Every teaching has its own built-in unintended impact. Because our training here in Russia is always in the form of trainings, we get to constantly evaluate what kind of impact and improve the material. And if we have put in hundreds of hours in developing the material, then we have put in thousands of hours in improving it! Let me share with you today one such moment that we want to emphasize to avoid unintended consequences from our trainings.
Our ministry exists to fill what we consider to be a huge gap in society and in the churches – lack of good teaching and meaningful practice in what it means to build deep, transformative, cooperative, challenging, and spiritual relationships within the Body of Christ and with those who do not know Christ. As a result of our trainings, many people feel radically transformed in their ability to form deep relationships, in their relationship with themselves, and with God.
What has also happened with some participants, however, is a tendency to take the new gifts they have received and make them into demands. If formerly they were not aware of how to listen well and to help others feel heard so that they might listen back, now they start to get shocked when it doesn’t “work.” It’s as though they are saying, “Why aren’t you listening to me? I’m doing my part after all!” Before they had lost hope. Now they decide that good relationships are their hope.
Before I address these concerns, I must speak to those who are too quick to see the vanity of placing hope in human relationships. Such a person is likely to quote such verses as:
“Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms” (Micah 7:5).
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord'” (Jer. 17:5).
“So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Heb. 13:6)
As true as these verses are, in my experience the people who most love to quote them are the ones who are most disillusioned with people in general. They tend to think that the only relationships that count are those with God alone. These people have had something happen, maybe even many things, that have taught them not to trust people. Is that what the Bible is really talking about here?
In the Bible, we see a number of examples of human trust. Moses’ father-in-law, for example gave wise counsel to him on the basis of the need and usefulness of human trust. “But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.” Ex. 18:21.
God wanted Moses himself to be found to be trustworthy in the sight of the Israelites. “The Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.’ Then Moses told the Lord what the people had said.” Ex. 19:9
“A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.” Pr. 11:13
And who can deny the need to be trustworthy before the ungodly? “At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.” Dan. 6:4.
“And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?” Lk. 16:12.
“Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” (1Cor. 4:2) Whether that trust comes from God or from a man, we have an obligation to that trust.
God is our source of provision. This is His prerogative, and His alone. My employer, my investments, or whatever, are only the channel He is using currently. But do I therefore put no trust in my employer to pay me next month? If he has done so until now, then I rightly do trust him to continue to do so. If I really did not trust him to pay me next month, then I should find another employer! The designated purpose of an employer is to pay wages based on cash flow to the company. It is right and fitting for me to trust him to do so. It is not right or fitting for me to trust my future to him, to trust my stability to him, to entrust my sense of well-being to him. These functions do not belong to an employer. They belong to God, and this is why to give them to someone else is idolatry. Of course we see that we don’t always even know when we are committing idolatry until circumstances change and we lose our job and have our true motives exposed! Job realized the futility of trusting in money or possessions. “If I have put my trust in gold or said to pure gold, ‘You are my security,’” Job 31:24. Trusting my employer to do what is his proper function to do is actually a part of trusting God, who is the Source behind all sources.
Consider Proverbs 27:6. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Are we trusting the wounds or the friend? I understand that the proverb form uses this literary device to speak of both together, but the wound itself is what hurts, even having something of a life of its own. But it came from a good friend, and I know he has my best interests at heart. Thus I trust the wound, because I trust my friend. Do you see the pattern? I trust what comes from my friend because I trust the source. And so it is with God. I trust what God gives, because I trust God. God gave me the friend who gave me the wound.
All this to say that we are called to enter into deep and trustworthy relationships with others. Yes, there are some limitations on whom we can trust, but I will leave that for another post. The problem we are addressing today is the question of what is the source of our trust in relationships. Both of these types of people I have described have misplaced trust in their relationships. It is this lack of proper perspective that I want to address.
What has God provided for us? There are essentially 5 dimensions of God’s provision:
- Absolute acceptance and intimate relationship and belonging in Christ.
- All authority and power to represent Christ as an ambassador to the world.
- All security and peace in Christ our Rock and Refuge.
- Complete approval in Christ, who accomplished on the Cross what we were unable to do. There is nothing to prove or attain or grow into in order to get God’s approval.
- Riches and an inheritance in Christ that give us all the meaning, purpose and direction in life that we need.
God is our source. God is the ground of our being, the Rock of all ages, and the hope of our calling. We all agree here. But does affirming these truths mean that we do not need other relationships? Is the Bible a source of hope and truth? Are my parents a source of something important for me? Are friends? Other Christians? Life itself?
The answer is that God is the Source of all that is good, and the One who feeds us all that we need. God is uniformly generous and does not hold back from His children. In fact, God supplies His riches to use through multiple means. He may channel his provision to us through parents or a job or investments, or a gift. He may channel His love to us through parents, a spouse, a stranger on the street, or a sweet time of prayer. He may demonstrate His unconditional acceptance and understanding of us through a Bible verse, through a counselor, a friend, or through observing the birds of the field.
The implication of this kind of order is that God channels according to His purposes, and the flow may change over time. In fact, one reason God may change the flow of His love and resources is that we sometimes start looking to a particular resource as though it is the Source itself. When we do so, we are tempted by what is essentially idolatry.
My own marriage was a difficult trial for me for many years. I was a poor listener when I first got married, and my immaturity impacted my wife and our relationship in profound ways. Either one of us could have said, “Well, he [or she] has hurt me, and to have expected otherwise is foolish. I’m going to put my efforts into my relationship with God, who is my only hope.” Even if we had not divorced our relationship would only be the shell of what God intends it to be. Instead, I took the trials as challenges to hear what God was saying to me.
The lack of depth, understanding, and intimacy we went through did not mean that God had cut us off from these things. He was providing them (in my case) both through spiritual mentors and counselors that He put in my life as well as a growing prayer life so that I could awaken to the love He was giving me already in Christ. Seeing this love gave me the love and strength to return to my wife and relate in new ways, not to get what I thought I didn’t have from her, not to make her give me what I deserved, but to establish God’s Kingdom in our home so that it would reflect His glory. The challenge to myself, and to her (even through me!), was to live into the love that was already available to us and manifest it in new ways in our home and in the world.
In this way God becomes both the ultimate Source of Love, but also the motivator for its expansion in every area of life.
Too often these days I see a troubling pattern modelled after the world’s perspective on relationships: “Take care of Number 1 first.” Such an egocentric approach to relationships may initially protect you from unhealthy relationships, but it still has only two tactics. Either it demands to be honored, or it retreats from relationships that don’t meet the standard of honor. Neither approach recognizes the ever and already present love of God. God has not abandoned or forsaken us. He just gives us His love sometimes in ways we are not looking for. Once we open our eyes to that incredible love, then we are free to love others without demand or disappointment.