Jesus said to him, “if you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-24)

When trouble hits the fan, I have two choices: submit to God’s hand in my life, or despair. 

The Bible says God afflicts us for our good.

In our trials we realize our own inabilities, our lack of faith, our fears. “I believe; help my unbelief”. Perhaps all our difficulties serve to bring us to that point, to make us realize that depending on our own effort (even when we may agree with and pay lip service to grace), we still come up short. It’s not until we really understand our own inability to even trust that we make any real progress. God’s grace dawns, on my heart at least, gradually. It is learned as He disciplines me, and I suspect there is no other way. The first step in trusting is to realize we can’t do it on our own.

But I think the discipline doesn’t so much harden me to the task – to make me more moral and determined to obey – as it teaches me to let go and let His Spirit do the thing. Weakness here equals strength. I have to learn to let go, not just in theory, but in practice, and then He can get to work.

Romans 8 now makes a little more sense: if we don’t have His Spirit in us, we are not His; we can’t be His. It’s not so much a rule as it is a structural necessity: if it’s His Spirit inside that draws me, helps me to pray aright, that loves through me as I learn to step aside and let Him work through me, then it just can’t happen unless actually He resides within. And we can’t receive except by trust, by faith. It’s a slippery concept, because it’s so easy to say we are trusting, and to think we are trusting when we really aren’t. And even when we start to get it, there’s a sort of natural gravity that draws us back into the shadows. We need reminders, and life’s troubles push us back into His arms again and again.

I am by nature religious and dutiful. But that’s no credit to me; perhaps even a hindrance. It’s easy to trust in my own moral performance. 

But trusting in what’s already done… That’s the gospel! And if it’s already done, then we can get excited, rest, and rejoice.

Is there a connection between the power and purity of the early Church and the degree of trial they endured? I don’t doubt it. These extreme trials would surely force them to not trust in themselves: but we live in an affluent, secure age; such radical trust runs against the grain of our time and culture. 

I understand a bit better, I think, those who talk about our utter depravity and how God must do it all. It’s not just that we are culpable; it’s that our nature renders us incapable of obedience – unless He does it in us. It’s ALL him; God is completely everything. He initiates and works through us for His glory and our good.

The upshot of it all is I take credit for nothing at all. It’s God who calls, saves, heals, and helps me to trust. Yet… my free will is somehow still part of the picture: I must yield, get out of the way, rest, trust, and submit to the death of my old nature.

And nothing He does is ultimately frustrated if He is truly sovereign. He uses everything for His glory, which is connected wonderfully to our good.