How do I know I can trust God?

Is trusting God easy? In my experience, it hasn’t been. I realize that every person is different. Some folks have found it easier to trust God. I will say it is easier to trust God the more I experience Him at work. I know that as I experience God more, I grow closer to this perspective penned by King David:

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;he will answer him from his holy heavenwith the saving might of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses,but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.  – Psalm 20:6-7, ESV

David had seen God do the miraculous. David had seen God deliver him personally time and time again. David had witness God turn that which was intended for evil for the good. Based on when we first meet him in Scripture, David started with a strong belief and over time it became even stronger. Experiencing God at work changes us. It gives us the capacity to trust Him more.

However, it has to begin somewhere. For me, it began when I first trusted that He would save me as Scripture promises. That was a hard, hard thing for me to accept. I had drilled into my head for twenty years that if I were to succeed or fail, it was all up to me. That clashed with what Scripture presents: salvation wasn’t something I could do on my own. It wasn’t up to me. I was powerless.  This started a war in both my heart and my mind. Then, finally, I trusted. 

I can’t tell you to trust God and that be the end of it. I can ask you to trust God and point to experience after experience of other people who have trusted God and seen God deliver. They’ve seen God honor His promises. They’ve been part of God doing the “impossible.” Scripture is filled with such examples. So are our churches. I can askl you to trust God but then I have to leave the decision to you. That’s where it is: with you. Will you trust Him? 

One proviso: trust God in His promises. Scripture tells us when, where, and how we can trust God. Don’t trust God for something Scripture doesn’t state. For instance, don’t think, “I need a new sports car and I’m going to trust God for it.” That’s a want, not a need, and God didn’t make such a general, unqualified promise. However, if the situation lines up with the Bible, trust, trust, trust! Then watch as God works to expand your trust in Him by delivering over and over again.

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Where is God in my despair?

Are you in a time of deep sorrow? Are you hurting and wondering where God is in your time of pain? Do you feel like He has abandoned you? Maybe you feel like Job:

“I loathe my life;I will give free utterance to my complaint;I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.  – Job 10:1, ESV

Job hadn’t done anything wrong. Satan was allowed to test Job. God offered Job up. Satan was ruthless. He went as far as he was allowed in tormenting Job. God didn’t intervene. He let Satan do what he wanted, up to the limitations that He placed: the first time Satan couldn’t kill Job, so Satan killed his children, and the second time, Satan couldn’t kill Job, so he gave Job such horrendous sores that Job was in tremendous pain, enough pain to want his life to end. We are picking up after the second time. Where was God?

“Today also my complaint is bitter;my hand is heavy on account of my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him,that I might come even to his seat!  – Job 23:2-3, ESV

Job had that same question. His so-called friends were telling him that he deserved his “punishment.” Job pleaded his case to them, explaining that he wasn’t guilty of what they claimed. They didn’t believe him. Job then told them he wished he knew where God was so that he could present his case before Him. Sound familiar?

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?  – Job 38:1-2, ESV

After Job’s friends take another round of accusations against Job, God steps forth. God was there the whole time. He heard the arguments between Job and his “friends.” God wasn’t in hiding. He wasn’t too busy. He wasn’t asleep. He wasn’t hard of hearing. There was a purpose for everything Job was going through. The interchange with Job’s friends allowed their mistaken arguments and beliefs about God, man, and sin to be spoken. Job himself provided a continual defense of himself, but as a friend pointed out to me, Job in the end was being self-righteous. Our righteousness comes from God, not ourselves, and that was something that needed to be brought to the forefront. Of course, the only way any of that would come out into the open was if God waited to answer. That’s exactly what He did.

When God seems silent to us, that doesn’t mean He isn’t listening. It doesn’t mean He isn’t around. He is both. God cannot not be there. Though we may not sense Him, He is there and He does still care. We aren’t alone in experiencing the silence of God. Even Jesus experienced the Father’s silence when He was on the Cross. Therefore, we do have a God who sympathizes with us. He has been there. And because He is good, He doesn’t remain silent without good reason. He doesn’t remain silent longer than necessary. 

God is with you in your sorrow. Believe that He is there and that He loves you. Take hope in the fact that God cares and He will not leave you in that state unnecessarily. God promised to never leave us nor forsake us. He always honors His promises. Take hope in those promises as you work through your sorrow.

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Why doesn’t God give me what I’ve asked for?

You’ve prayed for something earnestly. Perhaps it’s a little extra to help make ends meet. Or maybe it’s a new car to replace your old one. It could be about a relationship. Maybe you’ve prayed for a loved one’s healing. Yet you haven’t seen God answer that prayer. Why doesn’t God provide what you’ve asked for?

This goes along with yesterday’s devotional about why God doesn’t always remove an issue from our lives. There are a multitude of reasons why God may answer our prayers with, “Not yet,” or an outright, “No,” but first let’s look at the verses often quoted with respect to God delivering what we ask for:

In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.   – John 16:23-24, ESV

At first glance it seems like the Scripture says that if we ask Jesus for it, the Father will give it to us. All we need to do is ask and we will receive. We just aren’t asking. Jesus uses the phrase, “in my name,” and that’s why we hear people sometimes end prayers with, “In Jesus’ name.” The catch here is what is meant by that phrase.

Some would preach that the reason we don’t have something we want is because we haven’t prayed enough or demonstrated enough faith. They would say that we aren’t taking this set of verses literally and powerfully and that’s why God isn’t delivering. There are some cases where this may be true, like with the father who asked Jesus to help him in his unbelief for the sake of his son. However, this set of verses isn’t about praying harder or believing more that God will give us what we ask for, because “in my name” has a specific meaning. 

It means that if we ask for something Jesus would ask for, the Father will deliver. Think about how an ambassador works. The ambassador represents the nation or organization. The ambassador’s words and actions should meet the desires and agenda of whom he or she serves. So if someone is an ambassador of the United States of America, you would expect that person to deal with representatives from other countries in keeping with what the USA desires. It can be said that the ambassador goes in the name of the United States. That’s how the phrase, “in my name,” should be seen. 

This raises the obvious question, “How do I know to pray for what Jesus would ask for?” Scripture is a huge help here. As we get to know the living God through Scripture, we come to understand what He is like, what He values, and what He is opposed to. We also learn His commands for us and what promises He makes towards us, as well as the conditions for those promises to be met. Having a good understanding of all that helps us consider what Jesus would ask for. Yes, there’s some work to be done here. After all, one doesn’t become an ambassador of the United States without doing a lot of work and having a lot of discussion as to what the interests of the United States are. The same is true in our role as ambassadors for Jesus Christ. 

If God doesn’t seem to be answering our prayers, we must consider if it’s something He would pray for and if it is, why. If we can’t answer why, if we can’t point to something solid supported by Scripture, we’re probably off-base. But what if we can and we still aren’t seeing God deliver? There are at few considerations to make. 

The first is whether or not the prayer request would be of overall benefit to us. Yesterday we looked at the fact that Paul’s thorn wasn’t removed because without it Paul would become conceited. Paul realized that and he understood why God wouldn’t deliver him from his thorn. God may not deliver something we ask for because in the end it will hurt us – we will be left worse than before. Another thing to consider is that God knows and sees and understands circumstances that we don’t. He may choose not to answer our prayer in the way we like because He has something bigger at work. If you want to see this in action, read the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk learns this lesson first hand. The book of Habakkuk also reveals another reason and the last consideration I’ll mention: sin. Israel’s sin was ever-present and overwhelming. God was dealing with that, and thus couldn’t honor Habakkuk’s request. There could be a sin issue you haven’t dealt with that’s stand between you and God. The bottom line is that if God isn’t delivering on a prayer request the way we want, He has a good reason. We might not understand the reason, but we can trust that God has one. God is good.

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Why do I keep struggling with this issue?

Is there something you struggle with that you wish you didn’t? I mean something along the lines of a persistent sin, an addiction, or a bad character flaw. Do you ever wonder why God doesn’t just take it away? After all, the Bible says that He came so we might live life more abundantly. Whatever that issue or problem is, it gets in the way of you doing so. So why does God allow it persist in your life?

Scripture has an answer for these questions. We find the answerer no other than Paul, who struggled with something that he didn’t call out specifically (we’d classify it today as “an unspoken prayer request”). Whatever it was, it was bad enough that Paul called it a thorn. Here are the verses:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 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.   – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, ESV

If the apostle Paul struggled with something, it shouldn’t surprise us that we can, too. Diving deeper, Paul knew for sure that God allowed whatever the issue was to continue in his life. Paul was not given relief from it. We could make the argument that whatever it was, it must have impaired Paul’s ministry. Therefore, it seems inconsistent that God would permit such an obstacle for a man called to do so much. However, that’s not the way Paul saw it. Paul knew God isn’t inconsistent. Therefore, Paul considered carefully why he had the thorn. He found the answer.

Paul stated twice that the reason for the thorn was it prevented him from becoming conceited. Stop and think about that for a second. Conceit would have been devestating to Paul’s ministry. It would have rendered him ineffective. Case in that light, we begin to see why God allowed this thorn to remain in Paul’s life: the consequences were worse. 

Now one could argue that God could make the conceit go away. After all, we do see in Scripture miraculous changes in people. Look at how Jacob/Israel turned around. Or look at how Judah went from a plotter, schemer, and murderer to the one who would put his own life to save his brother Benjamin’s. In those cases God did change the hearts of those men. However, he did so over a period of time. We know they experienced some hardship. To what extent, we don’t know. That sounds an awful lot like Paul’s thorn, doesn’t it?

Having such an issue in our lives should humble us. It should remind us that we can’t do everything on our own. We need the Holy Spirit to change us, to guide us, to strengthen us. God makes those promises. He reminds Paul of those promises when God explains that when Paul is weak, God’s power can work fully to perfection. Paul didn’t have the strength to get in the way. The same is true of us. Areas where we are weak or struggle with are where God can show His power, His faithfulness, and His mercy. They are additional opportunities to get a blessing from God. Also, those issues may be shielding us from something bigger, just like Paul’s thorn sheltered him from self-conceit.

This isn’t to say that we don’t have to work on our issues. It’s just a reminder that some things are bigger than we are. When they are, God steps in if we will yield to Him. Whatever it is that you can’t seem to shake, don’t give up. Keep pushing yourself to overcome it. However, also make sure that you yield to God so His strength can be made perfect in your weakness. Like with repentance, even when we are at our lowest point, God has more of Himself, more of His perfection, lined up for us. God is good.

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Is repentance necessary?

God is love. He accepts me as I am. So why then is there a need for repentance? After all, repentance is a buzzkill compared to the feel good message that God loves me. Is repentance necessary for the Christian?

In short, yes. Recognize that repentance carries with it two important actions. First, it’s an acknowledgment of wrong-doing on our part. We are taking responsibility for our actions. God is love, but He is also a perfect God of justice. If we take one aspect of God without the other, we’re not talking about the same God. It’s like saying a person’s job is the only thing about that person. People may do it, but it doesn’t adequately describe the person. 

Second, it’s a decision to turn away from that wrong-doing. Not only are we admitting to being wrong, but we are saying to God, “I know it’s wrong and I consciously choose to try and not do it any longer.” Repentance is not just an apology to God, but it’s the first step in letting our actions match our words. 

Most importantly, God requires it. If we want to be obedient to God, when we sin we must repent. This isn’t just a New Testament command. For instance, here is an oft quoted set of verses from the Old Testament:

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  – 2 Chronicles 7:13-14, ESV

By following God’s command to repent, we are acknowledging that He is in charge. Hopefully, that brings us back to a proper perspective of who we are compared to who God is. When we only focus on “God is love,” we tend to treat Him as the proverbial genie in the lamp. That isn’t who He is at all. He is the in command. He is Sovereign. He is the ruler and we are the servants. Our impression of ourselves is often bigger than reality. Repentance should therefore bring about humility as we shrink down that inflated view of our own importance.

But repentance isn’t one sided. Note that when we repent, God acts, too. He forgives. He restores us to His presence. He also may chose to restore us in other ways, as the above verses indicate. When Israel repented, God promised to undo the calamities that they were suffering under as a nation. That same possibility exists for us as individuals and as congregations. This isn’t always the case. However, even if He doesn’t act to undo some of the issues we’re facing, His forgiveness and restoration of our relationship with Him is unbelievable. We don’t deserve it.

But we shouldn’t be surprised. When we say God is good and God is merciful, this carries over even to our admittance of wrong-doing. Even when we know we’ve disobeyed, He still has something good for us planned. This is just one reason God is my hope. Even in my repentance, God treats me better than I deserve.

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Do I need to go to church?

More and more the press is reporting how Christians are leaving churches. The ones leaving cite a variety of reasons; many of them are valid. This raises the big question, “Must a Christian be in church to be a Christian?” To which I raise the question, “What do you mean by church?”

Some people tie church to a particular building or campus. This isn’t Biblical. After all, the Israelites began worshiping God with no structure at all. Abraham and Jacob built their own makeshift altars, for instance. Then, during Moses’ time, God directed them to build the Tabernacle, which was a portable structure. During David’s time, David brought the tabernacle to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6) after he took the city and fought at least one campaign against the Philistines. The Temple proper wasn’t built until David’s son, Solomon, builds it. However, it wasn’t the Temple of Jesus’ time. That was Herod’s Temple, a refursbished and expanded second Temple. The second Temple was the one built by Ezra, Zerubbabel, and Nehemiah. So church doesn’t mean a specific location. 

Church means a body of believers. When we understand church to mean that, then the Biblical instruction is clear: if it is possible, we must be in church, we must gather together. For instance, it’s difficult to do the following when we don’t make a habit of gathering together:

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.  – 1 Thessalonians 5:11, ESV

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews used stronger language, telling us not to neglect meeting together. This is the authority of Scripture proclaiming that we should be gathering together. We should be in “church.”

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  – Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV

If that wasn’t enough emphasis, we just need to read on further in Hebrews:

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.  – Hebrews 13:7, ESV

Think about the disciples gathering together in the Upper Room. Or how they went together to Galilee. Then there’s the day of Pentecost when the believers gathered together at the Temple. In fact, if we read the book of Acts we constantly see Christians gathering together. We see in Paul’s pastoral letters (to Timothy, primarily) rules for church government. Our leaders, the ones from the early Church, where in the habit of gathering together. They “went to church.”

There isn’t guidance on a particular day. The Jewish Sabbath is from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. That’s when the Jewish believers were used to gathering together in worship. However, Christ rose on Sunday, which is why so many congregations meet on Sundays. There is no Biblical guidance on when. Just as there is no Biblical guidance on where. The Bible just tells us to meet together. 

But what about all those valid reasons why people are leaving churches? They’ve always been there. We see squabbling in the early Church. Read Paul’s two letters to the Corinthian church. We see those issues even before that, such as what Jeremiah faced. We are sinful and sometimes that sin is going to come to the forefront. This is true wherever we are. Even if we’re all alone, sin can get the better of us and dissatisfy us and cause us to want to quit whatever it is we are doing. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised when we sometimes have the same feelings within a group of people. 

Those reasons aren’t excuses to stop going to church. They are problems every congregation should be working on. Those problems don’t glorify God. Therefore, they need to be dealt with and overcome. However, they will only be dealt with when the people who recognize them as issues are willing to serve God to solve them. That can only happen if we are in church. 

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I’ve grown distant from the Lord

Christians talk about how they used to be closer to God than they are now. Maybe you’re in this state. If you are and you want to change the situation, there is hope:

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.”
‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.
  – Revelation 3:1-3, ESV

When Christians speak of spiritual renewal, I know this isn’t the first set of verses that they typically use. However, when I read over them, I find an incredible promise. Note how Christ described the church in Sardis: it was dead. Spiritually, it was living on past reputation. In truth, there was nothing going on. Yet Christ commands that church to wake up, to strengthen what remains, to remember what they have heard, to obey it, and to repent. Jesus would not give such a command if it were not possible. The promise from Jesus was if they would wake up, obey, and repent, they would be alive again.

Yes, there’s a warning, too. If the church didn’t obey, then He would come against it and they wouldn’t see Him in time to change their course. There wouldn’t be a Hezekiah seeking out Isaiah because the Assyrians were upon them moment (Isaiah 36-37). Christ would come and that would be it. The church in Sardis had to obey, and to obey immediately.

That gets to the root of the issue. Do you want to be close to the Lord again? How badly do you seek to restore the relationship you once had? Is it something you feel you must do now because you want so badly to be close again? Or are you more wanting to wait until something bad happens and you need God’s help before you ask to be close again? From the commands to the church in Sardis, only one of those attitudes is acceptable. Only the first one, wanting Jesus because you feel the pain of separation and the desire to be close again, is the correct path.

Jesus will honor it. However, that doesn’t erase all the consequences. Jesus didn’t promise that if you turn back, it will all be easy. If there is sin involved, it must be dealt with. You may have to make hard choices and separate yourself from some things or some people. You may have to seek forgiveness not only of God but others, too. It goes back to the question of how badly do you want the relationship restored? Desire it despite any pain or hardship and it will be done. Jesus will draw you close again. He will undo the distance you have put between Him and you. Do you want to live again? Remember what you’ve heard, obey, and repent. Jesus will take care of the rest.

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