As I was reading John Piper’s Advent devotional this morning, two sentences provided me with ammunition to use against the unbelief that often emanates from my heart:
The greatest danger a missionary faces is to distrust the mercy of God. If that danger is avoided, then all other dangers lose their sting.
You may think because Piper refers to missionaries that these statements don’t refer to you. Please don’t let your heart go there. As a Christian called to the Great Commission, this truth applies to you as well. If you will, by God’s grace, avoid the greatest danger of distrusting God, then you can be sure that all other dangers lose their power over you.
What does that mean? It doesn’t mean that dangerous circumstances won’t come and it doesn’t mean they won’t hurt. What it means is that if we trust God, we can walk through such dangers with peace, joy, and endurance because we know the dangers are wielded by the hand of God. And if they are wielded by the hand of God, then we know that they come into our lives with perfect wisdom, perfect goodness, perfect, power, and perfect love from above because of what Christ did on our behalf. Not only has death lost it’s sting for us because of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:55), but so have all other perils!
This summer on Wednesday nights our church has been going through John Piper’s DVD series, Battling Unbelief. This past week, as Piper was using the Scriptures to help us battle the unbelief of anxiety, he made a connection between Matthew 6:34 and Lamentations 3:22-23 that I think has revolutionized my fight against worry. Here are the two texts and a long quote from Piper to explain.
Matthew 6:34 – Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Lamentations 3:22-23 – The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
There is a perfect correspondence between the amount of trouble planned for you and the amount of mercies to sustain you in those troubles. They go perfectly. Therefore, don’t pile into any day trouble that doesn’t belong there… Count on it, there will be trouble tomorrow. And count on it, every morning there will be new mercies… Today’s mercies are designed for today’s troubles… What you have today to get through the next six hours is not enough to get through tomorrow… But what God calls you to do now is not to feel what you need to feel tomorrow. You need to trust that [grace] is going to be there tomorrow.
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You and I have things that we desire other people to do. We desire our spouse to treat us with respect, we desire our co-workers to work efficiently with us on the new project, we desire our children to obey the first time we tell them, and the list goes on. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with these desires in and of themselves, but something changes in our hearts when these desires become expectations. Expectations move desires to another level. Expectations take something you would like to have happen and turn it into something you anticipate will happen. I think that when this happens, you’ve set yourself up for discontentment. A desire understands that a person may or may not do what it wishes, but an expectation is more pig-headed, even making decisions that depend on the fulfillment of what it wishes. Therefore, there’s a lot more distance to be let down when the expectation is not fulfilled; there’s a lot more to lose. And in the wake of unmet expectations is a heart that is bitter, depressed, or anxious.
Does this mean that we should not have expectations? I don’t think so. It just means that our expectations are misplaced. When we place expectations on people we set ourselves up for discontentment because people are sinful and limited. Sometimes people meet our expectations and sometimes they even exceed our expectations, but many times they don’t even get close. God, on the other hand, does not have the capacity to be unfaithful. He is perfectly loving, perfectly wise, and perfectly sovereign, so to place certain expectations on him would not be to set ourselves up for discontentment since he has everything necessary to be completely trustworthy.
But we must be careful with what expectations we place on God. We should not expect God to do whatever we want, but we should expect him to do whatever he says he will do in his Word. For example, Jesus says in Matthew 7:11, If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! With these words we can and should expect that God will always give what is good to his children when they ask. But it would not be right to expect that goodness to come to you according to your specific desires (i.e. – “God will give me this job with this company”).
As well-intentioned as we are, we humans often do not do what we say we’re going to do, so let’s place our expectations on the one who will always keep his Word and rest in the delight of seeing those expectations never going unmet.
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In his commentary on Psalm 95 in The Treasury of David, Charles Spurgeon writes on the way in which Israel put God to the test in the wilderness after they had been delivered from slavery: “Friendship only flourishes in the atmosphere of confidence, suspicion is deadly to it: shall the Lord, true and immutable, be day after day suspected by his own people?”
Although Israel had witnessed the power of God in the ten plagues, experienced his glorious way of escape from Pharaoh through the Red Sea, and daily ate of his provision (manna), they remained suspicious of God. They continued to grumble and complain against him in the wilderness because they were not convinced of his goodness and love. Israel did not believe God was looking out for their best interest, so they wanted to see more signs, experience more blessing. Needless to say, this did not bode well for the health of their relationship with him. As Spurgeon says, “…suspicion is deadly to [a friendship]”.
Are we any different? When our circumstances squeeze us, so often we wonder if God is really “for us”, and we put him to the test in our prayers with a mentality that says, “If God is good, then surely he will ____________ for me.” God has told us that he is unchanging (James 1:17) and he has told us that “in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5), so we can trust that he will always do what he says he’s going to do for us. We, on the other hand, are the ones with hearts that are “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). Consequently, we should be suspicious of ourselves, not God. I know I’ve said this before, but we need to be a people who are asking open-ended questions of our hearts: “Why did I say that? What did I want when I did that? What does that kind of thinking reveal about where my priorities are? Is what I am telling myself reflective of God’s truth, or is it a lie?” Certainly we can go nuts with this and become morbidly introspective, but the point is not to know your heart with scary-specific precision. Rather, it is to expose your heart for what it is and then redirect it with God’s truth, pleading with him to help you break free from our world’s popular “just follow your heart” philosophy. I believe it is one of the enemy’s great ploys to keep us suspicious of the One on whom suspicion is wasted so that our spiritual eyes don’t see all the incriminating evidence that lies within. Church, let us pray for God to help us trust him and distrust ourselves.
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