“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).
For too long I’ve struggled with these verses, knowing that my salvation from hell should logically lead to the powerful spiritual renewal that is a believer’s continual salvation from the power of sin. But the problem was, I never felt strong. Mostly, I felt weak. I knew the Holy One lived in me, but I didn’t think I was a Paul or Peter by any stretch of the imagination, and having the inside scoop into my own sinful ways was another way Satan tried to make me insecure.
I didn’t know why this was happening. I prayed to God, asking, why can’t you make me holy? What is so wrong with me that I struggle so much and others seem to be such spiritual giants in comparison. Which of course is partly ridiculous, because we are not to measure ourselves by ourselves but by God, but it’s a genuine question all the same. I knew it couldn’t be God’s fault, so it had to be mine.
I felt the answer was just outside my reach, and it frustrated me. There’s nothing like things that are beyond me to set me on edge, and I decided not to be a fool and instead buckle down to get my answer.
“Trust me,” God said.
“But-but I have.” I was frustrated enough to sound whiny even in my own head. “What do you mean ‘trust me’?” I had been struggling a lot during those past six months, battling feelings of incompetency, bouts of crying, feelings of unworthiness, and the belief that no one could truly love me, and this spiritual battle felt like too much for me. Why couldn’t God just give me the peace He promised in His Word? Why couldn’t He just give me His power? His promised guidance?
Then God started bringing down my giants one by one.
I was on a video call with my sister, explaining to her just how horrible I’d been feeling and basically breaking down in front of her, when she asked me some key questions as it is her gift to listen and help those around her. When did this lack of peace start? What brings it on? Do you see patterns emerging?
Of course I’d been so distressed I’d never even thought of that until that night at church. I told her it was around six months ago, which, when I said it, sounded odd even to my ears. It was odd mostly because despite all the new challenges I’d been facing during that time, I’d never been so blessed either. I was actually very happy and joyful because of all the Christian fellowship and biblical preaching I was getting, at least when I wasn’t being suddenly struck with a bout of sadness and insecurity.
Not that I’d never been melancholy before. It was part of my nature to overthink at times, but it wasn’t a constant thing and I could usually reason myself out of my fears and sorrows because my feelings almost always had an explanation I could easily grasp. Something understandable like my monthly cycle, new adjustments, overwhelming pressure, new medication, people making my life or those of my loved ones difficult, and the like.
Emotions are always subjective, and sometimes people do suddenly develop depression, but this just felt so irrational to me. It felt like a never-ending hole while I was in it and I had no explanation.
And as I had told Andrea, when I wasn’t facing some psychological crisis, I felt happy because I had never felt so spiritually fed as I did when I had joined the Bible study I’m a part of now.
Then it clicked.
It seemed so obvious then. Of course that’s what it was. All the instances began to link together and I began to see that all these great trials satan’s desperate attempts to stop a good thing–and it must be a God thing if the devil is working overtime to stop it–and so I began to sing A Mighty Fortress is Our God.
And when I got to the second to last verse, it was like a rush of God sustained me. It goes like this:
And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.
I talked about my struggle again during Bible study, and I felt the last fingers by which the devil had been grasping at my life begin to slip. I finally fully believed what I’d began to understand since I’d joined that bible study–that exposure to the light can kill thoughts fought in the dark in a way nothing else can. The devil’s game was up. And as suddenly as the dark thoughts came, they left me in the name of Jesus.
But I also realized that these trials were something God allowed, and He doesn’t idly let tribulation come into the lives of His children. Whatever comes into the lives of believers can be turned to their good if they let Him.
That’s when I realized I had prayed for this.
I had prayed that God do whatever it took to make me more dependent on Him (with the hilarious caveat to please try to make me dependent on Him without too much personal pain if it was possible–I guess it wasn’t) and that He help me to start trusting others because I’ve always feared getting hurt in the places I felt most vulnerable and I’ve never wanted to need people in case they were going to leave or weren’t reliable.
All that I’d prayed for had come to pass. I was relying on Him constantly, I was opening up to others because I could no longer pretend I could deal with everything all by myself. I had been frustrated with God for making my prayers a reality. But just because I didn’t happen to like the method doesn’t mean it didn’t work.
My bad, God.
And after all this, I began to feel the need for spiritual victory again. I had that peace beyond understanding now that I had prayed in faith to receive it, but I still felt like a spiritual adolescent. I wanted to get closer to Him and farther from sin.
“Seek me,” God said.
“But I am,” I said. “Aren’t I? Unless my definition of it is wrong.”
“Keep seeking me,” God said. “Keep knocking. Keep searching. If you run after me and diligently come before me, you may just find yourself right where I want you, in the middle of my plans for you. Take it as a courtship dance, a challenge to test the mettle of your love” (ref. Hos. 2:13-19; Ezek. 16:8-14; Eph. 5:25-27; Rev. 19:7-9; Rev. 21:2)
Another revelation. Another process of opening up old Scripture and getting it in a new way.
I had a tendency to look at the promises of God and think about how I didn’t feel them to be true, even when I knew them to be true. I didn’t feel like they would apply to someone like me, whatever that meant to my brain back then and maybe does to yours. It’s like we think that God reserves His good gifts only for the super-holy or for His favorites. But just because some promises are conditional doesn’t mean that they all are. Context is key here.
For many of us already know that God lets the sun rise on the evil and on the good, but we forget this is no passive love. It is God who holds the world together (Col. 1:17). He was faithful to Israel even though the book of Judges records all their rebellions against Him and He is faithful to them still despite their rejection of the Messiah. What could I do that would be beyond His love? His mercy and His grace are beyond our comprehension. And that’s a faith thing, though I hadn’t thought of it in that angle before.
Faith is for salvation from the punishment of sin, but it’s also for the present salvation of us who believe from the power of sin. I knew this in theory, but not quite in application.
Now I see why this is such a core doctrine. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6) because it is that faith in God that enables us to do right by claiming His victory over sin. If we do not truly believe the promise that God has already nailed all of our sins on the cross, that He has made us new creations in Him, that He equips us to leave our old nature behind, that He allows us to put on the Lord Jesus Christ daily–how can we have constant victory in Him?
I believed the promises because I’d read them in Scripture and I’d felt them accomplished in my life before and in the lives of others, but I didn’t always feel the truth of all His promises. In my head, I knew that God can give His children peace that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7) and He makes it available to me, but after asking for it for so long I sometimes felt like welp, that didn’t seem to work, guess I must not be worthy of it.
Now I realize I only attained the peace of God when I spoke with my sister and my bible study group because that’s when I realized that I’d assumed this battle in my head and heart had made me unworthy of peace, when in reality, I hadn’t prayed for peace in faith.
I had to pray like I’d already received it.
When I did, God came through in a sweet and miraculous way. I thought, this error in my understanding can’t be limited to one area of my life, and it wasn’t.
Just as, instead of praying for peace, I praised as if it was already mine, instead of praying for power over sin, I prayed knowing I already had that power. And in that same day, I did. I felt changed in a way I hadn’t before. I wasn’t relying on feeling powerful in Christ to become submitted to Him anymore–instead I could simply rest in knowing I had power over sin already (1 Cor. 15:57), that I’m a new creation in Him, and that the old man is nailed to the cross.
As John said, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4)
And now I realize instead of praying for guidance, I need to pray as if it’s already given to me— I need to pray Ps. 37:23 (The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way).
It sounds arrogant, but it’s just believing that God will accomplish His Word.
I smile now because I understand—in part only, but that is enough and I trust God to reveal more of Himself in time—and that’s why I say, “thy face, Lord, will I seek” (Ps. 27:8).
Lord, You are not hiding from me. You are leading me gently by the hand.
I will put You on each morning so I may not wander anywhere that will cause you shame and so I may not behave in any way that misrepresents Your character. And at night, I will tuck into You, trusting You to give rest to my soul and sleep to my eyes.
May I abide in You in every joy and in every sorrow. Your Word is truth and I trust it and claim Your promises for myself.
“For thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name” (Ps. 138:2), why then should I fear the trouble of this world, the power of sin, or the unknowns in my future? Whatever You require of me, You will enable me to accomplish, for it is You who helps me “both to will and to do of [Your] good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
So I plead with all my brothers and sisters, do not be discouraged. Even if you don’t “get” God, seek Him, knock for Him, question Him relentlessly. He will not leave a thirst for Him unquenched. Do not leave empty-handed. You never know what God wishes to reveal to you if you continue to seek.
I pray that all who read this would pursue God and let nothing dissuade them from their search.
“For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world” (1 Jn. 5:4a).
In Jesus’ name,