The Antidotes to Self-Trust

Nobody has to teach you to be mistrusting of others, it comes fairly naturally to the human heart that has been hurt … and who hasn’t been hurt.  No child has perfect parents (if they know their parents), no individual has a perfect spouse (if they are married), no employee has a perfect boss (if they work), no church-goer has perfect leaders (if they attend church) and no friend has perfect companions (if they have some friends) … period.

Just what is the problem that this creates? There are scores of problems arising from these situations – loneliness, abandonment, fear, worry, on and on that list can go.  But what is the problem? I would argue that the default response of the sinful human heart in these situations is self-trust.  Often times that is a conscience choice to push people away who caused hurt, and other times it’s not so deliberate.  Sometimes it’s done with a sinful rejection of those who don’t measure up to your god-like standard, and other times it is actually wisdom to flee violent or abusive situations.  Whatever the specifics of the case may be, in every case the thoughtful child of God needs to do battle against the leanings of their heart to only call yourself (and yourself alone) safe.

In one respect, it’s true – nobody out there is safe.  But the answer is not to push everyone away and opt for selfish isolation, but to stop expecting everyone around you to act like a savior full of endless grace and truth in glorious perfection.  Yet there are ‘safe people’ out there.  People who imperfectly love their Creator and are willing to imperfectly love you.  So, if that’s true how do we do battle against the idols of our heart which are all rooted in self-trust?

Antidote #1: Listen and Remember

The history of the nations of Israel and Judah are cyclical stories of stubbornness and forgetfulness.  God’s power is put on display for they to unmistakably see and yet they choose self, they choose their strategies and tactics for survival and significance.  He brings the firm and loving discipline of a Father who will not let them go, a remnant awakens to his promises and returns to Him.  From the wilderness wanderings, to the conquest of the land, to the period of the judges, to the monarchy, to the divided kingdom, to their captivities and the words of the prophets … it all says the same thing – “Listen to your God you stiff-necked rebels, and remember all that He has done and promised to do … and worship and obey!”  The New Testament writers say the same thing – “Therefore we must pay must closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1).  Do you want to fight the self-trusting nature of your soul? Listen to, and remember, your Creator who says – “This is who I am, and this is what I’ve done … you can trust me!”

Antidote #2: Repent and Pray

My teenage son recently bemoaned the fact that he knows that adults aren’t perfect and that they sin, but that he doesn’t see them express that or own it very often.  Ouch!  Ouch to my own soul.  I want my wife and kids to think I’m perfect, but not expect me to be.  I want them to think I’m humble, but not expect me to repent before them.  Yeah, I know – pretty jacked up.  If I’m listening with a soft heart to my Heavenly Father then I will be the earthly father that repents of his own self-trust.  If I’m remembering the goodness of God to me in forgiveness and grace, then I will be a man who runs to Him for more of it – repentance and prayer.  When you and I aren’t quick to see our own sin and turn from it we are trusting in our own thoughts, words, or merit to deal with where we violated the heart and law of God.  And when we aren’t quick to pray, we are trusting our ability to handle the situation, carry the burden, and manage the fallout better than the Lord.  Do you want to fight the self-trust that comes second-nature to you? Process repentance before the Lord and openly with others, and talk to God about the trustworthy nature of His character to you.

Antidote #3: Doubt and Invite 

For all that can be said of self-trust (and lots can be said), perhaps one of the most foundational realities is that you aren’t trustworthy either.  It’s true.  You think you can trust yourself, your judgement, and your motives … but you can’t.  You are just like the next guy who you don’t trust.  It’s just such a greater draw to trust yourself than the next guy because you are in control.  The burden of success and failure is on you and nobody else … and you’re willing to live with that.  But be certain of one thing – You are made of the same stuff as that person who hurt you last year or last week.  Part of my repentance must be exchanging self-trust for self-doubt.  How’s that for an uplifting self-esteem message?  Actually I find it quite freeing personally.  I’m no savior, no perfect parent or perfect husband, certainly not a perfect preacher or all-wise counselor.  In my doubting of self, I am not doubting God’s work in me, His gifts to me, my identity as valued and loved, or the influence He has entrusted to me.  I am just saying that trusting Him is always the better option than trusting me.  And in that obedient doubting I get to invite the care, wisdom, and resources of Him and others to move me forward.  What a bargain: I’m free of putting all the weight on my shoulders, and I get the “light burden” (Matthew 11:28-30) of trusting Him.

These antidotes aren’t a “one-time” shot given at the travel clinic before boarding your international flight.  Rather they are required in “daily doses” for our spiritual health and vitality.  So take your medicine and enjoy the freedom it brings!

 

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Creation and Humility

I spent my prayer time this morning at Holden Arboretum.  It’s one of my favorite places on the planet.  I feel safe, small, and satisfied in all the God is for me.  I don’t need gadgets, an office full of good books, or even anyone to be with me (and I like all those things).  They recently built a tower that ascends 120 feet above the forest floor over the tree tops where you get an unbelievable view of the fall colors and Lake Erie.  As I stood on the top and took in the beauty and prayed for my wife, kids, and church body … I felt really small.  It got me reflecting on the way humility works …

Small Looking Up

My regular position as a finite man is from the ground looking up.  It’s not hard for me to gaze into the sky and come to the awesome conclusion that there is a Creator and I’m not him.  Walking through the woods with towering trees over my head it only makes sense that I would be rightly (and delightfully) put in my place.  I like that.  In a world with such creative technology and scientific advancements, the illusion of control is all around us.  But on the ground looking up it’s a sweet conclusion to recognize – “I don’t control any of this, I’m needy, and overwhelming grateful that there is a Sovereign God in control of it all”.

Small Looking Down

This morning my position was different, but the feeling was quite the same.  I was up high looking down.  I was above the trees and over the lake, in an “exalted” position.  But strangely I still felt really small.  Looking down on things didn’t make me feel big, rather it made me feel the bigness of my God.  He made it all, rules over it all, and sustains it all effortlessly.  And I really liked that.  The people of Babel thought a tower would give them power and control, proving they had no need for a Ruler God.  Thinking themselves small they sought to be big … making themselves big they were made to feel they’re small.

Humility From Either Perspective 

I know pride still courses through my veins … I think I have some measure of control, and more importance than I do.  But by God’s grace I have a growing delight in the feeling of smallness, finiteness, and neediness.  I’m aware of what awaits me in glory, and I know the victory that is currently mine, yet to act now as though I’m a king feels foolish and premature.  I’m the child of a King, and as such I have both an awesome identity and a wonderful perspective from which to look up at the throne of grace, gaze over the wonder of the Creator, and worship from bended knee … and I love it!  “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6).  This is nothing other than embracing humility and enjoying worship.  And I want every perspective I have, from the forest floor or the highest height, to produce that in me more and more.

Praise Coming in Pain

I’ve been thinking a lot about praise lately and how we just don’t do it enough.  We barely have to think about complaining about circumstances or what someone did (or even who they are), but praise doesn’t seem to come as naturally or flow as freely.  I want that to change in me.  Perhaps you’ve heard worship leaders speak of how “God inhabits the praises of His people”, but have never really known what that means.  Let’s reflect a bit on this …

First of all this comes from Psalm 22, arguable the greatest Psalm in the Psalter.  This Psalm was on the lips of our Savior while He hung on the cross.  Many have simply called this the Psalm of the Cross with good reason.  Written by David, but his situation and circumstances lay off in the far background in this case.  What captures our attention is the suffering Savior on the cross … the darkness of His final hours and the glory that would follow.  The opening words we are familiar with – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.”  The Son prayed (in Gethsemane and even in this hour) and felt no comfortable answer.  He cried out to His Father and felt distant, alone, with little hope of rescue.  It’s true.  Read it yourself (22:1-2).  Yet in his crying he knew – “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.  In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.  To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame” (22:3-5).  Jesus knew all too well the Father’s character and goodness to doubt His deliverance.  He knew that even if his prayer went unanswered that is was not due to His unfaithfulness, but for some other weighty and necessary reason.  He marveled at His holy Father who could forsake him, without diminishing His holiness nor going silent in his cries of agony.  He could argue with God from the foundation of His holiness … and know that praise and trust could flow.  Jesus needed future grace! He looked back at the fathers of Israel, knew that in their darkest hours they trusted the LORD and He delivered them.  They too cried honest cries and were rescued.  What is this flowing from the lips of Jesus other than true praise – I feel alone, my prayers are going unanswered, but you are holy, and you have always been faithful … so I cry (my role) and You rescue (Your role).  Jesus not only faced the wrath of God for the judgement of our sin on the cross … He modeled praise!

Praise fits every circumstance

How can this not be our very first takeaway?  If in Jesus’ darkest hour praise came, there is no circumstance whereby praise should be absent from our lips.  In every circumstance there is appropriate praise … be it cries of joy or cries of pain, both are praise if they are bound to the character of God and aimed at His redeeming work.  Do you and I need to work at this? I’d say so.  My grumbling about you isn’t praise, and your complaint about me isn’t either.  We need to learn what Paul had learned – “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need”.  What is that secret Paul? “I can do all things through him who strengthen me.”  When my life is locked down on the foundation of God’s character, then I can praise him from the dark cross and the flowing river.

Praise is pointless if it doesn’t point to God 

We all need to get better at encouraging one another, blessing one another, pointing out where we see God at work in one another.  But if it’s not pointing to the love, grace, rescue, and power of God it’s just empty flattery, and … “A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet” (Proverbs 29:5).  Your man-centered flattery is just as evil as your grumbling complaints.  So, learn to speak words of blessing that are rooted in the work of the Spirit in your own heart.  If praise doesn’t flow easily it’s merely an indicator that your heart hasn’t rested deeply on the One who was forsaken for you.  When you can say, “You’ve always been faithful, you will rescue me”, then you can turn to others and say, “I thank God for you, want to love you well … how can I serve you in your needs?”

This is the kind of honest prayer and praise that indeed God inhabits.  May it flow deeply, freely, and powerfully from our lives!

When God Trusts God

John 17 has to be one of the greatest treasures of Holy Scripture.  The largest chunk of prayer content that we have from the mind and heart of Jesus to His Father. Call it the “High Priestly Prayer” or “Jesus’ Prayer of Consecration” … I don’t care.  But what I delight in these days is prayer, a Savior-Son who prayed, and the glorious direction His prayers give to mine.  I’m simply awash in Trinitarian Trust.  Let me simply illuminate a few items that have captured my expositional attention and consumed my prayer focus.

(1) Jesus trusted the Father because He knew that His own glory was wrapped up in glorifying His Father.  His was not a forced, manufactured, reluctant obedience.  His was not a “just get through it and get it done” obedience.  His was a “for the joy set before Him endured the cross” kind of obedience (Hebrews 12:2).  His was the response of an obedient Son who knew the path of greatest joy was found  in the path of obedience to His Father’s plan.  He was neither faking humanity, nor mired in human complaining.  The bottom line is captured in the first lines of His prayer to the Father (17:1-5) … He wanted to give the Father glory, and trusted that in giving the Father what He rightly deserved, He would find His glory and joy full!  Why can’t I live with that same laser-like focus everyday?  My greatest joy found in obedience to the Father … trusting Him no matter what the circumstances.

(2) This one seems so simple and yet so profound to me today.  Jesus didn’t give the disciples a “punch list, to-do list, or master plan for establishing the Church”.  When He said back in John 16:12-13 that the Holy Spirit would come and teach them the many things Jesus still had to say to them but knew they couldn’t handle yet, He actually left it to the Paraclete to do.  When He said in 16:14-15 that the Spirit of Truth would glorify me (Himself – Jesus) by declaring what they still needed, He trusted the Spirit.  He didn’t feel the need to get in all the stuff the disciples would need to establish church leadership, deal with conflict, or battle particular heresies … He simply prayed for the disciples to be Protected by the Father & Sanctified by the Father.  And trusting the Father, He left the rest to the Spirit.

The Son trusted the Father (by obediently going to the cross), and the Son trusted the Spirit (by leaving unsaid and untaught what He knew the Spirit would carry forward).  God trusting God!   How can all of that not make you want to Pray more? Trust more? Obey more?  I agree, I’ll shut up and go pray!

An Obedient Son,

Pastor Mark

When Praying in Faith is No Longer Faith

So my mom is battling the aggressive enemy of ovarian cancer.  I’m praying many Gospel prayers, prayers for healing, prayers offered in earnest faith to the God of the Universe, my Dad, who loves me, loves my mom … and despises cancer.  And I’m think a lot about these things and have had good wrestlings about the subject I write about this morning.  Perhaps my wrestling will come clearer as I write it out … and may be of some benefit to you.

James 5 teaches us to pray for those who are suffering (5:13), to have the elders pray over one who is sick (5:14), to offer prayers of faith for healing (5:15), and to confess sin and pray for one another (5:16).  Then we are directed to the ministry of Elijah who prayed prayers of faith to God and he was heard, and God answered as Elijah requested (5:17-18).  I have long admired the ministry of George Mueller who prayed for clear evidences that you could trust God in his ministry to orphans so people would believe in his prayer-answering God.  There is no doubt about it, the Bible links faith and prayer.  Our faith in the power and promises of God fuels our prayers, and a praying life fuels our faith.  We have a God who is near to us in our suffering, and whose arm is not too short to save.  Though the Fall has reversed Paradise and Satan seeks to devour, God still has rule and authority over His creation as the architect and sustainer of all things.  He has healed, will heal, and does heal today!  And so Jesus-loving, Bible-trusting, Spirit-led, Father-adoring people will live lives where prayer is as central as breathing.  And at times our prayers are in alignment with the sovereign will of the Father, and He answers … not simply because He does whatever He wants and our prayers happened to land on His number, But in some strange and gracious way through the earnest prayers of faith of His children.  And at other times we pray, with the limited vision of finite people, and the Spirit intercedes on our behalf for what He knows we most need, and the answer is something far greater (though different) than what we have asked for.  [I find it interesting that Mary and Martha in John 11 both were convinced of Jesus’ power to heal the sick and were sad when Jesus didn’t show up in time to heal their brother Lazarus.  All the while, He was coming to do something far greater … He came to demonstrate His power not only over sickness, but over death itself.]

Now come to Gospel thinking with me.  We trust the completed work of Christ as the all-sufficient sacrifice for sin, the rescue of fallen man, and victory over the power and penalty of sin and death.  We believe that those called by God and adopted into the family are already redeemed, cleansed, and healed.  Jesus conquered sin and death on the cross, and Satan is a defeated foe.  Therefore, my mom, as a beloved daughter of God, is whole.  She has been redeemed from her sin, is constantly being refined, and her glorification is spoken of as something that she is already in possession of (Romans 8:30).  Does it not take great faith to believe this?  Absolutely!  To put your trust in a God you cannot see, embracing the historicity of calvary that you were not there for, holding fast to the infinite ramifications of this message that have been settled in eternity.  Great faith!  So when we pray for physical healing we have, in some sense, competing components of faith.  On one hand, the faith that says all is well with my soul no matter what calamity, sickness, or suffering comes my way.  And on the other hand, the faith that seeks God for comfort, healing, and deliverance from our present troubles.  Thus, the rub …

Are you familiar with the teaching that says if you are not being healed it is because you don’t have enough faith?  The proponents of this of course mean well (I’m giving the benefit of the doubt here).  They seek to stir up greater faith to see greater works to receive greater gifts.  But does not that call to faith, or “prayer of faith” undermine our faith that the Gospel has done it all?  That indeed ‘It Is Finished’?  That the work of Jesus has already healed our greatest disease?  That the present suffering is not worthy to be compared with our future glory?  You see, when our righteous (James 5) prayers of faith are offered and we don’t get the physical healing answer our finite minds long for, to give the reason that you don’t have enough faith is actually showing that you don’t have enough faith in the Gospel.  Those prayers of faith are actually no longer about faith.  They end up being more about what you want done then what Christ has already done for you.

Friends, trusting the work of the Gospel does not undermine praying great prayers of faith (ala Elijah and Mueller), but praying superstitious “prayers of faith” shows little faith in the truly greater things of the works of God.  I thank God that my mom is already healed.  She has been delivered from sin, death is defeated, and glory is hers.  I embrace that by faith!  And I pray earnestly for her physical deliverance.  I’m not ready to be parent-less, and she’s far too young to not get to play with her grandkids anymore or see her daughter get married.  So I pray in faith, with faith in the Gospel, to my Sovereign God who always knows best and accomplishes His purposes for His glory!

By Faith,

Pastor Mark

Why We Don’t Pray … And Find No Rest

Sorry for the lengthy delay in posting anything (for the 2 of you who actually look at my blog, thanks mom and Jill) …

Since my last post, I have discovered the tool of the Life Journal Bible Reading Plan (thanks Wayne Corderio). It’s not some crafty trick to grow a church or bring you instant spiritual growth, which is probably why I love it. It’s just an easy plan for individuals, families, and churches to read the Bible and interact about it. I have always enjoyed my “devotional time”, but found it difficult to involve others in that, not anymore. I do devotions with my kids, wife, friends, and now my whole church family. Check it out (www.life journal.cc). This post is a reflection on a familiar verse found in today’s reading:

Psalm 62:8 – “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.”

Do you get the connections the Psalmist ties together here? They aren’t separate concepts just lumped together here to make it easier for the songwriters to come up with cool praise song lyrics. We won’t find God a refuge for us unless we pour out our hearts before him. I mean how much comfort do you find in a friend that you never talk to? Or how safe do you feel with someone you don’t know and doesn’t know you? You won’t find rest in a distant God you don’t know. You will find great rest, refuge, and refreshment in a God who is near to you. He is near as you approach Him on your knees, with a humbled heart, eager to talk to Him. So go cry out to Him!

So why don’t you want to go cry out to Him? Because you don’t trust Him. Sorry, it’s harsh and direct, but true. You won’t go talk to that friend and pour your heart out who has burned you or hasn’t really demonstrated faithfulness. But God is, has, and will. He has not never, no never broken one of His promises. He is altogether true! You can trust Him. If you find no rest in Him, find no desire to pour your heart out to Him … start with talking to Him about why you don’t trust Him. Be honest, He can handle it … and ask the Spirit to give you the faith to really truly trust the Father who is greater than all. Then watch your prayer life soar, and heavenly soul-rest fill your soul.

Trusting the Father,
Mark