Robert and Maureen McQuillan challenge:
Jesus covered a lot of territory when he encouraged his troubled disciples, ‘Do not be worried and upset. Believe in God and believe also in me’ (John 14:1GNB). The Message Bible puts it even more directly: ‘Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me’ (Emphasis ours).
We can think of ‘this’ as ‘everything.’ After all, let’s face it…in life there are many things that throw us…things that could throw us if we were to let them and things that do throw us because we foolishly let them.
Oh yes, it’s easy to say that Christians shouldn’t be thrown by life’s curves – but it happens! Something comes out of left field and can really get to us no matter how strong our faith in God may be (or is this only us – are we talking to the wall?).
Years ago many Christians would never dare admit to being upset and concerned when trouble struck. Today it’s different… many wisely seek comfort, help and prayer from their church and friends. And it’s good that we can do this – last month we commented that churches should be spiritual hospitals caring for the local flock.
Life and troubles
Yes, even for Christians on the journey of life, one never knows what’s around the corner. Life can produce some real nasty curves! Including unexpected illnesses; a job loss; marriage and family problems; loss of property and finance; damaged vehicles… no doubt you can easily add to the list.
Life! Troubles! Australia’s 22nd prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, is well remembered for his statement: ‘Life wasn’t meant to be easy.’ In these days of worldwide dangers, terrorism, financial shake-ups and troubles we can readily complain that it definitely isn’t, it’s full of troubles!
And there’s another old saying that’s been around for decades… It usually goes along the lines of ‘Jesus never promised that following him – the Christian life – would be easy, a bed of roses.’ Matthew 16:24 (NLT), ‘If any of you wants to be my follower… take up your cross, and follow me’ is often quoted with the comment that ‘What I’m going through is my cross that I must bear.’
But what is not often quoted are the words between ‘wants to be my follower’ and ‘take up your cross’ …’you must turn from your selfish ways.’ Other translations speak of ‘denying oneself.’ Could there be there something deeper here?
Jesus must be centre stage
So often in churches we hear regurgitated encouraging messages that life is life, that Christians must have a vision, be committed, accept challenge, go further, move on… and other things that we must do. Such sermons are, of course, needed but if trust in Jesus Christ is not centralised the focus is on us!
We need to realise that, good as they are, such encouragements mainly zero in on us, that they rely on where we’re at, how we embrace our abilities, our willingness to trust Jesus and to move in the anointing of the Spirit. They must not be merely hopeful maybes to reach some speaker’s expectations.
Denying oneself is probably easiest understood as dropping anything that blocks Jesus from being Lord, such as personal ‘gimme’ greeds (not genuine kingdom needs).
Instead we need to commit to taking onboard John 14:1 and fully trust Jesus in all of life’s circumstances, all that is thrown at us as we follow Jesus. We need to take courage and trust him in all of life, believing that God’s Jeremiah 29.11 promise of a good plan for our life can be relied on.
Although his oft-quoted saying is generally taken as a gloomy explanation of life’s difficulties, for Malcolm Fraser it was a reason to take on difficult tasks.
It’s not widely recognised that it was in fact paraphrased from a line from George Bernard Shaw‘s play Back to Methuselah: ‘Life is not meant to be easy, my child; but take courage: it can be delightful.’
What we often forget is the fact that when we declare that we trust Jesus in every difficult circumstances, this is a type of denying ourselves – denying our fears, inadequacies, past failings, lack and even strengths and proven abilities. That we are unafraid to take on life’s difficult challenges. That we’re acknowledging Jesus as our source, our equipper, provider and leader.
Then God, our heavenly Father, caring more that any earthly father, is so pleased. He is delighted to move supernaturally on our behalf – in his timing and his way of course (whatever way that outworks).
‘Trust’ means to ‘rely on, to roll over’ matters to. ‘Rolling over’ sounds as if a huge boulder is leaving us, rolling away! The refrain of Isaac Watts’ classic hymn At the Cross comes to mind:
‘At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!’
Psalms and Proverbs also encourage followers to trust God, to ‘roll over’ things to him –
- ‘Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you’ (Psa. 37:5 NLT)
- ‘Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own’ (Pro. 3:5 Msge).
Denying oneself is to trust Jesus, to put him first in every circumstance. The Message Bible puts Matthew 16:24 this way: ‘Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how”’ (Emphasis ours).
Sometimes exercising faith is difficult in life. One time (Mark 9:17ff Msge), Jesus was begged by a bystander to set his boy free from a demon: ‘If you can do anything, do it. Have a heart and help us!’ was the distressed father’s plea.
Jesus challenge – ‘If? There are no “ifs” among believers. Anything can happen’ – was immediately taken onboard by the father: ‘Then I believe. Help me with my doubts!’ Aware that this dad was courageously overcoming doubts and trusting him, Jesus set the boy free in response.
That’s another great thing about the grace of God – even when we’re shaken in life and some doubts are sneaking in, God sees our heart and reaches out to encourage us to move to a stronger level of believing.
Perhaps in those times when even the strongest of Christians feels ‘faith is slipping’ it’s helpful, easier to think of ‘faith required’ as ‘trust required.’ Like when we trust a good friend to achieve something we can’t…we rely completely on that person.
Personally we know this has built us stronger and enabled us to break through. Some of the darkest times and most difficult challenges in our journey through life have led to incredible blessings from God as we’ve simply agreed with Jesus and quietly declared, ‘Yes, we trust you, Lord.’
It was Corrie Ten Boom who said, ‘Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.’ The question arising when one comes across Christians who don’t read the Bible daily and still can’t trust Jesus is: ‘How well do you know your God?’
In fact, since one dark time many years ago in my life, I (Robert) carry a small pebble in my pocket that’s inscribed: TRUST. No power in this pebble – except that it’s a godly reminder that I’m a follower – and believer – in the one whose name is above every name ie everything (Phil. 2:9).
This month’s links: Focus – God Loves Doubters; Inspirational – Lord…Where are You?; Impact – Praying Driver Crunched Between two Semis Believes God Saved his Life