Allow me to clarify. The face I’m referring to is Satan’s ugly mug. My aim as a Christian is to stand firm in my faith no matter what that rattlesnake may throw at me. Now, saying it’s my aim doesn’t mean I always achieve it. The devil has knocked me down more than a few times and when that happens doubts that he’s been defeated inevitably enter my mind but I’ve found if I’ll simply lift up my arm God never fails to grab me by the hand and pull me to my feet again. In so doing He’s strengthened my trust in Him immeasurably. And, because I believe with all my heart what I’ve read in His Holy Word, the assurance stated unequivocally to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 31:8 and reiterated later for all of God’s children to hold on to in Hebrews 13:5, “…I will never leave you and I will never abandon you,” resounds in my soul and lifts my spirits constantly. Because God has proved His unconditional love for me is as real as the stars above I’ll to strive to do what Paul suggests in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “…for all things, give thanks.” All things. High on the long list of items I’m grateful for is the trust the Lord has planted and nurtured in me. Sans His generosity it wouldn’t be there. Brennan Manning labeled his trust ruthless. Webster’s defines that adjective as “without pity” but he explained, in the context of trusting in God, he took it to mean “without self-pity.” He added, “…self-pity is the arch-enemy of trust.”
Sadly, self-pity is an instinctive psychological coping mechanism imbedded in our mammalian DNA. When inexplicable tragedies occur and we see innocents die, when a horrible car accident blows to smithereens our well-planned agendas, when illness and/or pain rudely interrupt our normal routines, when divorce or estrangement barge into our once rock-solid marriage, when heartache or grief darken our world and make us want to scream in anger towards the heavens, self-pity is a completely rational, understandable and normal reaction. In fact, to suppress it and act like everything’s fine and dandy isn’t healthy and may lead to us strolling into the dangerous ghetto of denial. That’s where self-pity turns malignant and we become susceptible to drowning our internalized angst in alcohol, drugs or isolation. We can’t get around self-pity. We have to plow through it. The good news for believers is that we don’t have to do the strenuous plowing alone. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit to help us to put one foot in front of the other. In other words, it’s okay to let self-pity crash on our couch for a night or two but we mustn’t let it hang around so long it starts getting mail delivered to our home address. In-your-face trust in God is not some mystical, wispy or abstract concept but a sturdy, palpable and very formidable (to Satan and his posse, that is) reality that can not only define our lives but reveal to others that Christ, indeed, lives in us. It influences every choice we make and every word we utter. It’s the foundation of our everyday consciousness, the fuel that ignites our spirit and the impetus to love others as ourselves. It’s what convinces us we have a God-ordained purpose for being here.
Manning wrote, “Faith in the person of Jesus and hope in His promise means that His voice, echoing and alive in the Gospels, has supreme and sovereign authority over our lives.” We don’t have to hold a degree in theology or rely on some robed scholar to decipher what God is saying to us in the pages of the Bible. All we have to do is read it every day and accept what it tells us in the most personal manner. That statement doesn’t imply that gifted, insightful Christian authors, evangelists, pastors, ministers and Bible study leaders can’t contribute considerable value to our walk with Jesus. On the contrary, those writers have inspired me to think harder, probe deeper, reflect longer and become more and more fascinated with studying the same book of sacred Scripture they’re so obviously fascinated with. It’s one of the joys of my faith to get to benefit from and share their unabashed enthusiasm for the Holy Word. It’s like this: if some of the smartest people the world has ever known, from Augustine to C.S. Lewis to Ravi Zacharias (to name but a few), have openly displayed unshakable, in-your-face trust in the great I AM then who am I to withhold mine?
In this age when celebrity, no matter how attained, is considered the apex of individual achievement and trust in one’s abilities too often takes precedence over trust in God, Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan juts out in abject contrast to society’s self-prescribed ethics that have even infiltrated our churches. In Luke 10:29-37 we read where a snooty, know-it-all Pharisee asked our Lord “Who, pray tell, is the neighbor we’re supposed to compassionately love?” Jesus tells him about two “religious” travelers who callously ignored a severely injured victim of assault groaning on the roadside while an average Joe from Samaria on his way home from work not only stopped but did everything humanly possible to meet the needs of a total stranger. Jesus then asks, “Which of these three do you think became a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? The expert in religious law said, ‘The one who showed mercy to him.’ So Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do the same.’” In the late 1990s Thomas Cahill wrote in reference to this tale, “As we stand now at the entrance to the third millennium since Jesus, we can look back over the horrors of Christian history, never doubting for an instant that if Christians had put kindness ahead of devotion to good order, theological correctness, and our own justifications – if we had followed in the humble footsteps of the heretical Samaritan who was willing to wash someone else’s wounds, rather than in the self-regarding steps of the priest and the immaculate steps of the Levite – the world we inhabit would be a very different one.” Thus if we believers consider anyone on this planet beneath our time or bother we do our Lord a massive injustice because He made it clear to all his disciples, “…I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me” (Matthew 25:40). In-your-face trust is the only antidote for any fear we may harbor of what might happen to us if we stick our neck out and lend a hand to a stranger in dire straits. Manning wrote, “Our culture says that ruthless competition is the key to success. Jesus says that ruthless compassion is the purpose of our journey.”
The kind of trust I’m going on about here is the sort that, despite our inability to wrap our brains around the ins and outs of it all, is securely welded to the historical reality of the Incarnation and takes at face value the opening verses of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it” (John 1:1-5). It’s trust that has no difficulty accepting God didn’t cut corners and supernaturally materialize out of thin air as a mature adult but actually gestated in Mary’s womb for nine months, squirmed through the birth canal like everyone else had to do in those days and then be born to parents so poor they had to settle for utilizing a livestock feed trough as a make-do crib for Him to sleep in. It’s trust that something incredibly miraculous took place 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem when Christ, “…who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature, he humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross! As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – in heaven and on earth and under the earth – and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11). It’s trust that God did all this in order to save me. And you.
It’s trust there’ll come a day when God sets everything right again. It’s trust that the Heavenly Father will “…give justice to his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night” (Luke 18:7). It’s trust that one need not “…display your righteousness merely to be seen by people” (Matthew 6:1) in order to prove the validity or quality of our intentions to our Lord because the Bible tells us He who “…sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). In-your-face trust is refusing to buckle under and give up when the emotional hurricanes of this world cause all the lights to go out and we’re left stranded in the pitch-black basement, waist-deep in flood waters because we know the apparent absence of God is only another of the evil one’s dirty tricks. As Bede Griffiths put it, “I feel myself in the void, but the Void is totally saturated with love.” It’s trust we can be completely honest about our weaknesses and character defects and yet, despite those faults, God will still work in our hearts to turn us into a new creation solely because He loves us so much. “If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). In the Celebrate Recovery ministry it’s all about trust from the get go. If James 5:16, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed,” is a fib, then the lives I’ve seen drastically change and improve before my own eyes are nothing more than the result of people fooling themselves into believing they’ve become better human beings. Sorry, no one will ever convince me that God’s not involved. CR works because we put all our trust in the reliability of His Word and we’re willing to come clean because of that trust.
Alas, the population at large disagrees and shows it by shunning, whenever feasible, all personal responsibility for consequences stemming from their actions. Manning wrote, “If we avoid any confrontation with authentic guilt, we stifle personal growth. If we continue to blame others for our weaknesses and failures, we refuse accountability for the present direction of our life. Although self-pity thwarts self-acceptance, wearing the scarlet letter V (for victim) allows us to take the moral high ground.” Too many people today want to play the “blame game,” targeting anything or anyone except themselves for their circumstances. (The fact that men and women occupying the highest positions in our government, both national and local, do the same thing doesn’t help remedy that widespread problem.) In my years as a leader in Celebrate Recovery I’ve repeatedly encountered people hopelessly caught up in the sticky web denial can weave. For example, someone comes to a meeting because their life’s a mess. Maybe it’s a guy who had an affair and his spouse found out about it. Instead of repenting, he blamed the spouse for not “meeting his needs.” To try and save the marriage the couple went to counseling sessions but things didn’t improve so they stopped going. They ended up divorced and now the man hardly gets to see his kids. He became depressed and now disturbing thoughts of suicide are surfacing. He knows he needs help. Yet, despite all that’s befallen him, he refuses to hold himself responsible for what’s happened to him. He thinks perhaps the Jesus of his childhood can make everything right but, in an era where the most common lie is “I’m not guilty,” he’s still not ready to encounter the gracious Son of God who nonetheless insists on accountability. As long as he’ll only pretend to admit he’s a sinner he’ll only be able to pretend to accept forgiveness. Usually he never returns to CR.
Manning wrote, “To knife through our pretense, cowardice, and evasions, to see the truth about ourselves and the true state of our souls before God – this requires enormous courage and ruthless trust in the merciful love of the redeeming God. Put simply, sin must be acknowledged and confessed before there can be forgiveness and real transformation.” People who lack in-your-face trust in God certainly find it difficult to believe He can handle, much less forgive, the despicable acts they’ve committed. Deep down, they think they’re too far gone for rescue. But if they’d take the time to read the confessions of the Apostle Paul they’d know that’s not the case. He wrote, “…I am unspiritual, sold into slavery to sin. For I don’t understand what I am doing. For I do not do what I want – instead, I do what I hate. But now it is no longer me doing it, but sin that lives in me. For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do the good, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want!” (Romans 7:14-19).
I can’t count the number of times Paul’s transparency has been a source of relief to me. I’ve been in recovery for almost 7 years now and my relationship with Christ has never been closer but I still have lapses and relapses into pettiness, selfishness, prideful boasting, disgusting phases of acting holier-than-thou so my insatiable hunger for recognition can be sated, slothful laziness, etc. I could go on and on. I fall and get up again and again ad nauseum. Yet I feel I owe it to God to never give up the fight against my stubborn sinful nature because He’s never given up on me. I trust wholeheartedly that when Jesus was asked by Peter if he should forgive his brother seven times and the Master answered, “Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy-seven times!” (Matthew 18:22), He was telling all Christians how many times God will forgive us. And, since He paid the price for all my sins, I can tell you conclusively that seventy-seven is a ridiculously small and inadequate number of forgivings when it comes to my transgressions. Seven million is more like it. I’m amazed at what He puts up with in me. Only a love beyond comprehension can save me from the punishment I deserve. Yet the Holy Word reassures me it’s okay to trust that His unending love is here now and it’s enough to ensure my salvation for all eternity – no matter how many times I fail Him. Clinical psychologist Jim Finley wrote, “Is it possible that each time we stumble, fall, and rise again, God can barely bear the bliss of it?”
However, in-your-face trust can’t be faked. Our true intentions and mindset must be pure, noble and always directed towards pleasing God, else no amount of praying, Bible reading or scripture memorization will be worth a plug nickel in the long run. If we’ve been introduced to the Good News of the Gospel but still have no intention whatsoever of surrendering our whole life to Christ, to make amends for the harm we’ve done to others and thereby radically change our heart, to “…lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires, to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image…” (Ephesians 4:22-24), then we’re only deceiving ourselves and, worst of all, we’re foolishly trying to marginalize God. Only unflinching trust can allow us to drop our masks and be who we are in the presence of the Lord. Only uncompromised trust will open the gates to God’s kingdom where we’ll be truly free of spiritual doubts for all time to come.