Truth is always true. What we understand about it and how we wield truth has a lot do with how we are impacted by it. If any of these examples do not apply to you, great. However, would you consider how they might be experienced by others? If the examples in this article, or others, trigger anger and defensiveness, consider why. Ultimately, God is your final arbiter of heart motivations and spiritual growth. Not me.
After writing a plea to Stop Using God to Deny God at Work in the Struggles of Life, I decided to explore specific ways we do this and how it harms us and others. This post is one look and focuses on things we ignore that deny God at work.
Some of these concepts refer to hyper-spirituality, passive faith, and shallow living from our false selves. If we want to know God more, and experience more of His peace, joy, and freedom in our lives, it’s important we recognize these signs.
With awareness comes opportunity for growth and healing.
1. Ignore God in the Battle
Before I tackle this first point, let me state something clearly. We have victory with God.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. ~ 1 Corinthians 15:57
Christians often proclaim our victory in Christ. It’s an important truth. But, what does it really mean?
While often well-intentioned, these words are sometimes used to push aside hard truths and courageous steps of growth. They can be void of real help for what’s happening now.
When I’ve shared a struggle or pain, I’ve been told about victory without acknowledging the reality of current attacks and war wounds. Those words did nothing to comfort or challenge me in a way that brought help. They were void of connection which limits our ability to connect to God through His power at work in people.
They used God to deny God at work when I needed to experience His presence desperately.
What Kind of Victory Can We Cling To?
In the verse listed above, victory refers to the sting of death. Because of Christ, death won’t defeat us. Those who put their trust in God will be with Jesus forevermore. This is great news!
Even though the final battle, over death and life, is already won, the enemy will do all he can do to distract us from experiencing God-given life in the battles we face today. He does this by deceiving us and distorting truth, including the reality of our challenges.
We are still in the battle.
Victory is ours and that brings hope, but we are not assured the experience of winning every present battle the way we want it.
We still experience pain, suffering, loss, and all the ramifications of our broken world. These may lead us to feel like God has let us down. Our challenges come from choices we make, choices made by others, and some things that are just out of human control.
The Holy Spirit is available to help all believers in every challenge. He helps us engage with wisdom and strength so we can experience victory again and again.
Rushing to proclaim God’s victory, while denying God’s power at work now, does little to help us experience God in the battle today. We need to remember hope ahead of us, and we need to know Hope with us moment by moment.
What ignoring God in the battle may sound like:
God’s got this!
We already have victory in Christ!
You’re already victorious!
Stop thinking about what you’ve lost!
These commonly used phrases may rush victory without acknowledging God at work. They can also be used in well-intentioned and helpful ways. If you use these phrases, please know there is no condemnation. I’m not here to judge intent or motivations.
It’s my desire to share ways we may unknowingly take part in denying God at work when someone is struggling. Even if that someone is us.
Motivations make a difference. Only you, with God’s help, can know your motivations. Ask God to make you aware of unhealthy motivations that you may not know of. Ask Him to affirm those that are good and helpful. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit. Not me.
If we want to experience God’s victory while we’re on this earth, we must allow God to help us win the battles we face. Rushing to victory before we’re there makes us blind and vulnerable to the enemy’s attack.If we want to experience God's victory on earth, we must allow God to help us win the battles we face. Rushing to victory before we're there makes us blind & vulnerable to enemy attack.
2. Ignore Redemption in Process
I’m all for seeing something beautiful ahead of us. We need to know there’s a reason to persevere. When we see something valuable in our future, we are more likely to want to move towards it.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. ~ Proverbs 13:12
Knowing God has prepared a place for me in heaven brings me great joy. I know that someday, all will be set right, and I will be able to enjoy Him fully.
Today, not so much. I forget. Distorted understandings and beliefs cloud my views. I try hard to get things right and miss what is already right.
We need to hold on to the beauty of hope and our final redemption, while continuing the journey here on earth where things are not in their redemptive state. Including us. And others.
We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. ~ Hebrews 6:19-20
God Works Through the Process
All too often, Christians, including myself, rush to the ending. We wrestle with the tension of unknowns and want to fix discomfort by shoving it aside. But this tension has a purpose. In healthy proportions it draws us nearer to God and helps faith grow.
When we let go of having to know the answers, we make space for God to reveal steps in His timing and His way.
When we put our faith in God and receive the gift of salvation, we have present and future hope during redemption in process. We also have help available to us through the power of the Holy Spirit and God at work through His body, the church as a whole. That work gets stunted if we don’t participate in the process individually and collectively.
Painful situations and relationships can be redeemed. The state of our hearts can be redeemed as He works in us. We have a redeemed future life, and we’re in a redemptive process in this life that shapes us and others for the sake of the kingdom.
We need to see the possibility of redemption and remember it’s a work in process.
Each person chooses to participate in the process. Or not.
If they don’t, they’ll never experience the gift of Christ’s suffering and resurrection. We can’t choose for them, which means we may not see desired redemption possibilities come to fruition. As heart-breaking as that is for us, it breaks God’s heart too. It’s not what He desires.
What ignoring redemption in process may sound like:
Again, please note that these phrases may be used in helpful and unhelpful ways. When they are used to deny God at work in present struggle, they prevent us from experiencing Him in powerful ways.
When we let go of having to know the answers, we make space for God to reveal steps in His timing and His way. We need to see the possibility of redemption and remember it's a work in process. Each person chooses to participate in the process. Or not.
There’s nothing to fear.
Forget what happened. God’s got something better for you.
3. Ignore Emotions as Part of God’s Reflection
God is God of every emotion.
He displays them all perfectly.
The Bible tells us of God’s love. His loving kindness leads us to repentance. His love was so great that Jesus willingly suffered to restore what was lost in the garden.
Yet, sometimes we limit our understanding of God’s emotional expressions to happy, feel good notions.
Love doesn’t always feel good.
When someone truly loves another, they are interested in what’s in that person’s best interest. It may require painful sacrifice to truly love another. Jesus knew this well.
On the flip side, we can view God as an angry God. One who rights wrongs and focuses on justice.
Why is it hard to imagine other emotions held by God? Why do we jump to one end or the other without making room for the whole of God’s realm?
Perhaps it’s because past experiences started forming God’s character for us and we never explored more. Maybe it’s also because our sinful ways of expressing emotion have become so common that we consider all expression of that emotion sinful. Such as anger. Fear. Jealousy.
For more on God’s redemptive view of emotions consider the book, Cry of the Soul by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman
The Enemy Distorts God’s Reflection
The enemy seeks to distort how we see God and how God is seen through us. When we block certain emotions by denying their value or our experience of them, we block our ability to experience a more full picture of God reflected through us.
When others express emotions in honest ways, our discomfort can prompt us to fix what we deem to be bad emotions. Emotions themselves aren’t bad. They are normal and part of the picture of God within us.
It’s critical to our well-being to allow a safe place for hard emotions.
Consider David’s many cries, or Job’s. Consider Jesus’ anger in the temple, fueled with a righteous desire to address something damaging. We are created in the image of God and that includes the emotions He created and experiences himself.
What ignoring emotions may sound like:
Don’t cry. Stop crying.
Chin up and put those tears away.
Stop being angry.
Let nothing unwholesome pass your lips.
4. Ignore Scriptural Context as a Whole
I used single verses above. They say a lot, but alone they aren’t enough. Out of context, we can apply a whole host of meanings that don’t belong. A lot of people do.
Theologies and cults have been built around single verses and phrases from scripture taken out of context. Even in context, whole thought structures can be built around one idea, without looking at the whole of scripture. It’s a dangerous way of understanding, God.
If we spout off passages to others, without context and understanding for the whole of scripture, we may harm others and use God to do so.
Common passages used out of context:
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are according to his purpose.” ~ Romans 8:28
“Judge not, that you be not judged.” ~ Matthew 7:1
“But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” ~ Matthew 5:39
God’s word is true and good, but we need to keep in mind that one verse does not make a theology for life. Meaning can be attributed to passages that the passage doesn’t mean.
5. Ignore Our Part While Praying
Prayer is a vital, necessary component to a vibrant life of faith. This becomes more apparent when we’re in the middle of a particularly hard situation, but it’s always applicable. We need to pray and we need others to pray with us.
However, prayer alone is often not what God asks of us.
We need more than prayer for whole healing and soul redemption; we need to actively work with God in the process He’s begun in us. Prayer makes a difference, but maybe not in the way we expect.
Don’t neglect prayer, but don’t neglect the active role you may need to play as God responds to your prayer.
It’s far too easy and common to dismiss something God stirs in our hearts because we’re waiting on Him and what He’s doing doesn’t look like we think it will.
There are times when God may lead us to inaction, but that choice is an active choice of obedience in response to the Spirit at work.
Many times, I hear someone share a hard situation and they, or those around them, say they’re leaving it to God through prayer. What’s underneath this sentiment may be fear. Because we don’t know what else to do, and we want to trust God, we can give up in ways that look spiritual but aren’t.
What ignoring our part might sound like:
Again, please remember these same phrases can be used in healthy and unhealthy ways. Consider the possibility of how they might hinder you or someone else from seeing God at work.
Have you said things like this as a way of deflecting pain and ignoring hard things?
It’s in God’s hands.
I’ll pray about it. (and shrugging away other options that require action)
I just keep praying. If God wants it to happen, it will.
Don’t neglect the gift of growth that happens when we participate with God in the work He’s doing. When we respond to the Holy Spirit’s nudge, to wise counsel, and let safe people speak grace and truth in our lives, we get to experience more of His life within us.Don't neglect prayer, but don't neglect the active role you may need to play as God responds to your prayer. We need to do our own work, and we all have work to do in our souls. As God leads, may we respond to the work He's already doing within us. When we look to the things of God without a whole perspective of our present realities and His presence in them, we're using one facet of God to deny God at work. Victory is ours and that brings hope, but we are not assured the experience of winning every present battle the way we want it.