By Maria Kneas
(from Strength for Tough Times)
How can we increase our trust in God? One way is to identify some of the obstacles to trusting so that we can deal with them. We can ask God to: (1) make us aware when we fall into these ways of thinking or reacting, (2) deal with things in our hearts that are fertile ground for these hindrances, and (3) give us practical strategies, and grace, to overcome these problems.
Independence and Self-Reliance
I live in the United States. Our American culture fosters an attitude of independence and self-reliance. It values self-confidence rather than confidence in God. It promotes self-esteem, rather than high esteem for God. (We do have great value, but it is not because of any merits of our own. It is because Jesus Christ loves us so much that He gave His life in order to save us.)
The American ideal is the self-made man who can say, “I did it.” This promotes the attitude that God warned the Israelites against in Deuteronomy 8:10-18. He warned them not to be deceived into thinking that it was their power (or education or brilliance or expertise or hard work) that caused them to succeed.
Sometimes we may have a crisis or danger or an accident or health problems. The result is a “reality check.” All at once, we suddenly remember that we have to depend on God. That’s good. When the crisis is over, we need to keep reminding ourselves of the truth that we have learned instead of allowing ourselves to slip back into our independent, self-reliant, American mindset.
Our school system indoctrinates us with humanist philosophy and assumptions. Even though we know better as Christians, these things can sneak into our thinking, our assumptions, and our responses. We need to become alert to recognize them and to resist them. The Bible tells us to refuse to allow thoughts to remain if they make it difficult for us to know (and therefore trust) God. The Bible says:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
The image is a military one, that of a soldier on guard duty who sees someone and says, “Halt! Who goes there?” Then the soldier makes a decision whether to allow the person to stay or to require the person to leave or to arrest the person.
Humanism exalts itself against the knowledge of God. It tries to make man the center of the universe and the source of salvation, instead of God.
We live in a culture that encourages people to have a victim mentality. For example, I read a newspaper article about Aristide (the former ruler of Haiti), which said that Aristide was a “victim” of an “addiction to power.” A reporter with that kind of attitude could have said the same thing about Adolf Hitler. However, back in Hitler’s day, the public would not have stood for that kind of nonsense.
Some people really have been victimized. I have two friends who were raped when they were young children. They both decided that Jesus is more important to them than what happened to them. And because Jesus told us to forgive, they forgave their rapists. That turned out to be the key to a process of emotional healing. They were healed through prayer, Scripture reading, and obeying the Lord. God’s Word showed them what they needed to know.
Self-pity is related to humanism. It puts our suffering on center stage instead of God. It says that what happened to us is more important than what Jesus Christ did for us. It says that, because of what happened to us, we don’t have to obey Jesus when He tells us to forgive people and to love our enemies. It puts our focus on ourselves instead of on God. This is a form of idolatry.
How can we truly trust God when we are focused on ourselves? When we look at ourselves, our problems look huge. When we look at God—and how great and powerful and loving He is—then we can see that, compared to God, our problems are small.
The key to overcoming self-pity is (1) to repent, and (2) to make a decision to focus on who God is and how much He loves us—instead of focusing on how we feel.
It is also helpful to get our suffering in perspective. Suffering is a normal part of life. Jesus and the apostles often wrote about it. For example, Jesus said:
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. (John 15:19-21)
The Apostle Paul said:
And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. (Romans 5:3-5)
It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:11-13)
Thou therefore endure hardness [hardship], as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. (2 Timothy 2:3)
And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. (Romans 4:21)
The Book of Acts says that Paul and his companions were:
Confirming [strengthening] the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22, emphasis added)
The Apostle Peter said:
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. (1 Peter 4:12-13)
Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)
The Apostle James said:
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (James 1:2-4)
We need to learn to see suffering through the perspective of the Bible instead of the perspective of our humanist, “I have a right to feel good” culture. Then, no matter what we have been through, we will be able to get over it and go on with God. We need to be like the Apostle Paul, who said:
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14, emphasis added)
Another hindrance to trusting God is believing (or feeling) that our circumstances are so overwhelming that even God can’t deal with them in a way that will work out for our good. This is actually a form of idolatry. It is saying that our circumstances are more powerful than God is.
In America, our culture is saturated with the assumptions of behavioral psychology. This is a humanistic teaching that denies personal responsibility for our own behavior. It says that we are at the mercy of our circumstances—that what we do is determined by our present circumstances or by what has happened to us in the past (our past circumstances).
This attitude is demonstrated in the movie West Side Story. A gang member says, “I’m depraved on account of I’m deprived.”
The fatal error of behavioral psychology is thinking that circumstances force people to do things. But circumstances don’t have that kind of power. All that they can do is to pressure people into making personal decisions.
If people take the path of least resistance, then they will go in the direction that the behavioral psychologists predict. However, people are capable of making godly decisions, no matter what the circumstances.
People are swimmers—not driftwood. Floating wood follows wherever the current leads. But a swimmer with a goal will swim towards that goal, in spite of the pull of the current.
I knew a young man who was raised in a home where the family was violent and morally depraved. He had no decent role models, he couldn’t read, and he didn’t know anything about God. But he used to watch a TV program called Father Knows Best. As a child, he decided that he wanted to be like the people on that TV show instead of being like the people in his family. When he grew up, he met some Christians, heard the Gospel, and became a Christian.
The martyrs demonstrate that people can make godly decisions in spite of great adversity. Fox’s Book of Martyrs tells of men and woman who went to their deaths praying or singing. They were more focused on God and His people than they were on their impending death. For example, John Huss died singing, and William Tyndale died praying for the people.
The God who gave strength and courage to Huss and Tyndale will do the same for us when we need it.
During World War II, in Holland, many of the Dutch citizens began to resist the Nazi regime when they realized that Jewish people were being persecuted and murdered. To be caught helping to hide Jews, meant either prison or death. Diet Eman was just 19 at this time. She and several of her young friends became part of the Christian non-violent resistance movement in Holland. They helped save the lives of many Jews, but it cost most of Diet’s friends, including her fiancé, their lives. But it was a choice they each made—they did what was right, and they trusted the Lord for the outcome. Of this time period, Diet states:
Sometimes people ask me whether I wish I could skip that whole part of my life, if I could live my life over. I tell them I do not. That part of my life was very, very difficult; I cannot think about it today without crying, even though I never cried much at all for most of that time. But I tell people those years of my life were very special, a time when I was very close to God—so close, in fact, I not only knew that He kept His promises, I actually experienced His faithfulness. (Things We Couldn’t Say, p. 325)
We can trust God—no matter what happens. If we are faced with grief or tragedy or sickness or injustice or war or persecution, we can trust God to be with us and to get us through it. The Apostle Paul said:
Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. (2 Corinthians 2:14)
And Jesus said:
I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. (Matthew 28:20)
The Epistle to the Hebrews says:
[F]or he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me. (Hebrews 13:5-6)
The Apostle Paul said:
And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. (Romans 4:21)
But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)
We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)
What Are We Thinking About?
When you drive on a country road with ditches, you have to avoid going off the road on both sides. Whether you go too far to the right or to the left, either way, you will wind up in a ditch.
Some things in the Bible come in pairs. One statement helps us avoid the ditch on one side of the road, and the other statement helps us avoid the ditch on the opposite side.
When it comes to what we think about, we need to understand both sets of principles. On the one hand, we need to have enough understanding of evil to be able to deal with it. On the other hand, we need to focus on good things—not bad ones. You can see both of these principles in Scripture.
Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. (Matthew 10:16)
Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices. (2 Corinthians 2:11)
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
So we need to have enough understanding of bad things to be able to avoid getting snared by them, but at the same time we cannot afford to focus on such things. We need to focus on good things (and especially on God and His Word). How can we do that in real life?
We do something similar all the time when we drive. We keep our eyes on the road ahead. But at the same time, we are aware of things to the side of the road, such as a deer or another vehicle that could be a potential driving hazard. Our primary focus is straight ahead (which keeps us safe on the road). However, our peripheral vision takes in other things (so that we are aware of what is going on around us).
Too Much Focus on Ourselves
The Apostle Paul warned about a future time when people would be “lovers of themselves.” This would result in a long list of bad attitudes and destructive behavior. Take a look at this list, and see how many of these things you can see in our society today:
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Timothy 3:1-5, emphasis added)
One form that this self focus takes is the emphasis on “self esteem.” According to Scripture, we are valuable, but the reason is based on God—not on ourselves. We are created in God’s image, and Jesus Christ purchased us by His blood. That is what gives us value—not anything that we can boast of having said or done. Here is what the Bible says about our own natural goodness, apart from the grace of God:
And he [Jesus] said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. (Matthew 19:17)
[A]ll our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6)
The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)
Another form that focusing on ourselves takes is self-condemnation. This is more subtle. Because it talks in negative terms, people can overlook the fact that it is another way of focusing on ourselves instead of focusing on God.
If we have repented of our sins, and God has forgiven them, then why are we still beating ourselves up about it? According to the Bible, the devil is “the accuser” of Christians (Revelation 12:10). Why should we do the devil’s job for him?
The Bible tells us to avoid saying destructive things. It says that our words should “edify” people. That means to build them up, as opposed to tearing them down.
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. (Ephesians 4:29, emphasis added)
That includes what we tell ourselves. When we talk to ourselves, we are both the speaker and the hearer.
As Christians, we should focus on the Lord, and on loving and serving our neighbors. Self-condemnation undermines both of those. It gets our focus on ourselves, and makes us the center of attention. It is actually a form of injured pride because it forgets that our value is in God alone.
We need to focus on God rather than on ourselves. We should try to see people (including ourselves) the way that God sees them, and try to live according to biblical principles. The Epistles can be helpful for doing this. They are pastoral letters written to Christians, and they deal with the practical issues of everyday life.
God’s Power and Faithfulness
We live in a world that is morally sliding downhill. But we can be reassured because where sin abounds, God’s grace abounds even more (Romans 5:20).
If we feel weak or inadequate, then we can be strengthened and comforted by the fact that God told Paul:
My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
God doesn’t play favorites. What He did for Paul, He will do for all of His children. We can rest assured that God’s grace really is sufficient for us. When we are weak, He will give us His strength to go on. We can see this same promise in the Epistle of Jude, which says:
Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)
God has provided everything that we need in order to overcome every obstacle to trusting Him. The Apostle Peter told us:
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:3-4, emphasis added)
We can begin appropriating these “great and precious promises” right now. And then we can spend the rest of our lives learning how to live by them more and more consistently. It’s a process and an adventure. We can spend a lifetime doing it here on earth and then enjoy the fruits of it for all eternity.
(From Strength for Tough Times by Maria Kneas)