Learning to Thrive in This Life by Trusting God
“For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13, CSB)
Perhaps you are familiar with the “Trust Fall.” This is an exercise in which you set up two lines of people parallel to one another. One person stands on a stump and falls back. As they fall, the first people in the line catch the person. They move the person along the line until the person reaches the end. The person who “fell” has to trust the other people on faith.
The second way to be a Christian STAR is to believe. In this sense, belief is about trust. You grow as a Christian by trusting Jesus. God works in you, and the Spirit works through you. God equips you for the purpose He has called for you. As He equips you, God wants you to trust Him. As a Christian trusts God, He helps you thrive in this life. Let me share with you three outcomes of trusting God.
AS I TRUST GOD…
1. God equips me – “working in you”
Augustine wrote, “Our deeds are our own, because of the free will producing them, and they are also God’s, because of his grace causing our free will to produce them.” And he says elsewhere, “God makes us do what he pleases by making us desire what we might not desire.”12
The word for work here is the word for energy. It is the same word that we find in 2 Corinthians 12:9:
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, CSB)
God is the energy that powers His work. He uses that energy to equip you. God equips you from the inside. He does that that speaking through the Word of God and the Spirit of God. He gives you spiritual gifts. He gives you desires. God also equips you from the outside. He gives you abilities. He gives you relationships. He gives you experiences. He gives you opportunities.
This “working in me,” this energy, leads to potential. God uses that energy.
2. God shows me – “to will and to work”
The ways of God lead me to the will of God. The will of God leads me to the work of God. God’s energy gives me desire and energy. The word for will here is my desire. The same word for work means energy. This means that the energy that God has for me gives me the energy. As I trust God, He energizes me to do what He wants in my life.
Our lives have tremendous potential, like a mine or a field, and He wants to help us fulfill that potential.
Cindy did not seem very happy when she arrived home from college to spend the holiday with her family. Her parents noticed her unusual behavior but were wise enough to wait until she was ready to share her problem with them. It happened after dinner.
“Mother, Dad, I have something to tell you, and I’m afraid it’s going to hurt you.”
“Just tell us what’s on your heart,” her father said, “and we’ll understand. We want to pray with you about it—whatever it is.”
“Well, you know that all during high school I talked about becoming a nurse, mainly because Mom is a nurse and I guess you expected me to follow in her footsteps. But I can’t go on. The Lord just doesn’t want me to be a nurse!”
Her mother smiled and took Cindy’s hand. “Dear, your father and I want God’s will for your life. If you do anything else, we’ll all be unhappy!”
Cindy had done the courageous thing; she had faced God’s will and decided that she wanted to work out her own salvation—her own Christian life—and not what somebody else wanted her to do. One of the wonderful things about being a Christian is the knowledge that God has a plan for our lives (Eph. 2:10) and will help us to work it out for His glory. Our God is a God of infinite variety! No two flowers are the same, no two snowflakes are the same; why should two Christians be the same? All of us must be like Christ, but we must also be ourselves.3
3. God fulfills me – “according to His good purpose.”
When God works in my life, it is always for God’s good purpose for me. God is always working from the assumption that He wants to work in me to accomplish His good purpose for me.
What do I mean by this? God is not doing something in my life because He hates me. God doesn’t hate me. God loves me. At the same time, God is not going to do something in my life if I am not loving Him. To love God is to obey Him and follow what He says to do. So God’s good purpose is not accomplished when I sin. God’s won’t work with me and won’t work in me to accomplish His good purpose if I am sinning. The reason is that sin by definition goes against God’s good purpose. Sin is anti-Godly.
God won’t trust me with His good purpose in my life if I am anti-Godly. Now, this doesn’t mean that God stops helping me when I fall. But sometimes He will catch me when I am really close to the ground. I fall into sin and I fall until I get really close to hitting the floor. God catches me. He is showing that He loves me by catching me.
Why would God assume to work with me for His good? Because His goodness and love are part of God’s eternal nature. God won’t ever be angry in Heaven for eternity. God will be able to pour out His love to you and me forever.
It’s here on Earth that we have a hard time accepting it. That is why we go through trials.
Romans 8:28 is in operation for eternity.
“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, CSB)
James 1:12 is in operation temporarily.
“Blessed is the one who endures trials, because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12, CSB)
In his sermon, “A Purpose Runs through It,” Bryan Wilkerson says:
One of the most beautiful movies of [recent years] was A River Runs Through It, based on the novel by the same title. The movie told the story of the Maclean family, who lived in Montana early in the twentieth century. The father of the family was a Presbyterian minister—stern but loving. His wife was supportive and nurturing. They had two sons: the oldest, first-born Norman, who tells the story, and a younger son, Paul …
The real protagonist in the story is the river that runs through their part of Montana. That river becomes the focal point of their family life and the catalyst for everything significant that takes place in their individual lives. It was walking along the banks of that river on Sunday afternoons that the father forged a relationship with his young boys—turning over rocks, teaching them about the world, about life, and about the God who made it all. It was the river that the boys ran to after their studies were over, and sibling rivalry and brotherly affection flourished as they fished for trout together on that beautiful stream.
When it came time for these adolescent boys to prove their moxie, they took a death-defying ride down the rapids in a stolen boat. It was on the river that young Paul made a name for himself as the finest fly-fisherman in the territory. When Norman came back from college searching for himself and his roots, it was to the river that he went to fish, alongside his brother.
The Maclean family knew failure and success and laughter and fighting and change and disappointment, but always the river was there. It was the defining force and the spiritual center of that family. Montana would have been just a wilderness; their home, four walls and a roof; their individual lives just sound and fury—if not for the river running through it all.
I would like to suggest that there is a river that runs through the lives of Christian people, and that river is called the Purpose of God.…
Wilkerson concludes with the following words:
“Christian, whatever has happened to you in the past, whatever your present circumstances may be, whatever the future might hold, know this: A river runs through it, and that river is called the Purpose of God.”4
We couple the idea of God’s purpose with His pleasure and trusting God makes more sense. However, the very concept of God having pleasure—the mighty Maker of the Universe being pleased, like a child, at things that take place on Earth—staggers the imagination. Most amazing of all is the revelation that it pleased Him to put His own Son through a terrible, bruising death, as the tremendous Messianic prophecy of our text reveals in Isaiah.
“Yet the Lord was pleased to crush him severely. When you make him a guilt offering, he will see his seed, he will prolong his days, and by his hand, the Lord’s pleasure will be accomplished.” (Isaiah 53:10, CSB)
God says that He takes pleasure in His people in the Psalms. One example is Psalm 149.
“For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation.” (Psalm 149:4, CSB)
Five times we read in the New Testament that God the Father spoke from heaven assuring us that He was “well pleased” with His “beloved Son” (Matthew 3:17, 17:5: Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22; 2 Peter 1:17).
God takes pleasure in giving His children the kingdom.
“Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32, CSB)
God took pleasure in creating His children.
“Our Lord and God, you are worthy to receive glory and honor and power, because you have created all things, and by your will they exist and were created.” (Revelation 4:11, CSB)
God has predestined His children to be Christians by coming to know Jesus.
“He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,” (Ephesians 1:5, CSB)
This truth – the fact that God sent Jesus to die on the cross so that God could work in my life to give me the chance to receive salvation.
It is far beyond our comprehension, so we merely rest in the great truth that “it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).5
The story has been told of a museum guide who would take his tour group to a darkened room, shine a light on a mass of string, color, and apparent chaos and ask the group, “What do you think this is?”
“I don’t know,” was the inevitable reply.
He would then say, “Stand over there and watch.” As the group moved over to the other side of the room, he would turn on a spotlight. It was instantly apparent that the mass of jumbled colored string seen just a moment earlier was, in fact, an enormous tapestry—from the back side. The real work had to be seen from a different perspective to understand what the artist was creating.
So it is with God and his ways. We often look at them and ask questions such as “Why?” and “How?” not because there is no purpose in what God is doing, but because we are on the wrong side of eternity to be able to have the perspective that would enable us to see the order and pattern to God’s work.6
When I trust God, I will thrive. I will succeed. The reason I because God’s purposes are good for me. But I have to trust Him to see that happen in my life.
1 Marvin R. O’Connell, Blaise Pascal: Reasons of the Heart (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans 1997), p. 154.
2 R. Kent Hughes, Philippians: The Fellowship of the Gospel, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007), 99.
3 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 77–78.
4 Craig Brian Larson, 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers & Writers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 437–438.
5 Galaxie Software, 10,000 Sermon Illustrations (Biblical Studies Press, 2002).
6 Michael P. Green, 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 172–173.