Trying to please God can be exhausting. But the good news is that’s not what He wants us to do! In this 5-day reading plan, Pete Briscoe teaches from Scripture to show us why we need to stop trying and start trusting. A life of trusting God is what He desires!
The Trying Trail
In the book TrueFaced, the authors present a dilemma. They ask us to imagine we’re walking through a wood on a narrow path—a thick, green, verdant wood with deep underbrush. But as we walk, the path divides into a very definite split.
One path is named “Pleasing God” and the other path “Trusting God.” The paths go off in opposite directions. We can’t walk them both at the same time, so we’re forced to choose. Which will it be: Pleasing God or Trusting God?
Let’s head down the “Pleasing God” path and see where it leads. It’s wide and filled with earnest, hardworking people. As we come around the first corner, there’s a sign that says: Also known as the “Trying Trail.” That makes sense. On this trail we’ll do whatever we can to try and please God.
As we walk further, we see tables set up like water stations at a marathon. These tables are full of people giving advice on how to please God.
The Bible Reading Table tells us which translation God prefers, which yearly Bible plan is most comprehensive, and at what time of day He is most tuned in to us.
The Giving Table has several people offering several opinions. One tells us that a 10 percent tithe pleases God. Another insists that 10 percent is so Old Testament; to please God, we have to give more than 10 percent. Someone else teaches there’s nothing in the New Testament about percentages, but “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
The Parenting Table is handing out literature. And before we know it, we can’t see past the stack of parenting books piled high in our arms.
As we walk away, we still don’t know exactly how to please God. Where is our definitive answer? Friends, this is why it’s called the “Trying Trail.” All that human effort is frustrating and discouraging.
So let’s head back to the fork and take the “Trusting God” path instead. What’s the difference going to be?
Jesus, has my approach to our relationship been like a spiritual buffet as I try out various ways of making You happy with me? If so, I’m open to a new way. Amen.
To trust is to live
The problem with trying to please God is that we’re stuck wondering whether or not it worked. Defeated, our heart cries out: Is it even possible to please You? Show me a better way, Jesus.
If we’re listening, His response will be something like, “Stop trying and start trusting.”
It seems counterintuitive to stop trying, but maybe if we finish our hypothetical walk, we’ll understand. This time, rather than walking the “Trying Trail,” we head down the “Trusting God” path.
As we round the first corner, there’s a man waiting: it’s Jesus.
“Yes!” he exclaims. “I’m so glad you’re here!”
“Why is this the right trail?” you ask. “I want to please You and trust You. Why didn’t “Pleasing God”—a.k.a. the ‘Trying Trail’ or ‘A Waste of My Time Trail’—work?”
“Great question,” Jesus says. “Walk with Me.”
As you walk, Jesus shares how the Trying Trail is a type of Russian roulette. We do whatever we can imagine and come up with all sorts of new ways in an effort to make God smile.
“But I’m never frowning at you,” Jesus explains. “I’m walking with you, asking you to do things with Me. And as you say yes, you learn to trust. The ‘Trusting God’ path is the essence of life with Me. Do you remember what Paul wrote? He said, ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live… I live by faith in the Son of God… ‘” (Galatians 2:20).
Jesus places a hand upon your shoulder, “To trust is to live by faith, and that is what pleases Me.”
“So you don’t prefer the KJV over the NIV? Or grape juice over wine?”
“My preference is that you listen when I speak to you. Do you have your Bible with you?”
“Yes,” you answer.
“Good. I have something to say. Open it to Hebrews 10:38.”
It’s Jesus, so you do what He says.
“My righteous one will live by faith.”
Pleasing God isn’t a magical combination of the right behaviors at the right time. Rather, it’s responding to Him with a yes. Yes, we will trust and live by faith.
Lord, decrease the noise in my life so I can hear You. And may all You ask evoke a reflexive yes from me. Amen.
It doesn’t always work out
How can we be certain we’re pleasing God? Is there a litmus test? Maybe not, but there are exact directions. The not-so-secret method of pleasing God is written in Hebrews 11:6a,
Without faith it is impossible to please God…
That statement is a double negative. So we could cancel the negatives and it would read: Faith pleases God.When we trust God, it makes Him happy. The end. No trying required.
But how is trusting different than trying?
Let’s imagine Jesus asks you to take Him everywhere with you—including to work.
“All right, that sounds good. But what do You want to do there?”
“Well,” Jesus responds, “you know that spreadsheet your supervisor asked you to doctor for the auditor?”
“Yeah,” you mumble.
“I want you to tell him no.”
You argue a bit—work is your livelihood—but you also want to please God. On Monday you enter your supervisor’s office and refuse to alter the spreadsheet. Security escorts you to your desk, and you pack up your things. Later, you meet with Jesus, furious.
“You told me that if I trusted You, it would all work out!”
“I never said that.” Jesus crouches down and writes something on the trail. “I said when you trust Me, you please Me.”
“This? It’s a name—Abel. ‘By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did.’” (Hebrews 11:4)
Jesus continues, “Abel walked with Me too, and one day I asked him for a sacrifice. I told him his heart behind the sacrifice mattered more than what he sacrificed. Abel listened and offered a sacrifice of love. He trusted Me, but it didn’t end well. His brother murdered him.”
Faith isn’t the easiest life, but it is the best life. And as we learn to trust Him, we simultaneously please Him.
Lord, this is intimidating. Trusting You means I might lose everything but You. I’m going to need Your boldness, Your confidence—really, Your Spirit—to lead me in this way. Amen.
When trusting is awkward
I joined my daughter Annika at her summer camp one evening to listen to a talk titled “Whatever You Do, Don’t Marry a Christian.” As the speaker taught how to find someone walking the “Trusting God” path, I was thinking, Yes! That’s the kind of guy I want Annika to marry!
Then the Holy Spirit whispered to me; I want you to fight for that for her.
Of course I will. I’ll fight for it!
I want you to pray for it, the Holy Spirit continued.
Sure I will. I’ll pray for it!
Up front, kneeling by those bales of hay, the Spirit clarified.
What? I didn’t want to go up front. It would be awkward, and some young staff member would place a hand on my back.
But I also know trust happens when I say yes to God. So I slid out of my row, tapped Annika on the shoulder, and told her, “Come on. God wants me to pray for your future husband.”
I knelt by the bales of hay alone and started counting to 40, pretending to pray. Halfway in, I felt the hand on my back. “No need,” I told the young man in the STAFF T-shirt. “I’m not praying; I’m just counting to 40. Right now I’m at 22.”
“Then we have 18 seconds. Do you mind if I pray?”
I relented, and that young man prayed the most beautiful prayer over my daughter—praying for things I’d never considered. I felt the Holy Spirit whisper, I wanted to show you how to do this.
When he’d finished, I felt Annika’s hand on my back, “Dad, what do we do now?”
Feeling empowered, I said, “This is where I pray for your marriage.” And then I plagiarized that guy’s prayer—every word. Annika was so impressed.
Some of the things God asks us to do will appear unnecessary.
By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. (Hebrews 11:7)
Unnecessary? Probably not. So let’s say yes because it pleases our Father as we trust Him. This makes all the discomfort worth it.
Lord, are You asking me to do something that doesn’t make sense? Today, my heart cries out, “Yes!” Show my feet how to walk into that circumstance of trusting You. Amen.
Trusting to someone else’s benefit
Let’s make a deal: We’ll release control and surrender to faith so long as God allows us to experience the benefits of our faithfulness. Deal?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Just as trusting God won’t always offer us comfort or follow logic, neither will our trusting guarantee results.
Hebrews 11:13 speaks of the ordinary people who trusted God:
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance…
- Abel offered a sacrifice of love deep from a heart of worship, but he never saw Jesus’ sacrifice of love.
- Enoch foretold of God’s coming judgment through the naming of his own son, Methuselah (Jude 14-15). But Enoch never saw the Son of God come to remove judgment from all who believe.
- And what of Abraham? Abraham left his homeland because of God’s command to go. But Abraham never got to own the Promised Land or see the Kingdom of God arrive. His descendants did, the first of whom was born when Abraham’s wife was 90 years old.
Sometimes we trust not for our benefit, but for the benefit of those who come after us. Which begs the question: Why bother?
Unlike the faithful ones in Hebrews 11, we live on this side of the new covenant. When we trust, we’re promised a reward.
Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
What reward are we promised? Something bigger? Something better?
Jesus. The reward is Jesus now, and Jesus forever.
When we know He is our ultimate gift, all the difficulties of saying yes become worth it. We choose Jesus over comfort, Jesus over popularity, and Jesus over benefits. In return, we know our yes delights Him completely.
Jesus, what are You calling me to say yes to today? Give me an eternal perspective so I look upon that thing without any worry about this life, knowing You’re my prize for eternity. Amen.