I taught all four of my kids to ride their bikes, but the most interesting one was my oldest daughter. My rule was when the training wheels came off, they never went back on again. This was, of course, before balance bikes existed, which frankly, is a genius idea. But when I was teaching my kids they had to learn how to balance, pedal, brake, and steer all at the same time—it’s amazing that any kids learned how to ride a bike in those days.
My oldest daughter didn’t like trying new things, and she certainly wasn’t interested in learning to ride without training wheels. But I insisted so we went over to the greentop—a former tennis court in our neighborhood. As I pushed her and she tried to practice everything I taught her, she let out a steady stream of “whoa, whoooaaa, whoa”s. It was an entertaining and unbroken string of “whoas” as long as she was on the bike. It’s hard to learn to ride without falling over, and my daughter did. Unfortunately she hit her front teeth on the greentop. When she got up she had green on her teeth! I felt terrible. One of her front baby teeth actually died because of this. Her dead tooth gave her a redneck smile for a few years.
Her definition of good was keeping the training wheels on forever. My definition of good was her learning to ride her bike. She didn’t like my definition. She didn’t trust that I really knew what was good for her. She especially questioned my judgment when she fell off and hit her teeth.
Suffering is like that. It can tempt us with distrust.
Years ago the president of my college defined the fear of God as “a conscious awareness of God’s presence.” What I love about that definition is it highlights that fearing God is not accomplished on a lone Sunday morning. A relationship with God involves Sunday church attendance, but it’s more than that. God intends that we relate to him 24-7 and not just one morning a week. In the Bible God has given us words that define our relationship with Him, that describe what we do in our relationship with God. These are the verbs that command us to do something towards God like fear, hope, obey, worship, serve, trust, and others. If we understand those words, we quickly realize that God intends us to relate to him all the time. All of us can go hours with no thought of God, but He’s there all the time and is calling us to find refuge in Him, hope in Him, trust in Him, etc. The Christian life is God-relational.
One of the primary verbs describing our relationship with God is trust. That’s not something that is accomplished by reading one book or attending one small group—it really is something that we do every day. In every circumstance we are supposed to trust in God and not ourselves.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Prov 3:5 (ESV)
But often we don’t trust God. When God changes my schedule—and he does almost every day—I find it difficult to agree with God that his change is better than my original plans. While my relationship with God should mean that I trust him, I sometimes am disappointed with his providential intrusion into my carefully planned calendar, maybe even frustrated with God.
One reason that Christians don’t trust God is because they believe that he has failed them before, and therefore, they cannot trust him now. He didn’t do what they wanted him to do in their lives, so they believe that he has thwarted them. And if you think that, you are going to have a hard time trusting God going forward.
So how does this dynamic happen? How does a Christian end up thinking that God failed him? This sad progression happens in four steps.
First, I’m Surprised by Suffering. A trial comes into my life. It’s unexpected, and it causes me alarm. Unfortunately, I don’t have biblical categories for handling a Christian life that has suffering.
Second, I Analyze the Cause. I wonder why this trial has happened. I assume it must be punishment for sin; Christians tend to believe that trials are always or most likely God’s punishment for sin. However, in this case I can’t think of any obvious rebellion against God. Yes I fail like all others, but no specific failure seems to deserve this, and I’m not presently defying God’s authority.
Third, I Evaluate My Service: Then I remember all the things I’ve done for God. I give, attend church, read my Bible, and bring my kids to Sunday school and youth group. This evaluation will be very external—it will be things that can be measured like I am more into my Bible this year than last. Therefore, I kind of believe God owes me better than this. How could God let this happen to me?
Fourth I Condemn God’s Work. I’ve kept my end of the bargain. It doesn’t seem God has kept His. Ultimately I believe I’ve done good, and God has done bad. God has failed me.
That’s a common progression that leads to disappointment with God, and past disappointment is a reason that Christians don’t trust God today. We become skeptical of God. We doubt his goodness, control, and wisdom. But we’re disappointed because we think that God owes us better. He should endorse our plans, not change them in such difficult ways.
A wrong belief that makes this progression possible is that being a Christian means that we have God in our back pocket to make sure our plans come to pass. God is our lucky charm that makes sure our dreams come true. Unbelievers don’t have that assurance we think. We believe that trusting God means that I trust Him to make my plans come to pass because I can’t make them happen myself (I’ve talked about this elsewhere). But that’s not trust. The truth is, God’s not very good at getting us what we want if what we want is anything other than His glory. And I want a lot of things other than seeing God glorified. And when I don’t get those things, I get disappointed with God.
The mature believer knows that trials are not alien intruders into our lives. God uses trials; you should expect trials. Suffering is God’s plan for you. Remember what Peter wrote to persecuted believers in Asia Minor?
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12–13 (ESV)
Suffering is not surprising. It’s the normal Christian life. Christians talk all the time about having a relationship with God; well, trust is indispensable to that relationship.
My daughter eventually learned how to ride a bike. And while I didn’t plan it to cost her a tooth, I did expect that she would crash her bike a few times. It was necessary for her to learn something valuable. And God intends suffering for your good as well.
Does this progression make sense to you? Does it maybe explain your present difficulty in trusting God’s work in your life? You can trust God. He is worthy of your trust.