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

Rough Day? Rest on the Pillow of Providence

Child sleep on pillow of providence

We hit a new low. We’ve had bad weeks in our house before, but this week’s behavior borders on criminal. Still, there’s a reason this blog is called JoyfullyPressingOn. My times are in his hands; every jaw-dropping event in his providence.

To protect the guilty one I love, I won’t share details. But trust me, if I told you, your jaw would drop too. You’d ask, “What are doing about that?”

So why do I disclose this much?

Because I know that some of you are facing tough stuff too—that kind that keeps you tossing and turning at night. Please don’t hear me this as a brag on me, because I’m boasting in the grace of God: I slept like a baby last night.

Because I’ve got a stellar pillow.

When It’s Hard To Sleep

Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. Psalm 31:9

The events of the week could have made it hard to sleep. And they’re just the tip of the iceberg.

What happened this week marks not months but years of prayers answered with Not yet, if not No. That answer, this waiting, these events could make it hard for a mom to sleep.

At least, without the right pillow.

But too many nights tossing and turning on too-soft and too-firm foreign pillows have taught me. When I travel, I take my pillow. The extra space it takes to bring my just-right pillow is well worth it.

That pillow helps me sleep in all sorts of strange beds and new places.

Providence Is A Soft Pillow

I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8

But when I put my head on that pillow and catastrophic, hopeless thoughts still swirl, I need another pillow. Because uncertainty should not be the occasion of panic. Alistair Begg says, The only thing you can put your head on is the providence of God. Then you go to sleep.

Providence is a soft pillow for anxious heads.

Quoted by C.H. Spurgeon

The Puritans said, “Providence is a soft pillow for anxious heads.” And some of us are terribly anxious about the uncertainty we face. We are not trusting our unknown futures to a known God who knows the future. And we are not alone.

Begg confides,

Most of the occasions of my worrying, most of the occasions of my rising fears can be traced ultimately to a loss of confidence in the doctrine of providence—can be traced to the fact that I am prepared to say, “My times are in your hands,” but I’m not prepared to live in the light of that truth.

Joyfully pressing on means living in light of that truth. It means that even though I have no idea how this today’s event will unfold and if the heart will untwist, I will trust. In peace, I will both lie down and sleep.

Because I sleep on the soft pillow of providence.

My Times Are In Your Hands

But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand… Psalm 31:14-15a

My old theology text books defines providence as the “continued exercise of [God’s] divine energy whereby the Creator preserves all of His creatures, is operative in all that comes to pass in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end.”

Unpacked: Providence means God is guiding all the events of the world including those in your life. In other words, your times are in his hands.

Some of you know I’m working on a book about meekness. Here’s a little secret: The meek know how to sleep. They have a heightened sense of God’s providence. They carry this pillow everywhere. On it they rest their heads.

And as they doze off, you might hear them pray, “My times are in your hand.”

Asleep in the Storm Like Jesus

And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the back of the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow. Mark 4:37-38a

As I was writing this, it hit me. Jesus had a pillow too. His head was on it that evening he slept in the stern of the boat on the stormy sea. But his disciples then, like his disciples now, had trust issues. They got anxious.

Remember what they did? They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?” 

For Jesus, Mark tells us, was in the back of the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow. Yes, a pillow. The very same pillow, in fact, that you and I can sleep on—the soft pillow of providence. The pillow that helps me sleep in the midst of the storms in my home is the same pillow that Jesus lay his head on in the storm-tossed boat.

Into Your Hand

Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God. Psalm 31:5

How do I know? Well, it goes back to Psalm 31. A few verses before David prayed, My time are in your hand, he prayed:

Into your hand I commit my spirit.

I doubt Jesus prayed that on the boat. But great David’s greater Son did pray it in the most stressful of all times, ever.

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said,  “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.

Luke 23:44-46, ESV

Ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries; the highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it, John Calvin said.

I did not sleep well this week because I know how this chapter ends. I only slept well because of my pillow.

Because I trust my loving Father knows best.

MLK on Engaging Suffering and Unearned Pain

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Did you remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today?

Maybe you liked some MLK quotes on Facebook. I did that. Then I enjoyed King’s voice in his Mountaintop speech (“Only when it’s dark enough can you see the stars.”) and these voices singing We Shall Overcome. After that I took notes on this podcast. In it, author Collin Hansen interviews Mika Edmondson on how King handled “unearned pain.”

The podcast is a gem for all of us who face “unearned pain.”

For all of us.

Hansen: How did King account for this suffering that he pursued but did not deserve?

Edmundson: He believed that it could be engaged for good. Suffering is an evil that can be engaged in such a way so that the Lord could work to bring about his good purposes. It must be engaged with love. Then it can be redemptive. The Messiah did not revile when he was reviled.

MLK grappled with the question of why an all-good, all-powerful God would allow African-Americans to suffer so much in America…He believed that Jesus showed the way to engage suffering redemptively, and that God had especially and providentially prepared African-Americans to bear suffering as a witness to the overcoming power of the Gospel in America and as a witness of what the Gospel is and can be…

God has a purpose in allowing his people to engage suffering to the glory of God. This is not to say suffering is good or that somehow God smiled about slavery. I am not saying that at all. It is a terrible, horrible thing and yet God is sovereignly and graciously able to uphold his people so that their oppression does not have the final say; just like at the cross, where injustice and the worst oppression coming upon the Messiah.

But the Resurrection proves that oppression and injustice do not have the final say.

Hansen: Why didn’t this view lead to passivity?

Edmundson: King’s theodicy [his answer to the question of why a good, powerful God allows suffering] did not lead to passivity because he understood that God works through means. He knew that God works through the faith and energy and efforts of God’s people. We don’t just sit and wait passively for the Lord to bring this about. He will bring it about through his people.

King understood divine concurrence: that we can be at work and at the same time God is at work. Christianity holds out for us hope…that even if we don’t win in our lifetime, we will win. Even if we don’t see the ultimate victory, we know we are part of the winning cause…. There’s something about being a part of a hopeful cause that goes beyond ourselves.

Jesus did not shrink back, nor did he respond with violence. His life was not taken from him.

Martin Luther King, Jr. redemptively engaged in suffering to the glory of God. Responding ‘agapically’ to unjust suffering is… identifying with Christ and knowing that he is at work and that ultimately we will have victory. It does not guarantee physical safety or financial success, but neither does the Gospel.

Hansen: As a black man, what does it mean to trust the Lord through your tears?

Edmundson: It means that Christ will not allow me to suffer in vain and…that everything that he allows to come my way has a redemptive purpose around it. It means ultimately I am swept up in his purpose and I’m swept up in his victory and it means that I have hope.

Practically, it means that there is there is no room for despair and no room for bitterness and hatred. It means that I am not ultimately defined by my oppression but I am defined by Christ’s victory and by his victory in and through me to overcome the instances of suffering that come my way.

King’s theodicy affirms the dignity of those in the crucible of oppression. They are not just victims, they are overcomers

For everyone born of God overcomes the world.

This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.

1 John 5:4

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:21

No Shadow Goodness

There was a strange moon over our house last week.

What I mean is that the dark side and light side got mixed up. There was a weird shadow on right side.  The dark side-  to my non-astronomic mind, anyway,- was the wrong side. I’m sure there was a perfectly sensible reason for that odd lunar light. Something about the northern regions and Third Quarter.

But mostly the shifting  shadows on the moon last week lit up  truths about dark and light and good. Big truths to chew on.

Our Dark Sides

They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good. Psalm 14:1b

We’re all shadowy souls, we are. We’re all Two Faced. As much as we wish it weren’t so, we resemble Jerry Seinfeld’s ugly/pretty date.  While we look lovely sometimes, we don’t look good at all in some light.

A unique mix of good, bad and ugly- we all cast shadows. Depending on the lighting- the context and the temptation-  we look ugly. We have our dark sides. Lots of times they’re thee flip sides of our good sides.

Take, for example, those lavish, generous souls. The ones who never come empty-handed and always give those above-and-beyond sort of gifts?  Even those dear souls cast shadows. On the other side you might find self-indulgence or insecurity or gross disorganization. Shadows of the good.

Or take those faithful, self-disciplined types. You know the type-A’s who never forget your birthday and seldom drop the ball? I know some.  They’ve got shadow issues too. Those kind can tend toward impatience and harshness and the self-pity form of pride. Ugly sides.

We all have both sides. I know I do. Even the kindest and most compassionate among us cast shadows.  Some more, some less- because none of us is all good or all bad. We’re all a mix: gray or plaid.

Except One

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”  Mark 10:18

Remember that line?  It was a sort of avant-garde reply to man’s straightforward question. The point: No amount of good works will earn you eternal life. Because only One is truly good.

A.W. Pink explains,

There is such an absolute perfection in God’s nature and being that nothing is wanting to it or defective in it, and nothing can be added to it to make it better. ‘He is originally good, good of Himself, which nothing else is; for all creatures are good only by participation and communication from God. He is essentially good; not only good, but goodness itself: the creature’s good is a super-added quality, in God it is His essence. He is infinitely good; the creature’s good is but a drop, but in God there is an infinite ocean or gathering together of good. He is eternally and immutably good, for He cannot be less good than He is; as there can be no addition made to Him, so no subtraction from Him’ (Thomas Manton). God is summum bonum, the highest good. (The Attributes of God, p. 52)

Eternally, unchanging, completely good. He is good and he does good.

The Sum Total

You are good and you do good; teach me your decrees. Psalm 119:68

One of our family’s go-to, old-school prayers is one by Dr. Watts. It begins this way:

ALMIGHTY God the Maker of every thing in Heaven and Earth; the Darkness goes away, and the Day light comes at your Command. You are good and do good always. 

That first line is often on my mind. It anchors me. It’s a refuge for times when men fail me and for times when I realize how I fail them. You are good and do good always is a rock solid truth when darkness veils His lovely face.

God’s goodness might even be seen as the sum total of all God’s attributes. God’s goodness is all of his righteousness and glory and holiness and love is called goodness. God has no dark side. God is always, always, always good.

He is good and he does good and he gives good to his children: No good thing, wrote the Psalmist, does He withhold from those who walk uprightly (84:11).

But it doesn’t always seem that way.

Not Your Indulgent Grandpa

We get confused about God’s goodness and love.

By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness—the desire to see others than the self happy… What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’.  (C.S. Lewis. The Problem of Pain)

Is that what we really want?  An indulgent grandfather who lets us do as we please? Is that good?  

Or do we need to need to redefine good

Good To Be Near God

But as for me, it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works. Psalm 73:28

If you need to calibrate to real, biblical good, Psalm 73 is worth a study,  (This one is terrific.) In short, Asaph the Psalmist walks us through his seismic reorientation of what is truly good. He helps us redefine “good.” 

Pastor Bob Deffinbaugh explains,

In verse 1, “good” really meant the absence of pain, difficulty, trouble, sorrow, ill health, or poverty. In verse 28, “good” means something far better than physical prosperity: But as for me, the nearness of God is my good…

Nearness to God—intimate fellowship with God—is our highest good. We may say then that whatever interferes with our nearness to God, our fellowship with Him, is actually evil. And whatever draws us into a deeper fellowship with God is actually “good.” When God brings suffering and adversity into our lives, our confidence in His goodness should not be undermined. Instead, we should be reassured of His goodness to us. 

Which means, as Deffinbaugh says, we can’t separate God from good. We can’t have good without God. Or have God without good.  When we get this, David’s words in Psalm 16:2 will finally make sense.

“I say to the Lord you are my Lord and apart from you I have no good.

No Shifting Shadows

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:16-17

We’ve come full circle. Back to the weird moon shadows that first reminded me of this verse. James had just finished a discourse on being steadfast under trial and not letting temptation lead us astray. Including, I think, the temptation to doubt God’s goodness when we face trials of various kinds.

Then verse 16 where he bursts  in with “Don’t be deceived.” That’s transitional. James is saying, Don’t allow yourself to wallow in rebellious self-pity:  understand that God is good. When you feel abandoned and crushed, do not forget God’s goodness.

In so much of life, there is a dark side. In a message on James 1, D.A. Carson notes,

We see that when the light is brightest. It comes in on one side, but that means there is a shadow on the other side. So we look at people’s strengths. We say, “He is such an extrovert. He has such good people skills.  He can relate to others so well. Of course on the other side, he can be a bit bossy.” There’s a dark side to the light side.

Not so with God.

Eyes To See

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Psalm 107:1

There is no dark side to God. God is all good. There is no shadow. That is what the text says. Or, like we sing, There is no shadow of turning with Thee.

We are Seinfeld’s Two Faced girlfriend, shifting shadows on the moon. God is not. He is good. As Carson said, He is good-good. He’s good, good, good, good.

God’s goodness is a rock-solid foundation for our shifty-shadow, two face lives. It should shape our view of God and His dealings with us in this life. It is a lens through which to view every moment and event of our lives. Oh for grace to see God’s goodness.

Will you let Sarah Groves sing this blessed truth home?

May God give us eyes to see all that is good.

Oh, how abundant is your goodnesswhich you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you in the sight of the children of mankind! 

Psalm 31:19