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ASK YMI: I Am Fully Self-Sufficient. Why Do I Need God?

A: What reality will end up showing you, if you leave it time, is that you are not fully self-sufficient. You can’t control your emotions. And you can’t determine your own future. But your life will be proof of that in itself.

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.

3 Unexpected Benefits of Studying Theology

I grew up reading theology and for a long time I hated every moment of it. I didn’t understand why my parents would torture me with reading assignments each summer. Piper, MacArthur, Sproul—I was reading all of these spiritual giants by the age of 12. Boring, massive books, stuff I didn’t understand, and stuff I really didn’t care about—that was my impression then,  and an impression I often hear today, when the word “theology” is brought up to adults as well.

Author A. W. Tozer once said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Even though I dreaded it at first, I started realizing that my parents were intentionally shaping my mind with these books. In a culture that’s becoming increasingly emotionally driven, they wanted me to be able to have a foundation of truth regardless of my circumstance or emotion.

The reality is that theology—the study of God—isn’t just for Christian scholars or Bible School geeks (though I’m definitely included in the Bible School geek group) . . . all of us should be theologians!

And it doesn’t look as intimidating as it sounds. Studying God is simply about being intentional in getting time with Him in Scripture, and also digging into books and commentaries written by solid men and women of God—people who have devoted their lives to the study of God, and whom we have the great honor of gleaning from.1

As I’ve come to discover the benefits of studying theology, I’ve committed to making theology a regular part of my life. I truly believe every believer should do so as well. Here’s why:

 

1. It helps us love God better

God cares deeply about what we do with our minds and particularly, how we utilize our minds to know Him. In Scripture, we are told to love God with all of our minds (Matthew 22:37), to be continually meditating on God’s law (Joshua 1:8), and to do everything we possibly can to gain wisdom (Proverbs 4:6-7).

What better way for a believer to love God with our minds, than to engage them in studying Him? The more we know God—His character, His Words, His heart—the more we love Him. Knowing God is not only a form of worship, it is also the foundation of our worship. We must know Him whom we are worshipping in order to worship Him acceptably— for who He is, not who we imagine Him to be.

 

2. It changes how we view suffering

Throughout history and even today, great men and women of the faith have been persecuted and killed for what they believe. Paul, the author of most of the New Testament, was beaten nearly to death multiple times, shipwrecked and imprisoned, yet he steadfastly heralded the goodness of God to the churches.

Would your theology lead you there? Would mine? To champion God’s goodness even in the midst of unexplainable and unbearable pain?

When we have a proper theology, particularly about God’s goodness, we are able to keep our heart and soul sustained when the hardest tragedies in life take place. Studying God can lead us to the realization that God Himself is the definition of good and our trials have the ability to train our souls to be more like God (James 1:2-4).

 

3. It’s the secret to living the most joyful and satisfied life

Being a studier of God doesn’t mean we are boring or can’t enjoy life. It’s quite the opposite. While the world tells us that joy is found in getting everything we want, Christ says He came that we may have life to the fullest (John 10:10).

The peace that comes as we surrender to our Maker through knowing and obeying Him is unparalleled to anything the world can give. The more we know God, the clearer our purpose in life becomes. We are able to trust His will even when we do not understand, to rest in His goodness even when our life is overwhelmingly weighty, and to gain immense freedom and strength to enjoy life, encounter suffering, raise our kids, love our spouse selflessly, and worship God the way He created us to.

Years after those tortured summer car rides, I found myself voluntarily attending Moody Bible Institute—actually paying to study theology! You could find me devouring my books, highlighters and pens as my trusty companions, fully immersed in understanding the depths of my Maker and loving those moments more than anything else in my life.

 

Understanding theology—taking time to study God—is immeasurably and eternally valuable. I hope that I can encourage you to grab a study Bible, order a good book, spend extra time with God in prayer, and start to make studying our Creator a habit in your daily life today. We won’t always want to do it, but I promise you other things can wait. We will never regret having made the choice to prioritize God. He is worth our time. Let’s make it happen!

 

1 Some of the best resources I have found for understanding the depths of Scripture are Knowing God by J. I. Packer, The Sovereignty of God by Arthur Pink, Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper, and Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis.

If God Is Real, Why Is There So Much Injustice?

Written By Asiri Fernando, Sri Lanka

Asiri graduated from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, USA with a Master of Divinity and is now working for Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka. Asiri is a speaker, Bible teacher and a singer songwriter. Asiri blogs at http://asirifernando.wordpress.com.

We live in a world that’s filled with suffering and injustice. Every day, we read about how racism, rape, and abuse of power is on the rise. It’s no surprise that one of the common objections to Christianity is, “If God is real, why is there so much injustice?”

In my time as a youth worker, I’ve found that some of the deepest suffering that we have to go through often comes at the hands of those around us—whether in the form of being bullied, suffering from abuse, or even being persecuted for the faith.

In the face of such injustice, how can Christians cling on to their faith and not allow these situations to embitter them?

As I groan with God at the pains of this world (Romans 8:22), I am convinced there are two marvelous, unshakable truths about God that can anchor us through storms: the truth that God is sovereign over every circumstance, and that His love is present in the midst of our suffering.

In Genesis 37-50, we see a beautiful picture of God’s sovereignty, or absolute control and rule over all things, painted in the life of Joseph. Throughout Joseph’s life, he was committed to living rightly, but he suffered injustices in various forms.

As a young man in his father’s house, Joseph received the love and blessing of his father, but his brothers hated him, mistreated him, and sold him off into slavery.

In Potiphar’s house in Egypt, Joseph conducted himself with holiness, yet He was falsely accused and thrown into prison.

Even in prison, he was trustworthy and kind to those around him. However, his kindness was forgotten, and he was left in prison (ESV: “the pit”) for two years!

Joseph was repeatedly and severely a victim at the hands of people who unjustly served him hatred, mistreatment, and abuse. Yet Scripture also makes it clear that in all that Joseph went through, God was with him and blessed him. Many of us might wonder, “Can we consider all that Joseph has gone through a blessing?”

Eventually, God raised Joseph to the highest office in Egypt, where Pharaoh tells Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 41:44). In the midst of all that he was going through, Joseph probably would never have imagined that he would one day be exalted to this position—but his story is evidence of God’s perfect plan, sovereignty, and love in the midst of suffering.

It is while Joseph is holding this high position, that his brothers come to Egypt, completely at the nation’s mercy to help them survive a famine in their homeland (Genesis 42:1-6). Despite the opportunity Joseph has to exact revenge on the brothers that betrayed him, the story goes on to show Joseph’s great love for his own brothers—a love that had no room for bitterness (Genesis 45:15).

At the end of the story, Joseph makes two great statements of faith in response to his brothers’ pleadings for mercy that can help us understand how we can respond to the injustices we see in the world, especially the ones that are personally inflicted on us:

 

1. Am I in the place of God?

After the death of their father, Joseph’s brothers expected wrath from him, but instead Joseph’s response was, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” (Genesis 50:19a).  That response made it clear that Joseph harbored no bitterness or anger against his brothers—but more importantly, that he recognized that it wasn’t his role to bring about justice. That was God’s part.

One thing that breaks the hold of bitterness against those who have harmed us, is knowing that God will ensure justice against all offenses. This is why Paul says, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). The world is unjust but God is perfectly just and has also “set a day for his final justice to take place” (Acts 17:31). This is a truth which answers a lot of questions and releases us from any unease and bitterness about the seeming injustice we are experiencing.[1]

 

2. You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good

Joseph’s second statement of faith is, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good . . .” (Genesis 50:20a).

We all suffer because of sin—at times suffering comes about through evil systems, unfortunate circumstances, our own flesh, or direct attacks from Satan. The last season in my life was a difficult one, in which I experienced prolonged illness and injury to my family, ministry obstacles, and dark nights of the soul.

But what kept me going was the knowledge that God is sovereign and is working! He is moving things forward. He is in absolute control even during the darkest moments of our lives. Oh, the joy of knowing that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28)! So we persevere with total trust in a God who is faithful. His promises are true. His steadfast love is better than life.

 

There is good to look forward to (even if it’s eternal)

As we can see from the life of Joseph, accepting the sovereignty of God provides a deep sense of security and peace, even amidst times of difficulty and unrest. The good will come, in this life, and also most definitely in the next. 2 Timothy 2:12 says, “If we endure (through hardships), we will reign with him”. What kind of grace is this? Like Joseph who reigned in the courts of Egypt, we will also one day reign with Christ.

Fixing our eyes on the sovereignty of God strengthens us to be obedient through hardships. We know that God is working for our good. He is greater than our circumstances. Therefore, we can be glad because we know that “the Lord reigns” (Psalm 97:1, 99:1) and He will guard “the lives of his faithful ones” (Psalm 97:10).

Joseph’s life might have been tainted with suffering, but it was also a life that was under the absolute control of God, who used Joseph’s circumstances to fulfill His purposes—for Joseph’s good, for the salvation of many, and for His glory.

This is why we can trust Him even when we’re faced with unjust circumstances—in His sovereignty, He will use them for our good.

 

[1] We also know the glorious truth that Jesus bore our punishment and satisfied the wrath of God on the cross, a justice borne by Christ, and a beautiful justification (no condemnation) appropriated to our enemies who turn to Christ. Our greatest desire when loving our enemies is to see them turn to Christ.