Trust Only in God

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Who do writers read? Who inspires the teacher? Where do you turn for encouragement?

Over the years I have accumulated a treasure trove of quotes, stories and illustrations that nourish my heart and mind. Some I use only once, but others I review so frequently I’ve nearly memorized them. Here’s one of those precious gems from Charles Spurgeon.**

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) preached in The Metropolitan Tabernacle in London to over 5,000 people several times a week during his ministry. He was a preacher’s preacher and a teacher of preachers. It’s no small matter to have the respect of your peers.

In this passage, he addresses the discouragement so common to this calling. I realize the vast majority reading this are not preachers. Still, this speaks to all of us in our need for perspective and for continual growth in trusting God as we witness and serve our Lord. (I have slightly altered this quote so that it better applies to all followers of Jesus, not just preachers).

Spurgeon begins immediately with the positive outcomes of struggle. Like gold refined by fire (1 Peter 1:7), our lives are matured by trials.

By all the castings down of his servants, God is glorified, for they are led to magnify him when again he sets them on their feet, and even while prostrate in the dust their faith yields him praise. They speak all the more sweetly of God’s faithfulness and are the more firmly established in his love. Such mature [saints] as some elderly [believers] are, could scarcely have been produced if they had not been emptied from vessel to vessel, and made to see their own emptiness and the vanity of all things round about them. Glory be to God for the furnace, the hammer, and the file. Heaven shall be all the fuller of bliss because we have been filled with anguish here below, and earth shall be better tilled because of our training in the school of adversity.

Based on the fruit that comes from trails, Spurgeon instructs us to dismiss the idea that we should be immune from “soul-trouble.” He warns against the false expectation that we should always be walking in sunshine and soft breezes if God truly loves us. That is far from the experience of God’s people in all ages and all times.

The lesson of wisdom is, be not dismayed by soul-trouble. Count it no strange thing, but a part of ordinary…experience. Should the power of depression be more than ordinary, think not that all is over with your usefulness. Cast not away your confidence, for it hath great recompense of reward. Even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise and overthrow him.

Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsaketh not his saints. Live by the day—aye, by the hour. Put not trust in frames and feelings. Care more for a grain of faith than a ton of excitement.

Trust in God alone and lean not on the reeds of human help. Be not surprised when friends fail you: it is a failing world. Never count upon immutability in [people]: inconstancy you may reckon upon without fear of disappointment. The disciples of Jesus forsook him; be not amazed if your adherents wander away to other teachers: as they were not your all when with you, all is not gone from you with their departure.

This reminds me of the counsel and promise of the 1 Peter 5:9, “Resist [the devil], standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”

Spurgeon then exhorts us to press on, trusting God with the results.

Serve God with all your might while the candle is burning, and then when it goes out for a season, you will have the less to regret. Be content to be nothing, for that is what you are. When your own emptiness is painfully forced upon your consciousness, chide yourself that you ever dreamed of being full, except in the Lord. Set small store by present rewards; be grateful for earnests [small rewards] by the way but look for the recompensing joy hereafter. Continue with double earnestness to serve your Lord when no visible result is before you.

Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light: faith’s rare wisdom enables us to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy, since she places her hand in that of her great Guide. Between this and heaven there may be rougher weather yet, but it is all provided for by our covenant Head. In nothing let us be turned aside from the path which the divine call has urged us to pursue.

Life is not all sunshine and soft breezes. Trust God and keep going.

**[Charles H. Spurgeon, quoted in John Doberstein, Minister’s Prayer Book, Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1986, p.226-227]

Life’s Hard Classroom

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Adult life is filled with illusions that die hard.

As a younger person, I somehow got the idea adults had it all together. I assumed that by a certain age, (probably 40 or so) you knew what to do, had what you needed, and had life all figured out.

If a wry smile comes to your face because of my naivete, I don’t blame you.

It’s likely I was shielded (or simply oblivious) to the sufferings and trials experienced by my parents and other adults around me. And that’s probably God’s mercy.

But then came the time (the first of many!) when I realized it’s not like that at all. Life is hard, a puzzle, an adventure, a roller coaster, a disaster (at times) and all together uncertain and unpredictable.

There are many amazing blessings in life, to be sure. But if we expect to figure life out and get everything “all settled,” we’re in for huge letdown. If we tie our hopes and security to this thing called “earthly existence,” we are in for devastating shocks and crushing disappointments.

One of the most constructive responses to a hard time is to learn from it. We can ask questions like: What is this teaching about myself in terms of my expectations, inner strength, and readiness? About others? About life in this broken world? About God?

There are some situations, however, where we will never find the answers in this life. Especially to the question, “Why?” But there is a way to find strength to press on.

During one tough season I confessed to the Lord that I was tired of “learning lessons.” Enough already! And as I was journaling, it was like the Lord said to me, “Life in this fallen and failing world is the Hard Classroom. That will never change until I return. But be thankful you have me as your Master Teacher to tutor and train you step by step by step.”

That led me to search the Scriptures for passages with the word “instruct.” Here are a few that encourage me greatly.

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (Psalm 32:8 NIV).

God is a compassionate instructor. “With my loving eye on you” reassures us that the Lord does not scorn us for our lack of understanding. Instead, the Lord renews our minds and directs our steps (Proverbs 3:5-6), often in the very moment.

“I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me” (Psalm 16:7 NIV).

God meets us in our sleepless nights. When we can’t sleep, we can pray. And we can learn to listen. Don’t dismiss those encouraging thoughts that come, those insights, those memories and scriptures. I often get out of bed for a moment to write them down. I then consider them more carefully in the light of day.

“Good and upright is the Lord; therefore, he instructs sinners in his ways” (Psalm 25:8 NIV)

God does not require we be perfect in order to receive his teaching. He teaches us in the midst of our sin and brokenness, leading us to life.

When we live as disciples (a word meaning “students”) of the Lord in all that life brings, we discover a growing resilience, a deepening wisdom, a more realistic set of expectations, and, above all, the peace and power of God within that pass all understanding.

“So do not fear, for I am with you;

    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you and help you;

    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

Consider this again, as if the Lord is speaking to you, “Life in this fallen and failing world is the Hard Classroom. That will never change until I return. But be thankful you have me, the Lord your God, as your Master Teacher. I will tutor and train you step by step by step.”

May it be so, Lord, may it be so.

It’s Who You Know

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(Not my bookshelf!) Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Early in my ministry I was sitting in my study one morning. I was particularly discouraged by the stacks of unread books and magazines that continued to grow as my time for reading contracted.

“Lord,” I cried out in prayer, “how can I ever know enough to serve you properly? I’ll never get caught up!”

Then a stillness came over me, and it was as if the Lord said, “Doug, look at your library.” At that time I had one bookcase with six five-foot shelves.

“Can you hold all those books?” the Lord continued. “If you stacked the books, one on top of the other, how many could you carry?“

I realized I couldn’t carry even one-third of one shelf.

“Don’t hold your books. Hold on to me.”

Refreshment and relief swept over my spirit.

One of the joys and challenges of ministry is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding in almost any and every field imaginable. Our medieval ancestors called Theology the “Queen of the Sciences” (a title sadly discarded by most today). That designation points to the fact that all knowledge finds its roots in God. We are stewards of this world in every aspect, including mining the treasures of knowledge and understanding.

So there’s hardly a subject I find irrelevant. This has led to a love for—and a significant accumulation of—books. After seminary and over 40 years in pastoral ministry, I have nearly 20 times the number of books than when the Lord first communicated, “Don’t hold your books. Hold on to me.”

I am committed to pursuing Biblical knowledge and theological understanding. It’s part of our obedience to the greatest commandment.

“The most important [commandment],” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’” (Mark 12:29-30).

I believe fervently in apologetics (the logical explanation and defense of the faith—as represented by Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ). I have a satisfied mind and continue to love God with all my mind, as well as with my heart, soul and strength.

Problems arise, however, when knowledge about God replaces continuing fellowship with God.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing… 8 Love never fails… where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. (1 Corinthians 13:1-10 selected verses).

If I never read another book or developed another concept, God would love me no less.

It’s not how much we know about God— it’s knowing God that matters most.