Tag Archive: trust


The Opposite of Religion

“For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭149:4‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

What is humility? It’s not, the saying goes, so much as thinking less of yourself but of thinking of yourself less. The humble look outside themselves, past their own abilities and agendas in concern for others and to seek grace to live lives that please God.

Religion seeks God on its own terms; I put God in my debt by my good works. Then I get bragging rights and can feel superior to others. But Christianity says there’s nothing I can bring to the negotiating table: I am accepted only by God’s raw grace.

The defining mark of God’s people is a conscious dependence on their Saviour. It’s not so much a prerequisite as it is a structural necessity: we have to be humble to look for help beyond ourselves.

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Answers to Prayer

Answers to Prayer and Free Will

We sometimes are troubled that God does not always answer prayer the way we would expect, especially since the Bible tells us that we are precious to Him.

Life still appears random, and we ask ourselves if things are just happening as they would happen. We don’t see God’s hand notable in daily life.

Or we are told He does answer prayer, but if we aren’t seeing Him move it’s because we don’t have enough faith.

I wonder if both ideas misunderstand our real situation.

If God is the Creator and outside of time, we may reasonably expect that He is sovereign and can work all things out according to His plan; and if He truly desires our good, that He hears us. But because He desires relationship with created, finite beings, He must grant them free will so that relationship can be consensual. That’s where things get messy.

If the free will of humanity is a real thing, then it’s nonsense to expect a direct correlation between prayers offered and desired results. There will be notable instances, perhaps even miraculous deliverances; but to get what we want every time we pray is to ask the impossible. Some thoughts:

1) Sometimes there are conflicting needs, situations and desires of praying individuals – whose prayers get answered?

2) God knows what we need better than we do, and if God dwells in the past, present and future all at once as the Bible suggests, He sees outcomes we can’t. We are finite beings who live in time, and we often can’t know the long term results of the answer we desire. He does.

3) Besides this, we may consider that the results of our physical actions are limited by our own physicality and mortality; but when we pray, we invoke a power that stands independent of time. Prayer could be a much more powerful force, and a Heart greater than our own must balance our requests against our ultimate good and His plan for the universe.

4) And sometime we ask amiss, for our own pleasures. We trust our own hearts a little to easily: yet the Bible tells us the human heart is wicked and deceitful; self-centredness is the default position of the human heart. Even among His chosen, we must unlearn a lifetime of looking out for number one, and sometimes what we ask for has some of this in it.

But what about when we have done nothing wrong, and God just doesn’t seem to be there?

5) I wonder if God sometimes answers prayer in large strokes, with the complex good arising out of many smaller things that seem like reversals and trials at the time.

One example that comes to mind is Joseph in the Bible. Sold into slavery by his brothers, I don’t doubt he cried to God and wondered why he was left to languish in an Egyptian prison. Yet this trial put him in the position to save his family and changed him from an arrogant upstart to a gentle, forgiving man. It took decades before he was able to connect the dots and see God’s hand.

6) And what of Christ’s passion? Our Lord prayed for deliverance in Gethsemene, yet it was not offered. The Jewish leaders freely chose to have Jesus executed; and they are described as blameworthy even though we are told it was God’s plan from the start.

7) Waiting and trusting develops our souls, puts on spiritual muscle. What we become is more important than our comfort. And if our wills really are free, I don’t see any other way God can amend our bent nature. We have to swim against the current if we are to be changed in fact.

Read Psalms. Lots of wonderings, yet the Psalmist remains faithful. The Bible is quite clear that sometimes faithful people endure terrible trial.

Read Hebrews 11. Some were saved or brought great deliverance; others suffered and were even killed rather than deny their allegiance to God.

When we trust, even our effort is more relaxed. To do our very best because of the gratitude we have for Our redemption is one thing; to work hard because we don’t think God will come through if we don’t is another, and I wonder if this attitude informs much of our work for Him. To do our best and then to be able to rest at the same time is the key, I suspect, to avoiding burn-out. Understanding God’s sovereignty and foreknowledge is part of this.

In the end, I think the Bible describes a God who is eternal and sovereign; whose plan will prevail, and who wants to change our hearts. He moves many things to accomplish His will; and our freedom is one of the things He works with. His work in and for us will not always be obvious.

The Crisis

“…in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
‭‭I Thessalonians‬ ‭5:18‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to talk about your feelings. David did this. Jesus did too; He is even called “a man of sorrow, and acquainted with grief”.

But that’s a lot different than becoming bitter. Bitterness happens when we allow ourselves to believe that the situation that’s made us sad is beyond hope. We cave in to despair, and we resent God (if He’s even paying attention); we ask ourselves how He could let this happen.

We come to a point of crisis; our spiritual direction hangs on the razor’s edge. What will we choose: hope, or despair?

Small steps; it’s the direction that matters. Every small choice establishes us a bit more on one road or the other.

Complaining becomes a bad spiritual habit, and we must fight against it every day. This is why scripture tells us to give thanks in everything. It is a decision to voice our trust in God – even when we don’t understand, even when He seems a million miles away.

Our faith is tested this way all the time. When the sense of His support is taken away will our hearts still point to Him? That is what we are being trained in. The cultivation of good habits takes effort, like any type of exercise.

We are told to “guard our hearts”, and we cooperate with God when we choose thank Him for all. A trusting, thankful spirit honours God and develops us into true followers of Christ.

Enduring Faith

“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭5:3-5‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

How is the heart changed?
When things are good, we tend to kick back and relax. We get lazy, and we start to take things for granted.

But troubles and pains drive us to our knees, exposing our frailty and need of God. We pray.

It’s humbling. Prayer is a request, so first of all we are coming to God on His terms. We look not to ourselves, but to Him for help. It’s a good place to start.

And as we pray, we develop perseverance and character as we wait on Him. The perseverance comes from disciplining ourselves to hope, even when sight seems to say God is absent. And it’s that discipline that builds character, a habit of trust and reliance on God. The waiting on Him is one of the things that changes you.

A moment’s thought tells us this is the only way it could be. It wouldn’t be a trial if things made sense or God’s presence seemed nearby. It’s when the feelings of doubt seem so strong that the decision to trust anyways does its work. It produces the steel God wants to put into our backbones, the character of a heart changed in practical fact.

And I think we need to regard this as the central issue in our lives. We often compartmentalize and regard our faith as a way with dealing with our larger life, merely a coping mechanism of some sort. But if He really is our Lord, then the changing of our hearts is the real issue, and what we go through to get there is merely the means to achieve this. Realizing that our lives are bigger than our circumstances lifts us out of despair and restores perspective.

The poet Keats said “The world is a vale of soul making”. I don’t doubt it.

Do You Believe?

“But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭4:5‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

We often talk about faith like it’s a state of mind we can work ourselves into, but I think it’s actually a lot simpler than that.

One use of the word is to believe something is true. We examine the evidence and decide whether we actually believe there’s a God or not, or whether Jesus really existed and rose again. And while that’s very important, it’s not the whole story; nor do I think that’s what defines a Christian. It’s when we are willing to bet our lives and future on the reality of what He has done for us that we are saved. It’s “believe” in the sense of trusting the character and ability of someone who has made you a promise.

God has promised us eternal life and bodily resurrection. This seems sort of abstract and in the future, so it’s not that hard to convince ourselves we can trust Him with that. But He has also promised that He will use all things for our good, that He is in control and that He will provide what we need. When I lose my job, or am sick or bereaved, will I continue to trust? If I do, I really can rejoice, even when the chips are down.

Trust in this sense is almost a statement of allegiance. Do I trust Him, or my own efforts? Do I trust Him enough to lay down my arms and trust that He really is love?

Happy Easter! He is risen!

If the atheists are right, we aren’t really free; we are all just the effect of random causes we had no control over. There is no right and wrong, we are not accountable for our lives, and if life has dealt us a bad hand, we can just complain like the victims we are.

If we are free, we are also responsible for the choices we make. But we will live worried, guilt-ridden lives as we notice our own tendency to mess things up.

But if we combine this with an understanding of God’s grace and His sovereign power, then we can rest and really start to enjoy our lives.

God says we are free; our choices matter. He wants us to do our best, and uses the trials of life to change us. But because of Christ’s work, He also forgives us as soon as we are willing to trust that He has. And knowing His will ultimately prevails, we can put our worried hearts aside and live happy, fulfilled lives.

It’s like the old Keith Green song:
“Keep doing your best
And pray that it’s blessed
And He’ll take care of the rest”.

Faith and Sin

“Whatever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23b). Why?

We must never forget that God – not just some vague, spiritual force, but a real Person who loves and acts – desires relation with us. Faith (or to put it simply, trust) is something that happens between persons. So why is it such a big deal?

Because Christianity tells us we have trust issues. Our ancestors were convinced God was holding something back and reached to take it for themselves. They learned to look not to God, but to themselves for their answers.

We have inherited this behaviour. We want to justify ourselves, to take matters into our own hands. To say we don’t need help, and especially not from God.

So we put ourselves in the driver’s seat. We act for ourselves and our own agendas – the sin behind every other sin.

If we are not living trust-based lives of conscious dependence on God, we necessarily remain centred on ourselves; even our good deeds are done according to reliance on our own abilities and a desire to justify ourselves. We want to pat ourselves on the back every time we do something good.

I think that’s why Jesus had more criticism for the religious types than he did for the tax collectors and prostitutes who already knew where they stood. They came to Him without condition. Only when we understand our own inability and brokenness will we truly come to Him for help.

The very concept of grace implies we understand our position before Him as helpless, condemned sinners; and that acceptance into God’s family hangs on a trust that His work really is enough to save us from that state and to give us provision and power to live from day to day.

To not trust is what separates us from God.

Does God Require Sacrifice?

“If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭50:12‬ ‭NIV

God doesn’t need our sacrifices; He doesn’t need to be appeased. It is the reality of justice and the goodness of His creation that we offend against when we sin that makes atonement necessary.

It is because He is just that there must be payment for sin; to do less is to devalue the victim of the offence.

Why are we are so outraged when a murderer or pedophile gets a light sentence? Because it treats the value of the victim as less significant than the rights of the perpetrator. We instinctively feel the punishment should fit the crime.

It was sheer grace that even the Old Testament sacrifices were even allowed to atone for Israel’s sin, and it is a far greater grace that the death of Christ is sufficient for ours.

Christianity has never been about appeasing an angry God; our penalty was taken by Christ. We just have to put down our pride long enough to realize we could never earn our way back anyways. It’s a gift of grace, and it humbles us to accept it.

The Test

It didn’t make sense.

God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac, who had been an answer to prayer and the fruit of a promise and prophecy God made to him.

We know God detests human sacrifice:
“They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.” (Jeremiah‬ ‭19:5‬ ‭NIV‬‬). But that is exactly what God seemed to be telling Abraham to do.

It was a test; but it could also be argued that the purpose was more to change Abraham  than to tell God something He would already have known.

Sometimes what makes the trial of our faith what it is lies in the fact that we can’t figure it out. Will we still trust? Obedience wouldn’t be that hard – or effective in changing us – if we understood.

This kind of test draws us deeper into a relationship of radical, life changing faith. Choosing to trust changes our hearts at a foundational level: it’s when we trust in spite of what we see that we truly draw closer to God.

Organized Religion

Many people these days harbour a deep suspicion or even a dislike of what they call “organized religion”. They consider themselves spiritual, but want to craft a belief system more agreeable to their own felt wants.

But is this wise, or even honest? Those who would go their own way expose themselves to great danger, for all humans are fallible and prone to error. They separate themselves from the believing community and the correctives it contains, from the wisdom of the crowd.

Ironically, they will often cite the judgementalism or hypocrisy of organized religion as the big turn-off, not realizing that in so doing they are themselves judging. They display little grace in their own attitude towards the church.

The community of believers is certainly flawed, because it contains redeemed sinners who are all works in process. What did we expect? We must never forget it is a hospital for souls that are being healed. And I suspect that most of the New Testament would not have been written if the Church were perfect, since most of the letters in it are addressing problems or clarifying points of belief.

The solution is to go deep, and to trust in Christ Himself, not our own dreams about what we think God should be like. If God is real, we are hardly in a position to make Him in our image. He can’t be a matter of interpretation or opinion. The truth about Him, like all truth, is discovered, not made up; in our search for Him we must always beware of inserting our own ideas and preferences onto our conception. We need to be honest with ourselves.

We need the Bible. We need the structure and community the Church offers, but even then we must put our trust primarily not in it (being composed of imperfect people), but in Christ Himself. Read the Bible deeply, let it shape your life, and benefit from the fellowship and counsel of those who are also doing their imperfect best to follow Jesus.

We need our fellow Christians, and as we understand the Bible and God’s wonderful grace we can help build up our fellow believers without being shaken by their inconsistencies – or our own. For we need grace and forgiveness as much as they do.