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  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

In What Are We Trusting?

In my recent bible reading I have been going through the gospel according to John. I was really struck by something in this account in John 4 of the dealings of Jesus with a 'certain royal official'. This man comes to Jesus with a desperate request. Jesus doesn’t do exactly what is asked, in fact I think he does more than what is asked. He reveals more of his divine power to this man. Then we are told ‘The man took Jesus at his word and departed.’

This, in the confines of one verse of scripture, is faith. This is faith.

Faith can be a concept that is hard for people to grasp; to understand it’s essence. But here it is in the form of a picture painted by John, that should make things easy for us. Faith is believing what the Lord has promised, and then going on in our lives with those things promised retained in our minds and affecting the way that we think and the way that we behave.

Why did this verse particularly stand out in my reading of this chapter this time? I think it is because of the present circumstances. The situation with coronavirus is serious. It demands serious thought. For believers, it will make demands on our faith. In fact, in the Lord’s hand, it may be like a pure shining light, revealing the true colour of our faith.

I have realised this week that in the past it has been oh so easy. I have believed that I trusted the Lord. I trusted him for my income, for my daily food, for my life, for the life and health of those near and dear to me.

But did I trust him completely? My apparent ‘trust’ was shored up by something ‘other’. My thinking was affected by the surrounding circumstances of life. And relatively speaking life was easy. I had much, I was relatively rich. Did I have too much?

This has put me in mind of the sayings of Agur, that we find in Proverbs 30. He said,

'give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God.'

All too easily we become products of the generation in which live. My daily bread, and more besides, is provided day after day. Unlike in other places on earth; unlike the circumstances experienced by my Grandparents and every generation before them, I had, it seemed, certainty. Yes, I thanked the Lord for his provision and I asked him for continued provision. But, did I earnestly seek him? Did I truly believe that, if he didn't provide, I would have nothing? Or was the certainty of first world civilisation propping up my confidence in tomorrow?

As an illustration, let's imagine that I have a father who can perform the role of a surveyor. Lets imagine that he was born with a natural gift for learning, had been given the best of education, had been to the top universities, had spent his entire career learning every aspect of construction and engineering.

Let's imagine that he is world-leading in his knowledge and expertise. He purchases a house for me to live in. The house is built on a large bank of earth. The front garden is on a level that is considerably higher than the adjacent street. The property is fronted by a large retaining wall. What if my Father tells me that he has checked out the construction of the banking, and he is certain that it has been fitted with horizontal layers of material (I think these are called 'geosynthetic reinforcement') which are so state of the art that the retaining wall is not necessary. He says, 'The position that this wall has been placed in makes it kind of ugly. In my professional judgment, I find it offensive. You can, you should, take it down.'

What would my reaction be? Probably this... 'I know you have a wisdom and knowledge in this area that is unsurpassed. I know that you love me. I know that you have provided for the needs of my life and that you care deeply that I am kept safe from harm. I trust your judgment, absolutely I do. But I'll keep the retaining wall, thank you very much. It may be offensive to you, but it makes me feel a little more assured.'

In our present circumstance, with the advance of coronavirus, the retaining wall of certainty has been removed from many of our lives. What now? The issue has been forced by our loving, heavenly Father. He has taken down the thing that was ugly and offensive to him.

I am not suggesting that our Lord is opposed to peace and prosperity. Having free, available health care, modern medicine that can heal diseases that would previously been devastating; having relative job security; having a social security net below us; order in society, peace between nations; easy access to food and clean water. The Lord has blessed us with these things. He doesn't see these as bad things. But, they can become just that.

When, in the lives of his people, these blessings are placed in the wrong position; when believers begin to trust in the things that God has given and, consequently, reduce their need of trusting in the Lord himself; when the confidence of Christians is in the things that they possess, the things that prop up their lives, this is ugly; this is offensive to their Lord.

We do well to take heed to the words of Jesus, 'It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.'

The circumstance of life had made me too rich. It affected my standing within the Kingdom. The Lord in his mercy has exposed my true poverty. Without him, I have nothing.

What assured me before is now gone. All I have left is his word and his promise. Can I rely on these and these alone? Can I be like the royal official, in John's gospel, and take him at his word, and then go on my way believing; believing that it will be so, just as he has promised?

This official is quite extra-ordinary in what he requests of Jesus. I think it is reasonable to calculate, from what we are told in the passage, that he lived some two days journey from where Jesus was. He is travelling home and meets his servants who are travelling towards him, but this takes place on the following day. This man had been bold. He requested that Jesus travel this distance with him. He begged him to come, to heal his son before he died. Are we prepared to come to the Lord and ask him for great things?

And what encouragement we can take from this passage. Jesus answers the request made. He doesn't say, 'Yes, I will come and do that'. In fact, he rather says, 'Go... I have already done it'. He says to the man, 'your son will live'.

If the present circumstances don't make us seek to lay hold of the promises of God then nothing will. The truth is, though, that as we come to God's word and read and delight in his promises, so many of them are not telling us what he will do for us, but are telling us about what he has already done.

The biggest need we have is our sin. The greatest thing we can ever ask him for is to remove it. Its burden, its guilt, its grasp of our lives. But, when we look in the bible, as believers, we see not the promise, so much, that he will remove it, but that he already has. When Jesus cried out on the cross, 'It is finished', he was speaking of the work that he came to do, which was to separate sin from the sinner, by taking it upon himself. This work was finished. It's a done deal.

If you aren't yet a believer today, if you are truly conscious of your need as a sinner, then act today on his promise. John 6:40 tells us that 'everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.' Don't look elsewhere. Look to Jesus, Son of God and Saviour.

So, now that the Lord has removed this false security from my life and revealed its true worth, and caused me to look with renewed focus to him alone, and the words which he speaks, what should I expect to find? What is it that will be my comfort and security now?

There are a multitude of things that the word throws up to comfort us and encourage us. However things pan out over time, all of them together will work for our good. Either they will, or the bible is not true.

Does that mean that I don't have to worry because I will remain healthy? No. Does that mean that I don't have to worry because I won't die? No. What it means is that, what ever happens, my loving Heavenly Father is in control. His will is better than mine. What he wills is best. I can rest in that. I can truly pray, 'Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth (yes, here, in my life) as it is in heaven.'

What if in his will he orders my passing. Is my desire aligned with the words in God's amazing prophecy through wicked Balaam, 'Let me die the death of the righteous, and may my final end be like theirs!'?

We have a wonderful picture at the end of Samson's life. It is written for our instruction. Samson's fallen, selfish, character is so apparent through the record of scripture. But this sinner was a restored sinner. At the end of his life he says, in effect, 'I am ready to die, Lord, but I request that when I do, may the Kingdom of Israel be advanced.' Do we desire an end like this? Are we saying, 'If this is your will for me, then may I reflect you in my last days. May my death be a speaking voice that is heard by many. May your kingdom on earth be extended by the manner in which I pass.'

If our request is just 'Lord, don't let me die yet' then we are asking for something that his word has not actually promised. But, if we are asking for him to abide with us, whatever; to be merciful to us, in the way that he sees fit to dispense his merciful providence, then we can be assured that he will.

My prayer is that the Lord will be merciful to us all. The landscape of life will be changed by this disease, that is for sure. But may the lives of believers know the most change. May those ugly, offensive, retaining walls, that we had in our lives before, remain in ruins on the floor. May the promises of God, that support our lives invisibly, be the only things that we require to not be anxious about anything, but, rather, in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, be found presenting our requests to God.

May we be all the more students of his word, looking to frame our lives, our minds, our thoughts by what the bible teaches. May we be seekers daily after his truth. In the knowledge that the truth of the matter is this, he has already done. He will give us all that we truly need for our lives. How could he not when he has given us his son?



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