Navigating your faith through life’s difficulties
How do we navigate the reality that God’s promise to sustain us does not always equate being rescued from life’s difficulties? We need a different expression of faith.
It has been said that taking the first step of a journey is the hardest. When it comes to our journey of faith, such a statement may not be entirely accurate. For most of us, the first step is the easiest. We – like the Samaritan woman at the well – are confronted with the reality and power of Jesus, the need for a Saviour, and the availability of salvation. It becomes something of a no-brainer. Of course we take that first step!
Now begins the process of navigating life with all its seasonal challenges and joys, in the midst of the same circumstances that are common to all. Yet we do it with the massive advantage of having Jesus with us the whole way.
If we are honest with ourselves though, some days it doesn’t really feel like an advantage. Sure, there are times when we are so aware of His greatness and His proximity and we can’t help but smile, even wink at adversity. But in other seasons we struggle to engage or appreciate Him at all, let alone sense His strength in our veins.
This is life in-between.
We are in-between the salvation moment where “all things are made new,”1at least in a spiritual sense, and the salvation that will be perfect one day when body, soul, and spirit are with Jesus forever.
To navigate the in-between, we need a different expression of faith. We need faith that finds rest in the midst of trouble, rather than require the trouble to go away. We need faith that knows God is good and God is close, even when we can’t sense Him and the world denies Him. We need faith to call on Him to act in power, and faith to work in the spiritual gifts He gives each of us.
This is where the power of God’s rhythms of grace come in. Our inner engine room of faith can come to life, revived by the synergy of Spirit and Truth as they work together to wake up our spirit and sustain us.
God Himself has promised, “Even to your old age and grey hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”2
Christians start off easily believing God’s promise that He will sustain us, but later we may trip over the reality that being sustained does not always equate being rescued from life’s difficulties. In fact, Jesus was pretty clear when He said that trouble was coming, but that through Him we can overcome it all.3
It becomes obvious that His sustaining power is often internal, and not circumstantial. Sure, He can heal us, He can change circumstances for our benefit, He can and often does do incredible and obvious things in our midst … but remember this: with maturing believers He works withus more than He works forus.
Let us analyse this concept in the life of the Apostle Paul. He endured suffering that would tempt anyone to seek a softer path, yet he lived for decades after his stunning salvation experience with a sustaining faith that kept him white-hot for God.
He writes of one of his more difficult seasons where some physical infirmity was plaguing him. He described it as a messenger of Satan, an attack with a demonic agenda. As one who trusted in God as a higher power than anything Satan could thrust his way, Paul appealed to God to take the affliction away. God answered with an even more profound solution. He gave grace for Paul to overcome despite the circumstance, saying “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”4
Just prior to this, Paul had experienced incredible highs that might have incited pride, and he knew it. He understood that God was better glorified by His own power and grace shining through than Paul’s, and his choice for humility positioned Paul to come into alignment with God’s enabling grace through the pain.
God’s grace is always there for us; He never withholds, yet we are not always positioned to receive that which is offered. As with saving grace, it is available to all, but not automatic. We must cooperate with grace by adopting the posture to receive it.
This is how the rhythms of grace work, and why so many revert to doing life under their own horsepower. They assume that whatever is available from God is theirs automatically, and that all they have is all He has! However, being aware of the gap between what they have and what they need, they begin to doubt God and work from a humanistic, self-sufficient mindset. Inevitably, this sequence of choices leaves them tired and dissatisfied!
Agreeing with Truth
To embrace the work of the Spirit, we need to agree with His perspectives and align with Him rationally. We are required embrace His truth. Amos 3:3 asks, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” Have you ever tried running in a three-legged race? If so, you know how important it is to keep in step with your partner, else you fall over each other. This is why Paul also said that since we live by the Spirit, we must also keep in step with the Spirit.5
Our minds are the gateway to the world of faith. If we agree with lies about ourselves, our God, and our purpose, how can we ever perceive His truth? If our minds are convinced that we are alone and discarded, how could we ever trust Him enough with our hearts to receive His care?
Paul had to keep his thinking clear. There were certain truths he needed to keep as bedrock to his soul. They included the beliefs he wrote about often:
- That God is able to meet all his needs.
- That God is inherently good – He doesn’t withhold, He doesn’t change His mood, and He always loves.
- That God alone is enough for every situation – meaning that our internal and external worlds are sustained by Him.
- That God’s word is true – what He says He does, and there is no shadow of a lie in Him.
All of this is on the truth side of this rhythm of grace. They were Paul’s responsibility to believe. But do you see how this works? Paul didn’t have to actually do any work here; God was to do all of it.
Paul did, however, have to believe the truth. That was his job and it is ours. When the Pharisees asked Jesus, “What is the work God requires?” Jesus replied that the work God requires of us is to believe.6
It is hard to overstate the value of clear thinking in relation to our spiritual life. We are empowered by that kingdom with which we agree. It is as if we are a sailing boat that relies on wind to get anywhere, yet there are two opposing winds blowing at the same time. One is the wind of the Holy Spirit offering empowerment and grace to fulfil God’s will. The other wind has satanic origins; it is always tempting us to engage with its lies, ready to draw us deep into isolation and sin.
I have control over how I trim the sails on my boat. By choosing what I will believe and agree with, I can set the sails to receive God’s wind. He empowers that choice and takes the boat where it cannot go on its own. Likewise, I can believe lies and let the evil realm take power over that choice to the point where it seems I was obliged to go that way all along. To choose wisely, it is vital to remember that, as Romans 8:12 says, we have no obligation at all to the old nature.
Spirit of Grace
When God replied to Paul’s prayer for Him to remove the thorn, He said that His grace for Paul was sufficient. In our culture, “sufficient” is not a word that incites a hugely positive reaction. It reminds us of the minimum mark we need to pass a test; it is just enough. Is that what God gives, just enough to get by and no more? No, He doesn’t see it that way.
In New Testament language, the word sufficient means the perfect amount. It was the word used to describe the military solution to an invader who had breached a defensive wall. A massive plug was created that could be inserted in the wall as a perfect fit, so snug and secure that the invader had to start again because there was no way through. That is the grace God gives, the perfect fit for every situation. He gives us exactly what we need, and never stops giving it.
The original Greek word Paul uses for that word is also in the perfect tense. It means that His grace is perfect for everything, all the time.
But what form does this grace take? How does it work to build our faith?
For the sake of this session, I will restrict the answers to those things that effect our inner world, mainly because that was the form of grace Paul was receiving in this context. That is not to mean that God doesn’t act overtly to heal and alter our worlds visibly, but we will leave that discussion to the next session.
The internal form and function of God’s grace is no less impacting than that which can be observed externally. In fact, it could be argued that His work on our unseen worlds is more profound and powerful than any overt miracle. Interestingly, my observations over many years has been that roughly the same percentage of people actually experience and cooperate with God’s inner working in our lives as those who witness regularly His overt and spectacular works.
I tend to put this inner work of the Holy Spirit into two loose categories:
- Spiritual fruit, which we live out predominantly in the realm of the soul (i.e. mind, will, and emotions).
- Spiritual adoption, which is a work done at the level of our spirit or heart.
Spiritual fruit is a form of grace that we relate to quite easily. God works in us so that we might experience His nature in the form of love, joy, peace, patience, and so on – as described in Galatians 5:22. He also gives us tangible strength, encouragement, counsel, and a myriad of other facets of grace that display His enabling power beyond the capacity of our own character.
In Paul’s case where God’s grace for him was the perfect fit, one can imagine that the grace was particularly in the form of strength, encouragement, peace, and hope. I never cease to be amazed at how much of this type of grace is available, how deep its impact can be, and how far beyond our present experience is the potential resource.
In regards to the grace received at the level of our spirit, so much of it seems to be in the form of relational blessing. This may seem a strange term, yet if you read some of the prayers and theology of Paul in regard to the work of God’s Spirit, so much of it is related to our identity as God’s adopted children, and a revelation of His love for us.
Romans 8:15-16 says, “The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to Sonship. And by Him we cry ‘Abba, Father.’” The Spirit of God literally and continually testifies to our spirit that we belong to God as His child. When we consciously begin to pray to Him, we are joining a conversation that is already going on at the level of our spirit.
Paul goes on in Ephesians 3:1-19, praying for those who are already doing so well in God that they would have a greater revelation in their spirit of the unfathomable size of the love God has for them. These two forms of grace – adoption and awareness of love – are enough in themselves to alter our lives permanently. Have they been your experience yet?
You cannot have the ministry of the Spirit as a part of your experience and not have your faith grow exponentially. It is this ministry to our inner world that holds the key to experiencing the fullness of God’s best for us, yet too often it seems to be the aspect of our lives that is embraced last or least.
Somehow we have been led away from the core of God’s power and potential in us, leaving only the peripheral busyness of life. Only as we turn to God in faith does the very best of what He has for us begin to transform our lives.
Your daily walk with God is a relationship, not a theory. Spirit and Truth are both powerfully developed when we invest in a regular time of reading His word, reflecting on its truth, and talking to Him about its ramifications to our life. This week, jot down a scripture that you have meditated on in your own devotional times. If you get the chance, talk through with a friend or mentor the ways God spoke to you about it and helped you apply it to your life.
- 2 Corinthians 5:17
- Isaiah 46:4
- John 16:33
- 2 Corinthians 7-10
- Galatians 5:25
- John 6:28-29