Twenty-five years ago, I worked for a struggling software company. Our architecture was outdated and sales revenue plummeted. Investments in new architecture meant expenses skyrocketed. We were hemorrhaging money with no doctor in sight.
And then our president had a heart attack.
Our parent company asked me if I would consider becoming president. I was flattered by their great offer (and impressed with their great wisdom), but when I prayed I sensed God say, “No.” His word felt clear and strong, and I declined.
The next day, my president-friend began to attack me. In the following weeks, he reduced my pay, took away my office, demoted me, and publicly belittled me.
My friend’s blitzkrieg movements stunned me. I was paralyzed and bewildered. Each new day brought a new disappointment. Every way I turned saw ambush and embarrassment. All of this came from a friend I had helped promote.
And God seemed absent, at least silent. I felt abandoned by God to a betraying friend who appeared intent on my professional destruction. I had voluntarily obeyed God by declining a promotion. As a result, I was demoted, humiliated, discouraged, and scared.
What kind of God would do this to someone who tried to obey him?
I lost hope
I don’t want to seem more spiritual than I am (and any appearance of much spirituality on my part is probably an apparition); but the biggest blow to me was God’s seeming absence. No words of encouragement. No sense of his presence.
My faith was shaken. If I had been fired because of a huge failure, I wouldn’t have liked it, but I could have accepted it. But I had been demoted because I obediently chose not to be promoted. And then God abandoned me. I felt alone in the fire.
I prayed, prayed some more, and I finally lost hope.
Our beliefs shape how we feel
Two years after my friend was promoted to president (and I was reduced to whipping-boy), he was dismissed. Then two other executives and I bought the company. I went from laughingstock to stockowner in a heartbeat.
If I had known what would happen in two short years, those twenty-four stormy months would have felt like a spring drizzle. If I had a glimpse of God’s plan, the deep darkness would have felt like a shadow. But I didn’t have a clue how things would turn out.
Our beliefs about God regulate our experience of life. When Jesus addresses anxiety, he says, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap.” (Matt. 6:26); that is, birds don’t farm. Jesus continues, “And yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”
Jesus then treats our anxious feelings by prescribing a belief about God; God himself thinks you are worthwhile (vs. 26). Our cure for ill-feelings is found in what we believe.
Our beliefs also drive what we do
The great theologian, Henry Ford, once said,
One man thinks he can and one man thinks he cannot. And they are both right.
Ford claims—and he’s right—that our doing is driven by our beliefs. The belief that we can (or can’t) determines if we do (or don’t).
We fail to take risks because we believe our risks will fail; we fear honesty with friends because we think they will confirm our fears; we ignore concerns about church because we’re sure our concerns will be ignored; we remain entrapped in ruts because we’re certain our ruts have trapped us.
Our problems are not bad circumstances; our problems are what we do in response. And our response—what we do (or don’t)—is always determined by what we believe.
What do we believe in?
It’s easy to trust God when the sun shines, our lattes are foamy, and the Wi-Fi signal is strong. It’s even easy to trust God when we are undervalued and demeaned, as long as God tells us in advance he will promote us in two years.
What is our faith in? Is it in a particular plan or is it just in who God is? Not every two-year-demotion is followed by stock ownership. Sometimes it is followed by a pink slip.
Life in God has a pattern: Resurrection. But we almost never know what shape that resurrection will take. If our belief is in a particular resurrection shape (or timing), our faith is no longer in God. It’s in a specific outcome.
My obedience to God was weak (at best), and my “belief” was that God would bless me because of my obedience. When it didn’t happen the way I expected, my beliefs crumbled. I had believed in the “blessing” and not in the “blessor.”
What does God want in all of this?
Oswald Chambers says “The test is to believe God knows what he is after.”
If we knew everything that God will do tomorrow, we’d be happy today. But we don’t, and we aren’t. Someday, though, we’ll look back at our lives and we’ll say, “God knew exactly what he was after. I wouldn’t want any other life.”
God doesn’t reveal all he will do. Instead, he reveals himself. Which is all we really need.