The Battle for God's Motives

The Battle for God's Motives
One of the most important battles I find myself fighting is which narrative I let my painful experiences tell about God’s attitude towards me.

When He lets bad things happen to me, or when He doesn’t let good things happen to me. When year-old prayers don’t get answered. When I follow His call out onto the open water just to end up drowning. When I respond to a prompting of the Spirit, and in my uncertainty even wait for a dozen confirmations that it’s really Him, and then I follow His leadership just to never see the promise being given. What message do I let those things tell to my own heart?

How we cope with painful experiences is one of the most important battlegrounds in our lives. Because they can cause us to become disappointed, frustrated, angry and even offended at God, leading to greater pain and loss than the situation that caused it.

Partly this is because of the emotions these situations put us through in and of itself, like suffering through a traumatic experience, losing something precious, or not getting something very much needed or desired.

But what adds to it is what we believe God thought and felt when He let those things happen to us or what we assume to be the reasons why He withheld something from us. What conclusions do we draw? Which “whys” do we come up with?

A hurting heart is in great danger to misinterpret His actions and assume that there are inferior motives in the heart of God. So over the years I found myself challenged to often review what I believe to be the reasons why God does or doesn’t do certain things in my life.

Inferior Motives in the Heart of God

When dreams are crushed and long-held prayer requests simply don’t get answered, there is a great variety of thoughts my mind entertains that are unworthy of God but that in the moment I perceive as possible and even likely truth.

“Did I do anything wrong? Is this the punishment for it? I think I was negligent in my quiet time with the Lord again and so He tries to get my attention. I didn’t pray enough to have His favor. I didn’t pray enough to deserve the blessing. Or I probably didn’t have enough faith. If I don’t meet His expectations, He won’t bless me.”

“Maybe I’m not important enough for God, maybe I’m not significant enough in His Kingdom and therefore I don’t have His attention. Maybe He cares about others more than about me. Of course He would because others have a far greater reach than I. He would never do such big things for someone so insignificant as me. God only really cares about me to the level that I am useful for Him.”

“Of course it’s all about God. Eventually, He only really cares about Himself. About His glory, right? Why expect God to do anything for me that would need Him to be selfless? God is selfish and I’m simply not a priority to Him.”

“He just uses me to bless other people, at my expense. Other around me will be blessed but He lets me go empty. I often prayed “God, use me”, right? Why should I complain now that He does? Of course He wants me to learn to be content and grow in humility in all things, so that’s probably why. God cares about everyone more than me. And He really only cares about my humility, not about my happiness.”

“Yes, what I asked for would have been too good to be true. And of course I didn’t deserve it in the first place, so why even expect great things for my life. That’s why He said “no”, because it was too good. I should be more modest about my prayers and expectations. His love and goodwill only go so far.

“Or maybe He just likes teasing me. Getting my hopes up for something just to let me down again so I realize that in the end it’s all and only about Him, right?”

This most certainly wasn’t my most favorite thing I’ve ever written but I’m sure that deep down we have all been haunted by thoughts like these. It’s important that we expose the lies that grow in our hurting hearts. Some of them are even more subtle than these. But they all grow on the soil of pain, a biblically uninformed thinking, and from a wrong perspective.

From Looking At The Wrong Things

With us being fallen beings, it will of course not be difficult to find enough reasons why He would withhold good things and why He would let painful things happen to us. We are frail, sinful, insignificant human beings. If we look exclusively at ourselves, these thoughts do make sense and seem completely reasonable.

We find the reason for the presence of bad things or the absence of good things in us. Yet we forget that the reason for His benevolence lies entirely within Himself. “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show compassion on whom I will show compassion” (Ex 33:19).

The bigger issue isn’t that sometimes He does or doesn’t do things, it’s this constant thought of “I’m not worthy because I’m not good enough.” And if not kept in check, this thinking will defile all our dreaming, hinder us from rising beyond the ordinary, and see the truth about His heart. Because we’ll never be worthy, we’ll never deserve anything but hell.

So ultimately what we do wrong is we look at ourselves rather than at what He is like. And then we assume how He must feel and act towards us based on our miserable state, rather than listening to what He told us about what He is like. It’s not an issue of who we are, it’s an issue of what we believe God to be like.

The Battlefield of Our Thoughts

The primary arena of a Christian’s battle is his own mind and one of the keys for maturing is the “renewing of our mind” by bringing our thought patterns and mindsets into alignment with the actual Biblical truth.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2
The most dangerous attacks of the enemy aren’t demonic onslaughts but subtle, untrue ideas and thought patterns about God, ourselves and the world He created.

Of these aspects, what we believe about God is the most important thing. Paul makes it clear that spiritual warfare happens primarily against false ideas about who God is and what He is like. What we believe God is like is literally the most important thing in our lives.
4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ
2 Corinthians 10:4-5
That’s the real battleground. Therefore the real problem isn’t the existence of painful experiences in the life of a Christian, it’s the lies we let them tell about God’s attitude toward us.

Questioning the motives and intentions of God has been the devil’s age-old strategy. “Did God really…?” (Gen 3:1), he asked Eve when he convinced her that by forbidding them to eat from the tree in the middle of the garden God was purposefully withholding a wealth of knowledge from them that could make them equal to God. The enemy is the great deceiver and “God” is his favorite topic to bring deception on.

What Really Drives God

Rather than drawing our own conclusions in moments of pain about what drives God, we do well to look at the one true source to inform us about God’s thought life, His emotions, and the inner workings of His heart. His self-revelation that alone tells us what really goes on inside of Him in everything that ever happens to us: The Bible.

Of the wealth of verses that shed light on His attitude towards us in withholding blessings and in letting bad things happen, I want to highlight a few that have become very dear to my own heart throughout my journey. These are the verses that I use to shut the mouth of my lying mind. This is the sword that I swing on the battlefield of what I believe He is like.
The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works.
Psalm 145:9
God’s default in relating to His creation is one of goodwill and mercy - not one of sadness and anger. It’s mercy and goodwill. And this necessarily includes me. No, I am not an exception. He is good to me, and His mercies are over me by default. Not only when I’m deserving, not only when my life is right. Over all His works includes the worst and most wicked person who ever lived. By default.
The Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds.
Psalm 145:17
He is kind in everything He ever does. In everything. The universe has never ever witnessed a single act of God that was unkind. There hasn’t been one single act of God in my life where God was unkind to me. Literally none, zero, nil. Every single thing He let happen to me, everything He has given to me, everything He withheld. It was an act of His kindness towards me.

Everything He does drips with His kindness. Whether in my life or in the lives of other people or anywhere else in the universe He made. (By the way, this necessarily includes His chastisements and even His judgement. We would read many Bible passages differently if we began really believing this.) I might not feel and understand it in the moment, but I will see it eventually. Yet even now I choose to believe it’s true. He is kind in all His ways, without exceptions.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28
Though this verse is sometimes used with a lack of empathy as a quick answer to the questions of a hurting heart, it doesn’t mean that this verse is any less true or powerful. There is great comfort in the fact that everything will work together for my good. There are no exclusions to this biblical word “all”. Literally every single detail of my life He will cause to work together for my good. There are no exceptions.
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
Romans 8:32
How far-reaching the implications of this verse! All thoughts that paint God with a selfish attitude are stabbed in the back right here. The One who already showed us how well He means it with us by giving His most precious, how can we still worry about Him withholding much smaller asked for favors? There is no room left for the idea of God withholding anything good from us out of anything else than love, kindness, and a pure desire to see us thrive. Love empties itself for another, gives itself for the beloved.
God is love.
1 John 4:16
love... does not seek its own.
1 Corinthians 13:5
If we only put these two things together. If God is love and love doesn’t seek its own according to its biblical definition, then God must be the most selfless person in the universe (and beyond, since He surpasses it). He is utterly void of any selfish ambition. Even in areas where God is jealous over His glory, He is so because it’s for the greater good of His creation.

So we have to conclude in all these things that He lets certain bad things happen to me and doesn’t let certain good things happen to me, not because I do or do not deserve them, but because He is good. Every “no” He has ever said to me He said because He wanted to bless me, not in order to withhold blessings from me. It’s not because He is teasing me. It’s because He is kind towards me. It’s not because He wants to withhold good things from me. It’s because He wants to bless me. It’s not because I’m unimportant to Him. It’s because He is selflessly seeking my good.

Everything that ever happened to me, everything that’s happening right now, everything that I will ever have to face - it’s all because in His kindness He is seeking to grant me the greatest achievable blessings. It’s because greater things will grow from it that way than any other possible way. Ultimately His heart is set on doing us good. And ultimately, He never fails. Everything, without exceptions, will be for our greatest good.

If we really start believing this, it changes everything.

Aligning Our Thoughts When We Don’t Understand

I believe the greatest struggle in all of this is trying to believe these things when I just can’t see how they are true, when I simply don’t understand. When the pain of the moment doesn’t let me see any possible way that anything positive could grow out of it.

“How can this be any good? How can any good come from this? How can God mean well for me if He let this happen to me?”

You might disagree with the notion mentioned above that you have never witnessed a single deed or event in your own life in which God was unkind toward you. The problem is that until the end we won’t fully comprehend the why and that what for, and so it’s difficult to accept it. But God’s perspective is timeless, transcends the storyline of all of creation. He knows what He is doing. If He couldn’t have guaranteed that something good and beautiful would grow out of it in the long run, our all-knowing, sovereign, and omnipotent God wouldn’t have let it been part of our story. That’s the basic truth of His sovereignty. He reigns, and He doesn’t lack wisdom or foresight or skill in governing the universe - or my little life.

Of course, it often doesn’t feel like this in the moment. I remember moments in my life where God didn’t feel like my refuge. He literally felt like the enemy of my heart, my well-being and everything I held dear. And yet years later I’m grateful for what He did or didn’t do because I begin to see the beautiful things He let grow out of it.

We can find this very principle in one of the most popular yet half-understood verses:
‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’
Jeremiah 29:11
It’s a beautiful and comforting verse often quoted in various circumstances. But the shocking fact is that God said these very words in the context of His judgment upon the nation of Israel (the southern state of Judah), the destruction of Jerusalem, the death of multitudes in the city during the siege, and the deportation of most of the remaining inhabitants to a 70-year exile in a foreign country. And then He says, “because My plans for you are for your good.”

Now you might ask - and I would ask the same question - how does this fit together? How can these terrible things lead up to anything good?

If you study the centuries leading up to the Babylonian exile you will discover an unceasing cycle of God’s reaching out in love and mercy and His people falling away from Him just shortly after. This cycle starts in Genesis and repeats itself again and again till the exile.

But it stops there. When you keep on reading the books of Zechariah, Ezra and Nehemiah you find a nation that is deeply devout to the Lord and the observance of His ordinances, committed to never leave or forsake Him again. When Jesus appears on the scene 4 to 5 centuries later, He is born into an Israel that still is set on faithfulness to the Lord. The exile lastingly changed this nation and ended the perpetual cycle of falling away that had been going on for over one thousand years.

His purposes with the destruction of Jerusalem, the uprooting of Israel from their land, and the 70 years of captivity in the Babylonian exile weren’t meant to destroy His people, they were meant to give them a hope and a future. And that’s what He did. Although through really terrible and painful circumstances.

I might disagree with His goodness in the moment of pain but the truth still stands: When bad things happen to me or when good things don’t, I know that ultimately it’s for my best - even when I can’t see how right now. Eventually I will see and understand and agree.

I already do in part. Everything withheld has been a blessing. And although in some cases I can’t see it yet, there have been enough of these instances in my story where I finally began to understand how temporary pain has turned out to be my greater good. And so my confession in retrospect is that He never withheld a single good thing from me.

Yet it’s not the most natural conclusion that my fallen mind draws. I know it takes a conscious effort to align myself with this truth, to hold the upper hand in this battle for God’s motives. When bad things happen or good things get denied, I will draw these verses mentioned above out again, like a sword from its sheath. When the serpent is questioning God’s motives in His dealings in my life, I won’t listen to his filthy lies. I won’t listen to my heretical assumptions my mind will come up with in those moments. He is good, He is kind - in all He ever does, in everything that’s ever happened to me and ever will.

I don’t need to understand everything in order to trust that. But I know that with time, He will lay it all out to me and I will begin to realize that He has been good to me all along, and that never changes.
What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.
John 13:7


2 comments:

  1. Great one! And a real one! Awesome :)

    Romans 8:28 has been my anchor and still is the verse I'm always coming back to.

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  2. as always, well done! God gave me "renew" as a word for me for 2018. so much thought has gone into so many of these same ideas. so good. one of my favorites of watching it play out in the Bible was Job. everything was stripped from him. when he asks God about what's going on, God finally responds with questions for Job. but the kicker is Job's response...one of worship. wow. anyway. great job. well written!

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