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

Hey, Jealousy: You Can’t Have Me

eyes of jealousy

Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?
Proverbs 27:4

Hey, Jealousy

Anybody can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathise with a friend’s success.

By this measure, Oscar Wilde’s measure, my nature is not very fine. I get jealous. Sometimes—when a friend shares a joy I wish was mine— I fake a smile. Mine is still a sin-twinged nature.

My daily reading today were 1 Samuel 18 and Acts 13. They got me thinking on jealousy. When David returned from striking down Goliath and the women came out singing, “Saul has slain his thousands; David has slain his ten thousands” Saul was very angry and greatly displeased (1 Samuel 18:7-8).

The word jealousy isn’t there but it’s there. So much, in fact, that King Saul repeatedly, ruthlessly sought to kill David. He nearly speared him to the wall in his jealous rage.

For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

James 3:16

But in Acts 13:45 the word JEALOUSY is used: “The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him.”

Jealousy messes with our minds. It makes us assume the worst of others and to doubt God. And maybe it’s equally a sign of a messed-up mind. A mind that thinks it deserves what God has not given so much that it would hurt the one who has what it desperately wants.

Not A Jealous Bone

But, the good news is that if we are in Christ we are not slaves to sin, but to righteousness. Jealousy knocks at our door but we must master it. More good news, with the Spirit’s power, we can.

The Bible has some great examples of meek, contented souls. Like Jonathan, Saul’s son, the would-be-heir of the Israel’s throne who loved David as his own soul and helped to save his life (1 Samuel 18:3-4).

And in Acts 13:43, we read that there were “many Jews and devout converts to Judaism who followed Paul and Barnabas,” urged “to continue in the grace of God.”

Not a jealous bone in Jonathan and those many Jews. Theirs was such grace, such faith that God is good. Counting His blessings crushes my jealous bones.

So dear God, increase my faith. Help me put on the Lord Jesus Christ so jealousy won’t have me.

Let us behave properly as in the day […] not in strife and jealousy.

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Romans 13:13-14

Afterward: Yes, you are absolutely right. Our God, our righteous, holy God is a jealous God. Our jealousy reveals two things-two hopeful things:

Through jealousy, God shows us two things. First, he shows us himself. He is a jealous God (he even says “my name is Jealous” Exodus 34:14). It is part of his character as the covenanting God to take on the pain and hurt of experiencing his bride’s unfaithfulness (Hosea 4:13–14). Through our jealousy, we experience a communicable divine emotion (Deuteronomy 32:21).

Second, he shows us ourselves. Through jealousy, the deepest desires of our hearts are elicited and amplified (Genesis 22:12Psalm 66:18–20). The fire burns away the distractions of life’s details to show us the things we treasure. This process of internal emotional suffering — of jealousy most pointedly — can help clarify and bring to the surface all that we would otherwise have kept hidden from God and even from ourselves.

Paul Maxwell, Hey, Jealousy

Take & Possess: Canaanites, Weeds, & Driving Out Enemies (Part I)

Pulling Weeds

Weeds don’t take no for an answer. The Canaanites would dwell in the land. To take is not the same as to possess.

So how can you drive out the enemy and truly possess the land?

How Persistent These Weeds

My proud, melancholic temperament turned up again Thursday. It might have looked like low-spirits, sickly, and weak.

And as much as I’d like to think it was because our family is weary of fighting off Covid-19 and because layers of a loved one’s harmful stronghold keep unfolding. I’d like to think it was those—those “tough life circumstances.”

But if I search my heart, hard as those are, the real trigger is my sin within, my bad habits, my mental weeds. Self-pity is one. Comparing gifts—I’ll call it what it is, coveting—is another. These joy-killing natives in the land—these godless -ites—have have dwelt so long in my life that they dislike being dislodged.

They’re stubborn. The roots are deep. They go way back.

Back to the dejected five year-old hiding in Grandma Wustmann’s dark coat closet because she felt slighted by an aunt. Back to the eight year-old crying bitter tears because my up-north cousins go to Grandma Considine’s overnight grandma parties and again when my best friend Jane got a pool. Way back.

My sins are ever before me. They tell me that I need to be satisfied in God, that I need salvation’s joy restored (Psalm 51:10-12). But why should these enemies, these weeds, leave their dwelling-place?

After all, like the Canaanites in Promised Land- they were in the land first.

What Are Your Evil -ITES?

Do you know about the evil -ites? They’re the natives in the land; the enemies God’s people faced when they finally entered the Promised Land. God made it clear that Joshua was to destroy them and drive them out.

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Deuteronomy 7:1-2

Why so severe?

God made that clear too. Because coexisting with Canaanites leads to compromise, “for that shall be a snare to you” (Deut. 7:16, also 7:17-26). That’s why this Canaanite must be conquered. The Canaanites were real godless people who lived in a real godless place. They were not an ignorant, innocent people.

To escape the evil, corrupting Canaanite influence, God told the Israelites to destroy them and drive them out.

But I think the -ites also represent our besetting sins, the sins that “cling so closely.” I mentioned a couple of my evil -ites, coveting and sullen self-pity.

They’re pesky and persistent—these “Canaanites.”

This Canaanite Must Be Conquered

But God commands us to deal with them the same way he commanded the Israelites to deal with the evil, godless -ites. “Let not sin reign in your mortal bodies…For sin shall not have dominion over you,” wrote the Apostle Paul.

Do you see how the imperative—let not sin reign— is grounded on the indicative—for sin shall not have dominion. This means that when God gives us a command to do, it’s rooted in what He has already done.

Christ has already set us free from sin’s ruling power (Romans 6:2,14,22). His death on the cross has already disarmed evil rulers (Colossians 2:13-15). What’s more, the Holy Spirit is ready to war against the sinful desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:17).

Which means, “The hasty temper [or the self-pitying, melancholic temper] may be natural to you: but seeing that your position is Christ is supernatural, this Canaanite must be conquered,” F.B. Meyer declares. “Talk no more of these Canaanites who would stay in the land; but say of the blessed Spirit, ‘He is well able to drive them out.‘”

If, by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body, we will live (Romans 8:13). We are well able to drive them out, to uproot our weeds.

Weeds—and -ITES—Have No Rights

Sometimes, at the beginning of our Christian life, we make a feeble effort against them, and hope to cast them out; but they stubbornly resist, says Meyer. If conscience strikes, we reply, “Do not find fault; we couldn’t help it. These Canaanites are self-willed and persistent, they would dwell in the land.”

Meyer is referring to Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land, the land west of the Jordan. I just read about that in the book of Joshua and the start of Judges.

The book of Joshua opens with these words,

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

The book of Joshua is about how God was with Joshua on those conquests, gave victory over enemies, and gave Israel the Promised Land.

The Earth Is The LORD’S

Which means that their enemies had no right there. The rightful owner of the land, the Creator of the heavens and earth, had promised it to his people way, way back. In fact, hundreds and hundreds of years even before the Israelites were slaves in Egypt God promised this very land to Abraham.

For, “the earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). Which means the wicked -ites had no rights—no right to dwell in or to possess the Promised Land.

So too, our bad habits, our besetting sins, have no right to persist in our lives. We walk in newness of life.

These weeds have no right to grow in our united-with-Christ lives (Romans 6:1-11).

All Came To Pass

Because God keeps his promises. And He promised us his overcoming power. Remember 1 John 4:4, Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world?

God is greater than the enemy -ites. And He said if we obey, he’d drive out our enemies; and none of God’s good promises fail.

Not one.

These next few verses come near the end of the book of Joshua,

Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. Joshua 21:43-45

It is ours to obey, and not to make peace with the enemy (See Judges 2:2). The whole soil of our hearts has been made over to the Son of God, Meyer writes, and there should be no part left to weeds.

Where “COEXIST” Cannot Exist

Whatever you might think of the bumper sticker, it was impossible for Israel to coexist with the Canaanites and thrive. And it is impossible for known, unrepented sin to coexist with righteousness (Romans 6:15-23).

There can be no peace between you and Christ, C.H. Spurgeon said, while there is peace between you and sin.

Which means that I had to do some fighting with my self-pity, whose roots were deep in coveting a life and I don’t have, and deeper still in discontentment.

There can be no peace between you and Christ while there is peace between you and sin

C.H. Spurgeon

I must wield the sword of the Sprit—real gospel truth—against these Canaanites. Truth like, The vinedresser prunes branches that bear fruit and the Lord disciplines those he loves. Like, in everything give thanks and be content with what you have.

Because we cannot possess what we do not first dispossess. We cannot possess what someone else controls. If coveting rules my heart, the peace of Christ won’t. Those two can’t possibly coexist. Don’t you know, James asked, that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?

The Israelites could not possess that part of the land where they coexisted with the Canaanites, even if they “kept” Canaanites as slaves. Instead of destroying or driving them out as God had commanded, the Israelites allowed them to live in their midst.

But if they had the power to enslave the enemy, they had the power to drive them out. (More on that in Part II.)

Living With The Canaanites

Judges chapter one gives an account of the successes and failures of the Israelite tribes in “possessing” what had been “taken” under Joshua. Judah did okay, but the other tribes did not.

At first, the Canaanites are dwelling among the Israelites (1:21), but soon after we read that the Israelites were dwelling among the Canaanites (1:32-33).

Do you hear the difference?

In the beginning of the account in Judges 1, the Israelites are driving out the Canaanites while a few pesky Canaanites lived among them. Even the finest manicured lawns have a few, isolated bursts of April dandelion bloom.

But eventually the Israelites are either using the Canaanites as forced labor—trying to put sin to work for them—or even worse, living among the Canaanites. That’s the yard so emblazoned with dandelion weed, you barely see green.

Dandelions And Grass

Here’s the progression from a few dandelions in a sea of green to a splash of grass in a field of dandelions.

It’s in Judges chapter one,

27 Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages[…]for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. 28 When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely.

29 And Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them.

30 Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, or the inhabitants of Nahalol, so the Canaanites lived among them, but became subject to forced labor.

31 Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, 32 so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out.

33 Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, so they lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land…

34 The Amorites pressed the people of Dan back into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the plain.

The tribe of Dan didn’t even make it out of the hills. And so Israel failed to possess the land.

Not To Conquer Is To Be Conquered

Not to conquer your spiritual foes is to be conquered by them, A.R. Fausset warns. They will push the first advantage you give them over you, until step by step you are brought down from being their master, to become their dependent vassal.

We have all unconquered ‘Canaanites’ in our hearts. And friendship with the world is enmity toward God. We must be alert to our inward foes, whom we imagine we have “under control,” and so treat them leniently. Soul-foes like nursing a grudge, throwing a pity party, or maybe just “blowing off steam.”

But no. We can’t all just get along. These can’t righteously coexist.

Partial Obedience = Incomplete Victory = More Weeds

This was not a complete victory for God’s people. Despite the promise God made to give them the land and give the enemies into their hand, this is not that story. God had said to drive out these Canaanites. Israel was to get rid of them and then to dwell where they had dwelt. The tribes failed to drive them out.

There are things that God has told us to drive out of our lives. Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” In other words, fight your sin with urgency.

If your eye causes you to see, don’t look. If your foot causes you to sin, don’t go. If your hand causes you to sin, don’t do.

JOHN STOTT

Irish Pastor David Legge warns, Do not flirt with it! Do not allow it to take root! You see, if you do not obey God completely, only in a partial obedience, you will be conquered. If you do not conquer that sin, that sin will conquer you! 

I drive out the -ites in my mind. Sin has roots in thoughts. I must go deep to pull out weeds and plant that place with the excellent and praiseworthy.

Because gratitude and self-pity don’t coexist. Joyfully pressing on doesn’t dwell with discontentment. So I fought hard. I wrote thank you notes and sent I-care texts, and I thought on what is true. That’s how I took back the land.

Keep Up The Good Fight

I know I will have to keep up the fight because the Canaanites are persistent. But day by day, moment by moment, I can push them back. Because Christ died and rose again to give us His power to overcome.

So don’t make peace with sin. Don’t let the enemy possess the land. If you know it’s a sin, drive it out.

Don’t let the Canaanites dwell in your land.

When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land.

Judges 2:6

*Look for Part II of TAKE & POSSESS coming soon.

1 Question To Ask Yourself When Trials Come

Woman sitting in grass thinking of trials

My country girlfriend braved Chicago traffic last week. Because her husband’s cancer is still there, still growing. He’s barely 40 and his first brain surgery was ten years ago, before their youngest could even walk.

So off they drove to the big city to determine if he qualified for an experimental new treatment. But 48 hours after the consult, they got the call. He did not. A previous chemo disqualified him from this new drug.

When the Pillow of Providence Feels Hard

Our times are in his hand. I wrote about that sweet verse in Psalm 31 two posts ago. Believing this in one thing. Resting on it is quite another.

Resting on the soft pillow of providence can happen at night, but it doesn’t happen overnight.

I still don’t always, but day by day, through Spirit power, I am training myself to not just trust, but to rest in God’s providential hand. I’m slowly learning to ask myself this one good question, “What good and wise thing is the God who loves me doing in what doesn’t seem good and wise?”

“What good and wise thing is the God who loves me doing in what doesn’t seem good and wise?”

PAUL TRIPP

I won’t always know the answer. But it builds my faith to ask.

My Trials Are Because He Remembers

Paul Tripp’s devotions have a way of convicting and encouraging me in one fell swoop. This one from NEW MORNING MERCIES nails my little faith and helps me replace it with bigger trust when I face trials.

From day one, God has clearly communicated his zeal to us. It is his purpose that, by the means of rescuing, forgiving, transforming grace, we would be brought into relationship with him, and in the context of that relationship, be fully molded into the image of his Son. He has never promised us that he will deliver to us our personal definition of the good life. Rather he has promised that he will use all the tools at his disposal to complete the work of redemption that he has begun in our hearts and lives. He has not been unfaithful. He has kept every one of his promises He will do what he said. 

Our problem is that we tend to be unfaithful to his holy agenda and get kidnapped by our plans for us and our dreams for our lives. The trials in our lives exist not because he has forgotten us, but because he remembers us and is changing us by his grace. When you remember that, you can have joy in the middle of what is uncomfortable. 

This truth helps me retrain my brain to reframe my discomfort and pain. It helped my friend and her husband do the same: the white-knuckle drive to Chicago, the medical tests, and the rejection to the clinical trial. She texted, “We thank God for guiding us. He is with us. Even in this ‘no’.” He is changing us by his grace.

Truth is, it’s only when we remember this that our little, light and momentary trials bring joy. Because God loves us and wants us to endure and mature and be changed. Because he is good.

Sometimes he guides his children with “no’s.” But he always follows them with goodness and mercy.

Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

James 1:2-