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Formulas and Guarantees

If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that God does not guarantee us a 1 + 1= ___ for the kind of outcomes we can see, physically– on our own time schedule.

No matter how great our faith, even the best of material gains or human relationships will disappoint us in life– and leave us in death. Yet, even though God also may disappoint us– (by not giving us everything we ask for when we want it)– the Bible gives us more than enough evidence to believe that his reasons for withholding are always better than our reasons for wanting.

Although I returned last night from spending two wonderful weeks in Asia, with co-workers from around the world, I’m reminded today that the Apostle Paul had a different experience in his travels to the “East”. Reflecting on some of the worst days of his life, he wrote, “I think you ought to know… about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and completely overwhelmed, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we learned not to rely on ourselves, but on God who can raise the dead” (2Cor 1:8-9, NLT).

Paul referred to this “dark night of the soul” not for his readers’ sympathy but to explain what he had learned by experience–that, when we give God a chance to show himself faithful, he “Comforts us in all our troubles so that… when others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (vv3-4).

In light of what Paul and so many others have experienced, I’m convinced that one of the cruelest things we can do to young (or old) followers of Christ is to encourage them to believe that prayer + Bible +faith +service to God and others = problems solved.

Although we can be sure that nothing is too hard for God, he gives us no guarantee that he will protect us in life from unwanted physical, emotional, or mental problems. Neither does he promise to make us immune to any of the problems that come with being fallen people in a broken world.

One of the oldest stories of the Bible tells us about a man named Job who experienced huge losses he could not understand. When Job’s friends came to comfort him in his troubles, they ended up adding to his pain with their formula-based reasoning. (Job 4:7).

Their view of life was simple. Do good and enjoy God’s blessing. Do evil and bring pain upon yourself. They were not all wrong (They were right in thinking God blesses those who trust him). But neither were they all right (They were wrong in not seeing that God sometimes takes away what is important to us so as to deepen our trust in him).

Whether we like it or not– and whether we ever come to terms with it or not– wisdom is found by those who can say with Paul, “We walk by faith, not by sight (2Cor 5:7).

Paul, like Job, had to learn by experience that our circumstances are not necessarily a reflection of how God feels about us. “Yes,”, he wrote, “we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us (1:9-10).

The formulas God gives shows us what he wants us to think, trust, and do. They do not assure immediate outcomes of circumstance or relationships with others. Yet his guarantees are still better than anything we can experience on this side of life. What could be better than to be learning to trust in the goodness and grace of the one who says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Heb 13:5-6).

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7 Responses to “Formulas and Guarantees”

  1. desert rose says:

    God has shown me through your blog that I have areas that I need to have victory.

  2. ynnej says:

    Mart, I agree that many new/young believers think that “prayer + Bible + faith + service to God and others = problems solved” which is often not true. Churches and Christians paint a very beautiful picture of Christianity yet forgetting that trials/tribulations/ sufferings is part of the Christian walk so that we may be mature/perfect and complete – God’s way of molding us to be more like His Son Jesus Christ.

    Knowing Christ since I was little kid (from school), it is so true that life is so uncertain that one of the best things I can do is to Trust God – To trust Him in whatever circumstances that I am in. Honestly, I am disappointed with myself when I doubt His greatness knowing that He is big enough! When life’s troubles, it is tough not to worry especially when it concerns families and loved ones.

    I’m still learning to trust Him more and more for who He is and not what He has done or can do for me. It is a journey I guess: Trust God and Walk By Faith.

  3. rokdude5 says:

    Ive seen bumper stickers saying if we are so perfect, then try walking on water. However, that story isnt about being perfect but about having faith during turmoils. In my mind, anytime that any of us rely strictly on faith to get through the peril, we are truly “walking on water” with nothing to hold us up but God Himself. Praise God!

  4. Ted M. Gossard says:

    Good words for us. I couldn’t agree more. This mirrors what we see so clearly in Scripture, just as you’ve shown us. Who could seem to live above circumstances better than the Apostle Paul (other than our Lord, of course)? Yet he was not immune to being down and feeling out. But we must remember, just as you remind us here, that God has promised to never leave us or forsake us. That helps me persevere through times and problems or seemingly empty things, as I believe God is there with us in Jesus by the Spirit and through his people, in this world and all its brokenness, of which we’re all a part. Even as Jesus is making us whole.

  5. daisymarygoldr says:

    “Prayer + Bible +faith +service to God and others = problems solved” is a good formula to learn but not to apply…because formulas do not work in real life situations. As one grows and matures in Christ we realize that “formula based-faith” soon gets dissolved- into doubt, disappointment and eventually death.

    We walk by faith, not by sight. Real God-given faith is to suffer and still praise His name, to have difficulties and still know God cares, to accept that He does not always give what we ask because He wants the best for us, to be in pain (physical or mental) and still remember that one day there will be no pain, to experience fiery trials or fiercest storms and still know God is very much with us in the fire or the boat, to know that God does not always heal and still believe that He is God who seeks to be glorified in all our frail human imperfections!

    And yes, it all comes down to ‘trust’ and that is what faith is all about- knowing God is God. Then our “Prayers, Bible reading, faith, service to God and others” will be all about drawing closer in our relationship with God (Heb 11:6).

    Nice pics and you must be feeling good to be back on familiar ground! “dark night of the soul” sounds very eerie and I’m sure Paul didn’t experience anything like this, though I did get what you are trying to say…

  6. daisymarygoldr says:

    rdrcomp, TY for the pointer. I did read 2 Cor 1:8 in NLT and it still does not come across to me as “dark night of the soul” which is normally used to express the feelings of a person who thinks he has been abandoned by God. It refers to a phase in ones spiritual life when the very existence of God is questioned and the person quits believing in God.

    Verse 9 in NLT reads “In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead”. The overwhelmingly crushed-to-death experience actually caused Paul to trust and hope in God.

    Hence I found that phrase very disturbingly gloomy… not befitting a person who is always positively exuberant about “being absent in the body means to be present with the Lord” or” For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain”.

    During periods of intense despair or loneliness a follower of Christ draws all the more closer to cling to God… that is my personal experience and maybe I could be wrong?!

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