a breakthrough into trust

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

Proverbs 3

If you know me well, then you would know I’ve had a struggle most all of my Christian life over trusting in God completely. Actually I would have not thought so during most of that time. I would have rationalized, or misunderstood my struggle as doing what I have to do to be responsible to fulfill my duty. Of course I’m not talking about perfect trust, which surely won’t be arrived at in this life. But a substantial trust, by which one really does cast one’s cares and life, and indeed all of life with the cares and concerns over others on the Lord.

For me it was over a matter that in no way I could fix, and seemed a point of danger. Either I could continue my own way and do what would be difficult to do, and in the end probably not foolproof (what is in this life?), or I could do what makes no sense to me.

The real tipping point for me was the experience of a debilitating fear which all but crushed me. Actually I had learned over the years, over the decades even, to go on with that, even though it most certainly hampered me. And a number of times in answer to prayer it was overcome through the Lord’s grace. But that is where I essentially lived.

A key verse in all of this for me is found in 1 John 4:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

This is a beautiful passage, and should be seen in context along with other passages in scripture which make it clear that being God’s children and living in fear are not compatible. Of course I don’t mean the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of knowledge: a right appreciation for who God is in his otherness. But that’s never separated from the love God is, either, though that love is not accepted by us in our sin.

But for years and years I struggled off and on, and to some degree mostly on over this sense of dread. I knew in my head one thing, but my heart failed to follow. So during short experiences when my heart did know something of that rest, it was exhilarating, and indeed intoxicating. But then would come the inevitable descent back into “reality,” and the ongoing struggle of all of that.

Am I home free now on this issue? No. I don’t think so. Ask me a year from now, if I’m still around and the Lord tarries. A time ago I seemed to enter into this breakthrough, but then fell back through some voice in my head which seemed to be my own mind. In carefully evaluating it, it was accusatory in nature, a sure sign that it was not from God. I descended into something which seemed all the worse.

Finally in desperation I was crying out to God. And a thought came to me: What if I simply trust God by letting God lead me. And such leading would be in a peace, a sense of what I should and should not do. As I recall I went to bed with that thought on my mind, woke up and yesterday morning wrote this post, went to work, and gradually seemed to enter into this rest. And by God’s grace I’ve remained in that place of imperfectly fully trusting in God, and not in myself. By the way, the Proverbs 3:5-6 passage quoted above came to me with a renewed emphasis a couple years or so back, as if God wanted to impress me with the importance of that passage for me. I included what follows because to so trust God even helps me physically, certainly impacting the emotions for good.

Does that mean I’m on top of the world now, and not down? No, no way. I’ve already experienced being down over an issue in the world and most importantly in the church. And I’ll be down at times over my own problems, as well. And does this mean that it’s now automatic, that I will continue on in this new way? No, absolutely not. I must continue to trust with the new challenges that come, big and small. And learn to walk in this way more and more. With others in and through Jesus.

 

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the fear of the Lord providing security

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress,
    and for their children it will be a refuge.

Proverbs 14:26

The fear of the Lord is called the beginning of knowledge and wisdom, referring to something of an inside understanding from God. There is certainly a reverential awe with surely a sense of wonder. But never a cowering fear. Through Jesus we know God as a loving Father, whose love knows no bounds (see Jesus’s parable of the Prodigal Son, which also could aptly be called the Prodigal Father). But this God who is love is still God.

This fear of God paradoxically makes one secure, in a sense fearing nothing. We read in 1 John that there is no fear in love, that perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with judgment. Although we know that in ourselves we are unworthy, yet living in the fear of God and what he has provided for us in Jesus gives us a security that is not only like being a part of the family, but actually is. Somehow, in whatever way this might best be expressed, and probably in a number of ways, we find security, or a fortress of safety in fearing the Lord, and best of all along with that, this is a refuge for our children. They too can find it, as we live in it. A wonderful reality for us all, in and through Jesus.

the perfect love which casts out fear

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

What is the perfect love which casts out fear? From the text and context it is clear: God’s love found in the God who is love. It is relational to its core. One could well argue theologically that God being love hints to the triunity of God: the Father, the Son and the Spirit living in communal love. And that humans in and through Jesus are taken up into that same love, experiencing it with God and with each other.

The problem stated in the text is the fear that comes with a sense of punishment. It is a dread of condemnation. In the letter we read that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and we read how we are to deal with sins in our lives. As well as the teaching that our lives are not to be characterized by sin, but rather by righteousness. Sometimes we might feel trapped by sin in our own lives, or at least just as likely, that we are cornered for some reason in a no-win situation. We may well be off the mark in our thinking, but on the other hand, we may know full well that we are undeserving, that we do fall short. We really can’t be the judges of ourselves, only God can judge and convict us by his Spirit through his Word. I struggle with this concept because though I believe it is true, and that God is the one who searches and knows us through and through, I also don’t think we need to wait for some big conviction from God when we know we’ve done wrong. We need to confess it to God, and to the offended person, and go on, knowing we’re forgiven in and through Christ.

The perfect love which drives out fear is to be experienced in our lives fully, because Jesus took the condemnation for our sins upon himself in his death for us. And because God works this love into our hearts and lives by the Spirit. We indeed are to experience it.

Does this experience have to be overwhelming? No, although it is fine if we experience mountain peaks as it were, when God’s love is particularly felt. But most of life is lived in the valleys. It is in those places, even in the lower places where we need to learn to live with a settled sense of God’s perfect love for us in and through Jesus. A love which is not dependent on us, our circumstances, even our faithfulness. At the same time a love in which we are to live in the sense of response which brings change into our lives. As the text says, “made perfect in love.” And notice too that this is communal:

This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.

The NIV takes the singular masculine pronoun literally translated, “he,” and interprets that to mean Jesus. In context, it could mean Jesus, or God. I might lean toward the interpretation made by the NIV (see also NLT). The point is our identity in this world. God in and through Jesus has identified himself with us, and we are to live as those identified with God in and through Christ. Through Christ judgment is taken care of.

And so we we live as those who are forgiven in Christ in and through his blood, his death, as we walk in the light as he is in the light, and thus experience cleansing from sin and fellowship with each other. This is the perfect love in which fear will not only be diminished, but cast out. A love in which we are to live together in Jesus and for the world.