The Naked Church – Chapter Ten
The Naked Church – Chapter – 10. Learning to Depend on God
My sheep listen to my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
The Naked Church – Chapter Ten – The funny look on my daughter’s face caught my eye as I walked through the family room. She was guilty of something, but what? She was obviously in pain, and as obviously trying to hide it. “Are you okay?” I asked.
“I hurt my finger on the TV.” She held her finger out to me, her face twisted with the cry she didn’t want to let out.
I walked toward her. “How did you do that?”
“I pinched it.” On the end of her index finger stood a fresh white blister. “How could the TV do that?” As I looked up I noticed our wood stove just behind her. “You touched the fireplace, didn’t you?”
Once the facts were out there was no need to restrain her anguish. She exploded into screams and tears. My wife ran to get some medication. I hugged my daughter tightly, and as I pressed her head against mine I offered up the parent’s lament—”How I wish you could just trust me, honey, when I tell you something!”
I wonder how often God has wept over me in the same way. How much hurt have I endured because I wouldn’t listen to him or trust what he told me? But, like my daughter, I often think I know better.
David understood how foolish that attitude is, and in Psalm 28 he expressed just the opposite. “To you I call, 0 Lord my Rock; do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who have gone down to the pit.”
David knew how much he needed God’s involvement in his life every day. He refused to accommodate his life to a silent God and instead sought him earnestly. His desire to please God placed him in situations greater than his own ingenuity or strength could resolve, where his failure would have meant his death. It was this dependence that called the young shepherd boy to face a lion unarmed, Goliath with only a few stones, and eventually the throne of Israel.
If a spiritual person is one who depends on God’s Spirit, obeying his direction and drawing his power, then learning to trust him is the essence of spirituality. No greater challenge lies before anyone than the adventure of learning to trust God.
Need God? For What?
The Naked Church – Chapter Ten – It may be easier to see your need for dependence when you’re standing face-to-face with a bear or going out to battle the Philistines than when you’re enjoying the material comfort and safety of twentieth-century living, but the dangers are no less acute and the potential for destruction is no less real.
Society and technology have combined to greatly reduce many of the risks that previous generations faced daily. Regular paychecks supply our needs. Weather forecasting, irrigation, and food storage provide an abundance of food even if the weather is uncooperative. Many illnesses have been cured or controlled, and costs for treating them are insured. Social programs help meet the needs of the poor and unemployed.
As a result, few people today have an immediate sense of their need for God. Though our coins say “In God We Trust” and we passionately sing “I Need Thee,” too many people think only in the abstraction of a distant Sovereign who quietly keeps the world together and secretly blesses our best efforts.
Only occasionally does this veneer of false security shatter, usually by personal tragedy. Unemployment, incurable disease, catastrophic accident, or emotional darkness intrude on the bestlaid plans. Funerals of close friends or relatives call our temporal priorities into question and show them to be what they really are—sand castles, providing only an illusion of security. They are destined to melt without trace into the next passing wave. How swiftly our wealth, health, prestige, and friendships can vanish into circumstances beyond our control!
The Naked Church – Chapter Ten – In the back of our minds we know the tide can turn quickly, but for the most part we do not lie awake at night worried about getting our next meal or being assaulted by a neighboring tribe. Tragedy is comparatively rare, and even when it occurs most people manage to recover fairly quickly and get on with life. At least for the moment, for most of us our material needs will not drive us to depend on God.
This doesn’t mean that our needs are actually any less real than David’s only less obvious. When we gather everything the world offers, we find it insufficient for the cry within which we thought it would satisfy. Spiritual emptiness and despair can be masked by work and play for only so long. When we look behind the facades we see a battle raging all around us, taking its toll in emotional brokenness and conflicted relationships.
Sin is the result of trusting ourselves and seeking our own self-interest. The joy and freedom of life in God is found where we learn to depend on him instead. We will never be forced to do that. God gives life and breath to us all, even to those who do not acknowledge him. We will always have an endless array of alternatives to run to for help or to hide in from the pain. God made it that way. He didn’t want us to learn to trust him because we had to, but, because of having been touched by his love, we wanted to.
The Case Against Dependency
Trusting God, however, is not easy to cultivate. We have an arsenal of excuses to defend ourselves against it:
1. I want to do it my way! The old nature doesn’t give up just because we surrender our lives to Jesus. Every day it will test our will in an attempt to regain control of our life. Our flesh at its root is selfish and independent. I do what I do because I want to, it makes me feel better, and I don’t want anyone telling me otherwise. Its theme song is “I Did It My Way.”
The Naked Church – Chapter Ten – But the flesh isn’t always that obvious. It can even couch its desires in religious terms. Even in many Christian circles, self-reliance and self assertion are encouraged for believers. Jesus warned us that even though we aim for his life, these methods will miss that target: “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25). Spiritually, few things take the obvious route.
The intimacy which God extends to us will never come as the culmination of self-effort, but only as the abandonment of it. Though it will always be easier to do something on our own for God, without consulting him, we must resist that course. The flesh’s quest for comfort must be abated if we’re going to be free enough to obey him.
2. Only flaky people live that way. It seems that everyone knows somebody who got excited about God and decided to “live by faith,” which means that he stopped working and lived off others who were working. Others have even waited for a word from God before they brushed their teeth. It is also true that people who begin a statement with “God told me…” often finish it with something stupid: They are going to be rich or they need to build another building.
But these bad examples shouldn’t prevent us from finding true dependence on God. Being dependent on God doesn’t make us irresponsible; it just adds a new dimension to our responsibility. Instead of responding to our own desires, we respond to God’s; instead of trusting our limited knowledge and observations, we follow God’s wisdom.
This doesn’t mean, however, that those who don’t understand God’s wisdom won’t mock your decisions. Charles Finney had an apt warning for those who would live full of the Spirit: I never knew a person who was filled with the Spirit that was not called eccentric… They act under different influences, take different views, are moved by different motives, led by a different spirit.
3. I tried to trust God before, but he let me down. This may be the most difficult barrier to cross. Just about everyone has story of a desperate moment when he cried out to God but was disappointed in the response. Why didn’t God heal my mother? Why was I unemployed for two years even though I prayed every day? I suspect that for every soldier miraculously saved when he cried out to God for help, many more weren’t. Only a fool would put his life in the hand of a friend who has failed him on a previous outing. And for many people, trusting God feels exactly like that.
The Naked Church – Chapter Ten – But we cannot learn to trust God by our interpretations of past experiences. More often than not we were looking out for our interests, and not God’s; thus we misinterpret or misunderstand his actions toward us. There are many reasons why God may not have dealt with a specific situation as we thought he should, but the Bible makes it clear that he never responds to us with less than absolute love and faithfulness. That’s his nature, and he can never be untrue to it. Learning dependence doesn’t begin in our experience, but in his character.
Remember, we began this book by saying that the church is naked. We can’t take the experiences of a captive church and make them a commentary on God. We can’t live our lives by our own wisdom and then in a moment of crisis expect to throw up a request at God and demand that he answer it.
4. It won’t work for me. To the self-condemned, dependence always sounds like an unreachable dream. But if it works only for those who grew up in middle-class homes with godly parents, then it is not the gospel. It must also work for the prostitute, the victim of child abuse, the poor, the uneducated. And it does!
All these excuses, real as they might seem in the midst of our pain and disillusionment, have one thing in common. They ultimately result from trust in ourselves. They demonstrate not the failure of God to be trustworthy, but the failure of our attempts to turn God into our personal servant. Yes, his actions do disappoint us at times but that is only because we have neither understood the depth of his love for us, nor have we embraced his agenda for our lives.
Jesus’ School of Discipleship
The Naked Church – Chapter Ten – When I look at how little Jesus’ disciples seemed to understand, I wonder what he did with all the time he spent with them. Even though Jesus clearly told them about his death and resurrection, they tried to talk him out of it, and did not even remember what he had said until after it happened. Even on the day of his ascension they were still asking if he would now restore the kingdom of Israel.
Though he didn’t teach them the theological facts which our twentieth century bias would anticipate, he did teach them how to depend on God in every situation. We can see it best if we focus on how he dealt with one of those disciples.
The first time they met, Peter was cleaning his nets after a night of fruitless fishing. Jesus asked to borrow his boat so he could teach the crowds from offshore. When he was finished he told Peter to go out a little further and drop the nets. Peter resisted, since even with his best efforts he had already come up empty. He finally consented, though, and how much fun it would have been to see the look on his face when the net began to wiggle under the weight of his unearned load! Though this was the greatest catch of Peter’s life, he never sold it. He walked away from it to follow Jesus.
Later, on that same sea, the disciples were caught in a violent storm. Afraid for their lives, they awakened Jesus, and to their surprise he rebuked the storm and it subsided. But Jesus took them further. “Where is your faith?” he asked, hinting that God could have done the same through them.
The Naked Church – Chapter Ten – To make his point clearer he sent them out on their own. He told them to take no provisions, to heal the sick, to drive out demons, and to preach the kingdom of God. On this evangelistic campaign media hype and flamboyant oratory would not suffice. The disciples needed the power and presence of God.
When they returned, Jesus sought to take them off alone, only to be pursued by a crowd of 5000 people. After he ministered to them all day, he told the disciples to give them dinner. Again he called them to think past their own efforts, and by a word of blessing he fed the crowd with a little boy’s lunch.
On another occasion the disciples couldn’t drive a demon out of a small boy. Jesus pra ed for him, staying with him through violent convulsions until he was free. When they asked him why they were unable to free him, Jesus explained that the situation demanded more prayer than they had given it. They asked him how to pray, and he taught them to make sure you pray according to God’s will, and when you do so keep seeking until you break through every obstacle.
Jesus’ itinerant lifestyle gave him ample opportunity to demonstrate how God can provide for his children. One time he even told Peter to get some money from the mouth of a fish. Even as Jesus’ life drew to an end, the lessons continued. He sent Peter to prepare the Passover meal, and everything that Jesus told them in advance came to pass. Even before Peter denied His Lord, Jesus already saw the failure and encouraged him to get up after it was over and then return to strengthen the other disciples.
Jesus’ brand of discipleship was profound. It dealt less with facts than it did with learning to live in the confidence of a Father’s love. Through every need, failure, and joy he showed them that God’s wisdom and power were sufficient. Things didn’t always work out the way they thought it should, but God continued to fulfill his purpose.
The Naked Church – Chapter Ten – Did they learn the lesson? Their last recorded words to Jesus in the upper room demonstrated just how well: “Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”
Jesus responded, “You believe at last!” They had come to the end of their own reason and resource. They saw Jesus as the one to whom they could totally entrust their lives, not because he compelled them to but because he really did have all wisdom and power. If anything, the disciples learned this lesson too well. That’s why they couldn’t understand the cross nor his ascension. They had become so dependent on him that they couldn’t imagine life without his physical form. They had yet to understand the presence of Jesus returning to them through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told them about it, but he wasn’t bothered when they misunderstood, for he knew what would happen on the day of Pentecost.
What we see in those disciples from that day forward was not only the result of the Spirit’s presence but also the fruit of their learned dependence on him. That’s what took them to the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire announcing the coming of God’s kingdom, healing the sick, and enduring persecution.
And the words that rang from their lips continually was of the magnificent love of God demonstrated in the death of the Son on the cross. There, God proved for all time the depth of his passion for us and the lengths he would go to help us discover life in him so that we would never have to doubt it again. He has made a safe place in himself where we can live without fear, trusting his work in our lives through every situation we encounter.
The foot of the cross is where Jesus’ life was summed up for us and where we are trained to trust. Contemporary Christianity has all but ignored this powerful work of the cross and sees it only as a sacrificial atonement to appease God’s wrath. But that misses the whole point. Jesus didn’t die to satisfy God’s anger toward sin; he became sin so that the wrath of God might destroy sin in him. He made the sacrifice we were incapable of making, and defeated sin for us that we might live in him free of its power and shame.
Having been accepted by God at our worst, we can abandon all attempts to earn God’s favor by our good works. We can simply enjoy our relationship with him and trust his love for us. As we grow in him, we will see him at work in every circumstance of our lives to draw us closer to him, free us from the bondage of self and fulfill his good purpose in our lives.
Learning to Live in His Love
“I feel like God is telling us that he’s going to teach us how to
trust his power mor than we now trust our own efforts.” I still remember the morning Gene shared that thought during one of our Sunday morning services. Though the promise in that statement excited me, I also thought how unbelievable it sounded. I prayed about situations because I knew I should, but I honestly didn’t see where it made much difference. My own scheming and fretting accomplished far more.
Over the next year, however, God fulfilled his promise in our congregation. Whatever we did by our own efforts began to unravel, and we saw how unfruitful our efforts were in really filling people with God’s life. On the other hand, things that we sought God about, waiting to act until his will was clear, produced incredible results. Where I used to intuitively trust my own wisdom, I now find myself praying earnestly—not because I should, but because I want to rely on him, not myself.
Growing to trust God is the essence of true spirituality, and fortunately he understands how difficult it is for us to learn that. Jesus will teach you how to trust his Father with the same patience that he taught his own disciples. Two kinds of experiences will be important here. First are those times when God provides for you or uses you in ways that leave you overwhelmed with his greatness and goodness.
Second, he uses those situations in which you are challenged by need so great that you know you are powerless to resolve it yourself. Don’t despise those moments or blame God for them. He doesn’t create them. They simply result from a world out of synch with his desires that fall alike on the just and the unjust. He will, however, use everything in your life, including your difficulties—to teach you how to trust him more freely.
That’s how Paul measured his troubles: “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life… But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God. …He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us” (2 Corinthians 1:8,9).
Don’t run from situations that make you totally dependent on him, for that’s when you’re the most open and pliable to his work. Always remain confident in his love, even when circumstances beg you to doubt it.
Learning to live in his love, however, doesn’t mean we just endure circumstances hoping for a favorable outcome. It includes hearing God’s voice in their midst and obediently following him until his goals are achieved. It focuses not on our comfort or ease, but on God’s glory being revealed.
This is where a sensitivity to God’s voice is so critical. Without it, what we call trust will easily degenerate into mere presumption. When I take my kids to the mountains, they know they can trust me. I’m not going to let anything harm them, let them get lost, or fail to rush to their attention if they need help. To have the benefits of that trust, however, they must stay within earshot of my voice. If they wander too far away they won’t be able to hear me.
There are a variety of ways in which God speaks to us. First Corinthians 2:11-13 tells us that the Spirit inserts his thoughts into our minds. Some people refer to this as inner impressions or a still, small voice, but it is God speaking. Suddenly his thoughts superimpose themselves over our own with direction, wisdom, or even rebuke.
Scripture is another source that God uses to speak to us. Not only do we gain general knowledge from the Word, but often during our reading a specific Scripture will just reach up and grab us by the eyeballs and say, “Look here!” God uses that inspiration to help us face something for our life or equip us for the day.
The Bible gives us many other examples of how God communicates—an audible voice, dreams, visions, and even angels. Admittedly these are more rare, but they are nonetheless tools at his disposal. Sometimes he communicates without words, instantly overwhelming us with a sense of his love, peace, worship, faith, joy, or boldness. Times like that make us keenly aware of his intentions toward us. He also uses other people to share insights that will help us, with or without their being aware of it.
In all of these, however, we must look to hear his voice. Just because we have a thought or dream, or someone tells us, “God told me to tell you…” does not mean it is God speaking. As we grow closer to God, his voice will become more distinguishable and we can move in it with greater certainty. Later, we’ll discuss ways that God has given us to confirm his voice.
For now, let God speak to you in a variety of ways. Rely on him and don’t let fear of moving beyond your abilities keep you from following him. That’s where fruitfulness is. Generally speaking, we are too preoccupied with staying safely in the limit of our own abilities, and because of this we do not learn how to depend on God. We try so hard to protect people from making mistakes that we deny them opportunities for growth.
When God does not meet your expectations in a given circumstance, don’t be discouraged. Instead, go to him and find out why. Were your expectations wrong? Did you just not endure in prayer long enough, like the disciples with the demon-possessed boy? Were you not close enough to God to hear him lead you through the situation? Were you following self, and not His Spirit?
Andrew Murray gave us perhaps the best direction for times like this:
Learn to say of every want, and every failure and every lack of needful grace: I have waited too little upon God, or He would have given me in due season all I needed. And say then too—”My soul, wait thou only upon God!”
The Naked Church – Chapter Ten – But know from the outset that troublesome circumstances do not prove that God has ceased to love you or that he is unaware of your pain. He just has something in mind greater than you understand at the moment.
Produced with permission from Wayne Jacobsen.