The key to balancing our understanding of God’s care for us is to remember to humble ourselves before God, recognizing that life is not about you or me. At the same time we are called to trust that he does, in fact, care for us. Humility means we do not demand that God serve us, and especially, we do not insist that he must answer our prayers only in the way we intend. We come to him humbly, in awe and wonder at the fact that he really does care for us, knowing that we do not deserve it, but trusting that he does care all the same. We come to him humbly, agreeing that we do need his help and love and grace. And we come to him in trust, relying on him to care for us, knowing for certain he does, because of Jesus.
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1 Peter #32. 1 Peter 5:6-7
Last time we discussed humility. We noted that there is a connection between humility, and casting your anxieties on God, because in order to give our cares to Him, we must admit that we can’t handle them ourselves. This topic reminds me of the poorly worded church sign that said “Don’t let worry destroy you – our church can help!”
There are two possible errors when we consider the idea that God truly cares for us. The first is to believe that this is the main thing about God. We can begin to believe that God’s main purpose is to care for us; that this is what God is for. We start to think that this is what being a Christian is all about – having a God who will take care of our problems.
Making this error leads to all sorts of problems. The first, and biggest, is that we believe that life is all about us. People think that God is there to serve them, so naturally that means that they, and their needs, desires and problems, are the most important things about faith in God. Now, they probably wouldn’t actually put it that way so bluntly to themselves. But when people make this error, the way they pray, and pursue God, shows that they think God is primarily there to help and serve them (and, to be fair, other believers). This is really where the “prosperity gospel” comes from. One of the big dangers of it is that it is often so close to the truth, yet distorted in significant ways. If the main thing about God is that he exists to care for them, then what they really need is to find a way to get access to God’s caring and blessing. They might do this by reducing how much they sin. After all, (the thinking goes) sin gets in the way of God giving them what they need. Now, reducing sin is a good thing. I’m all for it. But the reason we try to sin less is because God is holy, because some things are right and some are wrong, not because it will help us get more stuff that we want.
People might try to get more of God’s blessing and care through prayer and worship – prayer and worship unlock God’s blessing (so many people would put it). Again, I think prayer and worship are good things. But we should do them because God is God, and deserves our worship, and much more besides. It is true that sometimes we are blessed through prayer and worship. However, doing such things mainly in order to get more blessings is a serious distortion of what the Bible teaches.
People who buy into this error go to church primarily in order to learn how to “release” more of God’s care and blessing into their lives. They give their tithe not because God is God, and owns everything, but rather, they give primarily in order to get greater blessing back.
Many churches and ministries that take this approach are very large and outwardly successful. This is because the whole idea appeals to human selfishness. Instead of dealing with the basic sin of self-centeredness, ministries actually appeal to it in order to get people to do religious things, and to grow the church. It’s easier to grow a ministry if you encourage and manipulate the sinful desires people have, rather than confronting them with the gospel.
When we look at our text today, we can see the main mistake. People who make this error keep “God cares for you,” but they ignore “humble yourself before God.”
The other major problem that comes out of thinking that God is mainly there to take care of us is that when he doesn’t take care of us the way we think he should, our faith is shaken. I have met many, many people who turned away from God, in essence, because they felt like God let them down. He didn’t care for them in the way they wanted to, or in a way that they could understand. It is a fragile and unstable foundation for faith.
I’ll be honest, I do not remotely understand how to reconcile these thoughts: 1) God cares for me. 2) God is all powerful. 3) God has not healed me from my constant, brutal pain. If I thought God’s primary job was taking care of me, I would be tempted to think he’s pretty bad at it, and I might want to abandon my faith. As it is, though I do believe God cares for me, I also believe that his ultimate purposes are bigger than just me, and that, because he is God, I should not expect to understand everything he does, or does not, do. I can trust him beyond what I can understand.
There is another error that people sometimes make about these verses. Some people find it very hard to believe that God actually does care for individuals, families and small groups. They understand that God is God, all right, but they can’t believe he has any true interest in dealing with eight billion separate people, nor yet the time to do it.
This error is also dangerous. It is a rejection of what the Bible actually says. As incredible as it seems, God actually cares what happens in the lives of individual people:
16 But I will call on God,
and the LORD will rescue me.
17 Morning, noon, and night
I cry out in my distress,
and the LORD hears my voice. (Psalms 55:16-17, NLT)
17 As for me, I am poor and needy,
but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God! (Psalms 40:17, ESV)
8 Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:8, ESV)
26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. (Matthew 6:26-32, ESV)
As you might imagine, there are many other such verses. According to the Bible, God really does care for each person in the world. The details of our lives, and our struggles, are important to Him.
In 2017, we were incredibly blessed to take a one month sabbatical in Europe. My wife Kari was struggling to believe this very thing: how can God really care for each one of the billions of people on earth? How can he even keep track of them all? Traveling often brings this up. When you travel, you realize how many people and places there are in the world. It seems impossible for God to keep track of everyone.
We had two surprising experiences in which God showed us once again that he is God. At one point, we went to Venice, Italy, where we stayed in a Methodist guest house. Breakfast was included with the cost of the stay, and one morning we ate next to a German family. I was excited to practice my German, so I spoke to them. The man asked me where I learned German, and I explained that I grew up in Papua New Guinea (PNG), and many of our friends there, including our neighbors, were Germans. To shorten the story, it turned out that he had worked, in Germany, with one of my former German neighbors for several years! The odds of bumping into someone who knows someone else from PNG are astronomically small anywhere in the world. The odds that it would be someone who knew my actual neighbor are infinitesimally small. You would be a fool to bet any amount of money on such a thing happening by random coincidence.
Another “coincidence” began about a week later, when we were in southern Italy on a ferry boat. On the boat, we got to talking with a friendly couple from Australia, and we enjoyed our time with one another. We left them once we reached shore, and didn’t see them again. A week after that, we were in the Rome airport, to take our flight back to the U.S.. That particular airport is stunningly gigantic. We went through all sorts of lines, and rushed from one point to another, passing thousands of people, until we came to the international departures checkpoint. There were several hundred people in the line, which snaked back and forth over a huge area. We got settled into the line, and took a moment to catch our breath. We turned around, only to find the Australian couple immediately behind us. I wouldn’t know how to begin to calculate how unlikely this was. If I put this sort of coincidence in one of my books, people would call it bad writing; they would say that as the author, I am clearly manipulating the plot in an unbelievable way. Perhaps that is exactly what it was, with, of course, God being the author of our experiences, manipulating things so that we can catch a glimpse of him.
Speaking of writing, my own experience as an author has helped me to see how God can care for each individual person. Suppose I am writing a scene in which my main character (Jonah Borden) meets another key character in the story, named Peter. Jonah goes on a hike, and coming around a corner, he meets Peter. In the pages of my book, all this happens instantaneously. But in my life, as the author, I can write (speaking as Jonah) “I came to a fork in the trail, and took it. Around the next bend, I met a man.” Then, I can stop, and take two days to think about Peter, and his motivations and needs, and how he came to be there at that particular time, and everything else about Peter’s life, and how his life will affect Jonah’s life, and vice-versa. In the time-frame of the book, it all happens from one moment to the next. But I can step out of the pages of the book, into my own time-location and take all the time I want to work all this out. I am not bound by the time-frame of the people in the story.
If Jonah believed in me as the god of his world, he could pray, “O Author, please let me meet someone in the next five minutes who will help me with my troubles.” I could take as much time as I need to set up an answer for him, even though only five minutes (or less) elapsed for him, in my story. Or, alternatively, I could see that Jonah’s request doesn’t work with the story I am telling, and so I would not have him meet anyone, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care for him. In fact, he is my creation, and I am pretty fond of him, to be honest, but that doesn’t stop me from putting him into a lot of difficult situations.
In the same way, God is not bound by our time frame. He has all the time in the world to hear my prayer, and yours, and the prayers of believers in China, and India, and South America. He has all the time there is to arrange for us to meet someone significant at just the right time and place. He has much more time, in fact, than I do as an author. God is infinite, and we are not, and so he has, literally, more than enough time, and more than enough capacity, to care for not just eight billion people at once, but even trillions and trillions more.
The ultimate demonstration of God’s love for us is the death of Jesus Christ. God did not have to save us. Jesus did not have to die. He chose to die, and he did so because he loves us.
6 When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. 7 Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. 8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9 And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. (Romans 5:6-10, NLT)
He has already proven his love for us, and if we ever doubt it, we can remember the cross, the torture and suffering, the incredible spiritual agony that he endured for you and me. Look at the cross, and see how much he cares for us.
We are called not just to know that God cares for us, but to actively cast our cares upon him. Peter obviously means that we should pray about the things that burden us. Paul says something similar:
6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, NLT)
Unburden yourself to the Lord. Tell him, in plain language, in your own words, what is troubling you. But there is a second part of casting your cares on the Lord that we often forget. If we cast our cares upon God, that means we have to let go of them. The same word is used in Luke when the disciples threw their cloaks onto the donkey that Jesus rode. They couldn’t throw their cloaks onto the animal, and still wear them, or hold onto them at the same time. To cast your cares on God means to release them into his hands. If you tell God what concerns you, and then you continue to worry and think and imagine about it, you haven’t really cast your cares on him, have you? You’ve just given him a look at your worries, while you still hold them tight. He can’t carry your burden for you if you insist on carrying it yourself.
Now, I do know that this is easier said than done. But the first step toward really giving God your concerns is to recognize that once you have prayed, you must let go of them. I think that sometimes, worrying is our way of trying to control the uncontrollable. We can’t actually stop a loved one from getting into a car accident, but it almost feels like if we worry about it, we have some measure of control. To cast your cares on the Lord, you have to humble yourself to the point where you give up the idea of controlling what happens. You have to trust him.
I have a few practical suggestions about how to actually do that. In the first place, pray to God for the ability to trust him, and the capacity to give up control. Seriously, ask him to help you. As much as you can, give him your willingness to change. I think this is probably the best thing we can do.
Another thing that sometimes helps me is to set a timer for how long I will pray about something that really bothers me. When the timer is done, my time is up. It’s in God’s hands, no take-backs. At other times, I might write down my deep concerns, and, after praying, physically burn them in order to leave them with God. At other times, if I am walking and praying. I might pick up a rock, and use it to represent my anxieties. After praying, I will throw the rock away from me as far as I can.
As I mentioned a while ago, the key to balancing our understanding of God’s care for us is to remember both to humble ourselves before God, and also to trust that he does, in fact, care for us. The humility means we do not demand that God serve us, and especially, we do not insist that he must answer our prayers only in the way we intend. We come to him humbly, in awe and wonder at the fact that he really does care for us, knowing that we do not deserve it, but trusting that he does care all the same. We come to him humbly, agreeing that we do need his help and love and grace. And we come to him in trust, relying on him to care for us, knowing for certain he does, because of Jesus.