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Fear Not! – Biblical Command or Invitation?

I am intimately familiar with fear, but I am no longer consumed by it. These days when fear rears its ugly head it is quickly overtaken by resignation (the acknowledgment that I am not able to change some things) and acceptance (the knowledge that God’s plans trump my desires every time – and rightly so) and the hope of eternity (the assurance that what befalls me in this world is not the end of the story). I know the Bible repeatedly tells us not to be afraid, but I think that has less to do with fear being sinful than it does with God’s acknowledgement that fear is the natural response to a perceived threat. 

God knows we will repeatedly confront fear in this life!

Fear is often the impetus that leads us to reach out to God. And maybe God tells us not to be afraid because when we call out to Him we have summoned the most powerful entity in all existence, therefore there is no need to be afraid. He is the giant that steps between us and that which we fear. Instead of interpreting, “Fear not!”, as a command we are all too prone to fail to implement, maybe we should instead interpret it as a gentle reminder or reassurance. Maybe,”Don’t be afraid. I’m here. I can take care of this. Nothing is too difficult for Me.”, is a better translation than “Fear not!” Of course I lean toward wordiness (which is why I think the Amplified Version of the Bible is the all-time best Bible translation) and “Fear not!” is unarguably concise. But I also think Biblical saints were frequently told not to be afraid because a great big, glowing angel appeared before them and having never seen one they were reasonably terrified. The greeting, “Fear not!”, may have effectively snapped a terrified individual out of their adrenaline induced fight, flight or freeze response. 

This world is filled with very real dangers. In some ways fear is a gift to us from God who loves us. Fear inspires us to be aware of our surroundings and often prevents us from blindly walking into trouble. The admonition to fear not may have a more robust meaning than those two simple words imply. I think what goes unsaid is the reason why God encourages not to be afraid and the truth that He is not disappointed in believers when they are frightened. God does not want us to be consumed or crippled by fear. He certainly doesn’t want us to be paralyzed by fear. He absolutely doesn’t want us to be controlled by fear. In 1 Peter 5:8 we are told,

“Be sober [well balanced and self-disciplined], be alert and cautious at all times. That enemy of yours, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion [fiercely hungry], seeking someone to devour. ~ AMP

When we interpret the occurrences of “fear not” in the Bible as commands we set ourselves up for failure. Conquering fear is not accomplished by positive self-talk. Maya Banks in her book, Hidden Away, distilled this overlooked and dismissed truth in one short sentence,

 “We can’t turn it [fear] off just by realizing we shouldn’t be afraid.” 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that God commands us not to be afraid. But that just didn’t sit right with me (primarily because I felt it was not something I could do by sheer force of will). So I set out to google the Greek and Hebrew definitions of the word “fear” to determine the original intent of the word and I inadvertently stumbled upon the definition according to the Holman Bible Dictionary. Below you will find the portion of that definition that applies to the phrase “fear not”:

“Fear not” The expression “fear not” (also translated “do not fear” or “do not be afraid”) is an invitation to confidence and trust. When used without religious connotation (15 times), “fear not” is an expression of comfort. These words come from an individual to another providing reassurance and encouragement (Genesis 50:21 ; Ruth 3:11 ; Psalm 49:16 ). When “fear not” is used in a religious context (60 times), the words are an invitation to trust in God. These words appear in the context of the fear and terror that follows divine revelation. God invites His people not to be afraid of Him (Genesis 15:1 ; Genesis 26:24 ); the angel of the Lord seeks to calm an individual before a divine message is communicated (Daniel 10:12 ,Daniel 10:12,10:19 ; Luke 1:13 ,Luke 1:13,1:30 ); a person acting as a mediator of God invites the people to trust in God (Moses, Deuteronomy 31:6 ; Joshua, Joshua 10:25 ). ~ Holman Bible Dictionary, Claude F. Mariottini

Now that makes more sense to me. An invitation to trust, not a command. An expression of reassurance, encouragement and comfort. 

Conquering fear requires a conscious decision on our part, and I personally believe, the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. I have become increasingly aware of my utter dependence, my desperate need, of the intervention of the Holy Spirit in order to live the Christian life as God intends. . . The Christian life was designed to be one of cooperation between the believer and the Holy Spirit. Psalms 56:3 tells us what our part of that cooperative effort to overcome fear entails. Since different Bible translations often provide a more comprehensive understanding of scripture, below are several versions that present nuanced interpretations of the same verse.

 When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. ~ New American Standard Bible

Even when I am afraid, I still trust you. ~ GOD’S WORD® Translation

From the height of the day I shall fear: but I will trust in thee. ~ Douay-Rheims Bible

In the day that I am afraid, I will confide in thee. ~ Darby Bible Translation

The day I am afraid I am confident toward Thee. ~ Young’s Literal Translation

One thing Psalm 56:3 makes abundantly clear is that we all experience fear regardless of the depth of our faith. Fear and trust, faith and fear, are not mutually exclusive. 

The NASB represents the most common translation of Psalm 56:3, but I love how the God’s World translation acknowledges that fear and trust coexist. I love that the Douala-Rheims Bible makes it clear that fear will always plague us. I love that the Darby Bible Translation reduces trust to the act of confiding our fears to the One who is able to do something about them. And I love that Young’s Literal Translation expresses both fear and confidence simultaneously. 

Take a look at what the Pulpit Commentary says about this verse:

“What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee; literally, the day when I am afraid. When the day comes that I feel fear stealing over me, by an act of will I (even I, weak as I am) will put my trust in thee (comp. Psalm 7:1; Psalm 11:1; Psalm 18:2, etc.).”

Of course any discussion of fear and faith is incomplete without addressing 1 John 4:18, 

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” – KJV

I don’t know about you but when this verse is tossed out, I often feel condemned. It’s presented as if fear can be eradicated from our lives – as if we are capable of attaining the goal of perfect love. I’ve pretty much concluded that anytime the word perfect is placed before an adverb in the Bible and contextually applies to humans instead of God, it is a quality that I will not be capable of achieving this side of heaven. The Pulpit Commentary seems to agree in a much more theologically comprehensive manner.

“Love here means the principle of love in general; it must not be limited to God’s love to us, or our love to God, or our love of the brethren. Love and fear coexist only where love is not yet perfect. Perfect love will absolutely exclude fear as surely as perfect union excludes all separation. It is self-interested love that fears; pure and unselfish love has no fear. . . To cease to fear without attaining to perfect love is to be irreverent and presumptuous [taking unwarrantable liberties with Almighty God]. Hence the apostle is . . . pointing out an ideal to which Christians must aspire, but to which no one attains in this life.”

Casting Crowns, Oh My Soul, reminds us that when fear encounters almighty God, God will be victorious over it if we confide in Him* and place our trust in Him with confident assurance that He will hear us and perform that which is for our eternal good. And that last bit about God performing what is best for our eternal good, that’s the kicker right there. Fear keeps us in its clutches when our humanity demands that which is for our earthly good over surrendering to that which is for our eternal good.

Overcoming fear is not a battle – it’s an all out war made up of numerous individual squirmishes. Understanding that truth prevents us from the self-condemnation that leaves us feeling defeated and more inclined to quit trying. But knowing we will live to fight another day and recognizing that we are in fact gaining ground on the enemy, builds confidence and encourages us to persevere. 

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace. In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous [be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; I have overcome the world.” [My conquest is accomplished, My victory abiding.]” ~ John 16:33 AMP

Here is the story behind Oh My Soul:


The Story Behind Oh My Soul

And here’s the official lyric video:


Oh My Soul Official Lyric Video

I hope both will bless and encourage you. 

Soldier on Saint!

*It should be noted that confiding in God may necessitate repeated conversations on the topic. I can’t tell you specifically why that may be the case although a number of theological explanations have been discerned by numerous Biblical scholars. That’s a topic for another day. However, there are times I think revisiting the conversation in prayer peels away unknown beliefs and misconceptions about God’s love and enables us to uncover the true root of our fears. I know from my own experience that praying and making a conscious decision to trust God has not frequently resulted in the much longed for peace that passes all understanding. Maybe that’s because I haven’t yet succeeded in consistently keeping my thoughts fixed on God (Isaiah 26:3).

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2017 in Faith

 

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If 2013 Broke Your Heart… | Urban Hallelujah

Sometimes it feels like all we will ever know is the refiner’s fire. I am no Biblical scholar, but in rare moments I have wondered if the people who suffer the most trials and tribulations on this earth are paradoxically the most blessed of all people, because as the blogpost below points out, our burdens, trials, tribulations and just plain sucky circumstances force us to either get bitter or to lean on the Lord. 

I’ve observed many Christians over the years (those that seem to encounter an unusual amount of hardships) repeatedly chose to lean on the Lord.  Somehow, I think people interpret that to mean that the circumstances become easier to deal with, but I don’t think that’s true at all. The lightening of the load comes from trusting there is a purpose, a plan and even on the days when that’s not enough (because there will be those days) you know deep in your soul that He is there and you are not alone. Alone in bad circumstances is profoundly worse than having the Holy Spirit within you in the midst of your bad situation. 

I am so grateful for the encouragment I’ve received from those who have done little more than trudge their way through problem after problem, trial after trial serving as a living Bible for me and others to read. Most were completely unaware that anyone was observing their faithful walk. My prayer is that you and I will have eyes to see the work of the Lord and ears to hear what He says to the church (for that is what we are collectively) so that when our time comes to walk through the fire we instinctively follow the example displayed before us in better days. 

He is doing a new thing, but sometimes, we, like the wilderness wandering Israelites want nothing more than to return to the old, the familiar, the comfortable existence we once complained about. The known is less frightening than the unknown new thing God has planned for us. It takes courage to move into our new reality. Courage to face the raging Red Sea. Courage to walk across the seabed blown dry by the breath of God who is holding back the towering wall of water on either side of us. The Christian life requires the courage to allow God to have His way and to follow along behind Him as He leads us to places we never wanted to venture. And God knows this. 

He knows!

That’s why he told Joshua repeatedly to be strong and very (yes, He used that word!) courageous. It takes far more strength and courage to surrender your efforts, let go of your plans, and take the hand that reaches back for us, securely leading us into the vast and frightening unknown, than it takes to strive to control the chaos around us through our own dogged determination. 

Faith and trust are the hallmarks of courage.

When you exercise your faith and trust in God, you are bravely courageous!

Please follow the link below because it doesn’t matter what year broke your heart – we all end up broken at some point.

 

We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it… 2 Corinthians 1:8 Each Christmas, my husband and I search the city over, in pursui…

Source: If 2013 Broke Your Heart… | Urban Hallelujah

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2017 in Adversity, Faith, Links

 

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Is Trust an All or Nothing Proposition?

Counseling-theoriesI reiterated to my grief counselor last week that I trust God for my eternal future and I trust that God will walk me through anything He allows to transpire in my life but that I don’t currently trust Him with my heart.

Ruth responded, “But is that really trust at all?”

I cocked my head to the right and looked her in the eye and proceeded to relate a very poor analogy in support of my position. You see, I knew I believed that trust, like faith, grows over time in every personal relationship, but I wasn’t really prepared with an answer to support my conclusion.

When my daughters were young, on occasion they would be afraid to go to bed fearing that they would have a nightmare. My husband, David, is pretty much a creative genius. He thinks fast on his feet (unlike myself). His immediate response the first time our oldest daughter told him of her fear was to tell her that it would be impossible for her to have a bad dream that night because it was “Free Dream Night”. I stared at him incredulously thinking, ‘What’s going to happen if she actually has a nightmare tonight?’

Free Dream Night was a security blanket of sorts for my trusting young daughters and the entire concept bloomed over time as questions began to surface such as, ‘How do you know it’s Free Dream Night?’ (Stupid they were not, but gullible . . . well, they wanted to believe in Free Dream Nights). My very creative husband bamboozled his way into a highly complicated and mysterious formula regulating Free Dream Nights by the common calendar. This concept was obviously way over the tops of my young daughters’ heads, but then it was nothing more than a fictional tale woven by a master storyteller; or more accurately by a desperate and misguided dad.

broken-trust-and-anger-will-close-a-heart-until-honesty-and-love-is-once-again-found-nishan-panwarYou have to know the day eventually came where David was confronted by one of his daughters who’d actually had a nightmare on Free Dream Night. David managed to successfully pass it off as an error reading that very complicated calendar. Fortunately, none of our three daughters were plagued by nightmares, but had that happened, their trust in their dad would have been damaged.

All of us trust in people and things to a certain degree. Sometimes we are not even aware of the trust we automatically offer others until it has been breached. Anyone who has lived for any length of time quickly learns that not everyone is trustworthy, and it’s devastating when we find the people we trust most have let us down.

A parent spends countless hours nurturing, caring and providing for their children – all normal everyday activities that build trust within our children unintentionally. We don’t feed them when they are hungry to teach them to trust us. We feed them because we love them, because they are hungry and we know nutrition is important for their health. And our children inadvertently learn that they can trust their parent to feed them when they are hungry.

Yet, the best cared for child still doesn’t fully trust their parents when fear is along for the ride. Picture if you will a young child standing on the edge of a swimming pool, his dad in front of him in the water encouraging the child to jump. For the young dare devil, this is no big deal, but for the timid child, it’s not hard to see the child doesn’t quite trust that their dad will catch them.

trust-bank-3And sometimes, we break trust intentionally. We need that young child to be safe around water. We need them to learn to hold their breath, to kick and paddle their way to safety should they fall into a pool. So dad, after catching the child multiple times without letting their face go under water eventually lets his child’s head fall below the surface immediately pulling them back above water. The child learns that dad will still catch him, but he also learns he’s not as safe as he previously thought he was. Has the child lost all trust in his dad? No, he still knows his dad will feed him when he’s hungry but he isn’t as trusting the next time he stands on the edge of the pool and his dad beckons him to jump.

This is the nature of trust. We trust in degrees. We trust but verify either by asking questions or by taking risks. We start out small and take increasingly more daring risks as any given relationship grows. But we really don’t trust anyone completely – not even the Lord.

bereavement-is-the-sharpest-challenge-to-our-trust-in-god-if-faith-can-overcome-this-there-is-no-quote-1

 

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart is an encouragement as much as it is a command. But that “with all thine heart” part trips me up a bit. I concluded on my own that it meant to the full degree of trust you have within you, but I imagine the more literal interpretation would imply that if you don’t trust fully, completely, 100% in the Lord, you will forfeit the blessing of having God direct all your steps. So, I turned to a John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible for clarification on that portion of Proverbs 3:5. After fully expounding upon what it means to trust in the Lord, Gill turned his attention to that one small but important phrase, “with all thine heart”, and this is what Gill concluded:

 

” . . . this trust in Father, Son, and Spirit, should be “with all the heart”, cordial and sincere. The phrase denotes not so much the strength of faith as the sincerity of it; it signifies a faith unfeigned. . . “

 

High five! Gill and I agree; he just said it better.

So yadda, yadda, yadda, after reading my analogies and checking in with Gill, I have to say, trust is not an all or nothing proposition. We trust with all the sincere faith we have within and the Holy Spirit fills in the gaps and directs our steps.

What say you in regards to trust?

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2016 in Faith

 

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Questions I Ask & Thoughts I Ponder

The Apostle Paul said in Philippians 1:21,

“For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

I can in no way claim to be anything like the Apostle Paul, but I can relate to his statement – if not in whole, then in part.

For me, to live is to care for Gracen, and I desperately want to be there for Gracen, but to die . . . to die is gain.

In our day and age, no one wants to hear that sentiment expressed. Maybe it makes people fearful that I might harm myself, but I wonder if maybe it is more about an individual’s fear that at some point in their life, they might find they desire death over life.

I have an eternal hope.

Death is not something I personally fear.

And neither did the Apostle Paul.

And if . . . if God’s purpose for the latter part of my life is to care for Gracen . . . if that is my ministry and service for Christ, then am I not, in effect saying just as the Apostle Paul did, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”?

Is it spiritual to laud his statement and rebuke mine?

If we as Christians are to be Heavenly minded, is it wrong to long for our eternal home?

Is it wrong to desire Heaven more than we desire this temporary world we currently reside in?

Do we unconsciously believe Paul’s ministry, the ministry of evangelism, is the pursuit of Christ and His desires, whereas ministry to the members of our family or the sick really doesn’t equate to living for Christ?

img_1412-1Is that why my longing for my eternal home is met with admonitions that I must have hope? That it is wrong for me to desire the rapture in order to escape these earthly sorrows?

Is that really wrong?

Does my motivation somehow make my desire impure?

Does God care why I desire Heaven or just that I do?

Does not a longing for my eternal home reflect the deepest trust that I, in fact, have an eternal home waiting for me?

Does it not reflect true faith?

And should I lose it all—should I lose both David & Gracen—what, if anything, would be capable of anchoring my broken heart to this earthly prison?

I know what the answer to that last question should be. I certainly don’t need anyone to educate me with the “correct” response. But what “should be” and “what is” are often two different things. I know that my mind and my emotions will not agree if my worst fears are realized. I know they won’t. They don’t now.

These are questions I ask myself.

Maybe that last question is the reason people so adamantly attempt to cram the necessity of hope down my throat.

Maybe that’s their secret fear too.

Maybe no one knows what would hold enough sway in their individual lives to anchor their souls to this world if they lost everything they value most in this world.

Maybe—God help us all—maybe there is nothing strong enough to do that for any of us.

img_1416Maybe that’s where the Holy Spirit steps in and performs a supernatural work in our hearts that enables us to receive God’s all sufficient grace instead of rejecting it in our agony . . . instead of taking action outside of the will of God due to complete despair and utter desperation.

These are thoughts I ponder.

I’d love to know how you answer these questions—if you think these same thoughts.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2016 in Faith

 

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Girl, Who’s Your Daddy?

If you don’t want to take the time to watch this three minute video, below is a paraphrased transcript. I thought you might like to have Priscilla’s answer to her own question. 

I added my own comments below the transcript.

“When you feel like you can’t handle the task at hand; and you ask yourself, Girl, who’s your daddy’s?. . ., And what if, when you got a good look at your God, remembering who He is and that you belong to Him, listen, I think until the Lord stops me from taking platforms and ministering to women, I will say this until the day I die, reminding myself as I do when I am quietly alone and I look myself in the mirror and say, Girl who’s your daddy?; you know what I tell myself, I tell       myself… ”

“He is the First and the Last. The Beginning and the End. He’s the Keeper of creation and the Creator of all. He is the Architect of the universe and the Manager of all time. He always was, always is and always will be unmoved, unchanged, undefeated, and never undone. He was bruised but brought healing. He was pierced but eased pain. He was persecuted but brought freedom. He was dead and brings life, risen to bring power, and He reigns to bring peace.”

“The world can’t understand Him. Armies can’t defeat Him. Schools can’t explain Him. And leaders, they can’t ignore Him. Herod couldn’t kill Him. Nero couldn’t crush Him. The new age cannot replace Him. And Oprah cannot explain Him away!”

“You remind yourself that He is Light, He is Love, He is Longevity, and He is the Lord.”

“He is goodness and kindness and faithfulness and He is God.”

“He is Holy and Righteous and powerful and pure.”

“His ways are right, His Word eternal, His will unchanging and His mind is on us.”

“He’s our Savior, our guide, our peace, our joy, our comfort, our Lord and He rules our lives!”

“I serve Him because His bond is love, His yoke is easy, His burden is light and His goal for us is abundant life.”

“I follow Him because He’s the Wisdom of the wise, the Power of the powerful, the Ancient of days, the Ruler of rulers, the Leader of all leaders.”

“His goal is a relationship with me.”

“He’ll never leave you, never forsake you, never mislead you, never forget you, never overlook you, and never cancel your appointment in His appointment book.”

“When you fall He’ll lift you up. When you fail He’ll forgive you. When you’re weak He’s strong, when you’re lost He’s your way, when you’re afraid He’s your courage, when you stumble He will steady you, when you’re hurt He’s going to heal you. When you’re broken He will mend you. When you’re blind He will lead you. When you’re hungry He will feed you. When you face trials He’s with you.”

“When I face persecution He shields me. When I face problems He will comfort me. When I face loss He will provide for me. And when we face death He will carry us all home to meet Him.”

“is everything, for everybody, everywhere, every time and in every way.”

“He is your God and that, Sisters, is who you belong to.”


 

I don’t know about you, but every morning when I crawl out of bed, I know I can’t handle the task at hand. But, I do know,… I do know that I can trust in the One who is able…

the thing is…

I don’t want to.

Or more accurately, I don’t want to have to, or need to, trust in Him for the task at hand.

I don’t want to go where my life is leading…

At All!

I just don’t want to go there.

And, given my history—given the prognosis that lies ahead for my daughter, can you blame me? Can you really think that all I’m doing is throwing the longest lasting pity party known to man?

Really?

If that’s what you think…

it’s not personal to you.

Try to imagine living with my daily reality—not the deaths of my three kids—not the progressive disease that is destroying my surviving child’s body—No, not that. Put your children’s faces on those bodies. Imagine you are really living my daily life.

And if…

if…

you still think I’m throwing a pity party, then, please, keep your criticism and judgement to yourself. Because…

Every.

Single.

Day.

I need to…

Remind myself…

Who My Daddy Is.

Every Day.

That doesn’t make what’s coming my way okay.

Not at all.

But…

It makes it bearable…

most of the time.

I need Priscilla Shirer’s answer. I need her words. I need the reminder of exactly who my Daddy is.

Maybe you need her words too…



Who’s Your Daddy? by Priscilla Shirer

Taken from the DVD Bible Study Anointed, Transformed, Redeemed. A Study of David. Video Session 1. By Priscilla Shirer, Beth Moore and Kay Arthur.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2016 in Faith

 

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Trust, Works & Supernatural Power

Trust with blue marker

I came across a bit of dialog in some fiction I was reading recently. Within that dialog was a nugget — a small, small thought that struck a chord within. The male character was imploring the female character not to worry, but to please trust him instead. The author revealed the female’s thoughts more than a reply. The female’s internal response was that she could do that — trust him — for the time being, but also acknowledged that the time was coming when they would have to have a serious discussion about this issue in their relationship. The issue was the effect the male character’s abusive father played in their interaction as a couple.

The woman was afraid to blindly trust that the man had overcome the far reaching impact of abuse at the hands of his father; one of the two people every individual should be able to trust for unconditional and sacrificial love.

ca777683f74be57ee1436a610eb174a9The author communicated that the woman needed more than the male character’s word that he was trustworthy — she needed more information to feel comfortable that the emotional wounds inflicted by the abusive father would not result in destructive, self-protective responses when their own relationship hit difficult challenges. In fact, the entire story was built around the fact that the male character had run and shut the female character out, at an earlier point in their relationship.

Personal, painful experience had taught the female character to be wary. She desperately wanted to trust, but experience had taught her a painful lesson and her own self-protective instincts were screaming that as hard as the male character was trying, trust damaged is not easily, and without evidence of change or misunderstanding, rebuilt. Fear and the instinct for self-preservation demanded more than unchallenged trust. She needed to know her trust was merited.

And this is that small nugget — the thought that struck a chord within as I read this work of fiction: This need for more evidence in the aftermath of deep wounds is not only normal but wise. Isn’t that what you, as a parent, would advise your child to do — Trust but verify? Is it then so hard to comprehend that the broken believer needs the same thing from God? Is it sinful? Personally, I don’t think so.

Eventually every Christian hears these words, “Don’t worry, trust God.” There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that advice, unless it is offered to someone who perceives themselves to be betrayed or abandoned by the God they are being encouraged to trust. 08e8f8fff3f9e983cb822826a9feef30If that’s the case, the wounded Christian may very well be thinking, “Stop asking me to trust God while I’m still coughing up water from the last time He let me drowned!” Is it any wonder then that such advice is met with cynicism, anger, extreme frustration, ridicule or even abject terror? This biblical admonition heaps guilt and shame upon the struggling and broken believer.

The well-known phrase, Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!, comes to mind here doesn’t it? Self-preservation demands more than biblical platitudes. And lest that statement offends let me clarify before continuing. A platitude is defined as a trite phrase spoken as if it were profound or fresh. Synonyms for the word platitude include trite and cliché. The common theme in definition among all three of these words is the idea that a phrase has become commonplace and lost it’s effectiveness due to overuse. Can a Bible verse become cliché? Trite? A platitude? I think the answer is yes.

Oh, I can just imagine the hackles rising here, but please bear with me!  Maybe the definition of those three words above should be expanded to include misuse as well as overuse. From my personal perspective, advice becomes trite when it is offered in a flip manner, without adequate thought or as a quick and easy fix to a complicated problem. And honestly, I am smart enough to realize that just because a verse has been overused or misused doesn’t make it any less true.

The real problem — what makes Bible verses about trust (in this case) into platitudes — is the failure to acknowledge that from the believer’s perspective, trust has either not been adequately established or for the more mature believer, trust is perceived as having been breached.  Therefore, the admonition to trust God is both perceived as a criticism and an oversimplification.

Trust is developed over time. It’s the result of positive reinforcement — and damaged when it is betrayed or extended to someone prematurely or foolishly. I think, when a child is well cared for by its parents, trust is developed and the young mind assumes everyone is trustworthy. Life experience soon teaches the child that that assumption is invalid. Trust is eroded and less easily extended as we get hurt in big and small ways.

trust-God-01Yet the Christian faith appears to demand unconditional trust in the Savior we believe in but cannot see; cannot touch. It appears to demand that in the face of evidence to the contrary we hold fast to scriptures that seem to communicate the opposite of what life experience teaches us.

That word, appears, is really the key, don’t you think? Appearances are deceptive. Our culture is so driven by positive thinking that we gloss over the difficulties the Bible tells us will surely befall us and rush to the tail end of the verses that promise a positive outcome.

When we read Isaiah 40:31, ” . . . they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”, we focus on the positive outcome of waiting upon the Lord. But I fear that we fail to recognize what this verse implies as we desperately cling to its promises. What this verse implies, but doesn’t explicitly say, is that the believer will find themselves weak and weary. Our strength need not be renewed if it is never weakened. Yet somehow, we interpret this verse to mean that we will never feel weak and weary, only that we will triumphantly mount up with wings as eagles! Then when we find ourselves weak and weary we wonder why or believe that we have somehow failed to live out our faith.

Likewise, Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.” When we read this verse we gloss over the fact that we will pass through the waters, through the rivers (fast moving current), through the fires. We overlook or maybe refuse to consider what it will feel like as we enter the waters and feel it quickly rising, threatening to overflow us and forcefully dragging us downstream. We fail to anticipate how it will feel when we feel the heat of the flames, smell singed hair and choke on the heavy smoke that surrounds us as we walk through the fire.

Instead we focus on the promise that God will be with us, that the waters will not drown us and the fires won’t burn us. It’s all stated without emotion as if fear, pain, discouragement and a multitude of other emotions won’t batter us in the midst of the flood waters and fiery flames of life circumstances. But the scriptures don’t promise that — they just promise God’s presence and protection from complete devastation as we go through those harrowing experiences. Ask the near drowning victim. Ask the individual who barely escaped without injury when a fire broke out in their home. Consider the Christian martyr; consider Paul who was whipped five times (39 lashes on each occasion), beaten with rods three times, stoned once, shipwrecked three times and spent 24 hours on the open seas (2 Corinthians 11:24-25) and imprisoned at least once. Were they unafraid in spite of the constant presence of the Holy Spirit? Doubtful, highly doubtful! More likely they were still terrified.

The Bible tells us to reason together with the Lord (Isaiah 1:18). To taste and see that He is good (Psalm 34:8). To try the Lord (Malachi 3:10), at least in regards to tithes and offerings. It doesn’t demand unconditional or unchallenged trust. God, by grace, gives us enough evidence to take that step of faith. *For further clarification on trying the Lord please read the notes at the end of this article.

trust-building-big-sizeWhen faced with a believer who is grappling with difficult circumstances, who is afraid or discouraged, I, like every other Christian I know, struggle with how to respond – how to support and encourage. We want to fix the problem and when we are helpless to effect change we point them to the only One capable of pulling them through. We encourage them to trust God. But I wonder if that is the very last thing the hurting believer needs to hear. They, like the female character in the novel I mentioned above, need something more; more than unchallenged trust. The trust they had has been shaken by circumstances. They need more information; more knowledge and evidence to boost their confidence that their faith is grounded on a firm foundation and not built upon shifting sand.

I wonder if what the broken believer really needs to hear from fellow Christians is:

  • A promise that prayers for either assurance or the restoration of their battered hope and trust in Christ will be lifted to the throne of grace.
  • I wonder if maybe that struggling believer needs an acknowledgment that trusting God in their circumstances is not simply a matter of the will.
  • That fledgling faith and perceived betrayal or abandonment results in shaky trust.
  • That supernatural help is required to trust God more fully.
  • That the believer’s need for more evidence that God is trustworthy is expected, entirely normal, and is no easy or simplistic feat.

And let’s be real here. The body of Christ is not strengthened when we refuse to acknowledge our doubts about God.

God is not afraid He will be found lacking. He’s completely confident that as we test our faith, as we reason together with Him, as we search to determine if He is good like He claims, we will discover He is all He proclaims Himself to be.

Life has taught me to expect disappointment, pain and suffering. It’s unrealistic to expect that I can simply ignore the lessons of days gone by and trust that God will not allow me to be hurt further. I need time to reexamine the evidence presented in the Word of God. I don’t think He is the least bit offended by that. And this is what I’ve discovered:

  • What I need from God is the supernatural ability to rise above the pain and fear; not to believe in vain that more pain and sorrow will not befall me.
  • That I don’t need encouraged to trust God more – I need to comprehend and make peace with what I can and cannot trust Him for.
  • And I need supernatural help to find the peace that passes all understanding so that I can endure what lies before me without discouragement and despair — undefeated by circumstances and Satan’s mechanizations.

I think grace believing Christians still get tripped up in works related theology. I know I do. We think we are responsible for our spiritual growth. That if we just do the right things (practice the spiritual disciplines – Bible reading and prayer), acquire the  right mindset (taking every thought captive, thinking on things that are pure and just, choosing joy) that we will overcome. And we are frustrated when we find that approach unsuccessful for ourselves and others. Intellectually we know we are dependent upon God to change us, but Satan’s deceptions woven into culturally ingrained messages have insidiously crept between the gaps in biblical knowledge within our hearts and minds. Truth has been perverted. Our beliefs have been infected with half-truths. And as a result . . .

We believe walking the walk equates to spiritual transformation.

We believe if we follow the prescribed formula, we will be successful at overcoming our problems. But that idea when boiled down . . .

Denies the very work and power of God in the lives of Christians!

That formulaic philosophy is grounded in works not faith. It disguises the truth that while we ascribe our spiritual well being to God we subconsciously restrict His participation as we try to solve our own problems; as we try to heal or improve ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong, there is great value in practicing the disciplines of the faith, however, those practices are the means by which we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in spiritual growth and maturity but they are not, in and of themselves, responsible for spiritual growth. Here is the truth . . .

  • We cannot grow spiritually without supernatural intervention.
  • Spiritual growth requires the work of the Spirit.
  • Only the Holy Spirit can bridge the gap between our humanity and holiness in a process known as sanctification.

I don’t need encouragement to find a way to make myself do the impossible (heal myself).

I need prayer that God will do the impossible within me.

IMG_1212I need fellow believers to recognize and acknowledge that healing will not come solely from activity on my part.

I need believers to tell me that they are praying for God to step in and do what I can’t do for myself, what no man, regardless of how strong willed they are, can do for themselves.

And frankly, I need Christians to verbalize (well, after I’m confident that they actually believe this) that unfinished healing isn’t representative of a failure on my part to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. Instead it means the Holy Spirit is still at work in my heart.

I wonder if those who read this blog think I might harp too much on the ill effects of the culturally popular positive thinking philosophy. But as my grief counselor pointed out to me Tuesday, the command to think upon things that are true and just, etc., is not at all a command to think positively or to dwell on only good things (which is exactly how I’d interpreted it). What’s true and just may not necessarily be good or positive. 

I find myself at war within — cognizant that I am waiting on the Lord to do His work within my heart as I cooperate in those efforts, but simultaneously self-condemning — believing the cultural messages I’ve been raised with — that are ingrained within. The messages that say I can pull myself up by my bootstraps, that if I just apply myself I will succeed, that choosing joy eliminates sorrow. And while there may be a kernel of truth hidden within each of those messages, the success they promise is all predicated upon my works, not the power of God!

bible-idolChristians reduce the Word of God to a mere idol when we attribute spiritual growth to following biblical precepts while excluding the God who empowers that Word from the process.

Is that what I do? Is that what the Christian community of our generation does? Do we serve God ritualistically without humbling ourselves to acknowledge our desperate need of His personal intervention in our lives? Do we subconsciously deny or rebel against the power of God in our lives? Are we modern day Pharisees?

“These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”

 ~ Isaiah 29:13

I can’t effect true and real transformation in my life by the practice of spiritual disciplines in the absence of the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. At best, I can create an elaborate facade that gives the appearance of transformation. There are things only the Holy Spirit can do. He, alone, is capable of transforming my life, thereby, increasing my trust in Him.

I wonder how I would have felt — what difference it might have made — if just one person had said to me, “Janet, you are going to have to trust God for Gracen’s health and future. But know this: spiritually mature trust is impossible without the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. Practice the spiritual disciplines to the best of your ability, but don’t beat yourself up when you find yourself afraid for the future, when you realize that you can’t force yourself to trust God by an act of your will alone. Understand supernatural intervention is required and it doesn’t happen overnight or even quickly.”

What would words such as those do for a broken or struggling believer?

What would they do for you?

 


 *Notes on Trying the Lord

There is a fine line between trying the Lord, as in searching the scriptures to see what He says about Himself and trying the Lord by demanding that He prove to us He is worthy of our trust.

Got Questions?.org has a great article that discusses the distinctions between the two. And while the article says of Malachi 3:10 “This is the only situation given in the Bible in which God tells His people to “test” Him.” It later concludes that “The Israelites at Massah tested God because they lacked faith in Him. The Israelites in Malachi’s day were invited to test God because they had faith in Him.” (To read the article in its entirety, click on the following link:  What Does it Mean to Test God?).

I am in no way advocating tempting the Lord. As a believer and disciple of Christ Jesus, I am coming to God from a position of faith. There’s an important distinction that must be drawn between coming to God doubting his power and character and coming to Him fully confident of his power and character yet confused because He didn’t behave as we expected. Are we not then trying our faith as opposed to testing God? (James 1:2-3)

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2016 in Faith

 

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Philosophical Thinking, Unicorns & Rainbows

8 Great Philosophical Questions That We’ll Never Solve - Does God existOn my more philosophical days, I have been known to think that I am far more blessed than those around me who seem to live lives devoid of tragic loss and health challenges. Truth be told, I’ve not found myself terribly philosophical in the two and a half years since Bethany and Katie’s lives were stolen by the selfish and reckless actions of an unlicensed driver. But I remember those moments in what feels like the distant past.

Life is hard. Circumstances have driven me to my knees literally and figuratively. In fact, circumstances have led me to a full body prostrate position, the nubby carpet of my bedroom floor, imprinting my cheek as I’ve petitioned the Lord for the hearts, souls, and health of my children.

And I’ve lost. I’ve lost too many of the things I love most in this life. No great spiritually inspiring story to be told. Just loads of heartache, anger, and questions for the One True God of love and justice.

Loss and heartache translate into vulnerability and weakness. And in this day and age both are intolerable to society at large. We are a nation of overcomers. We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and keep going. We deceive ourselves into believing that through sheer force of will and dogged determination we can overcome every challenge, every trial in life.

I-have-the-strength-to-overcome-the-impossible.

We perceive ourselves as strong when we ignore negative feelings and refuse to be beaten by circumstances beyond our control. We pat ourselves on the back (as do others) for moving forward while we are really undermining our future health and happiness by ignoring or repressing emotional needs all in the effort to meet societal expectations and exercise control over the chaos that has somehow infiltrated our lives.

images (44)According to John Powell, author of Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? the two major causes of anxiety are supercharged repressed emotions and unmet emotional needs. Emotional needs include the need to feel accepted, approved of, believed in, forgiven, listened to, needed, important, useful, respected, valued, supported, understood, in control, trusted, and worthy to name a few. The cultural demand to overcome, to turn every negative into a positive promotes and encourages the unhealthy practice of ignoring emotional needs and repressing negative emotions.

I fear this secular theology of overcoming against all odds, when boiled down reveals that we believe ourselves to be, or are bound and determined to make ourselves, God. And these efforts, are obviously in utter and complete opposition to the doctrine of the Bible.

The philosophy that enables me to believe that I am far more blessed than those whose lives appear to be filled with unicorns and rainbows, is grounded on the Biblical truth that I am NOT God. I am not capable of independently and self-sufficiently controlling and overcoming the chaos that surrounds and invades my life.

Tragedy, weakness, and suffering have driven me to work out my salvation. I’m constantly comparing my beliefs to the Word of God which reveals secular untruths I have absorbed, personal misconceptions or interpretations that don’t hold up under stress or simply an incomplete understanding of scripture.

I fear that the average Christian, myself included, doesn’t hold up the shield of faith in order to protect themselves from Satan’s fiery arrows but instead in an effort to hide their vulnerability and project an image of spiritual maturity to a watching and expectant audience of believers and non-believers alike.

Somehow we have interpreted the shield of faith as an impenetrable barrier of protection from pain instead of protection against Satan’s deceptions and lies than weaken and destroy the very foundation of our faith; trust in God Almighty.

Weakness and dependence are paradoxically the strength of the Christian faith. The beauty of weakness is the revelation of Christ’s power at work within us. A supernatural strength is inexplicably revealed through our weakness and humility that far exceeds the strength manufactured by force of will alone. Is this not why Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:9b-10, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”? (ESV)

In my humanity, I desperately long for a life filled with unicorns and rainbows. I long for a life that is filled with nothing more than common everyday hardships; car repairs, defiant children, financial fears. Garden variety, everyday frustrations, and irritations.

Dark Clouds an Little Blue SkyGiven the opportunity, I would rewrite the story of my life. But in the recesses of my mind, the storm clouds of sorrow shift and briefly reveal the truth that hides behind; losses and sorrow have gifted me with things of great value. Empathy, compassion, and understanding poured out on others in an effort to help meet their emotional needs. The assurance of my salvation and an awareness of the solid foundation of my faith even as it is battered by the storm. The development of a more holy and heavenly perspective. And then the wind picks back up shifting the storm clouds once again obscuring those encouraging truths. And I am left frustrated and discouraged instead of philosophical; feeling more cursed than blessed, desperate to escape the suffering that plagues my daily existence and longing for unicorns and rainbows.

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2016 in Adversity, Books, Faith

 

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