AM I TRUSTING GOD?
Written by Doug Ponder on April 7, 2013
The Moral of the Story
Stories often shape the way we live in the world. When you first heard the story about the ‘boy who cried wolf,’ for example, you didn’t need someone to tell you the point. Like everyone else, you intuitively knew that the point of the story was to warn little children of the dangers of pretending to be in trouble. It was like that with every other story from your childhood, too.
The same thing tends to happen when we read “stories” (technically, they’re narratives) in the Bible. There’s just one catch: The smaller stories in the Bible are telling one Big Story—a story about Jesus. And if you miss that point, you’re bound to draw the wrong conclusion about the smaller stories every time.
That’s especially easy to do with a story like the one we have in Acts 27. With even half an imagination you can almost feel the strong wind, the crashing waves, and the rocking boat. It’s a story wonderfully told. But why is Luke telling it? What are we supposed to learn here? Or as we say, What’s the point?
It would be easy for us to conclude, as so many have done, that the point of the story is that God will keep us safe and sound from the “storms of life,” just as he kept Paul and all the sailors safe, too. That message might seem to work for a little while, but the moment tragedy strikes we’ll be left wondering, “Where was God? Why didn’t he keep this from happening?” Depending on the seriousness of the tragedy, you might even give up trusting God altogether.
But you shouldn’t.
Trusting the Wrong Things
The problem wasn’t with God; the problem was with you. It’s easy to see how it could happen. You’ve been told all your life that you’re supposed to “trust God,” and so you do. The trouble is that you have been trusting God for all the wrong things.
Sometimes we trust God for promises that he didn’t give to us. Consider God’s promise to keep Noah safe from the flood if he built a massive ship. That was a one-of-a-kind promise made to a specific person in a specific situation for a specific reason. We can’t just “claim” all of God’s promises as if they were all made to us. (Think about it: You wouldn’t like it if I took a promise that you made to someone else and forced you to make good on it for me, too!)
Other times we go around saying things like “God is faithful” without having any clue what that means. In fact, people use it to refer to just about anything these days. You got a check from your grandma—God is faithful! You got your first date in two years—God is faithful! Your dad died last week—God is faithful? When the words “God is faithful” can mean anything, then they really mean nothing.
Or maybe we trust God to give us things that were actually our desires, not his. For example, suppose you wanted to go to a crazy expensive college where you had no scholarships and no financial aid. After graduating, you would be in almost $200,000 worth of debt. You pray about it and decide that God wants you to go there because you “have a peace about the situation.” Years later, when you are struggling with bills because of your massive monthly loan payments, you keep saying that you are trusting God to provide because, after all, it was his will for you to go that school. (Or was it?)
And then there are those who trust God for all kinds of material comforts. They are always trusting God for something—a bigger house, more money, a new husband, a better job. But when life circumstances don’t improve, they aren’t sure who to blame. Did they not have enough faith? Was some evil force blocking their blessings? It never occurs to them that they’re trusting God for something he never promised to give.
Or maybe you say things like, “God, I’ll trust you if…” It just so happens that everything you put on the other side of the “if” always pertains to you. “God I’ll trust you if you give me what I want.” But when you don’t get everything you want, you’re left wondering whether you can trust God for anything at all.
There also people trust God because they are confident in themselves. It sounds strange when you put it like that, but basically these are people who believe that “God helps those who help themselves.” Far from being a verse in the Bible (it isn’t) this idea is actually the complete opposite of the kind of trust that God wants from us.
Finally, some people find it hard to trust in God for anything. Perhaps they think they don’t need him at all, or they aren’t even sure that he exists. It’s hard to trust someone when you don’t see your own need.
Our lives are not meant to be lived like any of those examples, blindly groping around in the dark with no certain hope, no security, no assurance, and no idea of who God is or what he can be trusted to do.
What Faith Doesn’t Guarantee
You see, the only reason that Paul knew he would be rescued safely from the storm is because Jesus had already promised him that God would get him to Rome to testify before Caesar (Acts 23:11). And on top of that, an angelic messenger from God appeared to Paul in the midst of the storm to remind him of Jesus’ promise (27:24). Paul didn’t have to doubt what God had double-promised him.
But God hasn’t promised me anything like that. (And since the Caesars are long gone, I can say with some confidence that God hasn’t promised you that, either.) So it would be complete foolishness to conclude from this story—as so many people have done—that the point (or “moral”) of the story is to show us that God keeps us safe in the “storms of life.” It’s almost as if we say, “See? God told Paul he would rescue him from trouble if he only trusted him. So God will rescue me from trouble, too, if I just have faith.”
Sadly, there are many Christians who have been taught that if they have faith, if they just “trust God”, then everything will flow smoothly for them. “Come to Jesus and he will give you a full bank account,” they say. “God will provide.” “God will make you happy.” “God will make your problems go away.” “God will give you a life of peace and comfort.”
But if you read the Bible with even one eye open, you’ll see in two seconds how terribly, dangerously false those claims truly are. For the Bible is filled with stories of people who had great faith but still had really horrible things happen to them. Jesus himself is a perfect example!
Jesus did not go around telling people that if they trust God, they will never run into any kind of trouble or tragedy. Actually, he told them the opposite. He said that if he experienced trouble and tragedy in his life, how much more should we expect to face the same in our lives?
God Is Faithful; Look to Jesus
If all this leaves you wondering, “What’s the point in following Jesus?” then you’ve not considered the full picture. Perhaps you have not considered the horrific brokenness of the world. You have not considered the weight of sin, both yours and the sin of others. And you have not considered the deliverance we have in Jesus.
Jesus faced the very worst that the world could through at him—temptation, misjudgment, mockery, cruelty, abandonment, torture, death—and he emerged victorious. He let the world do its worst to him so that even if the world throws its worst at us, we don’t have to be afraid. We have victory in Jesus, as the old hymn sang. We can trust that his death and resurrection will deliver us from sin and death.
That’s what Jesus went around telling people. He didn’t say, “Trust that God will make you comfortable”, or “Trust that God will spare you from every trouble.” Rather, Jesus called us to trust that God would deliver us from his just judgment against sin, that he would deliver us from the power of sin and death, and that, one day, he will deliver us from the presence of evil completely (after Jesus makes all things new).
Those are all things you can trust God for, and the cross and the resurrection prove that he’s faithful to keep those promises.
Hope For Later and Hope for Today
And if we’re tempted to think that this somehow just gives us “hope for later” while we trudge through this world alone, then we’re terribly mistaken. The more confidence you have in God’s faithfulness to deliver you from sin and death, the more you will be able to live in the midst of brokenness, not with hopelessness but with hope that God will set things straight again; and you can live in the midst of tragedy, not with grief but with joy, for you have a better possession in Jesus that cannot be taken away; and you can even face great injustices committed against you, not with rage but with forgiveness, for you know that God has judged sin on the cross, forgiven you of your sin, and called you to do the same for others.
In all of this God never leaves us or forsakes us. Jesus said he would be with us always, all the way to the end of the age. God is with us through his Spirit, helping us to trust that he’ll be faithful to deliver us through Jesus—just as he promised he would do.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.