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Do I Trust God, or My Understanding?
By David A. DePra
Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not unto your own understanding. (Prov 3:5)
If there is one thing that comes natural, it is to put trust in our understanding. People assume that, "the way they see it," is the way it IS. The way WE feel about something, or someone, we assume is the way it IS. We use ourselves as the measuring tape by which all things are evaluated. This is, of course, not only self-trust, but arrogance. And unfortunately, many Christians are not free of such nonsense.
There are a number of ways to say it, but in the end, the ultimate question of life is WHO DO WE TRUST? In the end, it really does come down to that. Most Christians have no trouble saying that since they trusted Jesus as Savior, they know they are saved. But ironically, we have much more difficulty trusting God on an everyday basis. For a job. IN a trial. In our family. Somehow we donít see that if God isnít with us every second of every day, that our salvation cannot be a fact. For if God is indifferent to us as saved people, as those bought with the price the life of Jesus, then there is no way He would be bother to save us while we were yet sinners.
You cannot have it both ways. This issue of Godís faithfulness is really ALL or NOTHING. Either God is faithful Ė ALL THE WAY Ė or He is not. And then there is another question that is just as vital: Either we believe it or we donít. This too, is ALL or NOTHING. Either we believe God or we donít.
Every trial of faith comes down to that question: Do we believe God, or donít we?
You see, God is never on trial. We are. God already knows He is faithful. The trial is to not only to prove to us that He is faithful, but also to give God the opportunity to build eternal faith in us. The end result is a relationship which will last forever.
But if there is one thing that makes it hard for us to trust God, it is our limited understanding of Him. God does things we donít understand, and seems to go out of His way to avoid explaining Himself to us. Isnít that true? Why? And what is to be our response?
Profession and Possession
Professing faith is easy. But possessing it is another thing. The only way to possess faith is if something motives you to give it away Ė or HOLD FAST. The thing that God uses to motive us to HOLD FAST to our faith is a trial of faith.
Now note: Faith isnít a THING. It isnít a, "force." Faith is a RELATIONSHIP word. You cannot have faith as a Christian without taking it back to God Himself, and what your faith says about your relationship with Him. And this really is the whole point. God is building faith in us because He is building relationship. He is making us fit to live with Him throughout all eternity. What we call FAITH here, is a dimension of relationship with God that will find expression in the eternal ages in ways we cannot imagine. THAT is how important it is.
In every trial of faith, the question always comes back to the same thing: Do I believe God? Do I believe Him to the extent that I will risk everything on Him being faithful? And of course, in a trial of faith, one of the biggest hurdles to jump is our inability to see HOW God can be faithful to us if He has allowed this trial. Our understanding of God, and our faith in God, often clash. And therefore, it is in this area that God often works. We have to get to the place where we trust God more than we trust our understanding of God.
This doesnít mean we will never understand God, or that we donít presently have any understanding of God. The question isnít whether we understand. The question is where our faith is. Is it in OUR understanding of God, or in God Himself?
One of the biggest fears Christians have is the fear of misunderstanding God. What if I think God wants to do one thing, but I am wrong? What if I trust Him in that case? And make the wrong choice? Where will it lead me?
But that is just a fear that something might go wrong. What if it DOES go wrong? What if I have trusted God, and because I did, things turned into disaster? What then? Was I out of Godís will? Why did God not tell me so I could correct course? Why did God allow me to make a bad decision Ė when all the while I was praying to make the right one?
You can see that every one of these questions go back to faith vs. our understanding. But they are nevertheless important questions, and ones that most every Christian faces at some point. The good news is, the Bible has answers Ė answers that show God to be faithful.
Honestly Facing Issues
What happens when God does something that is not only outside of our understanding of Him, but which may actually conflict with our understanding of Him? He did with Job. And He will with us. Then what?
And how about the possibility of us misinterpreting God, and then making decisions based on that? Christians do that all the time. What does that mean? That we are out of Godís will, or that God is indifferent to us?
First of all, do we actually think that there is any dimension of human experience along the line of faith that God has not anticipated? I mean, can we imagine God saying, "Gee, I never considered the possibility that you could misinterpret Me!! Now what do I do?" Nonsense. There is nothing we can encounter as to an issue of faith that is new under the sun. And God has every base covered. He KNOWS us.
Secondly, most of the time when we worry about whether God is with us, or whether we are misinterpreting God, it is based Ė not on whether God is faithful Ė but upon the fact that we DONíT understand or see. Human beings take security in KNOWING. Thus, we think that if God would just TELL us what we need to know, then we could trust Him.
To many of us, it doesnít seem as if we are making an unreasonable request to God when we ask Him to tell us what we think we need to know. We say, "If you would just TELL me, Lord, what to do, then I would do it!" Or we say, "God, I want your will, but no matter how hard I pray, I canít seem to find it!" These things become tough especially when we have a major decision in front of us, and perhaps a time frame in which we must act. We are willing to do whatever God wants, but God doesnít tell us.
One of the things I have found in these situations is that sometimes Ė although not always Ė we DO know what to do. Our frustration is really that we want God to AFFIRM our decision. And He wonít. But deep down inside, we do have a sense of what Godís highest really is in our situation. The worry, of course, is that despite our inner assurance, we might be wrong. So we want God to confirm our choice to us.
Well, sometimes God does confirm these things to us. But I have found that the more you go on with God, the less He overtly does confirm our choices before we make them. It seems that God is training us to walk by faith. And most of the time, if we just put aside OUR will and are willing to do Godís at all cost, weíll find out that we know Godís will more than we thought.
Many of us, when we are facing a major choice, ask God for guidance, and get dead silence. Almost as if God could not care less. Has this ever happened to you? Or, and this is really a tough one, we actually make the choice, through prayer and even fasting, believing that God is with us, and the choice we make turns into a disaster. How about that? Have you ever experienced such a situation?
I have many times. More times than I can say. I have had situations in my life wherein I have prayed for months, or even years, along a certain line, and then finally made the decision that I believed was Godís answer. There were even times when it seemed that God was confirming my decision BEFORE I made it. And then afterwards, the whole thing turned into a nightmare. I found myself in a terrible trial, and God seemed to be nowhere to be found. Worse, I got into the trial by praying, trusting, and believing God. What in the world went wrong? Where was God?
And then there is the possibility in the Christian life that we actually DO make a bad choice, because we are perhaps afraid, or because we are ignorant. And sometimes GOD LETS US MAKE IT. How can this be if He is faithful?
Add to that the fact that often once things turn bad, God seems to disappear Ė and you get dead silence in answer to prayer. God doesnít say a word to you about this, perhaps for years. God doesnít explain Himself.
If there is one thing this kind of thing makes difficult, it is trusting God the NEXT time. After all, if this happened once, how do you move forward and go through it again Ė in faith? How can you be sure of anything?
When things like this happen in our faith life, what you usually end up having to face in these situations is every attack that the enemy can muster. You will be told that YOU have disobeyed God, and that YOU were deceived. Sometimes, the enemy even suggests that God never promised to be with you in the way you thought, and that you were a fool to be so presumptuous. The enemy will use any and everything to try to drive a wedge between you and God.
The difficulty in such a case is that the FACTS AS YOU KNOW THEM seem to bear out the enemies accusations. You canít seem to think your way through to an explanation that vindicates God. And yet you know He has to be faithful Ė He is God! So the only thing left is to blame yourself. The trouble is, however, you PRAYED that God would show you the Truth. And you STILL made what appears to be the wrong choice. Thus, God didnít care! He didnít care enough to tell you what you needed to know. This creates, in our minds, the notion that it is up to US to figure out God, and if we donít get it right, well, then thatís just too bad.
Have you ever come to that place? You know God has to be faithful, but since you made what appears to be a wrong choice, and God let you, then this must mean that you are left to your own understanding, because obviously, God didnít grant you HIS understanding. You cannot help but conclude that you have somewhere missed the boat, and God let you. The terrifying thing is, however, that you donít know how to get back on track Ė because you have no clue how you got off the track!
If you are seeing where I am going with this, you will realize that you are reading a description of a trial of faith. Read the book of Job. Every single frustration and point of confusion that I have mentioned is in that book. Job covers it all Ė back and forth, over and over again. To NO resolution.
At some point, we must come to terms with a reality here. And that reality is this: Everything I have been describing is not necessarily abnormal for a Christian. It may not be an indication at all that something is wrong. In fact, according to scripture, it is a very strong indication that God is doing a great work of faith in you. He is trusting you with His silence, and with perplexity, and expecting you to move forward without any understanding. This is what a trial of faith is always about. WILL I BELIEVE? Ė no matter what everything else might suggest to me?
But letís back this thing up for a moment. Letís go back and talk about why God is silent, and why He doesnít explain Himself. Letís talk about why God would let us make a choice that we think is His will, knowing that it is going to turn into a big time of trouble.
First of all, notice the premise upon which all of our reasoning is based when these things happen: We assume that if our choice results in something we donít like, that God was not faithful to us. We assume that if we pray for Godís will, and a trial results, that we got off the track somewhere, and worse, GOD LET US get off the track. Has it ever occurred to us that perhaps God has actually answered our prayer? That what has happened IS Godís will? I donít necessarily mean the circumstances. I mean the spiritual condition in which we find ourselves of perplexity and the void in our understanding. Can we accept that perhaps the circumstances which have gone bad are nothing more than tools to create in us THAT condition Ė which IS a trial of our faith?
Has it ever occurred to us that even though we expected our choice to result in good things, that God knew that it would result in a time of trouble Ė and that this is exactly what He wanted? In other words, we DID make the choice which WAS Godís will, and God did lead us into it. The only problem is that we thought we were making the choice unto one result, but God had something else in mind. Have we any room in our relationship with God for such possibilities?
An Impossible Situation
I will point to only one example from the Bible to show that this is not only a possibility, but a probability, indeed, a guarantee if we want to go on with Christ to true spiritual growth. Turn to Exodus 14 and read Godís instructions to Israel the day after the Blood of the Passover Lamb delivered them from Egypt. He gave them specific instructions as to where to encamp:
Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baalzephon: before it shall ye encamp by the sea. (Ex. 14:2)
Israel obeyed God to the letter. But God already knew what was going to happen to them if they did obey Him. He told Moses:
For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in. And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, that he shall follow after them; and I will be honored upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD. And they did so. (Ex. 14:3-4)
So we see that nothing here is taking God by surprise. In fact, God was actually orchestrating this whole situation, and deliberately maneuvering Israel into an impossible situation. Israel was about to be hemmed in on all sides, with nothing they could do to help themselves. And Israel would get into this terrible situation, not by disobedience, but by OBEYING GOD.
Once things were in place, everything happened just like God knew it would. And it was at that point that Israel reacted to what their fears told them in the same way we often react when our obedience results in what seems to be a disaster. They began to think that God had betrayed them.
And when Pharaoh drew nigh, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them; and they were sore afraid: and the children of Israel cried out unto the LORD. And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness. (Ex. 14:10-12)
Have you ever thought, in the aftermath of trusting God, and then meeting a trial as the result of it, that perhaps you were better off before you risked everything to believe God? If we look at circumstances, and our goal is spiritual ease, it is no doubt that we could come to that conclusion. But you see, that is not Godís goal. He has never promised us problem free living. He has guaranteed trials Ė including those that arise out of faith and obedience. This is therefore, not Godís betrayal of us. It is God doing exactly what He promised.
We say we want Godís will. But Godís reply to us is this: "I am glad you want My will. But there is nothing about you which is able to understand My will, or to live in it. Therefore, before I bring you INTO my will, I have to work my will INTO you." In other words, God cannot just give us His will. We have to first BECOME His will.
You see, we think what we need is INFORMATION. We think that if God would just tell us this or that, then we would make the right choice, and avoid trouble. But Godís will for this age will NEVER be to help us avoid trouble. Rather, God wants us to MEET trouble, and overcome it through Christ Jesus. And in order to do that, INFORMATION will not do. What we need is REVELATION. We need to know Jesus.
If the kind of Christian life we expect is one where we always get God to do what we want, and keep out of trials, and never have to face the unknown, and always understand, and never suffer, well, then we are deluded. Should God give us that, I suggest it is a sign that He cannot trust us. But if what we want is to KNOW JESUS, and to BECOME conformed to His image, then by definition, we have to begin to UNLEARN everything which clashes with the knowledge of God, and become UNconformed to our old nature. In other words, a drastic change is required in US.
This is why INFORMATION wonít do. I am, right now, giving a teaching which is the Truth of God. But if INFORMATION is all that it is, then all we need to do is memorize it, and the next time we encounter a trial, we need only drag out the information and weíll have the victory. Have we yet discovered that all of our teachings, doctrines, opinions, and intellectual grasp of the Bible seem to have NO POWER at all when we find ourselves in a great trial? They really donít. We have to DO what the teachings say to do Ė rather than just memorize what the teachings say to do. We have to believe. We have to learn Christ. We have to go through it by faith.
Back to the Red Sea. Israel got into that situation through obedience to God. And God wanted them in it. Yet why? Because He was playing games? No. Because rather than have them continually flee from the Egyptians, He wanted to once for all set them free from the Egyptians. What I am saying is this: Do you want TRUE FREEDOM? Or do you want to keep running, dodging the issues of life, and playing religion? If you want true freedom, there is only one way: You have to allow God to bring you into a situation where He makes you face your enemy, and where He then defeats your enemy. Then, that enemy will no longer have power over you. THAT is true freedom.
True freedom is not the result of memorizing Bible verses which tell me there is freedom in Christ. True freedom is when I can walk by faith with Christ and not be greatly moved by the enemies of fear, condemnation, and unbelief. And this cannot be accomplished in any other forum other than trials.
God manipulated Israel into an impossible situation so that they could see that there was NOTHING they could do to help themselves. THAT was Godís goal. We think such a thing is a disaster, and grow afraid. No. God wants to bring us to where there we realize that we have nothing, and have no where to get it. And then, when we get there, He is able to open a miracle.
What was the miracle for Israel? A parted Red Sea, and the total demise of the Egyptian army. But only because they went through the Red Sea. This is DEATH and RESURRECTION. Death and resurrection is when I risk everything on God. What I get for my trouble is GOD HIMSELF Ė a revelation of Himself that will change me forever. And freedom from my enemy Ė an enemy that cannot pass through my Red Sea to new life.
Now, someone is bound to ask what happens if my impossible situation is the result of my sin, rather than Godís plan? Well, if it is the result of my sin, then I must give my sin to God Ė and unconditionally surrender to Him. Then, it becomes His. At that point, I am in the same place as those who are in their impossible situation by obedience. God is at work.
Coming to Terms
There are a number of things Christian people need to come to terms with. If we donít, forget about understanding the ways of the Lord. You will never get there.
First, Godís will is not simply a matter of me having THINGS, a situation, or a relationship. Godís will is a matter of God having ME. This does not mean God doesnít care about the details of our lives. Jesus said, "Seek you first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added." (Matt. 6:33) Do we trust God enough to do this? Well, either way, we can be sure that if Jesus is telling us that Godís rule and order needs to be our priority, that it is already Godís priority for us.
Herein, we see the first problem: God is out to shape and form us according to His kingdom and His righteousness. But we are, by birth, shaped according to OUR OWN WILL and kingdom. Thus, for us to come into Godís will, He must tear down our kingdom as much as build up His in our hearts and lives. Have we any idea as to the extent of this?
Again, if this is nothing more than theology that Iím talking about, then letís just study harder. But theology is merely the teaching. This is about life in Christ. The fact is, there is nothing about us that is constituted or formed in accordance with the kingdom of God. You and I cannot see it, live in it, or walk in it AT ALL through natural birth. And once we are saved, we merely BEGIN the journey. That journey will require major changes in US.
"Through much tribulation we enter into the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:22) This is not speaking about salvation itself. The event of my salvation does not require tribulation for me. Rather, this verse is speaking about entering into the kingdom in the sense of being made to FIT INTO IT Ė so that I can live in my inheritance. In order to enter into the kingdom, the kingdom has to enter into me, be at home in me, and form me into a person who is compatible with God.
This is what God is doing through these trials. Again Ė He is not out to give us THINGS. He is out to give us HIMSELF. He is not out to give us INFORMATION. He wants to give us REVELATION.
But why does it have to be so hard? Because of THE NATURE OF THINGS. Because of what we are in ADAM. The natural man receives not the things of God. They are folly to him. God intends to bring us to the place where we are AT HOME in them. Can anyone see major upheaval and adjustment here?
A second thing with which we must come to terms is that God will NOT give us His will to the exclusion of giving us Himself. Actually, He canít. Why? Because as stated earlier, His will IS Himself. But the point is, if God gave us a THING called, "His will," without doing a work in us to form a relationship between us and Himself, we would trash His will. We would not be able to apprehend it, live in it, or revere it. We would continue to try to, "have Godís will," and live in it in OUR will.
Along this same line, our ability to understand what God is doing requires that we understand God Himself. We cannot really have a THING called, "understanding," without knowing God Himself. But of course, there are many folks who think they can. People memorize theological principles and the like, and think they know God. Christianity has always been filled with people who know lots about the Bible, but havenít a clue about God.
A third thing to come to terms with is that God is NOT working towards the ends that we are working towards. This accounts for much of our inability to understand. It accounts for why we make a choice, expecting one thing, and it results in another.
Most of the time, our goal is happiness, security, prosperity, or some temporal success. No one chooses suffering as a goal. And of course, we assure ourselves that God wants success for us as well. But Godís goal is always eternal. And He will smash every one of our goals if they are in the way. He will use our obedience to bring us to our Calvary, and He will use our sin to bring us there as well. He will take our fear and worries and make us face them, and He will reduce us down to where we know that there is nothing we can do to help ourselves. God is seeking to adjust us for the eternal ages. And if we only understood this, we would be thankful that He is doing this.
A fourth thing we must come to terms with is that an inability to understand God is NORMAL in the process of spiritual growth. Ask yourself: If God only worked WITHIN your present understanding, would it ever increase? No. If God were no bigger than your perception of Him, how big would your God be?
The fact is, there is something God has given us which is supposed to fill the huge gap between OUR UNDERSTANDING and GODíS understanding. Do you know what that is? It is FAITH. When and where we donít understand, we are to trust God.
It seems almost elementary to say it, but God does not require that we understand Him. He does require that we believe Him. In case you havenít yet figured it out, God is never going to come down and ask your permission for what He allows, nor make sure you understand what He is doing before He does it. He never will. At times, it seems as if God absolutely refuses to indulge us in this. HE WONíT TELL US.
When things go bad, it is human nature to begin to REASON, rather than to TRUST. But God has already told us, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not upon your own understanding," (Prov. 3:5) This verse would be needless and nonsense if it was not normal for us to tend to trust our understanding, rather than God. And it would likewise be meaningless if God was not indicating that there are going to be God-ordained times when we cannot understand, but MUST trust.
The fact is, God will bring you and I to the place where we CANNOT understand. Get that: We CANNOT. It isnít a matter of finding a secret key or formula. It isnít a matter of praying hard enough for understanding. Neither will studying the Bible do, for in the Bible we will also be told that there are going to be times where we CANNOT understand. And it is during those times when we must trust. Again the question will be: Do I really believe?
Godís faithfulness is never dependent upon our understanding that He is faithful. He is faithful even if we cannot understand how, and He is faithful even if everything in life is saying otherwise. He is faithful if everything IN US is saying otherwise!! Indeed, it is quite possible for you and I to honestly and openly try to make a case for Godís faithfulness Ė and this will always be based on OUR understanding Ė and yet come up with NO evidence at al that God has been faithful. What do we think it looked like for the Israelites at the Red Sea? And yet despite our lack of evidence, God is faithful. Itís just that how He is faithful is at present OUTSIDE of our understanding.
The fifth thing to come to terms with is that God is God, and we are not. We are accountable to Him. We are on trial -- He is not. To trust God, and not in our understanding of Him, requires a certain surrender to Him; requires a certain relinquishment of control. It requires that we come to the place where we stop demanding explanations from God Ė as if He owes us them. He doesnít. There really isnít anyway to trust God in this way without dying a death to our self. But with that death comes REAL understanding of GOD HIMSELF.
There is something that breaks of the self life when we make such a surrender. I call it, "the faith principle of life from death." There is a real death that comes to my self will and self life when I have to put aside my right to understand, and surrender WITHOUT understanding to God. Some people wonít do this. But if you do trust God in that way, you will find out that the information you thought you wanted was needless. You will come into a REVELATION.
Coming to terms with these things is what a life of faith is all about, and really is, in large part, what it means to, "walk in the Spirit," instead of according to the flesh. Instead of letting our reactions, fears, worries, and inability to understand direct traffic, we allow faith to direct it.
God is in charge of what we know, what we donít know, and the fact that we donít know it. He is likewise bigger than what we think we do know. He has promised to tell us what we NEED to know, and likewise promises not to tell us what we donít need to know. In the end, God isnít worried because we donít understand. Why then, should we be worried? Seek God. Obey Him. Believe Him. Worship Him. And walk by faith. God is God. Trust Him, and not our understanding of Him.
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