He Staggered Not: How to Grow Strong in Your Faith

man of faith looking at stars

He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.

 Romans 4:20

I didn’t plan to write this post today. But then came a 1:30 AM wake up with another parenting struggle that nearly made my faith stagger and did keep me from falling back to sleep.

Then came new mercies: a text from a kind niece who mentioned my “strong faith” and these words from Romans 4—which just happened to be on the reading plan this day I woke up plumb-tuckered out.

And here we are.

How To Grow Strong

Now here is that text I read this morning. The last verse talks about how Abraham grew strong in his faith, giving glory to God. He trusted God would do what he promised. Another word for that is faithfulness.

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver (stagger) concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised

Romans 4:18-21, ESV

It’s like the chicken and the egg. We grow strong in our faith as we give glory to God. We give glory to God by trusting him, by having faith.

So how do we grow strong in faith? In four words: Have faith in God. The missionary Hudson Taylor explained those four words in these seven: Hold on to the faithfulness of God.

And why?

Because it is in the midst of these trials that faith has stood out most gloriously. It is just when everything is going against them that would make them despair at the natural level that they most glorify God, because they still go on believing. They’re unshaken. They don’t stagger because of unbelief.

Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones, “Faith Glorifying God

In fact, the more severe the test, the more they give glory to God.

Then I heard how the strong men and women of faith are the very same people who endure so many trials and troubles and that no one more glorifies God than a person of faith (see Hebrews 11:6).

In all these things, you will grow strong. In them, I’ve shared before, not despite them. Because of our trials our strength grows.

Even if our trials are too tender and near for friends to know, God knows. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Hold On to the Faithfulness of God

Faith does not look at itself. It looks at God. People who grow strong in faith, to borrow Paul’s words, are “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (Acts 4:21b) People with strong faith learn to glance at their troubles and the gaze at their God.

That’s exactly what Abraham did. God had promised that he and Sarah would have a son. Twenty-five years passed and in Romans 4:19 we read, Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.

Oh, sure. Abraham knew all about his age and Sarah’s wrinkly, dry body. He knew babies aren’t made in people at that age. But He did not stagger because of unbelief. Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

He knew that God had spoken. God had made a promise and because of that, as Lloyd-Jones puts it, Abraham said to himself, “Nothing else needs to be considered at all.” And so he gave glory to God. It’s like they put all their seemingly irredeemable weakness and trouble on one side of the balance and God’s faithfulness on the other. And the side with God’s faithfulness drops weighty, like lead.

So Abraham hoped against hope and glorified God and Isaac was born.

Trust Issues: How Faith Gives Glory To God

Faith in God’s promises, John Piper explains, glorifies him as supremely wise and strong and good and trustworthy. Conversely, Lloyd-Jones notes, There is nothing more insulting to God than not believing him.

Martin Luther would have agreed, for faith he wrote, honors him whom it trusts with the most reverent and highest regard, since it considers him truthful and trustworthy.All that to say, most of us say we’re here on earth and the “chief end of man” is to give glory to God. When we believe God’s promises we do exactly that.

I’ve told you before that I have trust issues. Maybe it’s a firstborn thing, but I really like people to trust me. If it hurts my puny fail-and-drop-the-ball-self how much more it must grieve the faithful God’s heart when His people don’t trust Him.

In “The Theology of Rest” Oswald Chambers imagines how that felt. 

“O ye of little faith!” What a pang must have shot through the disciples — “Missed it again!” And what a pang will go through us when we suddenly realize that we might have produced downright joy in the heart of Jesus by remaining absolutely confident in Him, no matter what was ahead. 

At rock bottom, our anxiety and fear are staggering in faith. They reveal that we distrust God.

Which means we don’t know him as well as he wants us to know him. 

2 Ways To Strengthen Your Faith

It’s not surprising then, that Lloyd-Jones identifies these as the main factors that determine the strength of our faith:

  1. Our knowledge of God.
  2. Our application of that knowledge.

So we’ve got to know God and his unflinchingly faithful character. Then we’ve got to apply that knowledge.

3 Go-To Promises

I am learning both: to know God better and to apply my knowlege of him. And from 1:30-2:30 AM last night, I felt like a failure at both. But I desperately want to help you press on, and grow strong, in your faith.

So after some anxious thoughts and tossing and turning and feeble prayer, here’s what finally came at about 2:30 last night:

  1. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:7) These parenting troubles are not futile or wasted. They are productive. They are producing glory.
  2. For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is steadfast toward him. (2 Chronicles 16:9) Even at 1:30 AM, God is looking to help me.
  3. The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. (Psalm 147:11) I make God happy when I hope in his love. (I wrote about this before.)

I took God to the bank on these. They weren’t complete in my head with chapter and verse at 2 AM. But the essence was there: I trusted that the trial was productive, that God was looking to help me and that as I hoped in his love— for me and my son—God would be glad.

He brought them to mind and I spoke them and I fell back to sleep.

I staggered not, and slept.

What are your go-to, hope-against-hope promises?

A go-to promise is not, for the record, a talisman or lucky charm. It’s a way of getting hold on the faithfulness of God, of taking him at his word.

I just told you a few of mine. What are yours? What promise of God do you trust when you hope against hope?

Would you leave that promise in the comments? It might be a great distrust antidote for another JoyPrO reader.

Then maybe you’d like to insert your name in the blank below and say this one aloud:

__________________ staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God.

That’s you, friend. As you give glory to God, you grow strong in faith and stagger not.

All God’s giants have been weak men and women who have gotten hold of God’s faithfulness.
Hudson Taylor

Disappointment —> His Appointment

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What’s the biggest disappointment of your life?

Maybe it’s a high hope that came smashing down with an injury, a breakup, a loss. Or maybe it was a noble dream- for healing, for children, for peace- that has slowly fizzled out.

I had some disappointment last week when some grand plans I had for myself and my family didn’t pan out. The details don’t matter. What matters infinitely more is that I learn to do disappointment well.

Because how I cope with my disappointment reflects a lot on my God.

For God’s Sake, Do Disappointment Well

My learning to cope has been slow. The devils of Self-pity and I-deserve are right there, crouching at my door, desiring to have me the second my plans fall through.

But I am learning.  Here are two things I know about coping with disappointment.

  1. Joy comes when we choose what we did not choose.
  2. Grumbling won’t make the bitter taste go away, but gratitude will.

But the third is new- or maybe it’s just a new spin on the first two.

See God’s Hand in the Crooked Path

In my disappointment, Ecclesiastes 7:14 gives me pause: Consider the work of God, for who can make straight what God has made crooked? 

Thomas Boston wrote a book on that one verse. It’s called The Crook in the Lot. Crook is short for crooked and lot is as in one’s “lot in life.”

Boston writes,

I am now meeting only what has been determined by his eternal plan. I know not what is the “reason” why it was appointed; but I see that God had resolved to do it, and that it is vain to resist him.”

When we are disappointed, can we say the same thing? That it’s not by chance or accident, but by His appointment?

Boston adds,

It is much, when we are afflicted, to be able to make this reflection. I had rather be afflicted, feeling that it is “the appointment of God,” than feeling that it is “by chance” or “hap-hazard.”

It speaks comfort to the afflicted children of God to consider that whatever the crook in your lot is, it is of God’s making and therefore you may look upon it kindly since it is your Father who made it for you. Question not but that there is a favorable design in it toward you.

And by some miracle of grace, that’s what saints do with their disappointment. They trust that there is a favorable design in their disappointment.

Because God makes no mistakes.

Too Wise and Too Loving to Err

John Paton and his pregnant wife Mary left Scotland to be missionaries to the New Hebrides islands in the South Pacific on April 16, 1858. They arrived on November 5th.  In March 1859, his wife and newborn son died.

Talk about a bitter taste and a crook in the lot.

After Paton buried his beloved wife and infant son, he said,

I felt her loss beyond all conception or description, in that dark land. It was very difficult to be resigned, left alone, and in sorrowful circumstances; but feeling immovably assured that my God and father was too wise and loving to err in anything that he does or permits, I looked up to the Lord for help, and struggled on in His work…

I do not pretend to see through the mystery of such visitations – wherein God calls away the young, the promising, and those sorely needed for his service here; but this I do know and feel, that, in the light of such dispensations, it becomes us all to love and serve our blessed Lord Jesus so that we may be ready at his call for death and eternity.

It does. In our disappointment, it becomes us all to rest assured of our God’s wisdom and love.

Love Leads in the Opposite Direction

I’ve been camping in the land Exodus lately and was greatly impacted by Tim Keller’s sermon on chapter 19.

The Israelites are three months out of Egypt but further from the Promised Land than they were before they left.

Exodus from Egypt map, ESV Study bible

God, for kind reasons of his own (Ex. 13:17), led the people in nearly the opposite direction of their destination and he took them into a desert. A mountainous, barren desert. A land far worse than Egypt.

I love how Keller explains this “history of grace,”

God says I’m going to take you over here, but I’m going to take you by way of a place that is farther from Egypt and a land that is worse than Egypt. And that’s where he meets them. And it is often so…

If you admit it, you’re further away from the the things you thought God would be giving you than you were when you trusted him and it seems like God is taking you in the opposite direction.

So often the history of grace in our lives follows this same path. God seems to be taking us away from where we thought we were going, but he’s still leading us to the Promised Land.

In other words, our disappointment is God’s appointment. That’s how God’s grace often comes.

Disappointment, His Appointment

It just so happens that the very same day I wept myself dry, I ran across this poem.

“Disappointment — His Appointment”
Change one letter, then I see
That the thwarting of my purpose
Is God’s better choice for me.
His appointment must be blessing,
Tho’ it may come in disguise,
For the end from the beginning
Open to His wisdom lies.

“Disappointment — His Appointment”
Whose?  The Lord, who loves me best,
Understands and knows me fully,
Who my faith and love would test;
For, like loving earthly parent,
He rejoices when He knows
That His child accepts, UNQUESTIONED,
All that from His wisdom flows.

“Disappointment — His Appointment”
“No good thing will He withhold,”
From denials oft we gather
Treasures of His love untold,
Well He knows each broken purpose
Leads to fuller, deeper trust,
And the end of all His dealings
Proves our God is wise and just.

“Disappointment — His Appointment”
Lord, I take it, then, as such.
Like the clay in hands of potter,
Yielding wholly to Thy touch.
All my life’s plan in Thy moulding,
Not one single choice be mine;
Let me answer, unrepining —
“Father, not my will, but Thine.”

-Edith Lillian Young

No sugarcoating: “doing” disappointment this way is both a bitter pill and a sweet remedy. I cried hard last week. Coping with disappointment this way hurts my flesh. But as it does, it heals my soul.

Even when I don’t know why, I’m learning to change that one letter and see that His appointment is a better choice for me.

“For He performs that which is appointed for me…”

Job 23:14a

Winter’s Past. Go On Into Spring.

We have the power either of withstanding the spring, and sinking back into the cosmic winter, or of going on into those ‘high mid-summer pomps’ in which our Leader, the Son of Man, already dwells, and to which He is calling us.

C.S. Lewis

The last JoyPrO was about pain that’s real and pressing and all creation groaning and our way-long delayed spring.

That was last week.

Winter Is Past

But it’s 78° today. Windows open, shorts on and the daffodils are smiling at the doves.

Spring came this way slowly. But, as C.S.  Lewis wrote, the great thing is that the corner has been turnedThe winter is past, the snow is over and done. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, The corner has been turned- at least, outside.

And who in his right mind wouldn’t prefer spring over winter?

Don’t Sympathize (With Yourself)

But some don’t. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I prefer to wait in the cold and withstand the spring.

Don’t get me wrong, My heart thrilled in the breeze in the season’s first big bike ride today.  I mean the inner spring. The one Christ said wells up to eternal life. I mean, if I’m not careful, my soul lingers in woe-is-me winter. I’ve noticed that when my soul winters linger it’s because I’m stuck sympathizing with myself. 

Now sympathy for others is good and right. It’s beautiful. We are called to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15b) and to have sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind (1 Peter 3:8).

But our hearts are supposed to feel tender toward others, to be directed outside of ourselves.

I know- too well- that melancholy and self-pity are a slippery, wintry mix for my soul. They tend toward dark nights. When I sympathize with myself, I choose winter over spring. I choose not to turn the corner and I deprive my Help, my God, of glory.

But my inner self loves spring. Which is why I’m on a sophron quest, a self-control, sound-mind mission to not let my emotions rule me. It’s why I’m learning to distract my wintry thoughts by thinking on excellent and lovely things. To get a grip and push the brakes.

Get a Grip. (Talk to Yourself.)

It is a work. And a process- a Spirit-guided process.

But taking myself in hand is the only way I know to get my soul to spring. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote a book called Spiritual Depression.

Here he  explains why we must get a grip.

This other man within us has got to be handled. Do not listen to him; turn on him; speak to him; condemn him; upbraid him; exhort him; encourage him; remind him of what you know, instead of listening placidly to him and allowing him to drag you down and depress you…

We must talk to ourselves, instead of allowing “ourselves” to talk to us! Have you not realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? You must say to your soul, preach to yourself, questions yourself “Why are you so downcast?” (Spiritual Depression, p. 20)

Lloyd-Jones is only echoing the Psalmist’s 3,000 year-old cure for the downcast soul that can’t – or won’t- turn the corner from winter into spring.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are so in turmoil within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. 

Let’s take ourselves in hand and leave winter behind.  Hope in God, O my soul. Don’t withstand the spring.

We do have that choice. The flowers don’t. The crocus can’t choose if it will come out in spring or not.

But we can.

Go On Into Spring

We can choose.  

There is, of course, this difference, that in the natural spring the crocus cannot choose whether it will respond or not. We can. We have the power either of withstanding the spring, and sinking back into the cosmic winter, or of going on into those ‘high mid-summer pomps’ in which our Leader, the Son of Man, already dwells, and to which He is calling us. It remains with us to follow or not, to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and that summer. (C.S. Lewis, “The Grand Miracle,” God in the Dock)

There is a season for everythinga time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. And God knows it’s not for me to determine the times and seasons he’s appointed. 

But spring has sprung and it is mine to choose if I will get on with it. If I will hope-in-God obey and rise and follow Jesus.

What will you choose?

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
    and come away,
 for behold, the winter is past;
    the rain is over and gone.
 The flowers appear on the earth,
    the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
    is heard in our land.

Song of Solomon 2:10-12

Hannah’s Hope

Her smooth cello drew me. Then, nine months ago we crossed paths again and I made a new friend. Actually, I found a new friend. Or she found me. In any case, our meeting wasn’t chance.

Because, like C.S. Lewis explained, A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to…Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others” (“The Four Loves”).

Truly.

Hannah was just finishing  her last chemo treatment when we met. But hat or no hat, short hair or no, Hannah is beautiful. Hannah exudes living hope; she laughs at the days to come.  Hannah lives her motto loud: Love Jesus. Love people. Share Jesus with people. By living this way, she strengthens my hope in God. 

Months ago, I invited her to share her story here. This week she took me up.  It is with pleasure that I share Hannah with you. 

Hi. I’m Hannah.

In the past 14 months God has led me and walked with me through stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. By His grace I am currently cancer free. I recently participated in the Leukemia- Lymphoma Society (LLS) Light the Night walk. LLS provides support to cancer patients and survivors and supports research to find more effective treatments for blood cancers. I was looking forward to a night of camaraderie and sharing of stories, a night of savoring and rejoicing in life.

And we  did “light up the night with hope.” We raised money and awareness for blood cancer research and patients. The survivors and MC at the event spoke of the support of family and friends through hard times, shared fond memories of those who died of cancer, and we all celebrated the blessing of being survivors.

Yet I left with deep sadness in my soul. Where was the real hope? The solid hope? Not the fluffy, humanistic stuff, but the kind to base your life on, the hope that gives strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. Where was that hope?

Some Trust In…

“Some trust in chariots [chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, science], some trust in horses [family, friends, statistics, positive thoughts] but we trust in the name of the Lord our God!” –Psalm 20:7

At the event, one of the women spoke of how positive thoughts, human relationships/support, and advances in science got her through treatment. I listened and thought sadly,  “Really? That’s all she’s got?” This is “hope”?  If it is, hope ends when life ends.

Positive thoughts are proven to help cancer patients handle treatment and life better, but no one  on her deathbed can save her  life by positive thinking. Human relationships have great power to affect lives, but all of us will die, and most of us won’t be remembered for long after our death (maybe a lifetime or two…).

Science provides many amazing ways to combat diseases and increase life expectancies, but no science could have predicted that I would be diagnosed with cancer at the age of 24. And this diagnosis after I’d lost 50 pounds and had really begun to live a “healthy” lifestyle. In fact, I’d run a PR in a 10k the week before my chemo treatments started. Beyond that, none of us can control whether or not the cancer returns. I know death is only breath away.

When the rubber meets the road, these sources of “hope” are just man-made smoke screens covering an abyss of hopelessness – a way for people to cope but not even come close to a permanent solution that addresses all anxieties and possibilities of an uncertain and unknown future.

But what we need, cancer or cancer free, is not hype and not “just to cope,” what we need is to hope.

Not hype, not “just cope”- hope.

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” -Corrie ten Boom

I’m not saying positive thoughts, human relationships, and science are bad. They are helpful, but they are all much too small and frail to be the basis of real hope.

So what is hope?  True hope is no wishy-washy thing. It does not look to the future with wishful thinking and “positive thoughts.” Oh, it is so much more!

God promises that those of us who have trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior have an imperishable and unfading inheritance, a 100% guarantee of hope in the future no matter what the present holds. Though we face various and difficult trials, we have this hope (1 Peter 1:3-9).

“We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory…For we know that if the tent that if our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” -2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1

Though this earthly body be destroyed, I have something better and lasting – a building made by God, perfect and eternal, apart from the presence of sin and death, in the very near presence of God…and that is the best part – to get to behold God’s glory forever.

Light The Night, All The Day

I did not survive my cancer, nor do I live cancer free, with an insecure, surface level “hope.” I thrive through cancer and can live free from anxiety. I live with a living hope and seeking to fix my eyes on Jesus, my glorious Savior. Now that is the walk I live each day, by God’s grace, with an excited, joy-filled and hopeful heart. It’s a walk full of camaraderie, sharing stories, rejoicing in and savoring God and the many gifts He has given.

Hannah with her brother and sister

It’s a daily “Light the Night” walk, lighting up the dark world with God’s light and daily proclaiming the greatness of my God and Savior who has called me out of spiritual darkness into His marvelous light.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession,

that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

1 Peter 2:9

*Abigail again: I mentioned earlier Hannah plays a mean cello.  This version of Abide With Me features a deep, sweet cello like hers. But it’s more the lyrics than the strings that lead me to thank God for Hannah’s fearless, living hope when I hear these words:

I fear no foe with you at hand to bless, 
though ills have weight, and tears their bitterness. 
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, your victory? 
I triumph still, if you abide with me. 

Henry Francis Lyte