. I attended our annual national ‘Synod’ on the Reef (Gauteng). One of the early speakers was Ds (Pastor) Christo Botes from Belville in the Cape. I remember feeling so disappointed at the turnout, approximately 50 leaders out of a potential 200? He and his flock had been engaging the poor and broken on the streets and under the bridges of their suburb. His text was Jam. 1:26-27, an ‘unusual’ one for ‘evangelicals’? As he shared those brief verses and his congregation’s journey with the needy, the Spirit was powerfully at work. At the conclusion of his message, he made an invitation in the context of James’ definition of ‘true religion.’ Now imho professional pastors can be some of the proudest and self-sufficient people, believe you me! Overwhelmed, I made my way to the front of the meeting place and knelt there weeping. Others joined me, a bit of heaven came down, and I knew I would never be quite the same again – a powerful, living seed was planted within me that day, and grows within me still. [PS, 15 years ago I learned that 80% of our world is young and poor]

While we are all called to this ‘pure religion,’ some of my readers may/will be called to give themselves more fully to the challenge of the poor – some of my younger readers, and even older ones! (I recall visiting the underground church in China and meeting an elderly couple from the West overseeing a home for children with special needs). So let me tell you the story of Craig Greenfield and family (pic below)…

Craig grew up in New Zealand, came from an affluent home, and from his earliest years wanted to be well-off, climb the corporate ladder and drive a really fast car! Then, as a corporate executive, Jesus interrupted his life while travelling in Cambodia. He recognized his Saviour in the distressing eyes of the many orphan children. ‘I realized that Jesus left the most exclusive gated community in the universe to move in among us!’ (see Addendum). He and his wife, a Khmer Rouge refugee, emigrated to Canada. Soon God called them both to plant orphanages in Cambodia, and they moved in among the destitute of that distant land. God gave them much success, under extremely trying and dangerous circumstances. At one point, with their lives in danger, they were forced to return to Vancouver, again moving into an inner city community, this time to create a safe community for addicts and the homeless. Over the years they’ve established ‘Alongsiders International,’ a grassroots youth discipleship-movement spreading into Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond. In fact I’ve just read of their work in Malawi in Central Africa, where thousands of children are starving. [In my own tiny ministry in the slum areas of my city, I have learned from Craig ‘never to do for the poor what they can do for themselves’ – quite a challenge to keep the balance, I can tell you]

All of us need to ensure that we escape the extremely subtle self-interest and materialism of our time, live a simple life, so that we can take care of the vulnerable in one way or another. Bob Goff, NY TIMES best-selling author, lawyer and philanthropist, has challenged comfortable churches and church leaders with these pungent words: ‘If you want applause, join the circus, if you want Jesus, find the poor!’


We’ll never be able to fully plumb the depths of that pivotal scripture, Jn. 1:14, this side of heaven! The apostle John has been speaking about the eternal ‘Logos/Word of God’ moving into our world of time and space at a specific point in history. We need to read the preceding verses, i.e. v. 1-13, to capture the the context of God’s massive self-revelation to humankind: v. 14ff/NLT, ‘So the Word became human (Gr. ‘became flesh’) and made his home among us (lit. ‘pitched his tent among us’). He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son’ (the OT word ‘glory’ carries the idea of weightiness, the NT word that of splendour/beauty). The MSG paraphrases v. 14, ‘The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.’ Here is God’s own expression of ‘true religion!’ How shall we express our faith today?? Please ponder that before moving on in your busy world, and may God be with us all!


HOW do we, under GOD, grow our faith in him?? Let me suggest 6 biblical avenues worth exploring, hopefully avoiding that ‘magic formula’ approach so popular in today’s ‘Church’:

First, by recognizing our helplessness before God and looking to him alone. I refer my readers to Luke’s account of the conversation between Jesus and the two criminals crucified beside him: “One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him, ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, ‘Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus replied, ‘I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise’ (Lk. 23:39-43/CEB). Someone (despite many attempts I’ve been unable to identify the author) has asked very aptly, “How does the thief on the cross fit into your theology? No baptism, no communion, no confirmation, no speaking in tongues, no mission trip, no volunteerism, and no church clothes. He couldn’t even bend his knees to pray. He didn’t say the sinner’s prayer and among other things, he was a thief. Jesus didn’t take away his pain, heal his body, smite the scoffers. Yet it was a thief who walked into heaven the same hour as Jesus simply by believing. He had nothing more to offer other than his belief that Jesus was who he said he was. No spin from brilliant theologians. No ego or arrogance. No shiny lights, skinny jeans, or crafty words. No haze machine, donuts, or coffee in the entrance. Just a naked dying man on a cross unable to even fold his hands to pray.”

More than a century ago 15-year-old Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) was on his way ‘to church’ during a snowstorm in Colchester, England. The blizzard worsened and he decided to shelter in a Primitive Methodist Chapel on the way. The congregation was small, the ‘licensed’ preacher hadn’t arrived, the teenager sat down to hear a ‘layman’ (I don’t enjoy these terms) preach. The preacher kept repeating the words of the Prophet Isaiah, ‘Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else!’ (45:22/KJV) The outcome? Charles simply ‘looked to Jesus’ by faith that day and went on, despite chronic illness and seasons of depression, to become ‘The Prince of Preachers’ and initiator of orphanages for the poor. All of London was plunged into mourning, with 100,000 lining the streets for the funeral procession, flags at half-mast and every pub closed in honour of this man.

Second, by habitual Bible-reading through the lenses of Jesus. His sent-one, the Apostle Paul later wrote to the Roman ecclesia concerning the Jews, “So how can they call on someone they don’t have faith in? And how can they have faith in someone they haven’t heard of? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the good news.’ But everyone has not obeyed the good news… So, faith comes from listening, but it’s listening by means of Christ’s message” (10:14-17/CEB).

My wife grew up in an assembly proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. Her mother regularly instructed her girls, ‘Just read the Bible, even if you don’t always understand it.’ I fell in love with the beautiful ‘product’ of that old-fashioned up-bringing, more than 4 decades of happy marriage behind us. I would add, read the Bible even if you have no Christian background. English Professor Rosaria Butterfield of Ohio State University was an outspoken lesbian and gay rights activist for years. She was befriended by a pastor and his wife, hated his preaching, but decided to read the Bible for herself multiple times… she was converted in 1999. She married a pastor, raised a family and is currently an astute apologist for marriage according to the original Creation mandate (cf. YouTube).

Third, by regularly feeding our belief. CS Lewis wrote in his ‘Mere Christianity’, ‘There are three things that spread the life of Christ to us: baptism, belief… and Holy Communion. If you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive. It must be fed!’ At simplest, The Apostles’ Creed comes to mind, i.e. reciting it, thinking about it’s statements and even singing it (cf. Hill Song’s ‘This I Believe’ below).

Fourth, by lovingly ‘gossiping the Good News.’ The story is told of Englishman John Bunyan (1628-1688) of Bedford being powerfully influenced to faith by a few poor women in conversation one day in a doorway. He paused and overheard them speaking of their ‘new birth’ and the Spirit’s indwelling. He listened amazed, painfully aware that he knew none of this. Bunyan, through many spiritual struggles, was eventually converted to bless the world with his ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ and 60 other titles! You may protest ‘I’m no Bunyan!’ May I resume the story of my wife: like her mother (the latter sadly died of cancer at 42) who would spontaneously engage with anyone in the neighbourhood concerning her Saviour, she is one of the most ‘natural’ evangelists I know. I can’t tell you how many have entered her nursing clinic over decades, been gently prayed for (with their permission and without wasting her boss’s time), resulting in an amazing harvest of ‘ordinary’ and professional people drawn nearer Christ. Even if you’re not some Bible scholar, never underestimate the power of your personal testimony to Christ and the change he’s worked in your life!

Of course, winsome Christian Apologists (my personal favourite? Prof. John Lennox of Oxford) have a powerful role to play in our post-modern world. However, I believe Swiss theologian Karl Barth was also right when he said:

Fifth, by persistent prayer even in the face of our world’s stubborn unbelief. As one Ukrainian believer reminded the world recently, ‘Prayer is more powerful than rockets!’ To quote Barth again:

I think the notion of mass prayer being somehow more powerful than small group prayer, generally speaking, is a fallacy (I can think of at least one exception, the 1994 mass stadium prayer-gathering in Durban, South Africa, when a peaceful transition to democracy was sealed at the last moment: however we must never underestimate the many preparatory small all-night prayer meetings across the nation under the leadership of Dr. Michael Cassidy and African Enterprise, leading to that national breakthrough). Consider again Christ’s assurance in Mt. 18:18-20 to the effect that two or three believers in prayer-agreement can bring down his divine presence and power. The young praying Evan Roberts of the 1904/5 Welsh revival comes to mind, his prayers and testimony impacting Welsh society and nations for years! I treasure my copy of David Matthews’ ‘I Saw the Welsh Revival:’ I heard the latter preach in my city as a teen – he was in his 80’s, but the fire was on him still!

This post has just borne twins, I’ll leave point 6 for the near future. We’ve more than enough to process in the mean time!


Having dealt with the unbelievably destructive power of unbelief, we now consider ‘THE UNBELIEVABLY CONSTRUCTIVE POWER OF BELIEF!’ Here follows Part 2 of what has grown into a trilogy (wink)…

Again, we’re talking about faith in GOD, who has so graciously revealed himself in creation (‘the first Bible’); human conscience; and history, i.e. in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth who lived among us, died and rose from the dead! All this, in immense love to rescue us from ourselves, sin, and self-destruction and then to bless us with an eternal love-relationship with himself. [Reminder: we’re not talking here about the power of positive thinking (Norman Vincent Peale), nor ‘faith in faith’ (Kenneth Hagin and his ‘word of faith’ heresy), nor innate ‘belief’ (‘new ager’ Oprah Winfrey and panentheist Fr. Richard Rohr)]

(1) To clarify biblical faith, we turn firstly to Luke 7:1-10, the historian’s account of a very special Roman centurion serving in Capernaum on the North West shore of Galilee, who came to believe in the Messiah. Roman centurions were seconded for administration purposes during a very turbulent period in Palestine’s history. It’s interesting that all 5 Roman centurions mentioned in the NT are men of standing and visible integrity, picked for their character and strength (Dr. E.M. Blaiklock). It’s not strange to find this particular officer attracted to Judaism and its lofty views of God and stern moral conduct – many Romans had long discovered the unsatisfying nature of the Roman and Greek gods. This man seems to have gained some insight into the arrogance of so many Jewish leaders, suspicious of the Nazarene’s messianic claims. In fact, he sees something of the worth and wonder of Jesus’ person – thus he comes to seek him with courtesy, reverence and trust, on behalf of his beloved dying servant. He certainly understood that Jesus had come not only for the salvation of Jews but also Gentiles who were receptive to him. He asks some Jewish friends to approach Jesus for the healing of his servant. In glad response, Jesus had almost reached his house when the officer sends new messengers to Jesus not to bother coming to his home, feeling unworthy of his sheer presence. As a military man of some experience he understands how authority works, so he says: “Just say the word, and my servant will be healed…” When Jesus heard this, he was mightily impressed… He turned to the following crowd and said, ‘I tell you, even in Israel I haven’t found faith like this.’ When the centurion’s emissaries returned home, they found the servant fully restored to health! (v. 6ff/CEB). As South Africa’s superb exegete of yesteryear, J. Norval Geldenhuys, has said (commenting on the centurion’s deep, humble and whole-hearted faith in Christ), ‘Today this is still the only way to receive the divine blessings – we must realize our own utter unworthiness, but at the same time cherish a steadfast faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord.’ In the context of this post, a clear example of the unbelievably constructive power of belief in God!

(2) Biblical faith comes in the context of a great prior, divine love. Here we think of the apostle John’s story, beautifully elucidated in ch. 3 of his testimony to Christ. Many years ago as a young man I heard the renowned American evangelist Dr. Billy Graham preach in Johannesburg South Africa, packing out the Wanderers cricket stadium with folk spilling on to the grass pitch right up to the podium. This was during the Apartheid days, the evangelist bravely insisting on addressing a multi-cultural audience – fortunately our government relented because of popular demand! At that time a popular movie, ”Love Story,” was doing the rounds. Dr. Graham entitled his message, ‘The Greatest Love Story Ever Told,’ basing it on John’s pivotal Jn. 3:16 text. As a believer I was deeply moved by that simple message – on the other hand a fine family member I had invited along, was impressed but remains indifferent to Jesus’ loving claims to this day. His response confirms the message of Pt. 1, i.e. the unbelievably destructive power of unbelief in the face of Jesus’ glorious revelation and his loving call.

(3) Let’s take a glimpse at the great apostle Paul’s theology of saving faith: writing expansively about ‘The Faith of Abraham’ (Rom. 4:1-25), we read that the aged ‘Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact his faith grew stronger (his was a growing faith), and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises…’ (v. 20-21/NLT). To this kind of persevering faith, as Abraham’s spiritual seed, we too are called.

By way of practical application, let’s take a look at the faith of two outstanding figures in more recent Church history. They and their devoted families were certainly flawed (as we all are), but hugely faithful and fruitful!

A) Adoniram Judson (1788-1850), American Baptist missionary to Burma, today Myanmar. Of him John Piper wrote ‘He died a thousand times and lived!’ In tropical Burma he and his loved ones suffered multiple diseases such as cholera and malaria. His wife had to take care of their young children when Adoniram was imprisoned for his preaching. Judson underwent total burn-out as a result of his demanding ministry, to the point of digging and sitting beside his own grave. Happily married three times, his wives lost more than seven of their children to disease and weakness. Judson, having married a third time, himself became severely ill, dying alone and unknown at the age of 62, his coffin let into the ocean off the East African coast en route to America. His ministry and that of those following in his footsteps left a massive harvest: 3,700 congregations, 617,000 members and 2 million affiliates! (portrait below)

B) So also Englishman Dr. James Hudson-Taylor (1832-1905) and his family, founders of the famed China Inland Mission. Called to China at the age of 21, Dr. Taylor sailed for that great land to share the Good News at all costs. He learned the power of faith and prayer from his mother and sister. His mission motto was, ‘God’s work done in God’s way will never lack his supplies!’ By faith alone he planted 20 mission stations, enlisted 840 missionaries, and raised some $400 million from the Western Church for the work. It’s estimated that his ministry resulted in 125,000 converts of whom he personally baptized some 50,000! All this while suffering poor sight and sickness, many robberies, depression, his wife’s many illnesses and the loss of 4 children. [A missionary friend of ours in Hong Kong is presently writing her Ph.D on Taylor’s Song of Songs meditations – I learned something of their richness at a silent retreat in our metro some years ago]

From these two faithful mountain-movers, back to Jesus. His frustrated disciples, when confronted with a demon-possessed boy whom they were unable to help, asked the Master why they couldn’t cure the lad: “Because you have little faith… I assure you that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed (so tiny), you could say to this mountain, ‘Go from here to there,’ and it will go. There will be nothing that you can’t do!” (Mt. 17:20/CEB). I don’t know about you, but this statement embarrasses me and (I believe) much of today’s Church no end! Hence in Pt. 3 we’ll think about how to ‘grow our faith’ under God, in our present post-modern world.

[In the mean time, I’m sure you’ll identify with the soulful prayer below]