Trust


 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

1 Peter 1: 20, 21

If you or I think that God is caught off-guard or unawares by the struggles that we have in life, then we have missed comprehending the heart of the Father. Should we ever face the issues that lie before us and see no opportunity for redemption in them, we lack a fuller appreciation of God’s commitment to His people. When we feel as if the challenges that those we care about most deeply are insurmountable, whether they are caused by willful disobedience or by situations and actions outside of their control, we need to open our eyes and truly see Christ’s love, grace, and power in their fullness. This world is a harsh and a difficult place to live. There are many traps and pitfalls that we can stumble into, and the landscape is littered with the debris that is the product of broken lives and failed dreams. Yet, God knew all of this before He did anything.

The Father sent His Son as our redeemer. Christ came into the world as a baby, and He left it as a fully formed man, whose life portrayed the intent, will, and power that God continues to pour out into the lives of people that accept His gifts. Christ now leads us into seeking after what has been promised to us from those times before the creation of the world. That is, we are to recognize that all goodness and mercy in our world come from God, and these unworldly qualities are granted to us in full measure through our faith in Christ and by the working of His Spirit in us and in our world. When we face trials, we are to call upon Christ in that faith and expectantly wait upon His understanding and wisdom to provide clarity and direction for any actions that we are to take. These times of prayer and contemplation can seem long when all that we desire is resolution or relief; yet, they serve the purpose of focusing our hearts and minds upon the Lord and taking them out of the naturally self-oriented place where people tend to go in challenging times.

Turning our deepest fears, concerns, and apprehensions over to God can be hard to do. People are generally formed up and function in a manner that is self-reliant and that utilizes our own resources to provide answers to all of the challenges that we face. There is nothing wrong with any of this; however, if we enter into the storms of life with our own skill and capacity as the complete and full set of resources that we have at our disposal, we are missing out on the greatest of all sources for gaining wisdom that overcomes all adversity and for the endurance that we will need to continue a hard journey to its conclusion. Christ can grant us the vision to see beyond the moment and into the glory of God’s redemption and restoration of all that is holy, good, and just in this world. As we place out faith and trust in Christ, He grants us a form of hope that is greater than all adversity, and He fills our weary hearts with a form of peace that id based upon His unfailing and eternal love. 

In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

It will be healing to your body, and refreshment to your bones.

Proverbs 3: 6-8

Perhaps this passage seems particularly pertinent today as there are many issues and concerns in my path that are weighing heavily on my heart and on my mind. The weariness of my bones may exist because of an especially long and hard workweek. We all deal with the impact of living lives that are full with activity and responsibility, that are burdened with stress, and that place demands on our physical and our emotional energy. Big things, little things, trivial things; they come at us with a sort of non-stop urgency that doesn’t leave a lot of time and space for quiet contemplation and for meditation on the Lord’s will and way.

We think that our times are considerably more complex and activity filled than at any prior time in history; yet, as indicated by this ancient writing, Solomon’s times must have contained a lot of the same stresses as ours do. His words tell me that I need to recognize God’s presence in all of life; that I need to give the Lord credit for what He does for me and for how He takes care of me in all situations. This idea of seeing God’s hand in every aspect of life is interesting to me, for as I recognize Him, my eyes are turned to His way of navigating through my day; God’s enlightened pathway of truth and love opens before me. Another aspect in these events is that God’s path takes a lot less energy out of my weary body and soul; as He always gives the strength and the stamina required to go in His direction.

As I look closely at the face of God while following Him through my day, another truth starts to resonate in my heart; all of the plans and approaches that I create on my own are silly, futile, and even dangerous. The more I seek to solve life’s challenges on my own, the more difficult it becomes to keep Him in clear focus, and since it is always more difficult to navigate on my own, I end up consuming more energy to get where I think that I need to go than I would have if I had allowed God the opportunity to lead me. This is foolish and dangerous, for when I get tired and discouraged, I grant evil easier access to my thoughts; thus, I can allow a sense of negativity, uselessness, and weariness to defeat God’s purpose for me. So, the stresses of life will continue to be present in my days, but as I turn the eyes of my heart to God and His care, provision, and direction for me, I will be strengthened and encouraged. The ailments that afflict my body are healed by Christ’s loving touch, my worries and concerns are given perspective, for the Lord makes my frame to be more than strong enough to carry the weight of my life and to lift up the burdens of those who God places in my path.   

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”

Acts 18: 9, 10

There are many factors that cause us to get soft in our zeal for being openly and overtly Christian. These can hit us at almost any time during our journey through life. They take the form of concerns about the feelings of others, fear for our own acceptance, and struggles with how others will treat us. In some situations and in some places in the world the concerns and fears also focus on personal safety. All of these were on the table for Paul as he traveled about his world teaching about Jesus, and this is why Jesus came to him in a dream and shared this thought with him. You see, even the great teacher and writer of the truth of God’s word, himself, was fully human and shared the same sorts of doubts and fears that we all do.

Christ wants us all to grab hold of the fact that He is actively involved in protecting us from all of the real harm that concerns us. The Lord owns this world, and He is the One who is sending us into it to serve Him. Instead of fearing what is in the shadows, we are to be the ones who bring the light of God’s truth there. Rather than back away from hostility, we are to share the love of Christ with people whose spirits are troubled. When there are voices telling us to be silent and to hold our tongues regarding our faith and trust in Christ, the Lord, Himself, says to check on the real source of those words and to continue to speak boldly and clearly for His name’s sake.

There will be attacks, for there is an enemy, and evil does not like to lose its grip on the people that it uses for its purposes. There is also a God who is infinitely greater than all of the forces that Satan can bring to bear in his cause. Remember that Satan is the creature while God is the Creator. Also, this fight is already won, for Christ has claimed the total victory. It is the calling, the mission, and the purpose of everyone who has joined Jesus in that victory to live as if we understand and fully accept it so that we are not silenced by any personal concerns or doubts. Be brave, be bold, and be fearless in speaking the love and the truth of Jesus as you walk through your day, for nothing can truly harm you.

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.

Philippians 1: 27

This is a description of what it means to be a follower of Christ in the modern world. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the current date is in the first century of the Christian Era or in its twenty-first century. The day, month, and year in which Christians find themselves living is a time when there will be pressures applied upon that person’s faith in Christ and adherence to the gospel so that the ability to stand up in the face of those forces will be in question. This world can be a harsh and a challenging place to live. There are real and highly active forces in it that are seeking to overthrow the gospel of Christ at every turn, and their target for this attempted coup against the King of the Universe is each and every person that gives their life to Christ as Lord and Savior.

In his process of waging war against Christ, Satan attacks both individual followers and the church. So, we must be prepared to stand up to these assaults by virtue of our deep commitment to Christ and submission to His will and by seeking to be of one mind with other followers of Christ as we gather as His church. Now there is no doubt in my mind that any gathered body of people will see many things differently, one from others. Yet, we can know the same Christ, be led by one Spirit, and submit to the singular Word of God. Then our strength comes through the unity that is hard won and thoroughly worked out by the process of living out together the challenges of life. Christ is fully committed to His church, and we are asked by Him to respond by being fully committed to seeking unity by and in His Spirit.

Paul’s joy and pleasure at hearing about the way that people in Philippi and in other places where he has shared the gospel of Christ are living as upright followers of that message of righteousness, love, and enduring faith reflects Christ’s feelings upon the same response in all of His people. Christ, Himself, is delighted when we lean into Him for strength, encouragement, and wisdom as we engage with the powers and forces in our world that are attempting to overthrow our faith and shatter the fellowship of belief that Christ has formed. In Christ we can find the singularity of purpose that overcomes all forms of difference. The Spirit works among us to focus our hearts and minds in on the redemptive message of that gospel and to make our points of disagreement into issues and concerns that can be set aside for the sake of standing together as we live out our faith in the world and before its eyes as a testimony to Christ.   

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1: 4

Doubt is a personal reality that I, in honesty, have to admit to possessing. My doubt is not generally of the large scale and global sort, for I don’t have times when I lack a belief in the existence of God or question whether Jesus is real, true, and fulfills the role of Savior. These are not my doubts. Mine are ordered in the class of trust and reliance. When times get hard or the road that I am facing gets to be harsh and rough, I can turn from that easy daily faith in the provision, protection, and truth of God’s Word and instead I start to listen to my own voice of desperation and fear. This voice leads straight into my personal form of doubt, and this is never a good place for me to go, for it tends to freeze me into either inaction or it brings about self-driven poor choices.

I recognize that my own journey in this area may look very similar to that of some people, and it will be completely different from that of others. Just as God made each of us to be individually gifted with the blessings of His Spirit, He also formed us to be distinct and individualistic in most others aspects of life and of living it out. Yet, I also think that most followers of Christ do have times when we enter into a form of doubt. These periods of time or episodic events are often brought about in times when there is stress, trouble, and challenge present in our lives. These are those times of trial that James is speaking about, and these are the parts of life when hanging in there with God’s truth as revealed in His Word and through the interaction of his Spirit with me leads to a deeper and a stronger faith and trust in my relationship with Christ.

God’s desire and will is that each of His people would continue to grow and to develop in our capacity to live fully in the expression of His grace, love, and redemptive purposes. This sort of living takes courage to carry out in a world that tends to be antagonistic toward God’s absolute form of righteousness. This world fights back against people who bring Godly love, acceptance, justice, and peacemaking to bear upon all of the relationships and situations that we encounter. Therefore, it takes both courage and faith in Christ to continue along a pathway that leads straight into the angry rejection of many of the people and institutions of this world. This conflict in conjunction with physical, emotional, and financial stresses and struggles make up the wide array of trials that we can encounter during our days of following Christ; yet, as we trust the Lord to sustain us and to care for us fully in these times, we grow in our faith and move ever closer to that promise of perfection that is defined and completed in us by Christ. 

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

            ‘You shall worship the Lord your God

              And Him only shall you serve.’”

Matthew 4: 10

This is not a thought that I can claim as great and unique revelation from God. In fact, it is almost laughable to even state this idea. But here it is, Jesus got life right all of the time. That is, when He said or did something that was in response to the sorts of issues and struggles that all people face while living out our days on earth, His responses are the model for the rest of us to follow. This scene involving direct, face-to-face temptation by Satan is not one that I have experienced, thankfully! Yet, this is what is occurring to all of God’s people every day of our lives. Satan is active and seeks to entrap and devour people. Often the methods and the means that he uses involve people and situations that on the surface seem safe, attractive, and benign. However, evil surrounds us; it has infiltrated the very structure of our world, and it always leads people away from God and His righteousness.

What does it mean to live righteously? That is a complex question that warrants examination and that each of us should explore prayerfully with God. However, in simple terms it means living in a manner that is fully consistent with God’s Word, that brings glory to His name in our world, and that declares Christ through the sacrificial love, mercy, grace, and truth that we live out regardless of life circumstance or situation. This is not exactly an easy path to follow or one that will guarantee popularity and success in human terms. Yet, anything and everything else is functionally and factually idolatry. It is setting before us a standard for living that comes from a source other than God, Himself. It usually places us as the arbiters of what is right and just so that our personal desires, lusts, and comfort are served while the sacrificial love of Christ is hidden and locked away.

So, on view here we have Jesus’ most direct response to the sort of pressure and temptation that we face. Satan has asked Jesus to bow down to him and offered the world as the reward. When we turn away from thinking, saying, and doing what is loving, gracious, merciful, understanding, just, and truthful; we are agreeing with Satan’s request. For us humans the tension that exists between evil’s continual appeal and God’s will is going to continue throughout our earthly lives. The situations and the power of the temptation will at times be subtle and deceptive and at others it will carry the force of a great waterfall. That is why Jesus’ modeled response matters so much. We certainly can and should invoke Christ and His Spirit’s power in order to resist evil in all of its forms. Yet, there is much more here. The real answer to temptation is found in worship. Righteousness is made real and is understood more fully as we bow down before God. Temptation is defeated as we remain with our hearts and minds focused on Christ and away from ourselves.  

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

Isaiah 55: 8

When the things that I am thinking about and the way that I am thinking are different than what God says that I should be thinking, which set of thoughts is right? When the thing that I am doing and the actions that I have taken are focused on what I want or think that I need, how well am I doing at following the example of healthy living that Jesus gave me? It is easy to argue that I know what is required for this moment in life or that this particular situation was extraordinary, and it demanded that I do and say what I did. Yet, those arguments are the same ones that people have been using for thousands of years to justify going against the Lord’s will. God has heard them all, and there is no real creativity that the human mind can utilize successfully in its attempt to rationalize living in ways that are different from God’s design for life. 

There are ways of thinking and ways of living that God has told us will work; there are others that He has clearly marked as bad ideas. The road map to follow through life is universally available. The system even comes with an on board set of helps and an interpreter for those hard to understand situations. All that is required of us is a willingness to join with Jesus, to allow Him into our lives. It is very simple; yet, the decision to let Him in is the most elusive action point in life for many people. There is something in our natures that clings very tightly to a mind-set and a heart-felt determination to live life the way that we think is best. The problem with this way of thinking is that God’s way is proven to actually work, and for every person this is always true.

The proof of this statement is recorded throughout human history in the Bible. The living proof of the fact that God’s ways are superior to anything that we people can come up with on our own is demonstrated in each of our lives. The Lord designed life this way, He made it so that we can look closely at each other, and we can observe the way that other people think and the actions that they take. The challenge for me and for any of us who know God is to examine our own thoughts and our own actions; then, we can to allow Christ access to our hearts and our minds to change us so that we think and act like Him. One way of thinking and one way of acting works; for, one has wisdom, peace, joy, and life sustaining grace driving it. One has the Father’s love flowing out of it. We get to choose to make God’s way ours.

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