This article was originally posted in the June issue of Mature Living. Start your subscription today!
Growing up in a small church in East Texas, I heard many messages during my formative years. I learned that I should believe in Jesus, treat others the way I wanted to be treated, and share my resources with others. I’m grateful for the truths that were imparted to me, but I also formulated some inaccurate ideas regarding Christianity. Although I don’t think my Sunday School teachers or church leaders meant to convey an emphasis on works, I walked away with the overarching notion that serving God meant trying harder to do the right things.
I wonder if you’ve ever left a church service or Bible study determined to do better. Maybe your internal dialogue included intentions to pray regularly, show more kindness to others, or be a better person in general. This determination usually springs from a longing to grow spiritually and know God better. Yet where has all our white-knuckle grasping at behavior modification gotten us? How’s that “striving” been working out for you?
I can tell you how it has worked for me. I’ve been following Jesus for more than 40 years now, and my attempts at heart transformation have left me with guilt and frustration, and they have caused me to go backward rather than forward in intimacy with God. When I’ve succeeded in the short term, I’ve often become prideful. Then in moments of failure, I’ve experienced shame. God doesn’t want either of these postures for us.
Desiring spiritual change in our lives isn’t a bad thing; we just have to guard against relying on our own effort to bring it about. The prophet Isaiah had much to say on this topic. His vision and message reveal a simple but life-changing truth: Following God isn’t about striving; it’s about trusting God more. Isaiah served as God’s mouthpiece using the genres of poetry, narrative, and prophecy. He was human just like we are, and yet he radically trusted God and called anyone who would listen to do the same. His message highlights freedom from captivity and light breaking through darkness for those who would heed His words.
That all sounds so good! However, I know by now that there are times when I say with my mouth, “I trust God,” but my stress, worry, and lack of peace don’t evidence that kind of faith. Trust can be complicated, especially when people in our lives have broken it. Perhaps someone you counted on for protection and provision let you down. Maybe you invested your time and energy into a church and left feeling betrayed or neglected. It can be easy to transfer our trust issues from people onto our relationship with God.
Then there are other times when we thought we put our trust in God, but the expectations we set for Him didn’t materialize. He may have been working behind the scenes, but we couldn’t see how at the time. When He doesn’t do what we want Him to do, we can inch our way toward self-sufficiency without even realizing it.
I frequently need realignment to the truths in God’s Word so I don’t drift into striving mode. Isaiah reveals God’s character to assure us that He is a worthy recipient of our trust. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.’ This is the Lord’s declaration. ‘For as heaven is higher than earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”
I don’t know where you are struggling with trust today. Maybe it involves your family, finances, or the future. What I do know is that the God of Isaiah is the same God who invites you to be close to Him. He knows you don’t always follow all His instructions, and thankfully, you don’t have to earn your way into His family. If you have believed in Him by faith, then you belong to Him. He loves you and knows better than you do what is best for your life because His thoughts and ways are higher than yours.
MELISSA SPOELSTRA is a Bible teacher and author who is madly in love with Jesus and passionate about studying God’s Word. She has a degree in Bible theology and is the author of several Bible studies and books, including Isaiah: Striving Less and Trusting God More (available at lifeway.com). She is a regular contributor to the Proverbs 31 First Five App and the Girlfriends in God online daily devotional. Melissa lives with her pastor husband, Sean, and her teenage foster son, as her four grown children now reside in four different states!