Category Archives: trust God

‘A star in the jaws of the clouds’

Never in human history has such goodness encountered such evil.

On a Friday a man was condemned to death. This man was marked by more love than the world had ever seen—read the stories of how he treated the sick, the social outcasts, women, children, his enemies. And marked by more truth than the world had ever known—he more than anyone else is universally acclaimed as the greatest teacher ever. Most remarkably, his death sentence was orchestrated by leaders of the most enlightened religious system of the day—its Scriptures recount the moral failings of its heroes and judge the rich and powerful by how they behave toward the poor. And his execution was carried out by the most powerful empire of that day using the most barbarous means ever devised—no death is more humiliating, agonized and prolonged.

Surely evil had won. The reigning powers had joined in its deeds. The brilliant pinpoint of light, the beautiful ideal seen in this man seemed, as Victor Hugo wrote, “small, isolated, …threatened on all sides by the dark forces that surround it.” Surely it would soon be extinguished. Never! That light, Hugo continued, was “no more in danger than a star in the jaws of the clouds.”

There is a Power far above and beyond the powers of empire and religion. In some way, full of mystery, this crucified man was the embodiment of that Power. empty tomb“In him was life, and that life was the light for all people. The light shines and the darkness cannot lay hold of it” (John 1:4-5). The darkness cannot catch this light, cannot comprehend it or overpower it! And so those who were his followers, first women and then men, witnessed this man alive on the third day.

We wonder why God didn’t stop Friday with its overwhelming unfairness and ugliness and horror and go right to Sunday. Surely suffering is pointless, right? But as James Stewart, the great Scottish theologian, writes,

They nailed him to the tree, not knowing that by that very act they were bringing the world to his feet.

They gave him a cross, not guessing that he would make it a throne.

They flung him outside the gates to die, not knowing that in that very moment they were lifting up all the gates of the universe, to let the King of Glory come in. …

He did not conquer in spite of the dark mystery of evil. He conquered through it.

When life seems unfair and people heartless and death near, when evil seems to threaten all hope and our hearts start to crumble in confusion and sorrow, let us remember that this One who came among us and loved us is also a Power far above and beyond all the forces of hate and darkness. On that Friday, contrary to what things seemed, good was winning. Somehow evil was being used to gain an even greater good. In the end, this One—and those who align with him—will always win.

Impact of everyday thankfulness to God

“Give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thes. 5:18)

Ellen Vaughn recounts a story that shows what obeying this verse can look like, along with its astonishing impact. She calls it “the meditative habit of constantly whispering thanks to [God]—no matter the situation” in her book Radical Gratitude: Discovering Joy through Everyday Thankfulness.

Vaughn had a friend who

was going through the wringer with her teenage daughter. Their once-close relationship had devolved into a briar patch of prickly feelings, stinging barbs, and angry outbursts. My friend felt she could not utter a sentence without stepping into a minefield. Her patience was waning, her frustration growing. The conflicts with her daughter were affecting other relationships, like with her husband.

The friend wanted to hold onto God’s presence in these challenges. mother-daughter communication She wanted her mind and soul to not just be filled with what her daughter was doing but also to be aware of what God was doing in the situation. She knew that God is sovereign and good, that she can trust God. So every time she saw or thought of her daughter or got into a difficult conversation, she chose to express the truth that she can trust God to work for good “in all circumstances” by speaking words of thankfulness to this God (even though she didn’t feel thankful):

Thank you that you are with me! Thank you for giving me this girl! Thank you that she is even able to speak! Thank you that her mind works so quickly! Thank you that the story is not yet over! Thank you for your patience with me!

Several things happened within the friend.

First, this exercise stimulated a creative challenge within her as she sought to discern all the things she could thank God for. Second, it distanced her from the emotion of the moment, so she didn’t respond to her daughter out of frustration or anger. She found she was thinking more about God than her daughter. Third, that distance allowed her to actually see humor in various situations. Humor is good. And fourth, the more she thanked God for her daughter, the more she was able to perceive her as his daughter. She found that developing the habit of giving thanks gave her more resilience and elasticity, rather than always being ready to snap. And oddly enough, she couldn’t wait for her daughter to get home from school every day, so she could lavish love on her.

A sense of gratitude to God will always begin to birth within us a generosity of spirit. My prayer is that a theme of Gratitude and Generosity will pervade all our days!

Monument to a good tragedy

Did you know there is a monument dedicated to a pest?! It stands in the center of Enterprise, Alabama, 13 feet high.

A hundred years ago the South’s economy depended almost entirely upon one crop: cotton. But the boll weevil, a beetle that feeds on cotton buds and flowers, made its way—at the rate of 100 miles a year—up from Mexico. It reached southern Alabama in 1915, destroying much of that year’s cotton crop and plunging the region’s economy into depression. The next years farmers lost their entire crop of cotton to the beetle.

But not everyone was losing all their crop. In 1916 one farmer decided to plant peanuts. This was the time when George Washington Carver was researching and popularizing new uses for the peanut, so the crop sold well, and the farmer paid off all his debts. Soon all followed him. What’s more, planting a different crop was good for soil which had been depleted by years of cotton crops.

Very quickly the people were able to recognize that the boll weevil plague was one of the best things to ever happen to their agricultural-based economy. They might never have considered peanuts, and eventually crop rotation, if they had not been forced to do so by the pest. monument in Enterprise, AL A local businessman named Bon Fleming came up with the idea of a monument in the heart of the town’s business district, and helped to finance the cost. It was dedicated in December 1919. The oddity of a shrine to a pest has brought tourists out of their way to see it.

Two lessons for us:

● When disaster strikes in our lives, we can react in complaining and despair, or we can respond in trust and hope, waiting to see how God might use our troubles for our good. Somehow as we look back over our life, we see a pattern of growth as we go through hard times.

● When we begin to glimpse some of the goodness that has come our way through a trial or tragedy, let’s pause and give thanks. Maybe even find a creative way to memorialize the tragedy and the corresponding goodness. A way that will draw others to give thanks too. Maybe even for generations.

Arranged marriage and an arranged life

Philip Yancey, one of my favorite authors, wrote about a friend from India. When Vijay was 15 years old, his parents decided to find Vijay a wife. They considered all the young girls they knew in their social circles and decided that Martha was the one for Vijay to marry. At this point Martha was 13; she and Vijay had met, briefly, only once.

The four parents got together and agreed on a wedding date eight years away. newlyweds in IndiaOnly then did they tell the two who they would be marrying. During the next eight years, Vijay and Martha saw each other only twice, with close supervision. They moved in together, husband and wife, as virtual strangers. Yet, Yancey says, their marriage is as secure and loving as any he has known. Many marriages in Asia and Africa are like that.

I read that story while preparing a couple sermons on suffering. And the thought struck me: is Vijay’s trust in his parents a picture of the trust we can have as God arranges our life?

We Westerners tend to approach life the same way we approach marriage—we act like we should have the final say in choosing our life circumstances as well as our mates.

Indeed, we do have control over much of our life. We make many real choices which determine much of our life situation. Nonetheless, much of life is out of our hands. Elections may or may not go our way. We may not be able to stop accidents or loss of health. We cannot always get the job we want or the income we need. In those moments is our attitude one of trust in God? Do we approach life placing the kind of trust in God that Vijay placed in his parents?

It’s not that God directly orders all the things in life that we don’t choose. People around us also shape what happens. And the Bible talks about Satan affecting our life (think of the story of Job). Yet God somehow remains in charge (again think of the story of Job). In some way, God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). We read many stories of this in the Bible (e.g., Genesis 50:20; Acts 2:23, 4:27-28), many examples of God working all things, even horrible things, together for good (Romans 8:28).

Can you and I have the same attitude of trust in our heavenly Parent that Vijay had in his parents? When we are permitted to make a life choice, we will seek to choose well. But when our life situation is beyond our control, we will trust in the One who oversees all and is able to arrange our life to fit into the plan that is best.

Getting back to sleep last night

It happened again last night. I woke in the middle of the night and lay there, anxious and restless, fretting over whether I can do some of the things I want to do—and others want me to do.

I knew that I had to say some things to myself and to God so I could settle my spirit and fall back to sleep. Nonetheless, it took me a while! It doesn’t work to just say the right words; there has to be a reality to them, a commitment behind them.

I had to assure myself that I can trust God, that as I walk with God nothing can happen that the two of us can’t handle. Hard times, suffering, difficulties are going to come as I live on this fallen earth among fallen people; bad things may come even as I am obedient. But God is resourceful enough to work all those things together for good; nothing can ever separate me from God’s love (Rom. 8:28-39)! I’ve of course known this for a while. But again and again my heart drifts away from the things my mind believes.

For me there is yet another thing I have to tell myself before I can fall back to sleep: that I will obey God in the next days. There are many things I do not have time, energy, or skills to do. So I won’t be able to do everything, won’t be able to please everyone. But I can always please God, can always do what God asks. Once I know that I will obey God, I find a sense of reassurance and peace building within—and ability to sleep, rather than toss and turn. Others may judge me for not doing something, but God never expects me to do what I can’t do! As I obey God and do what I can do, my conscience is clear.

When we hear that someone is struggling to obey God, we imagine them struggling to keep their life in line with biblical teaching. Thankfully, that’s seldom my battle. My struggle is with choosing the good that excites me over the good that God tells me is best.

As I commit myself to God’s way, I can indeed discern God’s choice in each situation (Prov. 3:5-6). Often that direction comes not only through the Bible but also through nudges from the Spirit: I move toward choices that fill me with an up-welling of hope and wholeness and away from what gives unease and a sense of a bad conscience. I also pay attention to brothers and sisters who know the Bible and sense the Spirit. If uncertainty still remains, God wants me to choose the acts that common sense suggests are best.

Then I get the fun of walking under God’s smile, not needing to fret the frowns of others. And the thrill of the Spirit’s wisdom and power plus love, joy, and peace! And I can rest at night, and in the morning rise in confidence and anticipation.

Waiting for God to open our rosebuds

A young man had been invited into an old preacher’s flower garden. Unsure about what God was calling him to do next, he was seeking the older man’s wisdom. His host walked up to a rosebush, took a bud, and told him to open it without tearing off any petals.

The younger glanced quizzically at the older, but proceeded to try to unfold the rose while keeping every petal intact. It wasn’t long before it was obvious how impossible it was. The old preacher began to recite a poem, “Unfolding the Rosebud.”

It is only a tiny rosebud,

A flower of God’s design;

But I cannot unfold the petals

With these clumsy hands of mine.

The secret of unfolding flowers

Is not known to you and I.

God opens this flower so sweetly,

When in my hands they fade and die.

If I cannot unfold a rosebud,

This flower of God’s design,

Then how can I think I have wisdom

To unfold this life of mine?

So I’ll trust in God for His leading

Each moment of every day.

I will look to God for His guidance

Each step of the pilgrim way.

The pathway that lies before me,

Only my Heavenly Father knows.

I’ll trust God to unfold the moments,

Just as He unfolds the rose.

I retell this internet story and its “author unknown” poem because it captures something that the Spirit is still trying to teach me. I’m no longer a young man trying to force the unfolding of my life. But I am far too often still trying to force the unfolding of what I want to have happen. In restless anxiety and presumption, I press my plans or my understanding on others. Especially when talking to someone on a topic of deep disagreement. But I am beginning to realize that I am to do what I can in peace and love. And then wait. God will unfold the bud into the flower at the right time!

An indomitable mood in our suffering

Our culture can give us the idea that we are entitled to a life without hardship and struggle. Persons around us assume, for instance, that we humans have the right to end our life if all seems hopelessly overwhelming, that we must free singles to find a sexual partner if celibacy seems a burden too hard to bear.

But often periods of agony and loss and depression are what deepen our life and faith so greatly. Indeed, walking a hard road can be refining and rewarding as well as hard, building deeper character and compassion and reliance on God and the church.

There is an Author Unknown poem that captures the indomitable mood that this faith gives us. Read it aloud and you’ll not only see it in the words, but hear it and feel it in the sound of the words!

When God wants to drill someone, and thrill someone and skill someone,
When God wants to mold someone to play the noblest part,
When He yearns with all His heart to create so great and bold a one
That all the world should be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways:
How He ruthlessly perfects whom He royally elects;
How He hammers them and hurts them,
And with mighty blows converts them into shapes and forms of clay
Which only God can understand,
While our tortured heart is crying and we lift beseeching hands;
Yet God bends but never breaks when our good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And with mighty power infuses one,
With every act induces one to try His splendor out,
God knows what He’s about.

Especially as Thanksgiving season approaches next week, let’s be giving thanks to God “in all circumstances” (1 Thes. 5:18) and “for everything” (Eph. 5:20). As we live our lives in faith and obedience, even loss and pain will eventually make us better, not bitter!