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[Home]>[How to Measure Your Beliefs]>[4. Faith Can be Measured]

 

This is the 4. Chapter of

"How to Measure Your Beliefs

by Frank L. Preuss

 

4. Faith Can be Measured

4.1 How Did Jesus Measure Faith?
      Table 1: Jesus Measures Faith
4.2 Prayer Examples
4.3 Prayer Mistakes
4.4 Matthew 17
4.5 We Measure Faith

4.1 How Did Jesus Measure Faith?

We want to deal with examples from the Bible in which a person makes a statement regarding the faith of another person. Our first example comes from Acts 14:8-10. "And there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, being a cripple from his motherís womb, who never had walked: the same heard Paul speak: who steadfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed, said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked."

In the following verses, we read what impact this miracle had. The above three verses are a twofold example of how faith comes to a person. Our principle is in Romans 10:17: "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." First the man in Lystra hears what Paul says; he hears the word of God. This is the starting point of his faith. He starts believing in God, and in his ability and willingness to heal him. His faith grows out of what he hears from Paul: Paul's words contain the word of God. Then he hears Paul talking directly to him: Paul commands him to stand on his feet. He obeys this challenge and realises that he is healed. This second event causes a further, much larger increase in his faith, because now he sees God's power in application, in his own life, and nobody can take that away from him. His faith is great. Also here, in the second part of his experience, faith comes through the word. He hears Paul's words: in this case, a very personal word. It was the word of a man of God. And, after he had heard it and done his part of the deal, after he had stood up, he experienced the physical change in his feet. He realised that he could use his feet - for the first time in his life.

Consequently, his faith came from hearing the words of Paul, because, after he had heard the message, he experienced the realisation of the words - his healing. His faith grew with leaps and bounds.

His own faith was decisive. His reaction to Paul's invitation healed him, because the healing undoubtedly took place only after his reaction; after he stood up. At this instant - after he had stood up, and before his feet really started carrying the weight of his body - he was healed. This man did not wait for a feeling in his feet to give him the impression that he was healed. He did not carefully try doing something with his feet. No, he fully relied on the word, his faith came from hearing.

And this is the way we have to act as well, when we are aiming for a faith goal. We have to rely on the word and our faith must be expressed through actions. Whenever there is something we can do: an action, a step, a move, an arrangement, a measure which supports and expresses this faith, we should do it.

If the faith of the people did not come to them through the words of Paul, it certainly came to many after they witnessed this miracle. Even Paul's faith increased after this wonderful experience.

But we want to return to the fact that this man caught Paul's attention. Paul saw that this man had faith. Paul looked at him: he could see his face, his posture. The longer this man listened, the more he realised that he did not have to be crippled for the rest of his life, that the big moment of his life had come. His whole body expressed this awareness. One only had to look at him to know what impact the word of God had on him. One could see his faith; read this man; measure his faith. His faith was there; it was positive. Paul measured the faith of this man and could therefore be a great blessing to him. If we can do the same - measure other people's faith - we can be a blessing to them. We have experienced that while speaking to a person and observing him, we could see whether he believes us or not.

In Luke 5:17-26 we find the well known story of the lame man who was let down to Jesus through a hole in the roof. Verse 20 says: "And Jesus seeing their faith" (Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:5; Luke 5:20). Jesus saw that these four men believed. It was obvious; everybody in the room could see it. These four brought the paralytic man, lying on a mat, to the roof, made an opening in the roof and lowered the mat. Their acts were plain, they believed in their plan. If they just wanted to try seeing whether Jesus could heal this man, they would not have gone so far. Their faith was decisive and Jesus measured it - he could see it.

These two cases, where the Bible says that Jesus saw their faith, and the case where Paul saw that the lame man had faith, are, however, exceptions. In all the other cases in the four gospels, faith is not seen, but heard. There Jesus measures the faith of people by listening to their words. Jesus listened to people - he analysed people's words. The familiarity he had concerning his own principles of faith enabled him to get a clear idea of a person's level of faith, by using the words spoken. Jesus listened to the prayers of the people he met.

Surprisingly, Jesus comments on the faith of people more than twenty times, not counting all the cases that were probably not recorded in the four gospels. Such an accumulation is striking. God wants to draw our attention to this. It is like saying: here is something special, something important. This happens again and again in the ministry of Jesus. We have to notice it and we have to imitate him.

We have collected these incidents in Table 1, "Jesus Measures Faith." This table should be studied carefully. It would be helpful to read the stories in the Bible.

 

Table 1

Jesus Measures Faith

 

Level of faith Person whose faith is measured Statement that reveals level of faith Statement made by Jesus

Great faith

Centurion

Speak the word only

I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel

Mt 8:10
Lk 7:9

Woman of Canaan

Yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their mastersí table

O woman, great is thy faith

Mt 15:28

Faith

Woman with an issue of blood

If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole

Thy faith hath made thee whole

Mt 9:22
Mk 5:34
Lk 8:48

Woman which was a sinner

 

Thy faith hath saved thee

Lk 7:50

Jairus

Come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed

Be not afraid, only believe

Mk 5:36
Lk 8:50

One of the ten lepers

 

Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole

Lk 17:19

Barti-
maeus

Lord, that I might receive my sight

Thy faith hath made thee whole

Mk 10:52
Lk 18:42

Little faith

People who worry

What shall we eat? What shall we drink? Where withal shall we be clothed?

O ye of little faith. Therefore take no thought

Mt 6:30-31

Peter

Lord, save me

O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?

Mt 14:31

Disciples

It is because we have taken no bread

O ye of little faith. Do ye not yet understand?

Mt 16:8

Disciples

Why could not we cast him out?

Because of your unbelief

Mt 17:20

Disciples in the storm

Lord, save us. We perish

Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith

Mt 8:26

Master, carest thou not that we perish?

Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?

Mk 4:40

Master, master, we perish

Where is your faith?

Lk 8:25

Father of lunatic son

They could not cure him

O faithless and perverse generation

Mt 17:17

And they could not

O faithless generation

Mk 9:19

And they could not

O faithless and perverse generation

Lk 9:41

Doubt

Thomas

Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe

And be not faithless, but believing. Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed

Jn 20:27-29

Un-
belief

People in Jesusí home town

(And they were offended at him)

(And he marvelled because of their unbelief)

Mk 6:6

 

The first column of Table 1 gives the levels of faith - from great faith to unbelief.

In the second column we find the names of the people whose faith is measured by Jesus.

The statements of these people are found in the third column. Based on these statements, Jesus could assess the faith standing of the person. When Jesus heard these statements he knew that they were genuine and came from the heart, that the people believed what was said. These statements reflected what went on in the heart - what the heart believes or what it does not believe. From the content of these reports, we see that all these statements corresponded with what the people had in their heart. They meant what they said.

When we measure the faith of a person, we must be led by the Holy Spirit in order to perceive what is real and meant to be. In Proverbs 23:6-7 it says: Eat thou not the bread of him that has an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats: For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee, but his heart is not with thee.

This is an example of words not agreeing with thoughts. But when we are led by our own spirit, in which the Holy Spirit dwells, and we use our knowledge of human nature, we will know if what we hear is genuine.

Jesus pays careful attention to what is said. Jesus' intelligent listening enables him to see the spiritual condition - the faith condition - clearly. In some cases Jesus may have been operating with the gifts of the spirit, but actually this was not necessary, because the words he heard were enough.

If a person asks for our advice, we often don't have to wonder very long what the solution to the problem is, or what the actual problem is. This is because most of the time people betray their actual problem by the words they utter. When we are able to read the actual level of faith in the person's words it will be easier for us to help and advise them.

In the last two columns, we find the reaction of Jesus and the Scripture reference. So Jesus is measuring the faith of a person, and is also letting her or him know what the result is. In most cases Jesus' statement follows immediately upon the person's words. What Jesus hears therefore has something to do with the outcome of the measurement.

Later, we will analyse the words people spoke and find that Jesus measured their faith against the words he heard.

We can deduct the level of faith from the words people speak.

It is quite interesting that Jesus told the people what kind of faith they had, even when it was negative. Undoubtedly, it must have been an unpleasant experience to be told, in front of people, that you are of little faith. If these people had had the right attitude, however, they would have appreciated correction and learnt more from Jesus about faith and how to apply it in their lives. A believerís living should be characterised by making the best of every situation, and changing defeat into victory.

Here Peter is a good example. In Matthew 14:31 Jesus said to him "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" but in Mark 5:37 and Luke 8:51 we find that Peter was one of the three that Jesus took with him when he raised Jairus' daughter from the dead. Jesus wanted to have people around him who had faith.

Peter grew in faith. In the book of Acts, it is reported that he healed the crippled beggar (Acts 3:7), that people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on them as he passed by (Acts 5:15). Peter healed the paralytic in Lydda who had been bedridden for eight years (Acts 9:34). He raised a woman from the dead (Acts 9:40).

Peter became very strong in faith. We can do the same. If our faith is little today, this should incite us to be an overcomer, to serve an apprenticeship with Jesus, and to grow in the things of faith.

 

4.2 Prayer Examples

All the examples from Table 1: "Jesus Measures Faith," are reports of encounters with Jesus. Jesus meets people and it results in reactions, talks, fulfilled wishes, miracles, healings and the dead being called back to life. In most of the cases, the faith of these people has grown. Jesus always tries to use people's faith. In case of little or no faith, Jesus is still prepared to help. He just uses his own faith. In his grace, God has today opened many ways to help people. If the faith of a praying person is too little or the person does not know how to apply faith, the solution can be reached in another way. The goal can be attained through somebody else's faith: another person with strong faith prays for this person, or the gifts of the spirit are operating in a believer, or God acts in his sovereignty.

This we find confirmed in our examples. If there is not enough faith in a person, it is no reason for Jesus not to help. The fact that somebody comes to him and calls upon the name of the Lord is sufficient. It is enough to receive help, but it is not enough to please him, because it says in Hebrews 11:6: "But without faith it is impossible to please him." In his reactions, Jesus makes it quite clear that he is not satisfied with the faith of certain people.

All recorded conversations in the Bible between God and man are important to us, because they are communications with God. To converse with God is praying. The examples of communications with God are in the Bible to teach us how to pray. This also applies to the examples mentioned in Table 1: "Jesus Measures Faith." They are communications with God, with Jesus, with God who became man. They are prayers because a conversation with God is what we call a prayer. When we ask God for something we call it a prayer.

When we hear from God - when we read the Bible, for example - his word - and we invite the Holy Spirit to reveal his word to us, then we let God speak to us. This we should also call praying, because it is part of the communication between God and man, except that rather God is doing the talking and we rather the listening.

When we read about Jesus talking with people he meets on his walk then we are face to face with prayers. And all these conversations and prayers are examples for us how we should pray. Sometimes, however, the examples of communication between God and man show us how not to pray, because Jesus' reaction shows that it was a bad prayer. Some of these examples are found in two, three or all four Gospels. It must be important for God to have repeated these episodes; he wants to tell us something.

Now let us review Table 1 and have a closer look at the different cases. The first person is the centurion. He has great faith. This we see from the commendation he receives from Jesus. His strength is that he not only believes in the ability of Jesus, but also in his word. Jesus' word is still with us today. We can still believe in it today, and receive, as the centurion received. The centurion is a soldier and knows all about authority. It is his business to issue commands. He achieves almost everything simply by speaking. This was why he wants to hear Jesus' word. It is enough for him. Immediately after Jesus hears the words of the centurion, he announces the result of his measurement: Great faith.

The communication between Jesus and the Canaanite woman is interesting. To the first question Jesus does not respond, he gives no answer. One reason is that this woman probably voices the problem and not the solution. Another reason could be that he wants to provoke her to still add the solution, because she does not actually say what she wants; she just brings a bad report: that her daughter suffers terribly from demon possession. The disciples then intercede on her behalf and Jesus says: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel."

These words of Jesus are probably also meant to be provoking. He wants a more positive approach from the woman. But he is unsuccessful. The woman comes and kneels before him. "Lord, help me!" she says. She only asks for help, she still does not confess her faith goal.

He replies, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." This sentence is really provoking, and more. To our ears today, it sounds like an insult. In his first reply, Jesus already indicates that she is a Gentile and not really acceptable. However, this second reply is a real challenge. And Jesus is successful. She says: "Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." This woman confirms her faith in God, a God that is big enough to act not only for the Israelites. And in this, she is correct, because the centurion also received, and he is not a Jew.

Of greater importance is that not natural descent from Abraham is decisive, but spiritual. A person must believe the Lord, like Abraham, and he credits it to him as righteousness.

This woman likens the falling of the crumbs from the masters' table to the falling of a blessing on her family, and the dogs eating the crumbs to the healing of her daughter. She calls things that are not as though they were. She is bold and confident and Jesus says to her: "O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt." And her daughter is healed from that very hour.

When we go to our Father in prayer today, we also have to do it with confidence, because Hebrews 10:19 tell us so: "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus."

When we pray for people in a counselling situation, we should induce them to say something positive verbatim, in order to strengthen the prayer; to let it become a prayer of agreement. In Matthew 18:19 Jesus says: "Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven."

The Canaanite woman speaks of crumbs, and this reminds us of mustard seeds. Both are roughly the same size; they are small. In Matthew 17:20 and Luke 17:6, Jesus says that our faith has to be only as small as a mustard seed in order to achieve great things. Perhaps her faith is called great because she relies on God's omnipotence. She thinks that delivering her daughter from demon possession is no problem for Jesus. The feeding of the dogs is a by-product of the feeding of the children, in the same way as the healing of a gentile is a by-product of the word of the Messiah. She reckons it is a small thing for Jesus to do. This, Jesus calls great faith.

For both of these people - the Canaanite woman and the centurion - the decisive thing is that Jesus speaks his word. His word is enough. Jesus calls it great faith when we rely on his word - when we believe without using a point of contact. The word of God as a point of contact is enough.

But, if we do use a point of contact, it is quite in order. Examples of points of contact are when we ask another believer to lay hands on us, when we request other believers to anoint us with oil, when we touch another person or a certain object, when we serve another person, when we pray at a certain place, when we follow the instructions of another believer, when we let the shadow of another person fall on us. All these are possibilities of the use of a point of contact which helps us to release our faith. A point of contact is a symbol - a symbol that we can hold - hold physically or mentally, or both. In the following we will have a look at such examples. When Jesus measures the faith of a person he observes if such a point of contact is used.

The woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, was healed by her own faith - her faith in the ability of Jesus. Her recipe for success was that she spoke out her goal; she confessed her goal of faith. She said: "If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed." And she added action to her faith; she went and found Jesus, pressing forward and touching his cloak, and she was healed. She received what she said - what she confessed. Jesus listened to her, and her report told him the level of her faith. He knew that her faith caused the healing. The touching of the cloak was her point of contact.

The sinful woman came to Jesus and brought an alabaster jar of perfume, showing love to Jesus. She washed his feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. Her aim was the forgiving of her sins. She did two things: she came to Jesus, and she showed practical love in her giving and serving. Jesus said to this woman that her faith had saved her. He measured her faith not by her words, but by what she did. Her actions were the point of contact.

To become a believer, is the most important event in a person's life. It is the result of personal faith. The Bible says again and again that we are made righteous by faith, not having a righteousness of our own but one which exists through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God, through faith. We do not make our peace with God by referring to our good works, or through hope. This is expressed in Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast."

In Galatians 5:6, we find a nearly perfect description of the sinful woman: "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." The practical love of this woman set the standard for Jesus' measurement.

When we had a look at aiming at a faith goal we observed Jesus' way of acting after Jairus had asked him to help his daughter. Jairus had the same faith goal, and the cause of his actions is worth noting. His prayer, with which he came to Jesus, is a very good example. He briefly explained the problem, and then formulated the solution clearly (Mark 5:23): "My little daughter lieth at the point of death: I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live."

His point of contact was the laying on of hands; his solution was the life and health of his daughter. He did not deviate from this, even at the news of the death of his daughter. At this critical moment of his trial, he practised the vocabulary of silence. So doing, he was obedient to what Jesus said in Mark 5:36: "Be not afraid, only believe."

Also Jairus - like Jesus - did not deviate from the faith goal. The ability to say nothing in a tense situation, to keep one's peace, is probably one of the best qualities in a faith person. It is always the best to confess God's word, but in a situation like this one, especially when the right words fail to come, it is best to say nothing, because a negative statement would betray and cancel the faith goal. The way Jairus spoke - prayed - to Jesus, showed that he possessed faith. When the news of his daughter's death arrived, Jesus encouraged him to keep his faith, thereby confirming it.

The point of contact of the ten lepers was that they started to go. After they had heard Jesus' command they obeyed: they started to go. The decisive criterion in this case was that they started to go before they got healed. Before they got healed they started to go to show themselves to the priests; to show the priests that they were healed. A person definitely must have faith who goes to somebody to show him something he has not got yet - he only expects to receive while he is going. Jesus instructed the ten lepers: "Go shew yourselves unto the priests." The action of going was their point of contact. They followed Jesus' command and were healed. This is recorded in Luke 17:14: "And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed." Notice the sequence: first "as they went" and after that "they were cleansed." They put action to their faith. They did not go to the priest because they were healed, but because they obeyed Jesus. This obedience was the expression of their faith. Their starting to go without being healed was the act that showed Jesus their faith. Their healing only came after they started going. If they had not listened to Jesus and had remained there and had waited for their healing, they probably would not have been healed.

The important detail in this report about the ten lepers is that the going came first, and only after "they went" came the cleansing. Contrary to this was the way of acting of the man at the pool of Bethesda. He was first cured and after that he picked up his mat and walked.

Nine lepers might have had their doubts about their healing; they might have - while they were on the way to the priests - checked whether they were still healed all the time. But one leper was convinced that he had received his healing and he was full of thanksgiving. He came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him - and he was a Samaritan. His conduct demonstrated his faith to Jesus, and Jesus told him that it was his own faith that had made him well.

Bartimaeus' point of contact was simply that he cried out to Jesus for help; that he called on the name of the Lord. His conduct was that of a believer. When he heard the crowd going by he asked what was happening. They told him, "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by." The meaning of this was clear to him. He might even have been waiting for this opportunity. His faith goal was established. He called out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" He called on the Messiah, he confessed Jesus as God.

But there were many religious people in the crowd who walked with Jesus. They did not want noise in their church service. For them it was more important to have order and a refined style, than to serve somebody seeking help. They rebuked Bartimaeus, and told him to be quiet.

But Bartimaeus was not to be deterred from his faith goal. He was not affected by people who wanted to get involved in his relationship with God. He ignored them. He shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stopped and called him. And then Jesus did something which is often overlooked. He asked a question (Mark 10:51 and Luke 18:41): "What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?" The purpose of this question was to get Bartimaeus to make a positive statement, so that Jesus could use his faith. It is difficult to answer such a question by stating the problem. A reply "I am blind" would have been inappropriate. Such a reply would not have fulfilled any purpose, because it was obvious that he was blind. It would have been an appeal to Jesus' sympathy, but what is the use of pity? If a sick person wants pity, it might be that the sickness is not that unwelcome.

People who ask questions as Jesus asked, are people of faith. They want to encourage people to make positive statements. Somebody who is not aware of faith principles might have asked: "What is wrong with you? What is your problem?" The right answer to such a question is to state the problem and not the solution. A wrong question like this practically excludes the participation of the faith of that person with the petition. Success depends on the faith of the person who asks questions like this one. It might be one of the reasons why so many do not receive their healing.

In our daily lives we should also not ask questions that encourage people to confess their problems. Sometimes such questions sound stupid. What is the purpose, for example, of asking a person with a running nose and a cough: "Have you got a cold?" We as believers should not do such a thing.

Other examples in the Bible also show that Jesus formulated his questions intelligently. From Bartimaeus, he gets the answer of a believer. The reply is the solution: "Lord, that I might receive my sight." These words of Bartimaeus allowed Jesus to measure his faith, and he told him that he had faith: "Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole." It was his own faith that gave him his sight.

 

4.3 Prayer Mistakes

The previous examples demonstrated how people with faith received what they needed. These reports are instructive and stimulate our faith. Now, however, we want to turn to more important examples, because often it is easier to learn from negative cases.

Our first examples are people who worry. In his sermon on the mount Jesus talks about worrying (Matthew 6:25-34). People who worry are not trusting God. A person who believes, knows and follows God, knows that God supplies all our needs. If we know the Bible, we know that it speaks again and again of God's ability and willingness to do everything for his children. He will not let us down. This sounds simple. We might feel sorry for people who worry. But if we are honest, we know that worry is a common problem and that we have struggled with it ourselves. The problem starts with a thought and it becomes serious when we start speaking and believe what we speak. Statements like "Will our children follow God?" and "What will happen when I am old?" are just examples. Many areas of our lives can be infused with worry. When we worry, we forget God and his power. We meditate on the devil's business.

We cannot prevent worry from entering our minds. But we must not entertain it. We must reject it and replace it with thoughts about God's word. We should never speak out words of worry. When worrying thoughts occur to us, we should counter them with the word of God - spoken out with our mouth - and say for example: "My God will meet all my needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19). To worry is a sin, because it implies not trusting God, and not trusting God is not having faith in God. Romans 14:23 says that everything that does not come from faith is sin.

We want to call attention to the difference between "worrying" and "making an effort." Not worrying does not mean we do not make an effort; that we do not exert time and energy. With energy and joy we approach every work - as well as difficulties - and overcome them with effort. The energy for this and the joy of doing we receive from the Lord. And with his blessing we succeed. The Lord Jesus does his part and we do our part and this co-operation guarantees the success. When we learn and practice this team-work we will realise that we need God, but that God also needs us, that he needs our effort. The return of Jesus very much depends on our effort. We exert ourselves and we make an effort but we do not worry: but go ahead joyfully and in his power.

Our second negative example is from Matthew 14:28-31; it describes Peter walking on water. Peter had probably always been a person of strong faith, but only after receiving the teaching of Jesus, did he become a successful believer. When Peter walked on the water, he was extremely successful, because where else do we find such abilities? But Peter stumbled because of his lack of knowledge and experience of details. He was cheated by the tactical manoeuvres of the devil. When Peter walked on the water, just as Jesus did, the devil suggested that he should take a look at the wind. There is nothing wrong with looking at the wind - to look with our physical eyes at the physical world - but our spiritual eyes must remain on our faith goal. Peter was impressed by this wind. So much so, that he forgot Jesus' invitation: "Come." He took his spiritual eyes off the word of God "Come" - and fixed them on what he saw. He forgot that he as a believer, was walking in the spiritual realm. He forgot the rule of 2 Corinthians 5:7: "We live by faith, not by sight." He should have made a good confession. He should have said to Jesus: "I am coming." So doing, he would have been using Jesus' own words. He would have - with his own mouth - spoken God's word, and the angels who carried him would have continued, because angels obey God's word when we speak it. Psalm 103:20 says: "Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word."

His reply to the thought the devil had put into his mind should have been: "I am coming, Lord", then he would have been victorious.

Peter made the mistake, of allowing this thought of the devil to remain in his mind. He carried on thinking about it. He accepted it and became afraid. Fear is the opposite of faith. It is believing in the devil's wish to destroy, to kill and to steal. The main mistake was that he formulated his fear in words. He cried out, "Lord, save me!" Even before he cried, the firmness of his steps had changed, and fear made his walk waver. The angels noticed this fear, gave up and Peter began to sink. If, at this moment, he confessed God's word to himself and the angels, "I am coming", the angels would have carried on. Peter made a mistake, but simultaneously he did something very positive. He called on the name of the Lord: "Lord, save me" and this is a call God likes to answer. Our ability to achieve something through faith always depends completely on God.

Immediately after Jesus had saved Peter, he said: "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" Jesus measured Peter's faith against his words: "Lord, save me!" because it revealed his doubt, his fear; it revealed that he had given up his faith goal. He vacillated from faith to unbelief, from God's word "Come" to fear. Jesus calls this doubting "little faith." Peter's words are the subject of Jesus' measuring.

We find our next example in Matthew 16:5-12: the disciples forgot to take bread. A misunderstanding, or perhaps more aptly, a lack of under-standing led the disciples to worry about bread. They said "We didn't bring any bread." Jesus replied "You of little faith", because just prior to this incidence, he not only fed the disciples, but 4000 people. He had wrought such a great miracle, and a few hours later his closest co-workers worry about the catering of a few. From this story we should learn to never forget the miracles which we have experienced and heard of. To think of miracles is always good for our faith. Jesus also asks us today: "Do you still not understand?" Don't you remember the miracles?

And prior to the feeding of the 4000 Jesus fed the 5000. So two mighty miracles - directly related to the disciples worrying of not bringing bread - had taking place. We should learn from that. When we have a physical problem - when we are sick - we should go back to all the cases in our life when we got healed. We should remember all what God did in the past; remember all healings we received already from him. It will make it much easier to have faith for the present crisis. The same with material - especially financial - support. Let us remember all the cases when God provided in the past. This remembering of miracles of the past will greatly enhance the faith we need for the present moment.

Let us now make a plan to overcome all worrying in the future. Let us now decide to never worry again. Let us decide to program our thinking in a way that will automatically counteract every attempt of the devil to get us to worry again. Let us employ the help of the Holy Spirit in this and ask him to remind us always of this decision and to help us to make a habit out of this response to worry. When the thought of worry comes we will - as from this moment on - automatically turn our thinking to all the many times where God has helped and saved us in the past and we will just know that he will provide in the future and we will just utter the words, "Jesus is Lord," and we will start praising God. Let us stick to this decision to never again accept and maintain a thought of worry. Let us make it a habit to always automatically react to every attack of worry.

Now we want to turn to the story in which Jesus calms the storm. Before the journey, Jesus told the disciples, "Let's go over to the other side of the lake". This was just to let everybody know what was going on. But it was also the words of God, because Jesus spoke it. It was therefore going to happen, nothing could stop it. The disciples should simply have relied on these words when they got into trouble. On this trip on the lake, we again confront the problem of fear, and Jesus' remark that fear is a lack of faith. We hear Jesus speaking to the waves. He speaks to things. He has authority over things and the forces of nature. The statement of the disciples "We drown" (Matthew 8:25, Mark 4:38 and Luke 8:24) is clear proof of their unbelief. It was a bad confession, they confessed the problem, or, even worse, they predicted and prophesied a problem. Actually the disciples should have spoken to the waves themselves and used their authority.

Our second last example in Table 1: "Jesus Measures Faith", relates to the unbelieving Thomas. He did not believe the good news, the Gospel; the word of God; the preaching of the disciples about Jesus' rising. He did not believe in the resurrection. He was not on this level of faith. He did not believe these evangelists. He believed only what he could verify with his five senses. Only after he saw Jesus and touched him, did he believe. This is a low level of faith, but still better than not believing one's own senses. In John 20:27-29 Jesus says: "Stop doubting and believe. Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

Our last example is the people who did not believe what they saw. They are described in Mark 6:1-6. They took offence at Jesus and rejected him. Their attitude caused them to deny the perception of their own senses. Jesus measured this "faith" and defined it as lack of faith. Their envy led them to deny their own perceptions. The Bible calls it blindness.

 

4.4 Matthew 17

The story in Table 1: "Jesus Measures Faith", which we want to study thoroughly, is found in the seventeenth chapter of Matthew. To simplify matters, we will call it Matthew 17, the story of the father whose son got delivered from a demon.

In the beginning of Matthew 17, we are told that Jesus took three disciples with him and led them up a high mountain. This is the report of the transfiguration and the three disciples were Peter, James and John. These were the same three that Jesus had taken with him, when he had raised Jairus' daughter from the dead. Jesus wanted to have people around, who were strong in faith. Jesus took the same three with him in the Garden Gethsemane. They were the last disciples with him.

When Jesus and his three disciples returned from the mount of transfiguration, and came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus, knelt before him and said (Matthew 17:15-16): "Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. And I brought him to thy disciples, but they could not cure him."

The father here gives us some information. A prayer meeting had already taken place. The participants were two groups, the first group was the father with his son and the second group was the disciples. The beginning of Matthew 17 shows that Peter, James and John were not part of this second group, because they were with Jesus. The second group were therefore the rest of the disciples; let us say the nine others. If the first prayer meeting had taken the right course, the father would have told the nine disciples his faith goal - the healing of his son - and would then have agreed with the nine - in prayer - and would have believed that he received the answer and it would be his (Mark 11:24). And after the prayer he would only have confessed the answer - the solution.

But the father did not do this. We know this - and Jesus knew this - from his words. He still spoke of the problem; the epilepsy; the suffering; the falling into fire or water. He spoke of everything that was wrong; all these problems still existed for him. He even spoke of the inability of the disciples. He did not even believe that the people he asked for prayer could really do anything for him.

His whole speech was a testimony of his unbelief, and Jesus recognised this clearly and said: "O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?" Jesus' reply followed the words of the father immediately. The words of the father were the basis by which Jesus measured his faith. And Jesus expressed the result of his measurement, as well as his displeasure, in quite clear terms. For him unbelief is sin, and not pleasing to God. This father sinned with his words.

Now we have to look carefully into these circumstances. Why did Jesus talk of unbelief?

A casual consideration of the situation could lead to the conclusion that Jesus simply saw that the boy was still sick and that this fact showed him that the father did not believe - that Jesus simply saw that the answer to the prayer had not arrived and therefore the prayer had been a prayer of unbelief.

But not the facts - the natural circumstances - were the reason for Jesus to pronounce his judgement. The spiritual circumstances were important. Jesus based his judgement on the spiritual situation. The spiritual fact was that the father spoke words of unbelief. Jesus based his judgement on this spiritual fact.

Jesus listened to the words of the father and analysed them. He found unbelief. We measure faith by listening to words. We do not measure faith by looking at the situation.

We look at the situation and see that the boy is not yet healed. This is a fact. But this fact cannot be used to evaluate the faith of the father. Why? Because we can never say when the manifestation will occur.

God normally does not tell us when he will give us the answer. The length of this span of time is unknown. After we have prayed, we have to wait for the manifestation. We do not know when our answer will arrive. It might happen immediately. It might not. It might take time.

Why is this? The whole reason for our being on this earth, is to seek God. And when we have found him, we have to learn. We have to grow in the knowledge of God. We have to imitate Jesus. The aim is to be perfect; to become like Jesus. Jesus needs people who now - and after his second coming - are able to rule with him.

The purpose of this training period is to trust God more and more. The more we trust God, the more we will know that God answers our prayers. More and more our faith will become knowledge. And when we know that all our prayers will be answered, we will then patiently wait for the answers. We will be completely relaxed. It does not matter how long it takes. We know the answer will come. God's word cannot fail. We know that we are bearing fruit with our mouths. We have spoken the word. It will not fall to the ground. The Lord is with us as we grow up, and he lets none of our words fall to the ground (1 Samuel 3:19). This is the position of a mature Christian: a person who has reached unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and has become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13); a person who stands firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured (Colossians 4:12).

But we still want to reach this stage. We are not there yet. There will therefore be cases where God gives us an answer the next day, or even only hours after we have prayed, or right after we have prayed, a miracle will take place. God knows our needs. We might have to get used to the fact that God is on the throne. And every day a couple of prayers get answered.

A time might come when our stage of growth requires that we learn to become patient. Answers to prayer do not come so soon any more. We are being tested. Where is our endurance? We have to learn to trust God, independent of how long we have to wait for our prayers to be answered. We have to learn to speak; to stop making negative confessions. God delays answers.

There might come a time when we have to learn that we cannot do anything in our own strength. We have to learn that we can only control our tongue with the help of the Holy Spirit. Only with God's help, can we overcome sin. God himself sanctifies us (1 Thessalonians 5:23), we cannot do it ourselves. I might pray to overcome sin, maybe to overcome anger, and try to overcome it with my own strength. I am not successful because I do not ask God to do the work in me. My motto must become: Let God.

We are here to be trained. Getting prayers answered is an incentive. The aim is to become rulers; to rule with authority, with delegated authority from God.

We operate in the spiritual realm. We walk by faith and not by sight. We fix our eyes on what is unseen. This means we walk in the spiritual realm. Our means of operating are words. In Matthew 17, the father spoke words. These words are our guideline. We listen to them and we evaluate the father's faith.

We do not operate in the physical realm. We do not walk by sight. We do not fix our eyes on what is seen. This means we do not walk in the physical realm. Our means of operating are not physical actions. We do not use physical facts as a means of measuring. In Matthew 17, the boy was not healed, he was still sick. This physical situation is not our guideline. We do not look at the sick boy and evaluate the father's faith.

Again, we want to point out that the worldly situation exists. That the boy is sick, is a fact. But this fact should not cause us to walk by or to talk of it. This physical fact is subject to change. We do not speak about it. We do not walk by sight. We walk by faith. Our actions are words. We speak what we want to happen in the physical realm; what is already reality in the spiritual realm.

In Matthew 17, Jesus did not detect the unbelief because the boy was still sick, but because the father spoke words of unbelief. The father was still speaking the problem. The father walked by sight. He walked by what he saw: a sick boy. There was no healing, and therefore the father did not believe. What he could see, determined what he believed. And believing that which we can see, what we know is not faith. It is knowledge. There was therefore no faith in the father, only knowledge. Knowledge that the boy was sick.

The father would only believe when the son was healed, when he could verify it with his senses. And that is called knowledge. It has nothing to do with faith. Jesus calls it "little faith."

After the father prayed, he should have believed that he had received the healing of his son. He should have believed that he has a healthy son. And he should have spoken accordingly. If he would have behaved like this, he would have had a healthy son. If he had acted in the "present tense" - as if he had a healthy son, - he would - in future - have a healthy son.

The grammatical wording of Jesus' main faith principle is important. We want to look at this detail in Mark 11:24. We take the wording from the Interlinear Greek-English New Testament. This translation accurately represents the tenses: "For this reason I say to you, all things whatsoever praying ye ask, believe that ye receive, and (they) shall be to you."

"Believe that ye receive" is present tense and "and (they) shall be to you" is future.

In the present tense we believe that we receive - we believe that we receive the answer. If we do this, then - in the future - it shall be to us.

In the present tense we walk by faith. Then - in the future - the manifestation shall be to us.

The manifestation are the things - they - that "shall be to us."

We strongly recommend meditation on Mark 11:24. This scripture is the key to faith. It is to be understood with the intellect. Then it can be applied in life - in prayer life.

At this stage, we want to recapitulate the key to understanding Matthew 17. Jesus reproved the father because of the father's unbelief. The fact that the father's son was not healed, was not the reason why Jesus accused the father of unbelief. The reason was that the father's words were betraying him. The father's words of unbelief showed and proved to Jesus that the father did not believe.

The father did not only speak to Jesus about all his problems with his son, but he also forgot to ask Jesus for the solution. Thus we see that the first group, the father, in this first prayer meeting did not believe. But also the second group, the nine disciples, were unbelieving. This is disclosed by their question in Matthew 17:19, which they asked Jesus when they were alone: "Why couldn't we drive it out?"

This question showed Jesus - and shows us - that the nine disciples also did not believe and he told them so - immediately - as he replied (Matthew 17:20): "Because you have so little faith."

With their question, the nine disciples betrayed their unbelief. So we can see that both groups in this first prayer meeting did not believe. What should they have done? If they had believed, they would have spoken and confessed that which falls in line with the solution.

If we cast out a demon today, we should not be guided by the subsequent behaviour of the person concerned. If this person behaves the same way as before, we should not be impressed. We don't need a change in this person's behaviour; our faith does not depend on it. We simply believe that the demon has left. The devil works with tricks like this; he apparently does not react at all. With this he wants to find out if we are really serious, if we really believe; believe in our authority. And well-meaning Christians are just the people he wants to see around; in their eagerness to discuss the things of God, they might bring up all kinds of questions and want to know about the casting out of demons. But in such a situation, there is only one thing to do: confess the solution, and otherwise remain silent.

This was probably the reason why Jesus sometimes just took Peter, James and John along; they were more advanced in their faith growth.

The Bible gives the impression that when Jesus cast out a demon, it always obeyed immediately. And this was probably really the case. Why is it then, that when Christians do this for the first time, there is perhaps no visible reaction? With Jesus, the devil knew out of experience that Jesus believed, that he really meant what he said. But with us, he does not know. He therefore tests our reactions to ascertain whether he really has to depart. Maybe shortly afterwards, we will utter a word of unbelief, and then the devil knows that he may stay.

And this is not only the case in a dramatic deliverance performance; he will also try to stay when we are just trying to cast him out of our thoughts. There therefore is very little difference between getting rid of the devil in small things and casting him out of a person that is demon-possessed. He is testing our faith.

We have seen that the two groups of the first prayer meeting failed because they both did not believe. Our praying is therefore not finished after we have said, "Amen." Our praying to God must agree with our general conversation and our speaking.

We can't pray for the healing of our neighbour and then tell our good Christian friend how ill our neighbour is. The most dangerous talks are probably the ones we have with our close Christian acquaintances, because there we can be "open" and they "understand" us, and with them we can talk about the things of the Bible.

During our so-called quiet time, we might even talk to God about all this. And that we call praying. "I have discussed all my problems with God" or "All my fears I could only entrust to God." Hannah (1 Samuel 1:15) poured out her soul to the Lord. It was the right thing to do in her situation, but it must not come to confessing problems and fears and talking unbelief. From reports in the Bible we know that God - or Jesus in the New Testament - can be dissatisfied with our prayer. To briefly describe a problem is not wrong, but the solution should follow. And when we pray again about the same thing we must never speak the problem again; and this applies to praying to God and to talking to others.

If we don't know the solution to a problem, we have to look for it in the Bible or ask God to point it out to us. But it is wrong to just speak the problem. God knows the problem. He knows what happens in the world, and he knows our hearts. We have to consider what we want to say to God.

In Matthew 17, we have two such cases: the father and the disciples. Four prayer meetings actually took place. The first prayer was the prayer of the disciples and the father. It was wrong. The second was that of the father when he approached Jesus, which was also wrong, but at least Jesus knew what was happening. The third prayer was that of Jesus when he told the demon to come out. It was correct and very successful. The fourth prayer was the disciples' question: "Why couldn't we drive it out?" and this was also wrong. This report shows that out of three prayers that were prayed by "believers," three were wrong and they caused a rebuke from Jesus.

The fourth prayer, the question of the disciples, showed their unbelief. Jesus, however, used it to say something important; to formulate a faith principle (Matthew 17:20): "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move."

Here Jesus speaks of a small faith, a faith that is as small as a mustard seed: really small, and this is enough - enough to move mountains. Jesus says that the magnitude of faith is not the important thing. In the next line, we find that the important thing is the "saying." Our speaking, especially after prayer, is decisive, specifically that we don't speak the opposite to what we prayed - that we don't confess the problem.

There is another issue in Matthew 17. When we tell a demon, in the name of Jesus, to leave a person and there is no reaction afterwards - the behaviour of the person concerned, does not change - we have to remain firm and must not deviate from our spoken word, because it could be that this prayer of ours is answered in a completely different manner to what we expected.

While we are worshipping the Lord, the Holy Spirit moves a brother to operate in the gifts of the spirit. He casts out the evil spirit and our prayer is answered. It does not matter if we do it or if the brother does it. The power comes from God in any case.

We could also say: "Why couldn't we drive it out?" But with such a statement, we would destroy our own faith. Most probably the gifts of the spirit operating in the brother were activated through our prayer. Our reaction should be one of giving thanks, because God heard our prayer and the sick person is delivered and healthy.

When we have cast a demon out of a person, we should not later say to a friend: "This person is full of demons. I drive them out of him, but he then takes them back again." This suffering person obviously is weak and does not fight spiritual battles. We should feel responsible for this person, and probably are. The returning of the demons has something to do with our negative statements. Our speaking shows that our faith in our authority is similar to that of the nine disciples: "Why couldn't we drive it out?"

In Matthew 17 something similar happened. The disciples and the father prayed without apparent success. But then Jesus came and cast out the demon. The initial prayer of the nine therefore, got answered.

Everything started with the father. His confessions after the prayer were wrong, but we must not forget that his principle action was right. By approaching the men of God he called on the name of the Lord.

God has many ways to work in our lives and if we don't know, understand, and apply all principles of faith, he can still take action. He knows our hearts. And our motive and attitude are more important than the technique of praying. But we as believers want to please God and we want to become better servants of his. We always strive to become more like our God and our Lord Jesus Christ. We can serve our Lord better when we act in faith and when we can measure faith.

Now in order to close our discussion of the seventeenth chapter of Matthew let us again have a look at what is described in the beginning of that chapter. There are two interesting happenings. The first is that Jesus talks to dead people. He is holding a seance so it seems. He talks to Moses and Elias. He not only talks to them and they to him, they also appear. They appeared also to the disciples. The second interesting thing is that Jesus seems to believe in reincarnation. And the disciples seem to believe in it as well. They ask Jesus about the coming again of Elias. And Jesus confirms that he "truly" shall come. He even tells them that this coming of Elias has already happened. And the disciples then understood that Jesus was speaking of John the Baptist. Let us use these two incidents described in the Bible to view the word of God with proper eyes and beware of preconceived ideas and ideas that religionists want to lay on us.

 

4.5 We Measure Faith

When we can measure the faith of a person, the door to success - to helping this person - is open. Of more importance is that we can also measure our own faith. If we learn to listen to our own words, we will often hear ourselves say things, that don't agree with our prayers and confessions. This observation can then be used to put an end to this defect and to learn to control our tongue.

To believe simply means that we start believing when we pray. The moment we speak out the prayer, we believe, and we maintain this faith, never giving it up.

In the time between our prayer and our receiving the answer, we have to sustain our faith. The answer may come in either a short or a long time. And during this time, we have to adhere to our faith and apply patience and perseverance. The word of God speaks about these virtues time and again.

When the answer to our prayer comes, we have to believe that it occurred because we prayed. When, at this point of time, we start to think that it would have happened in any case, whether we prayed or not, we are on the way to unbelief and we run the risk of losing that which we have received. We therefore have to believe that the answer is the result of our prayer and has not got any other cause.

But with this our faith has not come to an end. After we have started to believe, we can't stop. We have to carry on believing that we have received because we have prayed. It is always good to remember things and to remind oneself of the things we have received from God through prayer. It makes it much easier to have faith for other cases in the future. The most important reason for us to maintain our faith is not to lose God's gift. Even years after we have received something from God, if we start taking it for granted, we could lose it through unbelief.

Reflecting on this, we no doubt ask ourselves what faith is really all about. What do we do when we believe? What must we feel? How do I know that I believe? How do I know that I still believe? How do I know whether I have stopped believing? I have prayed and the answer has not arrived; is it because I did not believe when I prayed? Or is it because at some point of time I stopped believing? Is there a clear way of knowing whether I believe? The answer is, Yes! The word of God shows us that believing and speaking are connected with each other.

In Mark 11:23 Jesus makes it clear that there is an association between saying and believing. Jesus says that when I say to this mountain 'Go, throw yourself into the sea', and do not doubt in my heart but believe that what I say will happen, it will be done for me. When I say and when I believe that what I say will happen, it will be done. We therefore believe, and then we speak. The speaking is therefore the expression of our believing.

We express our faith by speaking about it. We speak to other people and to unbelievers about it. We speak to them about our faith. We confess that we are believers. We profess our faith.

It is the same when we believe in an answer to our prayer. We express our faith by the words we let out of our mouths. We say that we have what we prayed for. We confess the solution. We say and we tell others that we have the answer.

It is the same when we say and tell others that we are saved. We do not say to them: "I am getting saved." No, we say: "I am saved." Our salvation took place on a day in the past and now - today - we are saved. It is not something that will happen in the future.

Many believers have no problem with faith when talking about their salvation, but when it comes to obtaining other things from God, their speaking becomes crooked. They think that they are lying when they call things that are not as though they were.

But they seem to forget that their salvation is something that happened in the spiritual realm; something nobody can see and prove, because it is a matter of faith in God's word. The manifestation will only occur later. But they still say that they have it, that they have their salvation. So why don't they take the same approach to receiving everything else from God?

There is a simple way to find out whether somebody speaks faith or unbelief. It is unbelief if he speaks about the future. When a Christian says: "I am getting saved" or "I am getting healed", then we know he does not believe.

But when he says: "I am saved" or "I am healed", then we know that we are listening to a believer.

It looks like a small difference. But it is the difference between death and life, because the tongue has the power of death and life.

It is unbelief when a Christian speaks about the future and says: "I am getting healed." His unbelief is more distinct when he says: "I am sick." It is easier to detect unbelief in such a bad confession, because he clearly confesses the problem and not the answer.

How do I know whether I believe, or still believe, or whether I don't believe any more? The answer is: I observe my mouth. I listen to my own words. The believing takes place in my heart, it is my spirit, it is my real personality. My spirit believes and I express my faith through speaking. When I listen to my words; when I am analysing what I am saying; when I observe my confessions, then I know what I believe.

When I myself always confess that I have what I prayed for, then I know that I believe. When I start confessing that I don't have it, then I know that I don't believe. Also, when I hear myself saying that it has not happened as yet, I know that I don't believe. Not only do I know that I have stopped believing, but that I probably never believed - never believed right from the beginning.

A prayer is therefore an important thing. We should not take a prayer lightly and forget about it after a few days or even hours. We should prepare ourselves for a prayer. We should have clearly recognised the nature of the problem. We should have thought about the direction of our prayer; what solution we want to have and what scripture we stand on. Only after we have sorted this out in our thinking, should we speak out the prayer. This preparation work will then also help us to remember our prayer and our faith goal. When we have spoken, we have given our word; the decision is made and we must keep our word and uphold our decision. While we are preparing ourselves for the prayer and while we pray it, we resolve to always speak in line with the solution. We programme ourselves to only confess the solution after we have prayed, and to never utter the opposite.

When we pray we have to believe in our heart, but this does not mean that we shut out our mind. On the contrary, we use what God has given us. When we pray in this manner - using our intellect - we will later have a greater chance to come to positive measurements. We will also start to use the ability to measure faith, and our faith life will become successful. We will measure like Jesus did, as well as measuring our own faith, and that of others. And from this experience we will learn.

When we measure the faith of a person, we must consider that between the praying and the actual occurrence of the manifestation, a space of time can be inserted. We can never say: This person has prayed and nothing has happened, therefore this person does not believe. In his judgements of faith, Jesus never referred to what he saw. He did not make the present situation a yardstick for his measurements. He measured the heart, because there the believing takes place. And what is in the heart he measured by listening to the words. Matthew 12:34 says: "For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks."

When we therefore hear somebody pray, and after this nothing seems to happen - the desired result is not visible - we have no reason to say that the praying person does not believe. Only when we hear this person making a statement of unbelief, can we conclude a lack of faith. But if this person does not make such a negative statement, we have to assume that the prayer was made in faith, and we should actually add our faith to it and believe with this person and confess the solution.

This is the end of the 4. Chapter of "How to Measure Your Beliefs."

Next chapter: 5. Levels of Faith

Contents see: "How to Measure Your Beliefs"

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