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

Why He Wrote Is Why I Write: Patrick’s Confession

Ireland, Patrick's Confession, Cliffs of Moher

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I’m not sure if Patrick’s heart swelled like mine did at the sight of Cliffs of Moher, but I do know a few things that made both our hearts beat fast.

If you’ve followed JoyPro across the March 17th’s, you know that I’m quite taken with the “rustic” Saint. First, a quick recap then two more reasons why.

Making Patrick’s Confession Mine

Last year, I wove Covid-19 into the Patrick post. As I wrote, my acquaintance was Covid was five-days old. It feels strange looking back.

Then, a couple years back, I told you about his grateful side. Before that, I shared my own confession about a selfish choice to climb Croagh Patrick alone. Along came 5 Reasons Why Saint Patrick Is My Homeboy, and one more sun-loving reason Patrick is a kindred soul.

This year I connected with two more of Patrick’s Confessions. For the uninitiated, Patrick lived in the 400’s AD and has two surviving writings, the Letter to Coroticus and and his Confession. (Read the Confession here, in English—or Gaelic—for free!)

On St. Patrick’s Eve I’ve made it my practice to read the Confession. Each time, I find more to make mine.

Confession 6

First, is Patrick’s Confession 6. It’s the reason Patrick wrote and the reason I write.

Although I am imperfect in many ways, I want my brothers and relations to know what I’m really like, so that they can see what it is that inspires my life.

That’s why. I want to be real and vulnerable enough in the blog that you get a sense of what I’m really like, not because I’m worthy of your time, but so that you can “see what it is that inspires my life.” In other words, I want to make God look big.

I want you to know me, my struggles and failures, my disappointments and temptations enough so that when see my press on with some measure of joy, you know who alone is behind that.

Which brings us to that other connection I have with Patrick.

Confession 30

It’s all about strength. Confession 30 is another way to say what Confession 6 said. Because what “inspires me” is what empowers me and makes me strong.

For that reason, I give thanks to the one who strengthened me in all things so that he would not impede me in the course I had undertaken and from the works also which I had learned from Christ my Lord. Rather, I sensed in myself no little strength from him, and my faith passed the test before God and people.

Patrick knew God’s strength when he risked his life over and over to preach the Gospel in Ireland—the very land where he’d once been enslaved. He felt it when he dealt with the hurt of his “very dear friend” sharing decades old dirt (See Confession 32). Patrick wrote his Confession so that his readers would know the source of that strength.

That’s also why I write. I write because I sense “no little strength” from Christ. Any act of forgiveness or repentance, any evidence endurance or love is through “no little strength” from Christ. I want you, kind reader, to feel it in your life too.

Let’s celebrate today. Because Patrick knew what Paul knew and what you know and I know. He knew what all of us saints know.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

-Paul, in Philippians 4:13

4 Questions To Help Identify (Your) Idols

Polar Plunge Women in icy water

Idols? What idols? And why would you want to identify your idols? After all, asking these questions is like plunging into Lake Michigan on February 1st.

Exposure stings. It’s painful in the moment, but— my Polar Plunging niece tells me—you’re glad you did it once it’s done.

Exposing our idols at once stings and bites and cleanses and invigorates.

What is an idol?

I’ll borrow from Brad Bigney, since he wrote the idols book my girlfriends are studying with me.

An idol is anything or anyone that captures our hearts, minds, and affections more than God.

Brad Bigney, Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel with Hidden Idols

In other words, when I fear or seek anyone or anything more than Jesus Christ, it’s an idol. And worshiping idols is a fool thing to do.

Because idol worship is a self-injurious, double sin. In Jeremiah 2:13, God explains how,

My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

Whenever we look to things other than God to meet our desires— even perfectly legitimate desires for gifts like health and happiness or security and peace— we have become idolaters. Period.

Because God is the Giver of all good gifts. When we turn a good thing—whether health or helping, our children or friends— into an ultimate thing, it’s become an idol. Paul David Tripp asks, Could it be that desire for a good thing has become a bad thing because that desire has become a ruling thing?

3 Reasons Idol Worship Matters

  1. Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them (Jonah 2:8). That’s why idolatry matters. God gives special grace to the humble, to those who fear him, to those who seek his face. By idol worshipers forfeit that special grace that could be theirs.
  2. They pursued worthless idols and themselves became worthless (2 Kings 17:15b). That’s another reason your idol worship matters. Because we become what we behold. When we look on Jesus, we are transformed to his image, from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). But when we pursue drivel, our souls shrivel.
  3. When any of the Israelites or any foreigner residing in Israel separate themselves from me and set up idols in their hearts...I the Lord will answer them myself. I will set my face against them (Ezekiel 14:7-8). That’s the big gun. God does not share his glory with others or share his praise with idols (Isaiah 42:8). In shorts, if you set up an idol in your heart, God will set his face against you.

Clinging and pursuing and setting up idols sounds a lot like slavery. Timothy Keller has written, An idolatrous attachment can lead you to break any promise, rationalize any indiscretion, or betray any other allegiance, in order to hold on to it. It may drive you to violate all good and proper boundaries. To practice idolatry is to be a slave.

I told you. It would feel like a cold shower. So get your towel out. In we go.

4 Questions To Identify Your Idols

But first, have you noticed how it’s so much easier to spot other people’s idols than our own? I can see a friend with a security idol a mile away—the anxiety, the refusal to risk, the control. And an approval idol—I can spot that one from two miles away. But I can be a bit blind to my own.

So it follows that others might see my idols more clearly than me.

That’s where the questions come in to play. But my Thursday morning girlfriends and I are serious about rooting out our idols. We’ve taken the stinging, invigorating, cleansing plunge. You are absolutely right—this is not for the faint of heart.

Because most of us are a little too defensive. We’re a little too tightly wound to receive criticism aright. We want answers for our troubles, but we can’t handle the truth.

Are you ready? Brace yourself. Then humble yourself and invite a spouse or a close friend to speak into your life.

Ask:

  1. What do you see me running to instead of God?
  2. Where do you see a demanding spirit in me?
  3. What do you see me clinging to and craving more than God?
  4. Where do you see me wanting something so badly that I’m willing to sin to get it or sin if I think I’ll lose it?

An Idol Revealed

I was feeling strong the night I posed those four to Jim, and he didn’t hesitate. His answers were stinging and cleansing at once. But none was a shock. I’ll spare you most of the sordid detail, I will confess to you that Jim’s answer to #4 was <gulp> “writing.” Which, I’m aware, goes deeper to a root of influence and pride. I like to feel esteemed. Not always and in every way, but sometimes and most every day.

I am guilty as charged: I have sinned to get my writing in. Namely, I may ignore the family around, or I may stay up too late—it’s 10:37 pm as I type—and wake up grumpy and get myself sick, both of which are unloving to those around me. Or I may be tempted to use work time for writing, which is stealing. And if, after I’ve poured heart and soul into it, my writing goes is unread and ignored I may commit the twin sins of envy and self-pity.

2 Ways To Guard Yourselves From Idols

It’s not quite Whac-A-Mole, but my idols keep popping up.

Seeing as, “Man’s nature…is a perpetual factory of idols” (John Calvin), my first tear-down technique is to realize that the fight won’t be over till glory. Bigney calls this a “wartime mentality.” Galatians 5:17 is true: For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want to do. That is as true for me today as it was 20 years ago and will be 20 years from now.

The second idol-destroying strategy is to seek Jesus. I seek Him in his Word, and I seek him in the wisdom of the saints. As Bigney notes, “Reading the Bible keeps you honest, because you don’t just read the Bible—the Bible reads you.” It exposes us—Polar Plunge style sometimes—but the more time we spend with Him in his Word, the smaller our idols will be and easier to uproot. But, adds Tullian Tchividjian explains, If you uproot the idol, but fail to plant the love of Christ in its place, the idol will grow back.

That’s it: be on guard, and know Jesus. And follow him. Obey his Word. That will starve those idols out.

For me and my writing (and respect) idol, it meant no JoyPrO post last week. It meant delaying this post to play Euchre and watch a movie with the boys last night. And every single day, by grace, it means that I won’t open the laptop to write or head to Facebook to post if I haven’t sought God in His Word first.

Knowing Jesus Christ will keep us from idols. Or, as Elisabeth Elliot wrote, When God is first in our hearts, all other loves are in order and find their rightful place. And a cold plunge can be a rousing way to expose those other loves.

Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

1 John 5:21

Bonus: 10 Probing Idol Worship Quotes

1. “Thus it is that we always pay dearly for chasing after what is cheap.” –Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

2. “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God, your functional savior. ” –Martin Luther

3. “Saint Augustine defined idolatry as worshiping what should be used or using what should be worshiped.” –Colin S. Smith

4. “If we make an idol of any creature, wealth, or pleasure, or honour – if we place our happiness in it, and promise ourselves the comfort and satisfaction in it which are to be had in God only – if we make it our joy and love, our hope and confidence, we shall find it a cistern, which we take a great deal of pains to hew out and fill, and at the best it will hold but a little water, and that dead and flat, and soon corrupting and becoming nauseous (Jer. 2:23).” -C.H. Spurgeon

5. “What are you really living for? It’s crucial to realize that you either glorify God, or you glorify something or someone else. You’re always making something look big. If you don’t glorify God when you’re involved in a conflict, you inevitably show that someone or something else rules your heart.” –Ken Sande

6. “The most dangerous mistake that our souls are capable of, is, to take the creature for God, and earth for heaven.” –Richard Baxter

7. “Our culture says ‘live your dream,’ but God calls you to place your dream on His altar and to keep it there at all times. It is good to have hopes and dreams for the future, but we have no rights. There are no certainties. Any dream can become an idol and, if it does, God will bring it down.” –Colin S. Smith

8. “When anything in life is an absolute requirement for your happiness and self-worth, it is essentially an ‘idol,’ something you are actually worshipping. When such a thing is threatened, your anger is absolute. Your anger is actually the way the idol keeps you in its service, in its chains. Therefore if you find that, despite all the efforts to forgive, your anger and bitterness cannot subside, you may need to look deeper and ask, ‘What am I defending? What is so important that I cannot live without?’ It may be that, until some inordinate desire is identified and confronted, you will not be able to master your anger.” -Timothy Keller

9. “When human beings give their heartfelt allegiance to and worship that which is not God, they progressively cease to reflect the image of God. One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only to the object itself but also outward to the world around.

Those who worship money increasingly define themselves in terms of it and increasingly treat other people as creditors, debtors, partners, or customers rather than as human beings. People who worship sex define themselves in terms of it (their preferences, their practices, their past histories) and increasingly treat other people as actual or potential sex objects. Those who worship power define themselves in terms of it and treat other people as either collaborators, competitors, or pawns. These and many other forms of idolatry combine in a thousand ways, all of them damaging to the image-bearing quality of the people concerned and of those whose lives they touch.” -N.T. Wright

10. “The bottle of the creature cracks and dries up, but the well of the Creator never fails; happy is he who dwells at the well.” -C.H. Spurgeon

Not Exceptional Things, Exceptional In Ordinary Things.

Cold Shower

Sometimes I just shake my head and laugh. At myself. I think yesterday the good Lord may have had a little chuckle too.

Because I have this uncanny knack for acting as if doing big, grand things are no big deal. As if–my latest grandiose conception–adopting teen siblings is no big deal. As if we could pull that off like we pull off hosting a birthday party.

As if.

[7/21/20 Happy Update: These siblings were adopted one year after the original post by a loving Wisconsin couple.]

Big And Small Things, Upside-Down

That I could embrace something as life-changing as the thought of taking two children into our family for life and in the same 24 hours balk at taking one needy young man into our van for two hours may be comical. It is, for sure, inconsistent and upside-down.

And balk I did when the doorbell ring at 8:15 on Saturday morning. I was eager for a mother-son date with Gabe after his game. I resented this surprise arrival.

That’s upside-down: embracing the big and grand and tripping over the little and mundane.

But we know it’s the small things- thoughts and acts- that form habits and character. And if you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength. But we are those who rejoice in the day of small things.

Still, some of us would polar plunge into Lake Michigan for any number of reasons, but can keep we our tongues from grumbling when the shower suddenly goes cold?

Now that’s hard.

Choosing What We Did Not Choose

It might have something to do with choice. Chafing at the little stuff while embracing the big things might have something to do with our struggle to choose what we did not choose.

When we decide on a life-changing course of action and we decide to take the plunge, well- that’s different from when God decides a thing for us. Like, say, when he says be kind and take the kid who needs a ride and do all things– including taking a cold shower- without grumbling or complaining

Maybe little things are so hard because they weren’t in our master plan. Because who chooses a cold shower in February in Wisconsin?

Or maybe we just prefer the drama.

He Would Have Done Any Great Thing

While I was laughing at my own inconsistency, Naaman popped to mind. His story is recorded in 2 Kings 5. Naaman was commander of the Syrian army. When he contracted leprosy, he sought help from Elisha, the famed healer and prophet of God.

Elisha’s prescription was not grand. So it’s no wonder proud Naaman didn’t like it: Go wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored, Elisha’s messenger said.

The muddy, little Jordan River, Naaman thought then ran off in a rage.

Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not the Abana and Pharpar the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?

Naaman expected the exceptional and desired a grand cure– like the mighty prophet working his wonders and waving his hands. Washing in the dinky, little muddy river was demeaning. So Naaman wanted nothing to do with Elisha.

He would have done any great thing to be cured. Naaman had already traveled miles and miles and offered a vast treasure.

But a commonplace, mundane cure? Never. 

Supernatural Grace (for the Mundane)

Maybe Oswald Chambers felt this strange inversion in himself, too. Maybe he know what it was to embrace a great cause and balk at the everyday.

Maybe he shared the impulsive boldness that I share with Naaman and with Peter, I’ll-die-with-you-after-I-deny-you Peter, too. Big-talking, water-walking Peter, who had grand ideas but stumbled on the mundane.

In “Impulsiveness Or Discipleship?” Chambers explains,

Discipleship is built entirely on the supernatural grace of God. Walking on water is easy to someone with impulsive boldness, but walking on dry land as a disciple of Jesus Christ is something altogether different. Peter walked on the water to go to Jesus, but he “followed Him at a distance” on dry land (Mark 14:54)…

It does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours of every day as a saint, going through drudgery, and living an ordinary, unnoticed, and ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus. It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God- but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people- and this is not learned in five minutes.

Disciples of Christ aim to be exceptional in the ordinary and love the ones they’re with.

Loving Our Neighbor Is Harder

Our duty is to love our neighbor not the mass of nameless humanity. GK Chesterton nails that: We have to love our neighbour because he is here… He is the sample of humanity which is actually given to us. 

My heart had grand adoption plans. If God had made it clear us that we’re to adopt the siblings, I’d do that big thing in a heartbeat.

But when the doorbell rang at 8 AM it wasn’t an “if”. It was God’s clear call for me to forgo my plan and love this little 5th-grade “neighbor.” He was here. 

We don’t have to do exceptional things for God, we have to be exceptional–and I take that for faithful and obedient–among ordinary 10-year-old boys.

That’s hard. Learning to live in that supernatural grace is not learned in five minutes.

“If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.

1 John 4:20

Do ordinary things with extraordinary love.

Mother Teresa