Monday, September 5, 2016

Trusting God in the Midst of Trials, Part Two


Recently I have been giving a dose of practical spirituality to the often difficult task of trusting God in the midst of trials. In Part One, I laid the foundation of what you must believe about God in order to trust Him. Now in Part Two, we will discuss the practical action you can take in order to grow your trust in God: thankfulness, otherwise known in the Bible as thanksgiving or gratitude.

About a year ago, I did Priscilla Shirer's study "The Armor of God". This study forever changed my perspective on broad Biblical topics like spiritual warfare, prayer and thankfulness. My discussion today uses and expands upon what I learned from Priscilla's work. In "The Armor of God", Priscilla teaches that thankfulness to God encourages trust and ultimately activates His peace. Today, I am going to focus on the trust part of the cycle.

Two Types of Thankfulness

Did you know there are two types of thankfulness in the Bible?


Psalm 107:8-9 encompasses them both:

"(8) Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind, (9) for He satisfied the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things" Psalm 107:8-9 (NIV).

I'm going to flip the verses and talk about the first type of thankfulness with verse 9, Thankfulness for Blessings. As the name suggests, this type basically lists the blessings we have been given by God and thanks Him for them. While this process is extremely important, it does not tend to activate trust in God. Why? Because in our minds, I think we can disassociate God from blessings and attribute them to circumstances or our own hard work.

The key to activating trust in God with gratitude is to thank God for doing what only He can do. This type of thankfulness written about in verse 8 is Thankfulness for Provision. According to verse 8, Thankfulness for Provision means thanking God for His "unfailing love" and "wonderful deeds". For the blessings that could have only occurred because God intervened.
I have known for awhile how important it is for me to thank God for His provision, so I added a category on my blog to remember it in my own life. Here are a few of my favorite examples:
Some people may argue these things would have happened without God, but I know better. We all know the way our world works: injustice, nothing for free, fulfillment always just out of reach. These situations, despite how hopeless they initially felt, would never have worked out without the loving provision of God.

God is Good At All Times

In the midst of my current trials, I remember these past experiences and how God worked them for my good. And if God was working for my good when I didn't even know it, I can trust that He will work things for my good in the future. Even if I can't see it. Even if the situation seems hopeless. THAT is the point where trust begins. A good God is good all the time: past, present and future.

"[I]f we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself" 2 Timothy 2:13 (HCSB).

From this verse in 2 Timothy, we learn God cannot be unfaithful. He cannot act with a different character in the future than He did the past, because He would be denying Himself. God cannot be good to you in the past and not good in the future.

So the next time you find yourself struggling to trust God in the midst of trials, remember those provisions God gave you in the past. Remember He was good then, and He is still good now. I think you will find trusting God a little easier.

Reference: Shirer, Priscilla (2015). The Armor of God. LifeWay Press: Nashville, TN.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Trusting God in the Midst of Trials, Part One


Not long ago, I introduced the topic of practical spirituality.

One of the key questions I believe needs a strong dose of practical spirituality is how to trust God, particularly in the midst of a trial. It amazes me how many secret struggles people carry with them every day. What a relief it would be to serve a God we can trust with our circumstances, our fears, our dreams. As Christians, we know intellectually we should trust God, but convincing our heart is sometimes another matter.

As someone who just experienced the most heart-wrenching, soul-shaking year of my life, trusting God in the midst of trials has been of particular interest to me. In the course of praying and reading the Bible, God taught me that trusting Him is like trusting anyone else: we must get to know Him! How we do this is where practical spirituality comes into play, by spending time with God.

Don't worry, I'm not going to start preaching about personal devotional time, even though I do think that is a critically important step of learning the character of God. In this discussion, however, I would like to ask you a question: who do you believe God is?

Who Do You Believe God Is?

"'But what about you?' [Jesus] asked. 'Who do you say I am?'" Matthew 16:15 (NIV).

This question lays the foundation of whether or not you trust God. 

At one time in my life, I would have given you some pretty convincing Sunday School answers about who I believed God was. I would tell you Jesus is my Savior and I worship God. But deep down, I thought God was withholding good things from me in order to punish me. I thought God considered me unworthy, and my lackluster relationship with Him reflected those beliefs. I unsurprisingly had zero trust in God. Who would trust someone like that? I realized I believed quite a few lies about the God I claimed to serve, and that motivated me to investigate His true character.

So no Sunday School answers here! Deep down, what do you believe about God? If you are not sure, your attitudes about the things of God are a good indicator. Are you generally happy to go to church and be in the assembly of believers? Are you hungry for the teachings of God? Do you apply those teachings as best you can to your life? If not and you find yourself struggling to trust God, you may need to examine your beliefs. Let's look at what we should believe about God in order to trust Him.

God Exists & He is Good

"And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe He exists and He rewards those who earnestly seek Him" Hebrews 11:6 (NIV, emphasis added).

This verse lays the foundation for our trust in God. First, we must believe He exists. We cannot trust God if He isn't real. 

Second, we must believe He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. This is really the key to unlocking your trust in God. You must believe God has your best interests at heart, that He is good. Because if God exists and He is good, it completely changes the purpose of trials in our lives. A good God does not allow trials without a bringing good from it (Romans 8:28). A good God does not withhold any good thing from His children (Matthew 7:7-11). A good God can be a Father rather than a punisher (Isaiah 63:16). A good God is worth trusting, even if we don't understand our circumstances, because we know He is in control (Isaiah 55:8-11).

The Challenge

Answer Jesus' question, "who do you say I am?"

If you can answer honestly "God is good", you have the seed of trust already planted in your heart. If not, we have some work to do! But no worries, because we serve a good God. And with practical spirituality, we can learn the practical steps to increasing our trust in Him.

In Part Two, I will share one of the concepts that has made the biggest difference in how I trust God.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Practical Spirituality


I have a spiritually incorrect question to ask you. Not politically incorrect, but spiritually.

But before I ask it, let me give you a little background. I have been trying to write this blog post for some time now, because the question I have been pondering in my heart is taboo by typical Christian standards. I did some field research by discreetly speaking with some fellow Christians, and what I learned is people in the church are thirsting for honesty and authenticity (let me clarify by "church" I mean the church in general, not necessarily the specific church I attend). People are looking for a place to ask these "spiritually incorrect" questions and not be judged as heretics. People are looking for answers in a confusing, discouraging world.

So I'll jump first and ask my question: why does Christianity seem so impractical sometimes?

I was blessed to grow up in the church. I went to church before I was even born (thanks mom!). So for 28 years, I have experienced the highs and lows of the Christian walk, even before I was saved myself. This past year, it has bothered me tremendously that Christians are often told to do things, but are not told how to do these things. Take for example the commonplace response of "trust God" in the midst of a trial. Well...sure, okay. I know I am supposed to trust God. But I find it difficult to trust Him when I don't know what He's doing and my emotions are plummeting me into discouragement. So since trusting God doesn't come easily for me, I must be a failure.

You see the cycle people are put in? There has been much debate over the past several years why young people are leaving the church. Of course we may never know the full reasons, but I am beginning to think one reason is how impossible the "perfect Christian walk" seems. Jesus warned His disciples, "watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" Matthew 26:41 (NIV). We are given victory over sin through Jesus Christ's sacrifice, but the daily struggle of the flesh is still very present in our lives. I think more battles would be won if people were given the tools of practical spirituality.

Think about it this way: God is a practical God. He is a planner. Before Eve even took a bite of the forbidden fruit, God had a plan for a Savior. The Bible says God has a plan for each of us (Jeremiah 29:11). So it is hard to believe that God would expect us to follow His commands without giving instructions for application.

The concept of practical spirituality has emerged from my research and prayer into the question I posed earlier. So what is practical spirituality? Practical spirituality gives us the tools to apply broad Biblical teachings to our own lives. No matter how you feel, who you are or what circumstances you are in, practical spirituality helps you apply God's Word.

After the difficult year my family and I have endured, here are a few topics I think could use a dose of practical spirituality:
  1. Wrestling with God - should we feel shame for disagreeing with God's will?
  2. Trusting God - how to do it in the midst of confusion and disappointment.
  3. Failure - what is the appropriate response when we fail spiritually?
  4. Emotions - (this is a big one for me, because emotions are where I am weakest) how to obey God's Word when we feel like doing otherwise.
My personal study time has been devoted to talking to God, reading the Bible and addressing these topics in my own life. Now that I have laid it all out there, I am curious what you think. What questions do you think could use some practical spirituality? 

Monday, June 13, 2016

I Have Loved You


When I was a preteen, I wrote poetry all the time. Something about the fluid, rhythmic nature of poetry helped me express deep emotions in a way no other method could. Today, I share my first poem in years. It is called "I Have Loved You". 

I have loved you in the midst of the shriveling ache,
 the negative signs my sorrow make.
I have loved you though we have never met,
my hope for you a worthless net.
I have loved you enough to recognize the pit,
nothing, no matter how good, a perfect fit.
Your absence is a grief, strangling and deep.
I hide it and give it away, but the peace never keeps.
Please God, tell me how to cope
With grief that smothers every faith and hope.
Time doesn't help, the desolation only deepens,
The path to the one I have loved only steepens.
God, You tell me to trust You, to arise and go
But maybe I want to give up, I hate that only You know.
I have loved you as I watch others live my dream,
I sink beneath the waters as they flourish in the cream.
I have loved you as I watch the light dim in my beloved's eyes.
We miss you together, him and I.
Though you may exist only in my heart, your future with me unclear,
I have loved you, will always love you, through the unending years.