Surrendering our lives to God is closely related to trusting God.
In my previous blog entry Surrender and Submission we looked at Surrendering and Submitting to God. I believe that to be truly able to surrender and submit to God we must also be able to trust God as completely as possible.
The following is a short summary of an excellent book on the subject titled "Trusting God" by Jerry Bridges. It has been a tremendous help for me.
Can You Trust God?
Can you trust God? The question itself has two possible meaning before we attempt to answer it. Can you trust God? In other words, is He dependable in times of adversity? But the second meaning is also critical: Can you trust God? Do you have such a relationship with God and such a confidence in Him that you believe He is with you in your adversity even though you do not see any evidence of His presence and His power?
Jerry Bridges, Trusting God. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2008), 4.
I realized anew that, just as we must learn to obey God one choice at a time, we must also learn to trust God one circumstance at a time. Trusting God is not a matter of my feelings but of my will. I never feel like trusting God when adversity strikes, but I can choose to do so even when I don't feel like it. That act of the will, though, must be based on belief, and belief must be based on truth.
The truth we must believe is that God is sovereign. He carries out His own good purposes without ever being thwarted, and He so directs and controls all events and all actions of His creatures that they never act outside of His sovereign will. We must believe this and cling to this in the face of adversity and tragedy, if we are to glorify God by trusting Him.
I will say this next statement as gently and compassionately as I know how. Our first priority in times of adversity is to honor and glorify God by trusting Him. We tend to make our first priority the gaining of relief from our feelings of heart- ache or disappointment or frustration. This is a natural desire, and God has promised to give us grace sufficient for our trials and peace for our anxieties (see 2 Corinthians 12:9; Philippians 4:6-7). But just as God's will is to take precedence over our will (in Matthew 26:39 Jesus Himself said, "Yet not as I will, but as you will"), so God's honor is to take precedence over our feelings. We honor God by choosing to trust Him when we don't understand what He is doing or why He has allowed some adverse circumstance to occur. As we seek God's glory, we may be sure that He has purposed our good and that He will not be frustrated in fulfilling that purpose.
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It is not only an irreverent act to question God's wisdom, it is also spiritually debilitating. We not only besmirch God's glory, we also deprive ourselves of the comfort and peace that comes by simply trusting Him without requiring an explanation. An unreserved trust of God, when we don't understand what is happening or why, is the only road to peace and comfort and joy. God wants us to honor Him by trusting Him, but He also desires that we experience the peace and joy that come as a result.
The psalmist said, "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you" (Psalm 119:11). To murmur against God and to question His goodness is indeed sin. We should work as diligently in trusting God's love as we do in obeying His commands. If we are going to trust God's love, we must store up in our hearts these great truths we have looked at in this chapter—God's love at Calvary, our union with Christ, and the sovereignty of God's love exercised on our behalf.
God's love is an objective truth that cannot be contradicted. But it is truth we must store away in our minds and hearts. Then we must use it in the midst of adversity to deal with our doubts, combat the accusations of Satan, and glorify God by trusting Him.
God’s unfailing love for us is an objective fact affirmed over and over in the Scriptures. It is true whether we believe it or not. Our doubts do not destroy God's love, nor does our faith create it. It originates in the very nature of God, who is love, and it flows to us through our union with His beloved Son.
But the experience of that love and the comfort it is intended to bring is dependent upon our believing the truth about God's love as it is revealed to us in the Scriptures. Doubts about God's love, allowed to harbor in our hearts, will surely deprive us of the comfort of His love. Nineteenth-century Scottish commentator John Brown has a helpful comment on this truth. He said,
The only way in which the "sufferings of the present time" may seem to come between the Christian and the love of God and Christ, is when he falls before them as a temptation, or in unbelief sinks under them. Then a cloud comes between him and the light of his Father s countenance. But the cloud is not the affliction, but the sin; and it is a merciful arrangement that it is so. The want of comfort tells him that something is wrong.4
God's guidance is almost always step-by-step; He does not show us our life's plan all at once. Sometimes our anxiousness to know the will of God comes from a desire to "peer over God's shoulder" to see what His plan is. What we need to do is learn to trust Him to guide us.
Of course, this does not mean that we put our minds into neutral and expect God to guide us in some mysterious way apart from hard and prayerful thinking on our part. It does mean, as Dr. James Packer has said, "God made us thinking beings, and he guides our minds as we think things out in his presence."5
You and I obviously do not seek out adversity just so we can develop a deeper relationship with God. Rather God, through adversity, seeks us out. It is God who draws us more and more into a deeper relationship with Him. If we are seeking Him, it is because He is seeking us. One of the strong cords with which He draws us into a more intimate, personal relationship with Him is adversity. If, instead of fighting God or doubting Him in times of adversity, we will seek to cooperate with God, we will find that we will be drawn into a deeper relationship with Him. We will come to know Him as Abraham and Job and David and Paul came to know Him.
Human means and instrumentalities can be depended upon only insofar as we recognize and honor God in them. Philip Bennett Power, a nineteenth-century Anglican minister, wrote, "We cannot expect God to prosper anything which intrudes itself into His place, and detracts from His honour. . . . [We must] make God the great object of our trust, even though the usual human instrumentality of help may he at hand."8
We should also keep in mind that God is able to work with or without human means. Though He most often uses them, He is not dependent upon them. Furthermore, He will frequently use some means altogether different from that which we would have expected. Sometimes our prayers for deliverance from some particular strait are accompanied by faith to the extent we can foresee some predictable means of deliverance. But God is not dependent upon means that we can foresee. In fact, it seems from experience that God delights to surprise us by His ways of deliverance to remind us that our trust must be in Him and Him alone.
Still another pitfall to trusting God, which we are prone to fall into, is to turn to God in trust in the greater crisis experiences of life while seeking to work through the minor difficulties ourselves. A disposition to trust in ourselves is part of our sinful nature. It sometimes takes a major crisis, or at least a moderate one, to turn us toward the Lord. A mark of Christian maturity is to continually trust the Lord in the minutiae of daily life. If we learn to trust God in the minor adversities, we will be better prepared to trust Him in the major ones.
… giving thanks in all circumstances is part of God's moral will for us, and thus is not an option to the one seeking to please and honor Him.
Thanksgiving in all circumstances, whether favorable or un-favorable, then, is another response to the trustworthiness of God. If we trust Him to work in all our circumstances for our good, then we should give Him thanks in all those circumstances—not thanksgiving for the evil considered in itself, but for the good that He will bring out of that evil through His sovereign wisdom and love.
Worship from the heart in times of adversity implies an attitude of humble acceptance on our part of God's right to do as He pleases in our lives. It is a frank acknowledgment that whatever we have at any given moment—health, position, wealth, or anything else we may cherish—is a gift from God's sovereign grace and may be taken away at His pleasure.
But God does not act toward us in bare sovereignty, wielding His power oppressively or tyrannically. God has already acted toward us in love, mercy, and grace, and He continues to act that way toward us as He works to conform us to the likeness of Christ.
As we bow in worship before His almighty power, we can also bow in confidence that He exercises that power for us, not against us. So we should bow in an attitude of humility, accepting His dealings in our lives, but we can also bow in love, knowing that those dealings, however severe and painful they may be, come from a wise and loving heavenly Father.
Humility should be both a response to adversity and a fruit of it. The apostle Paul was very clear that the primary purpose of his thorn in the flesh was to curb any tendency of pride in him. He said, "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me" (2 Corinthians 12:7). If Paul had a tendency to pride, surely we do also. Therefore, we can put it down as a principle: Whenever God blesses us in any way that might engender pride in us, He will along with the blessings give us a "thorn in the flesh" to oppose and undermine that pride. We will be made weak in some way through one or more adversities in order that we might recognize that our strength is in Him, not in ourselves.
We can choose how we will respond to such a thorn in the flesh. We can chafe under it, often for months or even years, or we can accept it from God, humbling ourselves under His mighty hand. When we truly humble ourselves before Him, we will in due time experience the sufficiency of His grace, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6).
Adversity often comes to us through the actions of other people. Sometimes those hurtful actions are deliberately directed at us. At other times we may be the victim of another person's irresponsible actions that, though not deliberately aimed at us, nevertheless affect us seriously. How are we to respond to those who are the instruments of our adversity? The answer, of course, is with love and forgiveness.
We should pray for deliverance, and we should learn to resist the attacks of Satan in the power of Jesus Christ. But we should always pray in the attitude of humble acceptance of that which is God's will. Sometimes God's will is deliverance from the adversity; sometimes it is the provision of grace to accept the adversity. Trusting God for the grace to accept adversity is as much an act of faith as is trusting Him for deliverance from it.
Above all else, our response to adversity should be to seek God's glory. We see this attitude illustrated in the life of the apostle Paul during his imprisonment in Rome. Not only was he imprisoned, but there were men, supposedly fellow ministers of the gospel, who were actually trying to add to his troubles by their preaching (see Philippians 1:14-17).
We have seen that God is trustworthy. He is absolutely sovereign over every event in the universe, and He exercises that sovereignty in an infinitely wise and loving way for our good. In that sense we have answered the main question raised by this book. You can trust God. He will never fail you nor forsake you.
But what about the second way we can ask that question? Can you trust God? Is your total relationship with God one on which you can build a bulwark of trust against the attacks of adversity? You cannot trust God in isolation from all other areas of your life. To grow in your ability to trust God in times of adversity, you must first lay a solid foundation of a daily personal relationship with Him. Only as you know Him intimately and seek to obey Him completely will you be able to establish a trust relationship with God.
And then, to that foundation of a life lived in communion with God, we must add what we have learned about God in this book—about His sovereignty, wisdom, and love. We must lay hold of these great truths in the little trials as well as the major calamities of life. As we do this in dependence upon the enabling power of His Holy Spirit, we will be able more and more to say, "I can trust God."