On the “Stand to Reason” podcast from Aug 12, 2014, the host, Greg Koukl, spoke with a caller who was struggling with what brethren had told him about trusting God. (It was one of the most important conversations I had ever heard on the program.)
Unfortunately, it is common for many brethren to over encourage the notion that trusting in God includes by default, an affirmed response by God to our expectations, which we pray for. In other words, many brethren say that just because we trust God, we will not only get what we pray for, but that we should actually expect to get what we pray for.
“I am just going to trust God that I will get that high paying job.”
“I am just going to trust God that my wife will get pregnant”
“I am just going to trust God that the money will come to pay these bills.”
“I am just going to trust God that my cancer will go away.”
“I am just going to trust God that my daughter will be saved.”
Greg Koukl made a great point regarding this notion during the podcast. He spoke to the caller about the common practice of prayer groups who ask, “Who had prayers answered this week?” And after getting several praise reports, the group then affirms that trusting in God is the reason for the affirmed responses from God.
Now, let’s be clear about something.
God sometimes gives us what we want after praying for such, and we should still pray for what we want. God does heal, bless, save, etc., as a result of prayer. (Greg at this point made the same qualification.)
But, is always having the expectation that our requests will be answered by God in the affirmative, just because we trust in God, a proper presumption?
Greg went on to say, “But… many times it is not the way God chooses to deal with it.” (Meaning, answering our prayers in the affirmative is not usually the way God chooses answer.) Greg then references Colossians 4:2-4, where Paul is writing from prison.
Greg reads through, and comments:
“‘Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God…’
What? Ok, the next words are really important to me. Because, I think he is in prison. What does he want people to pray to happen? Well… to get out of prison, right? But, that isn’t what he says. He says,
‘that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.’
Gee, that’s different. What Paul prays for is not a release from his problem, but an opportunity in the midst of the problem to proclaim the word.”
Greg then references Paul’s letter to the Ephesians where something similar is going on in this text that was also going on in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Here’s the similar passage in Ephesians:
“…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”
Do you see the similarity? Paul, here, also does not pray for personal gain, but for the Gospel to go forth.
Greg explains that what he is attempting to point out here, by referencing these scriptures, is to:
“Expand people’s outlook on the concept of trusting in God. Because I think that we have, unfortunately, a limited perspective. Trusting in God does not mean that we are trusting that God will deliver us from these circumstances.”
A little later during the call he continues:
“Especially the last three years, there has been a dawning realization in my own life. Now, this is personal. That God’s intension is not to remove us from the difficult circumstances we find ourselves in, but rather to redeem those circumstances for the thing that He actually promised to do in our life.
And here, I am going to cite a very well known verse, but I am going to say the whole thing, because it is the second half that informs us on the meaning of the first half, and it’s from Romans 8.
So, we have these wonderful opening words:
‘We know that God causes.’
Boy, you can count on this. God’s do’in it man!
‘…all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.’
So, most people will cite that, you know?
‘Alright, yeah! God doesn’t close a door, He opens a window. So you lose this job, you get a better one down the road. You lose your girl, you get a prettier girl down the road.’
You know that this is the way it’s kinda played out. But, that is not what Paul had in mind. Let’s keep going:
‘We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. FOR those whom He foreknew.’
Those of us He selected, He’s pulled out, He’s drawn to Him, He’s made His own.
‘Those whom He foreknew He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.’
So, what is God’s interest? The biggest interest in our lives? It’s not that we make more money, or a better looking wife or husband, blah blah blah. God’s greatest interest is to make us… more… like… His… Son.”
Greg then went on to hammer home the point from 1 Peter 2:
‘For you have been called for this purpose’
Now, let me back up one second, because he is talking about people who have been suffering unjustly. They’re suffering unjustly, this is a bummer. ‘I didn’t deserve this!’ So, he’s going to address that, right?
‘For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience?’
I mean, you brought that on yourself, you know? However:
‘If when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.’
Ok, so there’s the circumstance, the set up. Now, what does he say next?
‘For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.’
What does it mean to trust God? It means to put your hope in God, in the midst of the most awful circumstances, with no unnecessary expectation of how that hope will be realized, EXCEPT that God will use it for good in your life, to make you like Christ. THAT is the promise; not the better job, better woman, all that other stuff. The promise is to make you like Him.”
Greg then again went on to clarify that he is NOT attempting to diminish the fact that God does sometimes answer our prayers for something to happen which we want to happen. God does do that.
But, Greg had another profound point to make:
“On a personal basis, for the last, I’d say at least five years, I have been praying specifically for three fruits of the spirit: patience, gentleness, and self-control.”
The caller then said that Greg may be asking for trouble when petitioning such from God. Greg replied in agreement:
“Are you kidding me? See, what we think is that God is just going to sprinkle some pixie dust and… ‘Here you go! You’re transformed!’ No, He DOESN’T GIVE these things. He TEACHES these things. He teaches these things through the hardship of life. We’re asking for something to be given to us. It’s not given. It’s grafted in, it’s built into us over a period of time. And this is the reality of walking with Christ.
Think of 2 Corinthians 4. This passage is one of my favorites now. At the end of the chapter, Paul is describing some of his woes. Look at what he says about putting it in perspective.
‘Therefore we do not lose heart,’
Ok, why not?
‘though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.’
Well, the circumstances aren’t changing. Something is changing inside of him, and that’s what he is referring to.
And watch this word:
‘momentary light affliction’
MOMENTARY. It’s just a little while and it’s not very bad.
What do you mean, a ‘momentary light affliction’?
Did you just read what he wrote there in chapter four, and then later on? It doesn’t sound like ‘momentary light’ to us. But see, Paul is putting it into perspective.
‘momentary light affliction is producing’
And this takes us back to Romans 8, the same idea. It’s the affliction that’s making something happen:
‘is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen,’
Better job, better spouse…
‘but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.’
And so, time and time again, the New Testament calls us in the midst of trials and difficulty. 1 Peter is written to suffering Christians. 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, written to suffering Christians. Colossians, written by Paul when he was in jail. 1 and 2 Timothy, written by Paul when he was in jail. Hebrews, written to suffering Christians. And here, in 2 Corinthians, Paul is putting in perspective his own sufferings. This is a major theme throughout.
We are to trust in The Lord. Not in the things He will give us, that are incidental things we are praying for. But, our trust has to be in Him.
And so, more and more my prayer has been, and I’m not trying to wave my flag like I’ve got this worked out, but I think this is part of the pattern. More and more my prayer is, in the midst of this trial, I’m going to ask for what I want, ok? I’m going to ask for God to act and change the things that I think should be changed.
However, part of my prayer is:
‘I am trusting in You, and that no matter what You decide, I am in Your hand, and You are going to work Your purposes in my life, and I ask You to do that. I give You liberty. I bend my knee, now, for You to do that. Whatever it is that has to happen, in my life, for now, do that work so I become more like Christ.’
I think that’s what it means, BIBLICALLY, to trust in The Lord, regardless of what happens.
Having that eternal perspective informs our attitudes in the midst of that, and that’s what we see in 2 Corinthians 4 and also in Romans 8. What God is actually doing, that is most important, has nothing to do with the passing vicissitudes of this world. It has to do with something much more substantial.”
I couldn’t say it any better.
Brothers and sisters, we gain our obedience through our sufferings, just as our Lord did:
“In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence. Although He was a son, He learned obedience through what He suffered.”
Greg talked about the fruits of the spirit; how they are taught to us by God, and not given. Such makes sense if you really think about it. How else do we gain love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? (Gal 5:22-23) We learn such things through our “momentary light afflictions”. Like Christ, we learn obedience by what we suffer.
Greg finished by encouraging the caller with these wise, final thoughts:
“Look, some people’s marriages don’t get fixed. Some people’s children do not come to The Lord. Some people’s diseases don’t get healed. Some people never get that good job. But…
‘His grace is sufficient.’ (2 Cor 12:9)
I don’t mean to rain on anybody’s parade… The way I like to think of it is that, and it might not make you feel better, but it may make you feel better about feeling bad.”
Godspeed, to the brethren!
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