Trying Less, Trusting More (Lane)
Trying Less, Trusting More
by Lonnie Lane
I received an email this week in response to the “Saved or Not” article from a man who is assured that he’s saved, but he keeps missing the mark. (Don’t we all?) Perhaps this is the follow-up article for those who know they’re saved and for whom repentance is a way of life, but are laboring under a sense of continual failure. If that’s you, perhaps this article will bring encouragement to you. Here’s his dilemma:
Q. I have been a Christ follower for years now but still have so many faults and do things that I am ashamed of. My commitment is to try harder everyday. I really do depend on God for everything. He is always faithful but I am too often a let down to him. … Could you pray for me to become a holier person?
A. There’s a prayer request we all would have for ourselves if we are the Lord’s to be holier. That this would be your prayer request tells me you’re not in as much trouble as you may think. You obviously love the Lord and want to please Him. Struggling with trying to be right with God is aiming for the right goal. However, you might not be on the right path to get you there.
I recently read a book of a fictional account of someone spending the weekend with God as all three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, met with him. In the book, God is reported to be saying that He is never disappointed in us because He knows the beginning from the end so He’s never surprised by what we do. He doesn’t have expectations of us, so therefore we cannot fail because there’s no hoop to jump through or hurdle to leap over. What He does have is anticipations of what He will do in our lives. What we may call failures He sees as opportunities to continue to teach us how to be more like Jesus. Since He’s committed to making this happen, it can only really happen by Him doing a work in us.
So then what’s our part?, you may ask. Our part is to surrender, trust and obey. The devil would like us to be busy and frustrated rather than enjoying our salvation and praising God. It’s hard to praise God when you feel like your sins disqualify you from lovingly coming to Him. When we feel guilty, we pull away from God. As has been said, If God is the same yesterday, today and forever, and we feel a separation from Him, guess who moved?
Paul was concerned for this very issue. He wrote, “I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Messiah” (2 Cor 11:3). It really is a sweet simplicity. As the old song goes, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, only trust and obey.” I have found this to be unequivocally true. A pastor friend of mine named Neil said something that was very helpful to me when I was struggling with this same issue. He said that when you finally give up trying to stay saved, the first thing you feel like is that you’re backsliding. All that energy that went into trying and fretting about being right with God turns into rest and we’re not used to it. We think we should be doing something. But He already did it.
Neil also used to tease and ask, “So, are you doing enough?” We’re never “doing enough!” We never could do enough. If we are doing the “doing,” whose salvation would it be? Who would be doing the saving? Only God can save. It’s what Yeshua’s name means: God is salvation. There’s nothing to add to that. “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). “We are His workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good works which God prepared beforehand so we would walk in them” (Eph 2:10). There is a connection between God’s works and our works. We do what He has already established in us and prepares us for.
But, you may say, “That’s the problem, I keep missing it with the good works part. I keep doing the not-such-good works.” Then let’s talk about what good works God wants us to walk in. Let’s try and define them according to God’s perspective. This is not a new dilemma. Some of Yeshua’s followers asked the same basic question: “What shall we do that we may work the works of God? Yeshua answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent’ ” (John 6:28, 29). That’s it. Believing! Faith! Trust! Everything is dependent upon this. Yeshua gave us this analogy: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in Him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Nothing godly or meaningful for the Kingdom, that is. Certainly we are able to do things in our own (God-given) natural strength. But what counts to God only comes through His life flowing through us. “Abides” indicates living in rest, not striving to stay there. The sap will flow naturally as a life force to the branches that stay attached to the vine which He is. Similarly, we cannot cause “rivers of living water” to flow from our “inner-most being” (Jn 7:38). Only the Holy Spirit can do that. Our part is to be open to God, trusting that His Word will be manifest in our lives by His Spirit and staying open to Him in faith.
When we keep our focus on ourselves and how sinful we are, it opens the door for the devil to agree with you and bring things into your life to tempt you or discourage you. Being in agreement with him that your flesh is weak serves to make your flesh weaker. When we are trying harder, it’s not our spirits that we are trying to improve, because our spirits belong to God. It’s our old nature. Let’s face it. Adam is never going to get saved. Our adamic nature, including our minds, is entirely fleshly, natural and at enmity with God. The more we try, the more we wedge ourselves into a demonically designed corner. The only way out is to forsake it and trust God for all that we are trying to earn or become.
Trying usually means we are constantly taking our spiritual temperature to see how we’re doing. How would we really assess the work God is doing in of our inner-most being? We sure can’t measure ourselves against Yeshua to see where we stand. After all, you’re comparing yourself to Holy and Perfect God! How are you, a human, possibly going to match that standard? Besides, “man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). We don’t even see things the same way, so His “tally” would be different than ours if He had one. If we keep looking at our performance, we will always be aware of our failures. In fact, focusing on the weakness of our flesh only serves to increase just that. We will strengthen that which we focus on.
When I was dealing with all this years ago, constantly worried about not letting Him down and feeling like I failed time and again, the Lord gave me a vision of myself in a fish aquarium. I was little and under water that was about twice as high as I was. I had my arms wrapped around myself and I was trying to lift myself out of the water. Now how useless is that? Then I saw a gold rope coming down into the water. I knew that I would be pulled out of the water and not drown if I just took hold of it. But to do so I had to let go of myself and stop trying to save myself. You get the picture. I had to let go and let God! To my surprise and delight, when I did, I found the peace of God I was so looking for.
Happily, God is busily at work seeing that the fruit of the spirit becomes operative in our character. When we see that “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control” (Eph 5:22,23) are operative our lives, we know that God has been doing a work in us. You might want to think about how these are manifesting in your life look for the positive things that God is doing instead of where you have missed it. Take some time to sensitize yourself to these qualities, mediate on them, consider what they mean to you. How can you express them more to the people in your life? Instead of you trying to be “gooder,” get in touch with the Spirit of Yeshua in your heart and let Him love others through you. You’ll get the hang of it and then you’ll share in His joy as together you spread His goodness to others. And He’ll show you a way to do it that is entirely consistent with your personality. When we’re at peace with God, we are more ourselves than we can ever be apart from Him. We are then being who He created each of us to be, a unique expression of Him.
Speaking about what we were created to be like, what about when we measure ourselves against others, and we think, “They seem to have it so together, why can’t I? What’s wrong with me?” We each have a different ball of twine to unravel in our lives with God. A person who has had a secure and untroubled childhood with parents, particularly a father, who loved God and them so that trust comes easy to them, is not going to have to deal with the same issues as someone who was neglected or abused and had no godly father. What the woman with the “mite” put in the offering basket in the Temple was a fortune to her and a sacrifice unto God, but if someone with a million dollars in the bank puts that in, it’s an insult to God. God deals with each one of us respectively. He knows what’s in our hearts and what we have to plow through to be able to trust Him and to obey Him. There is great reward for some which for others that same thing would be insignificant. Each of us is known by God and rewarded “according as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom 12:3), not someone else’s measure. This is not meant as an excuse by any means. But it might explain why some of us struggle with what comes easily to others.
It’s hard to love or obey someone you’re not sure you can trust. Trust can be a hard issue for some folks. It may take a while to learn to trust God fully, time to find out He is entirely trust-worthy. In the mean time, my suggestion: Obey anyway. Nothing is more valuable than “holding to the mystery of faith with a clear conscience” (1 Tim 3:9; 2 Tim 1:3) before the Lord. That’s what Yeshua bought for us. Resting in His finished work, coming immediately for a cleansing in His Blood when you sin, and having a grateful heart that brings me back to Him in a heart beat that’s what it’s all about. There’s no trying harder in that.
The key is to take your eyes off of yourself. Try as you might to be perfect, you’ll never get there; you’ll never hit the mark you’re aiming at. You’ll never make a perfect grade this side of heaven. And if you did, then what? Self-satisfaction? Pride? Or a fear that you’ll fall and miss it again. “Pride goes before destruction” (Prov 16:18) so we do well to fear falling into it. The rest we are looking for will elude us if we are striving for anything but to enter His rest. “For this we labor and strive, that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the savior of all men, and especially of those who believe” (1 Tim 4:10). What we do, we do in the peace of God, knowing we are already among “those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Messiah Yeshua” (Jude 1:1). Looking into His face focuses us on who and what He is. There’s no hope or healing in focusing on who or what we are. We become like what we focus on. So what would that say about focusing on our failures or sin instead of His forgiveness and grace? If works had worked, Yeshua wouldn’t have had to die or send the Holy Spirit. My trusting in God, however, for Him to work in me and through me, that’s the work I am to do.
Try going on a worry fast. You might want to even try some fasting and praise. Forsake fretting. Concentrate on Yeshua. Spend time in the Gospels and get to know Him a little better. Read it as if you were one of the disciples. Be His friend as you read. Let Him be yours.
Lest anyone think that all this acceptance and grace is a license to avoid dealing with our sin and just float on the status quo in trust that God will see us through, there is a part that we must play in our quest for holiness. If we are to try harder at anything it is to come to God and cry out to Him to make us holier, for Him to do the work, for Him to show us where we are not walking in holiness so we can repent and turn in the direction He wants for us. God will move in our lives as we ask Him to. Prayer is an integral part of how much we are conformed to the image of Yeshua. James said, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). If it’s more holiness you want, ask Him for it, cry out to Him to do the work in you.
Make that prayer in faith, with thanksgiving. Why thanksgiving? Because you know He will answer the prayer. Because “this is the confidence we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us, and if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (1 John 5:14, 15). If ever God was going to answer a prayer, it would be when your request is that of our email writer, that you “would become a holier person.”