Trusting in Advance

By Julian Wells

“But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:19-20)

What is faith? I have encountered numerous answers to that question through the years. Here are just a few:

  • Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” 
  • Webster’s defines faith as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.”
  • “It is the heart which experiences God and not reason. This, then, is faith: God felt by the heart, not by reason.” – Blaise Pascal
  • “Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God’s grace; it is so certain that someone would die a thousand times for it.” – Martin Luther

One of my favorite definitions of faith comes from Philip Yancey, who once wrote, “I have learned that faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” The older I get and the more I reflect on my own faith journey, the more I appreciate Yancey’s definition.

That was the definition that came to mind recently as I came to the end of the Book of Genesis with Joseph speaking those memorable, forgiving, and convicting words to his brothers, who were fearing Joseph’s retribution after the death of their father, Jacob. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” (Gen. 50: 20)

Perhaps you are familiar with Joseph’s story, as told in chapters 37-50 of Genesis. Out of jealousy his brothers had sold him to some Midianite merchants and told Jacob he had been killed by animals. After those merchants then sold him to Potiphar, an Egyptian official, Joseph was falsely accused of molesting Potiphar’s wife and thrown into prison.

At that point, if anyone was ever justified in declaring that life is unfair, it certainly might have been Joseph. But at no time does he ever appear to entertain those thoughts. Instead, Genesis 39:23 says, “the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.”

Even from a prison cell, Joseph earned Pharaoh’s trust in the face of a coming famine and was given great authority to prepare for it. With that authority, Joseph was eventually able to save his entire family, including those brothers who had once intended him great harm.

Joseph’s story is a fascinating picture of faithful obedience to God, the power of forgiveness, and trust in the sovereign control of God in the affairs of men.

Life is full of detours, disappointments, and difficulties. Sometimes these are the result of poor choices on our part. Sometimes we get caught in the blowback of other’s actions. Sometimes we are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And sometimes God is doing a greater work that will only make sense when, like Joseph, we look at our lives in reverse.

Whatever the source, it is always tempting to wallow in our misfortune, blame others for our circumstances, or make excuses for our own bad choices. A better response is to remember the story of Joseph. Instead of excusing or fixing blame on others, regard your circumstances through eyes of faith as coming from God.

He just might be up to something good.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Note: All Scripture references from the New International Version (NIV)

 

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What My Grandchildren Have Taught Me About Life, Love, and Faith

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3)

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One of the greatest blessings of having lived as long as I have is experiencing the joy of having grandchildren. As a Christian father and grandfather, I have always understood and accepted my biblical responsibility to pass on my faith and valuable life lessons to the generations that follow. But one of the unexpected benefits of being a grandfather has been the lessons my grandchildren have taught me through the years!

As I have pondered what it means to change and become like little children, I have usually interpreted Christ’s words as referring to having a child-like faith. And that certainly is what I believe was first on our Lord’s mind. Little children have a faith that trusts completely, without hesitation, and without conditions. God places a high value on that kind of faith. In fact, the author of Hebrews tells us that “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb. 11:6)

That kind of God-pleasing faith seems to come more naturally for children than for adults. But I believe Jesus had more than just faith in mind when He encouraged us to “become as little children”. As I have watched my grandchildren grow, God has revealed some of those deeper truths that are embodied in that simple little teaching.

The more malleable we are, the better God can mold us

As parents, it has been very gratifying to watch our children pass on their faith to the next generation, being DSC00763obedient to God in training our grandchildren in the way they should go. (Prov. 22:6) But the molding process in our lives should not stop when we pass from childhood to adulthood. Isaiah and Jeremiah both spoke of our relationship to God as one of a potter and clay.

But the older we get and the more set in our ways we become, the harder it is for God to mold us into the person He wants us to be. We can become so fixated on certain doctrines of men or the interpretations of certain teachers and preachers that we fail to follow the example of the Bereans whom the apostle Paul commended in Acts 17:11 for examining “the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” By failing in this, we deny the Holy Spirit the opportunity to fulfill one of His primary roles of teaching us all things. (John 14:26)

We are all unique in the eyes of God

imagePs 139:14 says “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”. In 2004, our daughter gave birth to triplet boys. From the day they were born, it was clear that each one had been endowed with unique personality traits, interests, strengths, and weaknesses. As you can see from this photo, they each even support different college teams. It is also clear that the one in the middle is the smart one! (Sorry, Dawg fans – I just couldn’t resist!)

God made each one of us unique. The world tries to make us all alike, and it can stifle our creativity and interfere with God’s personal plan for our lives. But I believe one of the keys to living the “abundant life” (John 10:10) that Jesus desires us to have is to recognize our unique God-given design, and employ those unique gifts to serve others.

Growth requires persistence

When children are learning to walk, they fall down. Then they get up, and they fall down again, and again, and again … until they get it right. They don’t fall down and say “Well I’m never going to try that again!” It’s how they grow. It’s also how we grow. James 1:4 says “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”.

Little children are not afraid of failure, but how often do we let the fear of failure keep us from exploring new and exciting adventures. Or perhaps it keeps us from serving the Lord in the way He has in mind for us. A healthy, Spirit-led sense of risk can be beneficial. It helps us grow. It makes life more exciting and it keeps us young.

The antidote for worry is trust

My grandchildren don’t worry about anything. They take life’s ups and downs much better than the grownups in their lives. They know innately that their earthly mother and father are going to take care of their every need. And so will our Heavenly Father.

Phil. 4:6-7 says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. Jesus said in Matt. 6:27, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

The truth is that worry takes years off our lives. Studies of those who live to the age of 100 reveal that they tend to be relaxed, optimistic, and even-tempered. As adults we need to develop that same level of trust in our Heavenly Father that my grandchildren have in their parents. After all, our Heavenly Father is perfect in his love, infinite in his wisdom, and sovereign in his control. How can we not trust a Father like that?

Don’t hold on to anger and bitterness

“In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” (Eph. 4:26)  Kids can have the worst argument and swear to never speak to one another ever again. Then a half hour later they act like nothing ever happened. They release their anger and move on without holding grudges. And when they are wronged, they quickly forgive, without keeping a record. 1 Cor. 13:5 says that love “is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”  Kids just seem to get that better than adults do!

Never lose your sense of wonder

Gen 1:31 says “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”  I love to watch my grandchildren discover the miracles of nature that we tend to overlook or take for granted. The triplets saw mountains for the first time when they visited in 2013. One of my grandsons is fascinated with bugs, reptiles, and rocks. He’s old enough now that when he encounters something new, he will spend hours looking up information on the internet about his discovery.

Last February, three of our grandchildren visiting from Florida experienced snow for theIMG_1149 first time. They had their first snowball fight. And our long downhill driveway that is such a pain to shovel this time of year turned into an exciting sled run. Needless to say, it was the most fun in snow I’ve had in years as I was able to experience it through their eyes. As an added benefit, I had help shoveling afterward!

Sometimes we adults tend to get so preoccupied with the cares and anxieties of our lives that we ignore the simple miracles taking place all around us. Several years ago on a visit to Colorado with friends, we came to a beautiful spot between Leadville and Copper Mountain just at the moment the sun was setting between a couple of peaks in the distance. As we stood there and took in that scene, God reminded me that a very similar experience occurs right outside my back door every night and I often just ignore it.

These are just a few of the things my grandchildren have taught me. I’m sure you have more lessons you can add to the conversation. Feel free to post them in the comments below. I would love to hear them. Remember, I don’t want this blog to be a one way conversation.

Until next time, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. (Matt. 19:14)

*All Scripture references are from the New International Version (NIV)