An Intense Sacred Gamble – Risking More

Posted: 06/17/2011 in Fruit of the Spirit, Man of God, Running the Race
Tags: , ,

A couple of days ago I wrote about risk, and what it looks like to find your hope and satisfaction and joy in the risk of not trying to be someone else.

The post actually coincided with a sermon at Revolution about the differences between Moses and Joshua and how God created them to serve in a different fashion. There were so many different points during that sermon that challenged my familiar temptation to model my life after a leader I admire. This isn’t a slant against discipleship/mentor-ship, but a to point out that it is very different to be shaped and trained by a strong leader, than it is to try to become a facsimile of that person.

While this wasn’t the point that I was wanting to make I just realized the danger that exists in what I just wrote…

“…to try to become a facsimile of that person”

SIDE NOTE: I don’t want to belabor the point (that I wasn’t trying to make in the first place), but the only person we are called to model our lives after, the only person we are called to look more and more like is Jesus.

So where was I going with this?

The risk that I wanted to talk about had to do with how I live my life in community and it is all tied to how I interact with God.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference

-Robert Frost

In my Christian walk there have been a number of different perspectives beliefs that I have had two wrestle through and choose between, but I don’t think I have wrestled with one so fundamental in quite some time. It is both elementary and complex: What is the core motivation in my heart? What colors and drives all of my decisions as a Christian? Right now I am standing at a crossroad marked:

Pleasing God … Trusting God

They are both admirable and I would like to place both as a core value, but the more I pray through it, the more I realize only one can be the central motivation of my heart.

So Here is the Gamble

I have spent so much of my life with “Pleasing God” at the driving motivation of my relationship with God.

And on the surface it has been amazing.

I have sung songs of worship, served in the community, cared for those around me, read and taught from the Bible, gave of my time, energy and money out of a desire to please the glorious, beautiful God that I serve. Not bad.

This is what I have wrestled through so fiercely: all of these things are amazing and great, why would I want to change this…“Isn’t this what a Christian should look like?”

Here’s the rub… at the heart of a heart captivated with “PLEASING GOD” is a monologue I have often said which boils down to:

“Alright, my mind is made up. I am going to please God. I am determined to make him happy with me. I am sold out to make my Father proud of me. I’ll accomplish all of these ministries. I will live a life holy and pleasing to God, with all of my heart and soul and mind. I’ll create the perfect plan and discipline myself to meet this life goal. I know I can do it. Yes, I will do it this time. I will please God and He will be pleased with me.”

I have lived with this script for years, and I think many of us do. So the destination at the end of the road of “PLEASING GOD” is:


I so want to be all that God wants me to be. I want to sing loudly, love boldly, give gratefully. I want to be a good and faithful servant… I want it with all that I am.

If I’m honest, I have found that while I want to spend all of my energy doing things that please him… I end up spending most of my time trying NOT to do what actually DISPLEASES God. It is comforting to know that Paul was in the same boat:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
Romans 7:15

All of a sudden I’ve realized that while I started on a road of “PLEASING GOD”… I have found myself lost within a forest of “WHAT MUST I DO TO KEEP GOD PLEASED WITH ME?”

Putting it All on the Line

So there is the other path: “TRUSTING GOD”.

The funny thing is that it doesn’t seem like a big switch.

It seems like such and easy thing to say: “Oh, I trust God. He’s big, and he holds the whole world in his hands, and he loves me, and…” But when I say TRUSTING GOD, do I firmly believe the things that he says?  You see, I thought TRUSTING GOD seemed frivolous and intangible next to the clear cut tasks of PLEASING GOD.

I’m pleased to say “TRUSTING GOD” has been far from frivolous and intangible. But getting there took a bit.

The first foot fell with a verse out of Hebrews 11:

“And without faith it is impossible to please him…”

If I was going to please God, it wasn’t going to start with my actions, but with faith… with TRUSTING.

The second was out of a passage in Galatians 2:

…yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.

The desire to PLEASE GOD is a worthwhile venture; it always will be. But I am beginning to realized that it can’t be the core value of our hearts, it can’t be the primary motivation for our actions.

If we try to gain God’s favor by our works, if we strive to please God by solving our sin, we are right back at the same place of failure and insufficiency that made it necessary to have a Savior.

One of the biggest areas of TRUSTING GOD, which seems so simple, comes with “Who He says I am.

I know that God paid an infinite price on the cross to pay for my sins, to redeem me, to GIVE ME A NEW IDENTITY. That I am seen as righteous, not because of what I DO, but because of what Jesus has DONE. That I am fully adopted as his child and that I am secure in my son-ship. I know it but I don’t often live like that is true.

I heard once in a way that brought this identity piece into focus: God doesn’t take the what Jesus paid on the cross lightly… that He values our high-priced identity, and He wants us to do the same.

So where does this leave me? Where is this intense sacred gamble?

If my motive is “TRUSTING GOD” then my value is “LIVING OUT OF WHO GOD SAYS I AM.”

Winning the Lot

Where this leaves me, what I have begun to realize, makes me so excited about this “gamble.” I could write pages on this, but I’m going to keep it brief.

When my focus is to please God, I want to hide my brokenness, I want to camouflage my sin, I want to ignore anything that is unlovely because I think it will keep God from loving me.

When my focus in to trust God, and that is tied to my relationship and identity by what Jesus accomplished fully on the Cross. I can stand in confidence with God, living out of a fully secured identity. Standing with my Father, my Betrothed, my Comforter at my sin and brokenness and inadequacies, knowing there is now no condemnation, and that God will complete the good work he has begun in me.

And that as I trust God, He is pleased and I actually begin to live a life that pleases him and bring him glory.

Thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  1. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think you’ve actually wrestled through this gamble a lot of different times in a lot of different ways. I think struggling through whether God chooses us or we choose Him is really similar to this. I think Calvinism vs. Arminianism (yeah… probably spelled that wrong, but you get it) is this exact struggle. I think you’ve spent time seeking to be still and know that He is God, which in a weird way incorporates both seeking to please God and seeking to live out of your adoption.

    I’m not putting this together very well, but awhile back I was responding to someone’s comment on one of my posts, where he’d said that he feels like he enjoys music way more than lyrics in a way that most people never experience. I told him that I was trying to enjoy music, which probably defeats the purpose. His response was that it always starts with trying. In trying to live out sonhood, there’s probably an element of seeking to please God by embracing His adoption, but seeking to please a Father is totally a trait of a son… therefore, in a weird way, you are exactly living out of who God created you to be by seeking to please Him. That’s what sons do. 🙂

    • mgmstudious says:

      (This is a bit long, but it is because I tried telling it as a story.)

      Hey there Katie, I agree with you, but only in part.

      I think two things that you said get to the heart of it “In trying to live out sonhood… by seeking to please him”. This idea of trying to live out what, God has already established is what I would call a misguided motive.

      Here is the crux of the idea: MOTIVE ⇒ VALUES ⇒ ACTIONS

      I’m not saying that they don’t have the same goal/desired outcome.

      With Trusting God & Pleasing God, I would say the desired outcome would be: Godliness.

      Pleasing God and Trusting God are both admirable, but since I can have only one primary motive, I ask myself, “Which of these motives best reflects the relationship I want to have with God?” (If your disagreement is with only being able to have one primary motive, let me know there are a number of reasons why I have come to that conclusion)

      When we pick “Pleasing God”, Godliness is reduced to “More right behavior + Less wrong behavior = Godliness”

      hmmm… how can I put this.

      Okay, go back to the idea of the road that diverged.

      Its was a beautiful day, the smell of the road and the joy of the journey had left my cheeks flushed and invigorated. Staring up at this sign, I paused as the choice seemed so strange me. “Can’t I have both? Aren’t we called to do both?” Slightly befuddled I weigh my options.
      In the end, I choose the path marked Pleasing God. The Trusting path seems too, well, passive. I want a fully alive experience with God. The Pleasing God path seems like the best way there. I think, ”All right then, my mind’s made up. I am determined to please God. I so long for him to be happy with me. I’ll discipline myself to achieve this life goal. I know I can do it. Yes, I will do it this time. I will please him and he will be pleased with me.” And suddenly, I realize that I’m not alone; there are so many people traveling this road with me.

      Together we set off with confidence on this well traveled path.

      In time I come to a door with a sign that reads “Striving to Be All God Wants Me to Be.” These words reflect the values that flow out of the motive of “Pleasing God” and this describes how we should act. Since my motive is a determination to please God, I will value being all God wants me to be. So, I open the door by turning the knob of Effort. As I enter an enormous, well populated and lit room, a hostess with a beautiful smile greets me and says “Welcome to the room of Good Intentions” (NOTE: I know this moniker comes with connotation and that is intentional… please follow me).

      Oh, yes. I like the ring of this name. I also like being perceived as someone who is well intended. “ Well, thanks,” I answer. “I think I found where I belong. How are you?”

      The hostess pauses for a second, lifts up a finger gesturing me to wait, and then reaches into her purse to pull out a mask bearing a guarded expression and a thin smile. She puts it on and answers, “Fine. Just fine. And you?”

      The entire room falls into a hush, awaiting my answer. “Well, umm, thanks for asking. I’m kind of struggling with some things right now, some areas that don’t seem to be in keeping with who I know I’m supposed to be. I’m not really sure I’m doing well on a lot of –.“ The hostess stops me once again with a raised finger, putting it to her lips she hands me a similar mask.

      I’m not sure what to do. I don’t really want to put it on, but others in the room are smiling and motioning for me to do so. I want so much to be accepted here that I slowly put it on.

      And now everything feels different. I am quickly overcome with the realization that less self-revelation would be a smart game plan here. I realize that no one in this room wants to hear about my struggles, pain, or doubt. If I want to be welcome here, I’d better keep my cars closer to my vest and give the appearance of sufficiency. So, slowly and carefully, I say the words, “Actually, I’m fine. I’m doing just fine. Thanks.” Satisfied, everyone in the room turns back to their conversations.

      [You see this so often at so many churches and I think it was the first thing that grabbed my attention. You see, everyone in the Room of Good Intentions has the value of Striving to Be All God Wants Them to Be. They are sincerely determined to be godly. Their value produces actions that are best summarized by and enormous banner on the back wall that reads: “Working on My Sin to Achieve an Intimate Relationship with God.” They have made it their goal to be godly, and they fully expect the same of everyone else in the room.

      The only reason that I think I can say this with accuracy is that I have spent so much time there; years of living out the expectations of myself, and of those around me to conform, to fit, to behave nicely. “Working on My Sin to Achieve an Intimate Relationship with God.” And every time I read those words, I can’t help but think, “Sounds a lot like, ‘Be holy as your heavenly Father is holy.’ Yep, I’m in the right place. The people have sincerity, perseverance, courage, diligence, full-hearted fervency, a desire to please God, and a sold-out determination to pursue excellence. Yep, this is the place I have been looking for. Oh, I’m going to make God so happy with me.”]

      So I stay in the room at the end of the path of “Pleasing God.” Yet, as weeks turn into months, I can’t help noticing that many people in this room sound a bit cynical and look pretty tired. Many of them seem alone. And if I catch them when they think no one is looking, I see incredible pain on their faces. Quite a few seem superficial – guarded. After a while I realized that my thinking has begun shifting too. I no longer feel as comfortable or relaxed here. I have this nagging anxiety that if I don’t keep behaving well – if I don’t control my sin enough – I’ll be on the outs with everyone in the room.

      And with God.

      And so gradually, almost imperceptibly the road of Pleasing God has turned into “What Must I Do to Keep God Pleased with Me?”

      The room no longer seems well large and well lit, but cramped, dim and claustrophobic. I quietly laugh at the idea that the Christian life is about joy and abundant life, not that I would ever say that aloud. At a certain point I get so tired of pretending and keeping up appearances, that I want to give up.

      As I look for the door out of here, someone walks up to me and looking over his shoulder, whispers, “Psst, hey I’m going to check out that other path at the crossroads. I’ve given this room all that I’ve got, it might be working for some people in here, but I think I’m not doing it right. You look tired too, I thought we could go check it out.”

      So I exhausted and with very little resolve, go back to the fork in the road. Sighing and rolling my eyes I look up at the sign “Pleasing God” and then look down the road of “Trusting God.” Despite all that I have experienced, it still feels wrong to take this road – as if I’d be getting away with something. I look again for some road that combines the two, with no such luck. There are just the two roads. Still.
      Looking at the ground I admit that the road of Trusting God sure sounds a lot less heroic than the other. At best it seems a bit ethereal, and vague. And it appears that it gives me nothing much to do other than, well… trust.

      All I have ever heard before was that I needed to “sell out, care more, get on fire, buck up, shape up and tighten up.” This road doesn’t seem to give me any way to do that. I look for my co-conspirator from the from room of Good Intentions, but he is nowhere to be seen. Like before I must make this decision by myself. Tired an exhausted, also knowing that I don’t have much more energy to keep up appearances I start down this other road.

      So, I begin walking on life’s path with the motive of “Trusting God.” This road is definitely less worn than the other one, and every fifty feet seems to be marked with an overwhelming desire to turn back. Knowing that I cannot bear to return to the emptiness of the alternative, I walk on, looking for the second door.

      Eventually I spot it, and as I approach it I read the words on the sign above: “Living Out of Who God Says I Am.” I tilt my head to the side wondering if it will make more sense at another angle. “What does it mean? It can’t mean what I think it means. When do I get to do something here? Where’s the part where I get to prove my sincerity? Where are my guidelines? When do I get to give God my best? I shake my head and stoop down to read what it says on the doorknob…Humility.

      Suddenly everything snaps into focus. I’ve tried so hard, I’ve supplied all the self-effort the other room demanded, yet received nothing but insecurity and duplicity. I’ve run out of answers, run out of breath, run out of ability, and so I cry out, “GOD, if anything good is come out of this whole deal, you will have to do it. I’ve TRIED. I CAN’T…. I’m so tired. Please God, you will have to give me the life I am dreaming of. I can’t keep doing this anymore. I’m losing confidence that this life in you is even possible. Help me. You must make it happen or I am doomed.”With those words I turn the doorknob.

      As I step inside, another hostess immediately approaches. She smiles kindly and, with a voice that is at once knowing and reassuring, says softly, “Welcome to The Room of Grace.”

      “ Thank … you,” I answer tentatively.

      “How are you?”

      The room grows quiet.

      Well, I’ve been here before and so, not to be duped twice, I answer, “I’m fine. Pretty fine… who wants to know?”

      The room stays quiet.

      I interpret their silence as judgment, and so I yell out with all the pain and vitriol I can muster, “All right, listen! I’m NOT fine. I haven’t been fine for a long time. I’m tired. I feel guilty, lonely and depressed. I’m sad most of the time and I can’t make my life work. And if any of you knew half of my daily thoughts, you’d want me out of your little club. So there, I’m doing NOT FINE! Thanks for asking!”
      I turn to reach for the doorknob and I hear a voice from the back of the room.

      “That’s it? That’s all you’ve got? Shoot, I’ll take your confusion, guilt, and bad thoughts, and I’ll raise you compulsive sin and chronic lower back pain! Oh, and I’m in debt up to my ears, and I wouldn’t know classical music from a show tune if it jumped up and bit me. You better have more than that puny list if you want to play in my league!”

      I don’t know what to do with this response, whether to fight, to cry, to yell, to flee. With a gaping maw I turn to see the greeter smiling and then nudging me to say, “I think he means that you are welcome here.”

      Emboldened, I smile, and call back, “Do you struggle with forgetting birthdays?” He walks right up to me all the way from the back, puts his hands on my shoulders, looks into my eyes and says, “Birthdays? I can’t even remember my own!”

      Everyone in the room lights the warm laughter of understanding, and I am ushered into the fold of a sweet family of a kind and painfully real people.

      As I walk further into the room, I notice a huge banner on the back wall. The one reads:
      “Standing with God, with My Sin in Front of Me, Working on It Together.”

      I think “Wait, this can’t be right. How can this be? It sounds presumptuous, careless. Imagining God with his arm around me as we view my sin together? Come on! Surely they’ve written it down wrong. I’ve always been told that my sin is still a barrier between God and me. If it could be true that God actually stands with me, in front of my sin, well, that would change everything. If it were true, God has never moved away from me no matter what I’ve done.”This will take time to learn.

      When I began I said:

      When we pick “Pleasing God”, Godliness is reduced to “More right behavior + Less wrong behavior = Godliness”

      Go with me on one more journey

      Nature provides many examples that reflect God’s glory. Consider the caterpillar. If we brought a caterpillar to a lab and asked someone to analyze it and describe its DNA, we would hear: “I know this looks like a caterpillar to you, but scientifically, according to every test, including DNA, this is fully and completely a butterfly.”

      God has wired into a creature that looks nothing like a butterfly, a perfectly complete butterfly “identity.” And because the caterpillar is a butterfly in essence, it will one day display the behavior and attributes of a butterfly. That caterpillar matures into what is already true about it. In the meantime, berating the caterpillar for not being more like a butterfly in its own strength is futile.
      So it is with us. God has given us the DNA of Godliness. We are saints. Righteous. Nothing we do will make us more righteous than we already are. Nothing we do will alter this reality. God knows our DNA. He knows that we are “Christ in me”. And now he is asking us to join him in what He knows is true.

      Pleasing God : More right behavior + Less wrong behavior = Godliness
      Trusting God: Christ in me = Godliness

  2. While I’m not sure I follow onto your conclusion entirely, I think what you are saying that if you trust in God, then it will follow that you will live a life that pleases Him (or perhaps even that if you trust in Him, you ARE pleasing Him.) Am I right with that is where you are going with that?

    I think that I agree to an extent, but that I see the relationship between the two paths slightly different. I am not sure that either path is entirely (or even mostly) dependent upon the other. Instead I see the two as highly if not completely interdependent.

    The two roads that diverge in the wood weave into and out of each other along the journey and the key is that when we trust in Him, we learn by practice and emulation, so that when the moments when we can act pleasingly to Him, we do. And by trying to act in a way pleasing to Him, by practice, emulation, and by making mistakes, we learn to identify the moments in which we must trust and rely on Him entirely. Sometimes we take the road in which we are actively trying to please Him, and sometimes the one in which we are truly trusting in Him. Each pursuit helps us identify the times when the roads intersect and we get better at choosing the better road as we go along. I believe it is not just in the two actions, but also the learning we do in the process that is pleasing to Him.

    Perhaps for Jesus the two roads were one, and that is what we are striving for.

    Does that make sense? (Re-reading it I’m not sure it does)

    I suppose what I mean to say is that both have immense value, purpose, and place in our life, maybe just at different times and in different situations.

    I donno, I maybe have missed your point entirely, but you got me thinking about the above among other things, so thanks for that. 🙂

    • mgmstudious says:

      Hey Matt, it does make sense. I have spent a lot of time thinking that those roads are interwoven, but I am getting to a place where I don’t think they do. Again these are the motivations not the actual outcome.

      You do get to pleasing through trusting, but not to trusting (or even pleasing I would argue) through pleasing. 🙂

      It is rather counterintuitive and not very complimentary to a great deal of American church culture, but I think it is all throughout Paul’s writings.

      Also I posted a longer response to Katie… I think that makes more sense.

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