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How Do I Love God When I Can’t Understand His Actions?

Written By Andrew Purchase, South Africa

Andrew Purchase hails from South Africa, but has lived in Singapore since 2009. He has experience as a litigation lawyer, has a love of calligraphy, is terrible at choosing restaurants, has too much sugar in his coffee and adores T. S. Eliot. He is married with two daughters and works as a pastor at Redemption Hill Church.

How do I love God when I can’t understand His actions?

This was a question I asked myself some years ago. I was in the middle of a crisis. I had to close down a church that I had planted. I felt like I had been obedient to God. Yet, I felt like I had failed.

It felt like God had called me. Yet it felt like God had abandoned me in some way.

Many people face their own version of the same question: How do I love God when life is tough and God is not providing me with answers?

I discovered that this is a question with a surprising answer. Part of the answer is flipping the question.

While I was in my dark place—confused by God’s actions and asking how I was to love Him—it felt as if God had flipped the question on me. It felt like He was asking:

When you don’t understand what I am doing, why don’t you ask whether you can experience My love in those moments?”

O happy day, what an answer that brought!

Love can occur even in the absence of complete understanding. One of love’s greatest virtues is that it can transcend our understanding of our problems.

The Bible is emphatic on this point. We can experience God’s love even in situations where we don’t have complete knowledge or understanding:

. . . that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge. (Ephesians 3:17-19, emphasis added)

Christ’s love surpasses knowledge. It’s bigger than human understanding. Love supersedes knowledge.

In my state of confusion, it was as if I had heard an authoritative whisper say, “Let Me love you first; and answer your questions second.

What’s better? Knowing the details of God’s sovereign workings; or knowing and experiencing the full dimensions of His love?

I decided that knowing God’s love was the superior choice. Focusing on receiving God’s love, as opposed to making total sense of hard topics—was one of the best decisions I ever made.

It’s hard to describe what God’s love feels like. For me—at that time—it was the knowledge that no matter what, God was going to look after me (Hebrews 13:6).

God’s love was also this: Even in my heap of failure, God did not love me any less than when I was ostensibly a success. I realized that His love is greatest when I need it most (Psalm 73:26).

At my lowest, I felt His love go deeper than my low. How far I had tumbled. Yet how much further down His love extended. To find me, it had to go there (Psalm 139:8).

And down there, I had an experience of God. It was the experience of a lifetime. I learned to enjoy God’s company, just for His company’s sake. I learned His friendship. I learned that to worship at a deep level is to worship at a high level. I learned that His presence is ever near—even in the toughest of times. I learned to be conscious that He is close.

And now—years later, when all is well—I have answers.

One of my best answers is that difficulties are great times to experience God’s love and to know Him more intimately.

Thus, when we are tempted to ask, “How do I love God when life is tough and God is not providing me with answers to my questions?” we need to take a step back. We need to remember that when it comes to God and love, God is the First Mover. He loves first. It is His pattern, His way.

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. . . And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.” (1 John 4:10, 16, emphasis added)

He loves first. When we can’t love Him, He loves first. When we lack understanding, we can at least understand that He loves us.

So when we are confused about life and God’s actions, and have mailed a list of 100 questions to God (but feel like we got no reply)—what can we do?

The answer is deceptively simple. The answer is God Himself. He is not just an Answerer; He is the Answer. And His answer is to be with us to love us.

The truth about Christianity is that Jesus has made it possible for us to be with God now, to know Him, and to feel the warmth of His face now. Jesus is Immanuel—God with us. He has promised to always be with us. We have the Holy Spirit.

Some questions are illogical and have no answer (“Lord, can a square ever be round?”).

Some questions God does not answer yet as a matter of timing.

Some questions God does not answer because they distract us from asking a better question.

But there is one question God always answers: “Lord, can you be with me now with your love and peace?”

It is a question He doesn’t necessarily answer with words, but He answers it with His own presence and His love.

As C. S. Lewis famously put it: “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?” (from Till We Have Faces).

In moments of confusion and frustration, the best way to love God is often to simply be loved by Him.

To the One Who Feels Like Giving Up on God

Written By Rob Chagdes, USA

Dear Friend,

Do you find yourself feeling hopeless and ready to give up on God? Or are you buried in loneliness, having lost sight of God’s love for you? If so, I have been there, and I want to tell you that God has a way of meeting you in the midst of your struggle.

Some time back, I was a few years into a job that I believed God had led me to. My work was unsatisfying, and I struggled to find the joy I once embraced. I began to make poor choices, small ones at first, and then slightly larger ones over time. I recall moments where I caught a glimpse of hope, yet I found myself constantly returning to my dark place. I was slowly breaking apart, piece by piece. I felt like I was in the pit of despair.

It was in the midst of this darkness that I began to question if following Jesus was the path I should continue to walk. I had sought after God in pursuit of this job and I felt misled as my expectations continued to be thwarted. All around me I had friends who were climbing the corporate ladder, providing for their family in ways I could not, and appearing to finding a satisfaction in their jobs that eluded me.

I felt like a failure.

I started to consider walking away from my faith to embrace a world that seemed to have more enticing possibilities.

By God’s grace, He met me in my struggle, and opened my eyes to Him in a new way. He helped me see that the things the world could offer me were not what I needed. He opened my eyes and reminded me that He was worth seeking.

There are a few important truths that I came to know during this season, and I hope they will encourage you during this season in your life.

First, let me first assure you that you are not alone and God will provide a way out for you.

1 Corinthians 10:13 says:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

You might see the word “temptation” and immediately think of sin, but the word actually means to test, try, or prove. God used this dark season in my life as a test of faith to show me what’s really inside of me. And as the apostle Paul pointed out, these tests or trials are common to man, which gave me the assurance that I was not the only Christian who felt like I did, and surely wasn’t a failure because of the difficult time I was having. As you face this trying time, please remember that you are in good company!

And, if you noticed . . . this verse in 1 Corinthians 10:13 comes with a promise: God is going to provide a way out so that you can endure this season you’re in.

You can have confidence that rescue is coming—though it might not look the way you expect it to. My rescue wasn’t dramatic, and it didn’t happen all at once, but it looked like God revealing to me that He was active in my life, and that I could trust Him, even where I could not see His footprints.

This brings me to the second truth I want to remind you of: you can live in certainty that He is at work, even in this time. Jesus says in John 5:17, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.”

There were actually some good things that happened during this dark time in my life. They were hard things, but there were soul-shaping moments. God revealed my dependence on achievement, and how that had become an idol for me. When I was doing well, able to meet deadlines, accomplish goals, and check things off my list, it was easy to draw near to Him. When I was not getting things done, or when I felt overwhelmed by the responsibilities and burdens I carried, I felt distant from Him. He also helped me see that whenever I took time to withdraw to meet with Him, life around me still went on. I am not so indispensable that I must keep achieving to matter in this world.

God was working in my heart, and I didn’t find rescue until I came to the end of myself and let go of the idol of achievement.

God is never not working. Even when we don’t see it. Even when it’s dark. Even when the hope appears to have faded. God is always, always, always at work.

Finally, I want you to know that you need God, and He is good. There is nothing else in this world that you can find fulfillment in, except a relationship with him.

There were moments during this season when the words of Peter in John 6:68 rang in my ears. Jesus had just taught some hard truths and John records that, “. . . from this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (John 6:66)

But when Jesus turned to his disciples and asked if they too, want to leave, Simon Peter answered Him with a question, saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

This verse prompted me to ask myself, “If I chose to give up on God, where would I go?”

And the truth is, my answer was “nowhere.” There are a remarkable number of things in this world that I cannot “fix”. I cannot heal those around me who are fighting against cancer. I am unable to heal the hurts that my loved ones face. I have no ability on my own to see the future and know if a certain direction in the best way to go. These situations helped me realize how much I needed God. I remember that Jesus has the words of eternal life. He has words that go beyond me. His story is greater than my own, and if I’m being honest, I have nowhere to go that would ever compare to where I’ve been with Him.

I hope that you can remember that even when God’s ways don’t look the way we expect them to, it doesn’t change the reality that He is the only source of eternal life, and just as Peter concluded—there really isn’t anywhere else worth going. If we want to truly live, we need God.

As I came out of this trying time in my life, I learned the importance of rhythms that allow me to connect with God in new ways. I began practicing silence and solitude, taking time to be still with God regularly. I focused less on “doing devotions” and more on spiritual disciplines that led me into His presence. I stopped trying to work myself towards a state of spiritual “perfection” and pursued a life of meeting with God in the midst of my own messiness. It’s still a battle, but I’m in this for the long haul.

In retrospect, I don’t regret my season of struggle and doubt. Journeying through the darkness allowed me to have a bigger view of God. He was gracious, loving, and patient with me. He can handle our doubts, and is present even in the moments when we want to walk away.

So dear friend, don’t give up. Don’t lose heart. You are not alone and God is near. He is not done with you yet. He hears your cry and will rescue you, too.

Hang in there.

How Do I Get Past My Disappointments and Hurts From Church?

Written By Karen Kwek, Singapore

A lifelong scribbler, Karen enjoys the company of friends, a great cup of tea and seeing the gospel transform hearts and lives. She worked as a book editor until she and her husband traded peace and quiet for parenthood. It seemed a good idea at the time.

My friend came to our breakfast meeting downcast. “I’m having a hard time,” she said. “How long does it take you to forgive someone?”

I stirred my tea and thought about it. “It might depend on the offence…and on my relationship with the person. I could probably forgive a small insult faster than a huge betrayal. And the more I trust the person, the easier it is for me to forgive him or her.”

My friend, frowning, shook her head. “Okay, I can understand the point about how big or small the wrong is, but the more you trust someone, the more it hurts if they fail or disappoint you, right?”

I acknowledged that this could be true. “But if I really trust them, I’d also know they have my welfare at heart and wouldn’t hurt me intentionally.”

“Sometimes that’s not much comfort,” she said candidly. “It’s not that I’m out to blame anyone. I get that Christians aren’t perfect, but when someone you trusted isn’t who you believed them to be, you’re still left to deal with the pain. I’m not sure I want to see the person every week, let alone trust them again.” She suddenly looked like she’d lost her appetite. And I knew how she felt.

 

What the world says

When I thought more about our conversation, I realized my replies had been somewhat superficial. There is something hollow, something like positive self-talk or pop psychology, about merely excusing the fault (“It was only a small thing”), the intention (“I didn’t mean it; don’t take it personally”) or human limitations (“Nobody’s perfect”). Some other common ways of dealing with hurtful situations are reflected in sayings like “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, “Time heals all wounds” or “Manage your expectations”. Perhaps you have come across more.

I’m not saying that all positive self-talk is uselessit has probably given me perspective that I lacked at the timebut if we had only the world’s wisdom, our focus would remain on analyzing our disappointments and getting by on our own strength. While we might brush off the “small stuff”, deep and damaging wrongs that happen even in Christian communities might scar us permanently: neglect, bullying, gossip, malicious attacks, jealous competition, racial or class prejudice, emotional abuse, sexual harassment or abuse, adultery…the list goes on.

Sin hurts people, and there really isn’t any excuse for causing pain in that way, especially to the people we’re supposed to love and protect, like our brothers or sisters in Christ.

 

It’s not okay

The most helpful conversation I’ve ever had about a deep hurt was when my wise friend Sarah listened to my experience and then said, “Wow, I’m sorry you had to go through that. It’s not okay for someone to do that.” Sarah knew that I knew the Bible verses about forgiveness and that I would try to let my hurts go. But in caring for me and acknowledging that wrong had been done, she helped reflect to me the fact that we have a God who upholds justice, hates sin, and defends the weak and defenseless.

Why was it so important for me to see these aspects of God’s character clearly? Well, my knee-jerk reaction to feeling hurt is getting defensive, severing the hurtful relationship, retaliating, or taking matters into my own hands despite my limited knowledge and ability. Hurt people, so the saying goes, hurt people. What hurt people need first is a refuge, a safe place.

Although Sarah had no power or authority to “fix things”, her standing up for justice“It’s not okaypointed me to the One who does right wrongs, and does so with perfect knowledge and ability. I remembered then that God, the Creator, whose power and understanding is limitless, “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds”. The wicked will suffer His punishment some day, but as for me, I am safe with God! (Psalm 147:2–6)

 

Where does my hope come from?

Being honest with a trustworthy listener about my hurts and taking refuge and comfort in God’s righteousness were the first steps for me in letting go of disappointment. It is natural, even commendable, to admire Christian brothers and sisters who are role models of faith and love—Paul encourages the Corinthian Christians to follow his example, as he follows the example of Christ. But we sometimes forget that our human heroes make mistakes and inevitably let us down. When Sarah helped point me back to God, I was able to ask myself if I was putting my hope in people more than in God.

The church exists to bring God’s love to His people, but the church should never replace God as our sure foundation. In fact, it is God who makes our church relationships more than just social friendships. Jesus died for each of us, making every believer a part of His church. This means that every believer’s worth is in Jesusno less, and no more. Learning to see past even the strengths of our mentors and role models, and see the work of God’s Holy Spirit in them, frees us from idolising them. It also frees us to recognize their weaknesses and forgive them when they fail us.

 

Freedom in Christ

How is it humanly possible to forgive great wrongs? Well, it isn’t! Justice would demand the payment of a suitably great price, such as the penalty of death for our rebellion against God. Yet our Father did the unthinkable:

For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  (Romans 8:3-4)

Jesus’ death in our place perfectly satisfied the demands of justice, releasing us from condemnation (Romans 8:1-2). But even more than that, this has been done for us so that we can now live according to the Spirit!

Paul goes on to share the awesome truth that our very nature has been changed. We are now God’s children, no longer governed by the need to sin but destined for eternal glory with Jesus. This transformationa self renewed as I know God and become more like Himis what enables us to forgive. We may not always feel enabled, but Christ in us is the reason that Paul can say, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:10, 13).

Our Lord on the cross did the most humanly impossible thing ever: he pleaded the cause of his killers. He was not simply excusing them on grounds of diminished responsibility. In their rejection of him, he did not nurse his own hurts but lifted his eyes to the only One who could grant their greatest needGod’s forgiveness.

 

What about the wrongdoer?

Are there situations in which the wrongdoer should be confronted? Absolutely. Where God’s people sin in a Christian community, Jesus Himself commands that the wrong be addressed, first in private, but if the wrongdoer does not change, before one or more people to witness the confrontation.

Recently, a number of high-profile scandals surfaced, showing that as God’s church we have not done enough to protect the vulnerable and ensure that people are not repeatedly allowed to fall back into sinful ways. Church leaders must be prepared to step in and take action to stop sin (Matthew 18:15-17).

This action could take the form of treating the offender as an unbeliever. In treating him or her “as you would a pagan or a tax collector”, we are not necessarily to cut off all contact with the person. Instead, considering someone an unbeliever is to recognize and keep on offering the person their greatest needthe gospel and a relationship with God through Jesus.

In Eugene Peterson’s rendition of verse 17, “If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love”. That is, grace is not the covering up of wrongdoing but the revealing of sin, so that the sinner might one day repent and be reconciled to God.  

But it may be that most of our disappointments in the church are not as clear-cut as to require the discipline of authorities. Maybe someone brushed aside your opinion, or a clique made you feel unwelcome, or a cutting remark showed snobbery. As we deal with strained or broken relationships, seeing Christ brings freedom from knee-jerk reactions.

In practice, this freedom could take a variety of paths. For example, getting together to explain your position (gently!) and restore friendship; maintaining different opinions on matters of style and preference but working together for the gospel’s sake; finding godly support (para-church or in the same church); and so on. These are not mutually exclusive paths; all are humanly difficultwe may never hear a longed-for apology or get complete closure, but we depend on the Spirit of God to keep on relating to and serving others.

What or who in the church has hurt or disappointed you? As followers of Jesus, we will certainly experience some of His suffering, perhaps even the pain of being betrayed or attacked by someone trusted. But we are those who have known God’s forgiveness and continue to experience it on a daily basis. Because we are being renewed as we know God and become more like Him, we can ask God to free us from bitterness, grudge-bearing and score-keeping, to love Him and His people as He has loved us.

 

To answer my friend’s question again, in a different way, how long I take to forgive someone depends on how long it takes me to see Him clearly. Sometimes it is a long journey. If you are struggling, may you be assured of your safety and worth, demonstrated to you on the cross. May you be strengthened by God’s Spirit, to show previously unthinkable love for your brothers and sisters in Christ. As His people we can do much to helpfully point one another back to the God who deals with our hurts with righteousness as well as tender compassion, and who will one day right all wrongs.

Can We Love Jesus Without Loving the Church?

I have always been a regular church attender, and am typically involved in one ministry or another. But there have been times when I wondered if being a part of a local church body is really all that important. I never actually stopped attending, but I have wondered at times, “What’s the point?”

However, I recently started reading and studying what the Bible has to say about the church, and am learning about Jesus’ immense and everlasting love for it (Ephesians 5:25, Ephesians 5:29). As a result, I’m beginning to see things a lot differently.

Despite the deep love Jesus proclaimed and showed for His church in Scripture, Christians are leaving it today in record numbers. Many of these people wouldn’t say that they’ve stopped believing in God or that they’ve given up on Jesus. They would probably just say that they’ve become frustrated with the church.  

Maybe they’ve become saddened by the church’s perceived stagnation or it’s unwillingness to change old traditions. Maybe they feel like today’s church is no longer relevant and doesn’t try hard enough to engage with today’s culture. Or on the flip side, maybe they believe the church is trying too hard to fit in with today’s world. Maybe they are disappointed with the hypocrisy and hateful rhetoric spewed by some of its members.

Sadly, I can sympathize with many of these frustrations. The people in the church of Christ often don’t display the loving characteristics of the One they claim to be following. I am certain that Jesus is saddened by the behaviors and attitudes displayed in a lot of today’s churches. But I think Jesus might also be saddened when people give up on the church and abandon it altogether.

Often we hear, “I still love Jesus, but I just don’t want to deal with church anymore.” Perhaps it would be wise to remember that Jesus called the church His bride (Ephesians 5:25-27). Imagine for a moment that someone wanted to be your friend, but wanted nothing to do with your wife. How would you feel? I know I would have a hard time having a relationship with that person. When we say that we want Jesus, but want no part of His church and its people, we are basically doing the same thing to Him.

The church is not a perfect community. I know as well as you do how far from perfection we are. But really, shouldn’t this be expected? The church is made up of a whole bunch of imperfect and sinful people. I once heard someone say, “If you find a perfect church, don’t go there because you’ll ruin it!”

Despite all the imperfections in the church, God is still madly in love with it. So if we truly love God, then we should love His church and be willing to work on the issues it faces. If we see a need, then we should try to meet it. If we see a problem, then we should try to come up with a solution. Too often, church is like so many other things in today’s culture—a place where people are experts at pointing out the problems, but aren’t willing to do anything to help solve them. We expect someone else to fix the problems in church. But we all can, and must, do better!

The Christian church is a vital part of God’s great plan to find and save the lost and to restore this broken world. Yes, He could have done all this without our help. He has all power and authority to do it on His own. But for some reason, God chose to include us. He chose to allow His bride to be a part of His work. He chose to use His church.

God has equipped every member of His church for a specific purpose. Each of us is empowered by the same Holy Spirit to glorify Jesus and make His church loving, beautiful, captivating, intriguing, and inviting. Let’s try to find our place in it, and let’s all do our part!

As someone once said, it’s impossible to love Jesus but hate the church. When we give up on the church, we give up on that which Jesus died for.