Trust God in a New Venture
My focus is on Six Practices for Spiritual Growth. My intent is to make the basics of such formation by the Spirit as practical as possible.
The fifth preparation is learning to trust God. Everyday life teaches lessons of trust for believers as we learn to accept what appear to be bad things happening in our lives, relationships, illnesses and finances. We learn new levels of letting go and trusting God. Accepting downturns can be called passive faith.
Active faith is learning to trust God in a new venture. It’s the kind of trust Abraham in the Genesis story had when he heard God’s call to take his son Isaac up into a mountain to make a sacrifice, only to find out the sacrifice was going to be his son. Killing him made absolutely no sense, especially given God’s earlier promise that through this son Abraham would become the father of the great nation of God’s people. Yet, knife in hand, he was ready to do the deed, and he thereby passed the test. Instead, God provided a sacrificial lamb. Over the centuries Abraham’s faith has been recognized as the greatest among God’s people.
Nineteenth-century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard made Abraham’s test the basis of his most popular book Fear and Trembling. There he gave us the memorable phrase “the leap of faith.” Learn to grow in your relationship with Christ by purposefully taking leaps of faith beyond what you would ordinarily do.
Seven Realities of Experiencing God
In recent decades millions of Christians have learned how to know and do God’s will through Henry Blackaby’s workbook Experiencing God, which is very popular in Baptist circles. He describes seven realities involved in experiencing God: 1) Recognize that God is at work in your life and that he 2) pursues a love relationship with you. He 3) invites you to join him and 4) he speaks to you. Key is 5) a crisis of faith when you realize you cannot do on your own what God is asking, and you realize that 6) if God doesn’t help you will fail. Growth continues through 7) ultimate surrender to God so his will, not yours, be done.
That fourth reality assumes that I as a believer have a relationship with God in which I hear him calling me to do something. Accepting that God speaks to us today as he did to people in biblical times is a big step for many traditional Christians.
Most formative is the fifth reality of realizing that on your own you cannot do what God is asking. It is natural to want a sure thing before we invest time and energy. But being timid does not produce growth. As the writer of Hebrews tells us, faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Remember, while faith is a noun it is also a verb meaning to trust. The growth challenge is to trust outcomes that are not visibly certain.
Paul sets this process of growth in the context of the Holy Spirit working within us. The Spirit is the one who calls. The Spirit builds our confidence. He enables us to surrender to God’s will. What if this new venture fails? The Spirit is there to help us process what happened. He will build us up so we are ready to try again with a new venture. For growth, the constant challenge is to put your trust to the test.
“The Holy Spirit is always a mystery,” as J. Harold Ellens tells us, “an intriguing agent of God, full of intimations of God’s nature, truth, and grace. These intimations speak spontaneously to our natures as we hunger for God. One must have the eyes to see and the ears to hear, of course. It is an intriguing and exciting thing indeed to live life always consciously anticipating how the Holy Spirit of God will show up around the next corner. The Spirit always does if we are expecting him.”
My Challenging New Ventures
Blackaby’s basic illustration is planting a new church. That challenge was a significant component of my personal spiritual growth. I had heard of a church planting opportunity in my hometown of Cleveland. I was teaching a two-week course of church management to pastors, and several came back from the weekend excited about a church plant they had visited. Then and there I knew what I was called to do. Many were the times I thought I was facing failure. But God provided opportunities. Under a successor, a healthy mid-size congregation with its own building is the result.
Over the years I have tried many different forms of ministry and outreach. Many did not “work” in terms of attracting enough participants to continue. If pastors have not failed in a ministry, they are probably not trying hard enough. Untested, many are probably also not growing much in their personal spirituality.
Pray, Meditate and Be Tested
Being tested was one of the three basics of spiritual formation Martin Luther featured in the Latin phrase oratio, meditatio, tentatio—pray, meditate and be tested. This is the path he laid out especially for those wanting to become ministers.
Paul laid out a similar sequence, which I offer here with my own translation. Stress produces persistence, which produces discovery (character), which produces trust (Romans 5: 3,4). The stress of suffering a negative affliction in our lives is learning passive trust. The stress of Trusting God in a New Venture presents opportunities for active trust. Deliberately facing such self-imposed stress can be productive. Actively choosing to place yourself in a stressful challenge produces a track record of persistence that offers discovery that develops proof of character. What are you proving? That God can be trusted to see you through to new accomplishments, especially those in service to the Gospel.
Out of this process of learning trust comes new hope. “Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:5). For believers, Christ’s Spirit is the engine that drives this progression. What you are testing is the Spirit’s guidance and power. For Paul, hope is in a triad along with the faith and the love he features. All three are gifts generated by the Spirit in believers. Do you want to grow into more faith, hope and love? Try to Trust God in a New Venture.
Planting a new church is a tall challenge. Traditional mainline denominations have a very poor track record in recent decades. Yet there is hope. The church I serve made four attempts to plant new congregations. Three succeeded. New Protestant churches keep popping up in many communities. Observing such successes can offer opportunity to test out some new forms of outreach and ministry.
A church life that is healthy will offer opportunities to reach out and bear fruit in the lives of others. Such churches will also offer encouragement and advice. They can help individuals assess fitness for a new ministry of serving others. Where there is failure, they can provide perspective and highlight lessons learned in growing closer to God.
A healthy congregation teaches how to trust God in a new venture. A healthy Christian learns to do the same!
Is the distinction between passive faith and active faith helpful to you? What kind of new ventures have you tested yourself with? Do you want to test your trust in God?