Do you trust God or not?

A spider monkey hanging in a tree outside the Mayan Ruins of Tikal in Guatemala

The locals call it “the tour the monkeys take.” The canopy zip line near the Mayan ruins of Tikal is a series of cables strung from platform to platform in the thick of the Guatemalan jungle. It’s not uncommon to spot spider monkeys and bright-feathered birds as you sail from tree to tree.

I’ve never been on it, and I’m not planning to go anytime soon. But I know loads of folks who’ve done it. And I admire their fearlessness. They’ll strap themselves into the harness, hook themselves on the cable, and fling their bodies into the open air of the jungle.

If it were me standing on that platform with nothing but a slim cable to support my flight from tree to tree, leaping into the air like some kind of Superman would be the last desire in my heart. But while I haven’t done it physically, I’ve done it in other ways.

I walked away from my high-paying job to start my own business. I elected to write a novel that would challenge the way people see Christ-followers. I traveled alone to dangerous parts of the world. I climbed behind the wheel of a car after surviving a terrible wreck.

No, it’s not the same as riding a zip line through a jungle canopy. But it was just as crazy.

Facing the future can be terrifying. With everything we know is happening today, it’s hard to see the future as anything less than bleak. Yet some people still walk toward it with their heads held high. They charge toward the unknown without a hint of fear, risking life and limb as they fling themselves into the air.

How can you embrace the terror of the future without collapsing under the weight of everything you don’t know? How is it possible to be brave when all you have to go on is how much failure hurts?

Well, do you trust God or not?

That’s really the only question that matters. But it’s the one of the most difficult questions you’ll ever answer.

Trusting God can be difficult. God is perfect. That’s one of the things that makes Him so scary. Because He’s right all the time.

So what happens when you trust God for something, and you don’t get it? It happens more often than not. You think you know what He’s calling you to do. You’re sure you’re on the right track. You believe it with all your heart, and then BAM! The world changes. You lose that person you love. You lose that relationship you needed. You lose the job you had to have.

So much for trusting God, right? All it gets you is more pain, more heartache, more trouble, more stress. You trust Him to take care of things, and all you get is more difficulty and struggle.

But doesn’t it make sense that part of trusting God is trusting that He’s not done yet? If we say we trust Him, why do we give up when life gets tough?

The truth is, God never promised you wouldn’t get hurt. He never promised that you’d get to keep everything you have, relationships or possessions or positions included.

So many times I think we project our own wants and desires onto God’s promises. So when we hear Him promise to protect us, we think that means He’ll prevent heartache or that He’ll stop anything from happening that will hurt us. And that’s not the case.

The Bible doesn’t say trust God and you’ll never be hurt. The Bible says to trust God because He knows what He’s doing. Trust Him because even when you get hurt, He’ll stay by your side (Isaiah 43:1-2).

Your life isn’t what you expected. So what? Do you really want to limit yourself to what you expect? Why not believe that God has something bigger and better in store?

Your boyfriend or girlfriend left. I’m truly sorry, but maybe that’s not who God had in mind for you.

You lost a business deal or an election or a relationship. Do you really think God is so small that He can only work within the boundaries of your expectations?

I have trust issues. Everyone does. And God knows that. But He’s done so much to prove Himself. How much more does He have to do to demonstrate that He is good, that He is faithful, and that He is worthy of trust?

You can’t half-trust Him. Half-trusting is putting on the harness and staying on the ground. It’s writing your book and never telling anyone about it.

So decide. Ask yourself. Do you trust God or not? If you don’t, that’s fine. That’s your choice. And you have the right to make that decision for yourself.

But if you do trust Him, then it’s time to start living like it. Stop wallowing in the what-ifs and might-have-beens. Stop clinging to the life you expected. Stop pining for the dreams that didn’t come true. Open your eyes and see the world for what it is, see God for who He is, and remember that He isn’t finished yet. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Do you trust God?

Yes, you’ll probably be afraid. But that’s what bravery is—action in the face of fear, boldness in the face of danger (Proverbs 28:1).

You can stay on the ground if you want. But God has so much more for you. If you trust Him, He’ll take you places you never dreamed you could go, and He’ll do more through you than you ever thought possible.

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Stone steps at Tikal - Peten, Guatemala

Training to reach the top

If you haven’t worked out at all, can you climb a massive staircase at a dead run without passing out? If you can, you’re tougher than I am. Either that, or you’re not asthmatic. Generally speaking, it’s not a good idea to jump into difficult physical circumstances if you haven’t prepared yourself for them. That’s why people train for marathons. That’s why those crazies who climb Mt. Everest have to set up base camps along the way to acclimate to the altitude.

The photo I picked for today isn’t a very good representation of the temples at the ruins of Tikal in Guatemala. To really grasp their enormity, you kind of have to be there. But I will be the first to tell you that the steps leading up the front of all of them are killer. Most of the steps you can’t actually climb just because the temples themselves are so old, but the rickety old wooden stairs that have been built on the sides aren’t much safer. They’re certainly no less steep. 

Stone steps at Tikal - Peten, Guatemala

Stone steps at Tikal - Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Romans 5:3.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.

Encountering difficult circumstances in life is inevitable. We are going to run into problems because the world isn’t perfect and we aren’t perfect, and we’re all going to make mistakes, we’re all going to sin, and we’re all going to come up short of where we want to be. But when we reach that point, we have the option of pressing forward or giving up.

Giving up means that we’ll never learn anything. And every trial or difficulty in our lives is there to teach us something. Pressing forward is a challenge always, but at the end of the day you will have learned something about yourself and something about God too.

What’s really amazing, though, is that once you get past a difficult spot in your journey of life, the next time a similar problem comes up it won’t faze you. Because you already saw what God did the first time you went through it. So you aren’t afraid of taking the challenge head on.

Like training for a marathon. Like acclimating to a high altitude. When you press forward through difficult circumstances, your faith will increase in strength, and the next time your faith is challenged, you won’t falter. But if you give up in the middle of the fight, you’ll never learn the lesson you were supposed to learn. And you’ll keep experiencing the same problems over and over again until you do.

My first real job out of college was at a library. I loved my job, and I loved the people I worked with. But it really didn’t pay very much. I did okay for a year, but by the second year, my finances were starting to get a little thin because cost of living had gone up and my hourly rate had stayed the same. And by the third year, well let’s just say I wasn’t sure where my groceries were going to come from. I had a couple of options. I could stop giving to my church. I could stop providing for those less fortunate than me. But I felt like God was really calling me to do those things. So I didn’t stop.

Looking back on it now, I’m not really sure how the numbers make sense. Because I shouldn’t have been able to afford to live. But God provided for me in ways that I don’t know how to explain during that time in my life. And He did it so many times that there is no doubt in my mind that it was Him. So now? Well, in the circumstances that I’ve run into in the last two years at my new job when I run across an expense that I know God has put there, I don’t hesitate. Because I know He’s going to take care of me. He’s done it before.

Problems and trials are difficult. But do we really learn anything when life is going our way? Can we really understand something God is trying to teach us when we’re comfortable? I don’t think so. People aren’t wired that way. So at times, we need to be shaken up. We need to experience some difficult circumstances so that we can learn what God wants us to learn, so we can live the way He wants us to live, so we can handle what’s coming.

Climbing the steps up the temples of Tikal is difficult. It’s draining. It’s exhausting. It’s rough even if you don’t have asthma. And those steps are all you can see for a long time. But  it’s worth it because of the view at the top. Trials and problems in life are no different.  

Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

View from a family palace throne

The only throne room where boldness won’t get you flayed alive

One of my favorite places in the world is the Mayan ruins of Tikal in Peten, Guatemala. I love history and ancient cultures, and Tikal is a spectacular place to study both of those things, an amazing reminder that no matter how great a civilization may become they are still vulnerable when they have no moral foundation. There are a number of palaces standing in Tikal where ruling class families lived. Palaces are kind of like apartment complexes where the whole family lived.

Every ruling family had a skill or had some form of knowledge that they hoarded, astronomy for example or medical knowledge. Something that the rest of the culture needed to survive but that the family wouldn’t share with anyone else. In the palaces, there is a throne area with a long, wide courtyard in front of it. I took a picture from the throne when I was in Tikal in July 2011.

View from a family palace throne

View from a family palace throne - Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

What’s really cool about this is the acoustics. The guy in the red shirt is my friend, Jim Dinsmore, and from where he is standing, he could speak in a quiet voice, and I could hear him clearly. This area was designed so that the person sitting on the throne could hear everything that was whispered in the courtyard.

I can only imagine what it must have been like for people to approach the head of one of these families. I’ve never been in a situation where I had to address anyone like this. But I have an active imagination, and I can feel the fear and trepidation something like this might cause. To be so small and so far away from someone so much bigger and more powerful than me would terrify me. I’m not sure how these situations played out in Tikal, but I know that the Mayans weren’t exactly known for their mercy. So putting one toe out of line probably resulted in a particularly painful death.

Today’s verse is Hebrews 4:16.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

This verse is out of a passage in Hebrews that is talking about Jesus as our High Priest. In the Jewish religion, there was a High Priest who was the intercessor between God and people, who followed a strict set of guidelines and fulfilled all required expectations to be able to approach God on the peoples’ behalf. When Jesus came and died for us, He became our High Priest. He is now the intercessor between God and Mankind. And what the end of Hebrews 4 and the beginning of Hebrews 5 is talking about is our ability to come before God and speak to Him.

If you have chosen to follow Jesus, that means you have full access to God Himself. He isn’t some distant ethereal being floating out in the universe somewhere who doesn’t care about your everyday life. He is a real, living Person who wants to help you and who wants to know you.

Hebrews 4 says was can approach God’s throne with boldness. The Amplified Version uses the adverbs fearlessly and confidently.

Think about that. And think about this photo from Tikal. If I were in a Mayan’s position, there would be no boldness in me, not in approaching the head of a family on a throne like that. I would be as far away as I possibly could be. Put that in perspective and imagine approaching the throne of the God of the universe. It doesn’t even compare. But Hebrews is saying that we could walk right up to the throne of God and talk to Him.

And we won’t be shunned. We won’t be mistreated. We won’t be punished.

We will receive mercy and grace when we need it most.

Can you wrap your head around that? Because I can’t.

So wherever you are today, whether you’re having a good day or a bad day, just remember that as a follower of Christ, you have free, open access to God Himself. You can walk boldly up to His throne and tell Him what’s going on in your life. Yes, He already knows, but He wants to hear it from you, in your own words. And He’ll help you.

If what you’re going through is something you don’t deserve, He’ll help you. If what you’re going through is something you do deserve, He’ll help you. Even if the trouble in your life is of your own making, He’ll help you. There may still be some consequences, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to face them alone.

Be bold. You can. God wants you to.