[This has been adapted from Paul Tripp's Christmas devotional, "Advent: The Whole Story." Download your free copy today at www.PaulTripp.com/Advent.]
Have you ever accused God of being absent? Have you ever criticized the Lord for being unloving? I would like to think that I've always trusted in God's omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience, and eternal, unshakeable love. After all, these are things I've been taught since my earliest days Sunday School!
But I'm deeply persuaded that many "theologically sound" Christians actually doubt the presence and love of God. Why do I think that? Because God says we do! Take Isaiah 59:1, for example:"Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear."
Let me give you the quick context of this verse. Israel is suffering big time, and whether they say it audibly with their mouths or grumble silently in their hearts, they have accused God of two things: first, being powerless in their time of need, and second, being unmoved by their cries for help.
You and I are much like the Israelites. When life isn't working out according to our plan, or when we're suffering in some way, it's very tempting for us to bring God into the court of our judgement and question his faithfulness, wisdom and love. That's what Israel was doing - they were questioning the character of God.
I wish I could write to you today and say that at all times, I trust in the sovereignty of God and the nature of his love. While I have experienced his power and love on many occasions, I have to be honest with you: when the comfort and ease of life is interrupted, I wrestle with who God actually claims to be. I know I'm not alone in my struggle.
There's a deep danger with this type of doubt: you no longer pursue someone you no longer trust. Think about it. Would you continue to invest in a company if you knew the CEO was corrupt and stealing from the investors? Would you continue to visit a fraudulent "doctor" who had faked his licenses? Would you continue to hire a babysitter convicted of repeated crimes?
You see, when you allow your heart to begin to question God's goodness, even in subtle ways, you’ll quit pursuing him. That’s exactly what happened with Israel - they thought that God wasn't strong enough to intervene (his hand is too short) and that he didn't love his children enough (his ear is dull to their cries) to rescue them from the difficulty.
What Israel didn't understand, however, was that the grace of God will visit in uncomfortable forms. Difficulty in your life is not a sign that God's hand is too short, nor is it a sign that his ears are too dull. Rather, it's a sign of his love. God will wrap his arms around you and bring you through difficulty to increase your faith and increase your love for him.
This Advent season, remember that the greatest expression of the love of God is found in the sending of his Son. You don't need to question His sovereignty and love when difficulty comes - just look at the baby in the manger! In fact, you should view difficulty as a sure sign of God's unending love for you!
Paul David Tripp
- What difficult circumstances are you facing right now?
- What does the Bible say about God's power? Find verses that dismiss arguments of "his hand is too short."
- What does the Bible say about God's compassion? Find verses that dismiss arguments of "his ear is too dull."
- How might your difficult circumstances be used to grow your faith and increase your love for God?
- How can you use the Advent season to remind yourself of God's love?
[Editor's Note: This has been adapted from Paul Tripp's Christmas devotional, "Advent: The Whole Story." Download your free copy today at www.PaulTripp.com/Advent.]
Could you get any more graphic, more specific, more all-inclusive words than these? "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Genesis 6:5, ESV).
It's clear from Genesis 6:5, and it's clear if you watch the news today, that something is deeply broken with the human race. Even people who don't believe in the Bible would agree that something is wrong and people need help. But how do we fix the problem?
There are two commons lies that we all believe. The first is this: "I'm one of the good guys." It's easy to read Genesis 6:5, and it's easy to watch the news, and remove ourselves from the problem. "I'm not as wicked as those other people. And look at my track record - I have a long list of helping people and doing good!"
For the Christian, there is some truth to that logic. Because of the sacrifice of Christ and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, the power of sin in your life has been broken. That means you now have the ability to reject wickedness. You do have pure thoughts, pure motives, and pure intentions. In some ways, you are exempt from the diagnosis of Genesis 6:5.
But you must always remember that your purity is a result of grace, not the natural condition of your own heart. You must also remember that while the power of sin has been broken, the presence of sin remains. And so while you are positionally righteous before God, your corrupt heart still commits sinful deeds, and your intentions are certainly not pure all the time. If I can be so bold, you are still part of the problem.
There's a second lie we believe: behavior reform will clean up the mess. In other words, we often think that all our world needs is a harsher justice system, a little faster police response, and a new election to replace corrupt politicians.
Again, there's some truth to this. God established law and order for the health of mankind, but the Bible never once proposes that the lasting solution for the human condition is more law. No, the Bible teaches that what humanity needs is radical heart change.
All throughout Scripture - and you see it there in Genesis 6:5 - the Bible teaches that "the heart" is inherently evil and needs replacing. You and I can't change our own heart, nor can any law or institution put in place by man. The only way you and I will be rescued is by a transformed heart, created in us by God (Psalm 51:10).
This Advent season, celebrate the work of the Messiah and the new heart you have (Ezekiel 36:26) because of his birth, death, and resurrection. But remember, you still wrestle with the presence of sin in your life. You're not yet exempt from the diagnosis of Genesis 6:5, and what you need most is not a set of rules and regulations to fix you. What you need is a soft and humble heart that's captured everyday by a love for the Lord.
Paul David Tripp
Paul David Tripp is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries, a nonprofit organization whose mission statement is "Connecting the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life." Tripp is also professor of pastoral life and care at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, Texas, and executive director of the Center for Pastoral Life and Care in Fort Worth, Texas. Tripp has written many books on Christian living that are read and distributed internationally. He has been married for many years to Luella, and they have four grown children. For more information, visit www.paultripp.com.
- How is your world similar to the world of Genesis 6:5?
- How should you respond to the corruption of humanity?
- Why is it tempting to think of yourself as a "good person"?
- Where have you given empirical evidence that you're heart is still corrupt?
How can you participate in God's work of cleansing your heart?
(HINT: read Psalm 51 and examine David's response)
Thanksgiving is just days away, so it’s time to start reflecting on what we’re thankful for. After all, we need a few talking points when the question is asked of us at the dinner table.
Yes, I’m being intentionally sarcastic with that statement. We ought to be a people who are thankful 365 days a year, not just when the calendar reminds us to be. Like I wrote last week, dangerous things can happen when you forget the generosity of God.
But not only must we be a people who are thankful; we ought to be a people who are thankful for the right reasons. When you celebrate, why do you celebrate? When you receive blessing, how do you define blessing? Be honest – what do you want from God? Or maybe this is a more provocative way of saying it: what kind of Messiah do you want Jesus to be?
I think many of us are just not on Jesus’ page. What we dream of and hope for is not the same as what he has promised us and works by zealous grace to deliver to us. Perhaps many of us struggle with disappointment with God because, at street level in our daily lives, we don’t esteem what God values.
Could it be that many of us don’t treasure what God has harnessed the forces of nature and controlled the events of human history to deliver to us? Maybe many of us actually want nothing more than a Jesus Genie who will make our lives easier by obeying our every command, for which we would give him thanks and name him as faithful.
Perhaps many of us want control more than we want redemption. We wish we had more control over the people and circumstances of our lives. That would be the good life for us.
Perhaps many of us crave success more than we crave redemption. We are willing to do almost anything to be successful; meanwhile, we neglect the things that God says have eternal value.
Perhaps many of us esteem acceptance more than we esteem redemption. We find more joy in the acceptance of the people around us than we do in the abounding love of God.
Perhaps many of us desire comfort and pleasure more than we desire redemption. If our lives could just be easier and more predictable, we would be satisfied.
Perhaps many of us want material things more than we want redemption. We tend to judge the quality of our lives by the size of our piles of stuff we have acquired.
Now, none of these things is inherently evil; it's not wrong to desire any of them. The game-changing question is this: "what set of desires rule my heart?" This is important because the desires that rule your heart determine how you evaluate your life, how you make small and large decisions, and, most importantly, how you think about the goodness and faithfulness of God.
This Thanksgiving season, go ahead and be thankful for the success and comfort and material things that God has blessed you with. But more than that, celebrate what God is working to produce in you – a redeemed heart. Your Lord is much, much more than a Jesus Genie; he is your sovereign Savior King.
Paul David Tripp
How has God blessed you with control? In what ways do you value control more than redemption, and how might God be redeeming you through the lack/loss of control?
How has God blessed you with success? In what ways do you value success more than redemption, and how might God be redeeming you through the lack/loss of success?
How has God blessed you with acceptance? In what ways do you value acceptance more than redemption, and how might God be redeeming you through the lack/loss of acceptance?
How has God blessed you with comfort and pleasure? In what ways do you value comfort and pleasure more than redemption, and how might God be redeeming you through the lack/loss of comfort and pleasure?
- How has God blessed you with material things? In what ways do you value material things more than redemption, and how might God be redeeming you through the lack/loss of material things?
We all do it, probably every day. It has a huge impact on the way we view ourselves and the way we respond to others. It’s one of the main reasons we experience so much conflict in our relationships. The scary thing is: we barely recognize that we’re doing it.
What is this thing we all tend to do that causes so much harm? We forget the generosity of God.
In the busyness and self-centeredness of our lives, we sadly forget how much our lives have been blessed by and radically redirected by the generosity of God. The fact that he blesses us when we deserve nothing (except for wrath and punishment) fades from our memories like a song whose lyrics we once knew but now cannot recall.
Every morning, God’s generosity greets us in at least a dozen ways, but we barely recognize it as we frenetically prepare for our day. When we lay our exhausted heads down at the end of the day, we often fail to look back on the many gifts that dripped from God’s hands into our little lives.
We don’t often take time to sit and meditate on what our lives would have been like if the generosity of the Redeemer had not been written into our personal stories. Sadly, we all tend to be way too forgetful, and there are few things more dangerous in the Christian life than forgetfulness.
Forgetfulness is dangerous, because it shapes the way you think about yourself and others. When you remember God’s generosity, you also remember that you simply did nothing whatsoever to earn his blessing. When you remember his generosity, you’re humble, thankful, and tender. When you remember his generosity, complaining gives way to gratitude and self-focused desire gives way to worship.
But when you forget God’s generosity, you proudly tell yourself that what you have is what you’ve achieved. When you forget his generosity, you take credit for what only his blessings could produce. When you forget his generosity, you name yourself as righteous and deserving, and you live an entitled and demanding life.
When you forget God’s generosity and think you’re deserving, you find it very easy to withhold generosity from others. Proudly, you think that you’re getting what you deserve and that they are, too. Your proud heart is not tender, so it’s not easily moved by the sorry plight of others. You forget that you are more like than unlike your needy brother or sister, failing to acknowledge that neither of you stands before God as deserving.
This Thanksgiving season, will you remember to remember the generosity of God? Remembrance produces upward worship, inward humility, and outward generosity. Give thanks, be humble, and be generous, because the blessings you receive from the Lord are not what you deserve.
Paul David Tripp
How has God been generous to you in 2014? List at least 10 examples.
Look at your list. Which of those 10 examples are you tempted to take personal credit for? Why does God deserve all the credit?
How have you been arrogant and self-righteous about blessings when you should be humble and grateful?
How have you failed to extend generosity to others in 2014?
- How can you be generous to others as an expression of your humble gratitude for the undeserved blessings you have received as a result of the generosity of God?