Do you live the Christian life with the aim of pleasing God or of trusting God? “Pleasing God” seems to be the priority of serious Christians, right? And “trusting” seems too passive, doesn’t it? In this 6-day reading plan, Pete Briscoe shares which option leads to freedom and life enjoyed in Christ.
Are You Pleasing God or Trusting Him?
You are doomed to make choices. This is life’s greatest paradox. —Wayne Dyer
The problem with questions is that sometimes they lead to more questions. That’s where I found myself while reading Bruce McNicol’s book, TrueFaced. I do a lot of reading, but his questions stopped me in my tracks:
Am I trying to please God, or am I trusting God?
Quite frankly, I didn’t like the idea of having to choose between these two. So I connected with my friend, Dr. Ramesh Richard, from Dallas Seminary. “Ramesh, have you read through TrueFaced? (Of course, he’d read it; he’s read everything.) I asked him what he thought. He said, “You know, I really like the concept. I would probably word it a little differently, but I think Bruce’s wording is completely clear and accurate.” Rats. I was still on the hook to figure this thing out. The question seemed to be boiling down to this:
- I can choose to trust in myself and in my own efforts in order to earn God’s pleasure.
- I can choose to trust in Christ, allowing Him to live His life through me to enable me to live a life that is pleasing to God.
At first, it seemed like a very subtle difference. Maybe this was all just a little word game? But the more I thought about it, the more the significance of this choice impacted me.
- The question revealed what I believed about my own abilities outside of Christ.
- The question revealed my true beliefs about God’s grace and mercy.
- The question revealed a lot about the natural tendency all humans have toward self-righteousness.
- The question revealed what I believed about God and how I thought He saw me in Christ.
How would I answer the question? How would you answer the question?
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)
The Road Most Traveled
Christianity offers us two choices: Please God or Trust God. —Bruce McNicol
Religion is all about “pleasing God.” If we have to choose between that and “trusting God,” “pleasing God” seems to be the logical choice. Simply trusting Him just seems too passive. Striving to live a life that is “pleasing to God” shows our sincerity, our commitment, and our appreciation for what God did for us. Right?
“Pleasing God” seems to be the priority of serious believers. Right? If you head down that road, you see that the path is very well traveled. But where does it lead? In Bruce McNicol’s words, it soon leads to a door with a sign on it that reads:
“Striving to be all God wants me to be!”
And there’s a label on the doorknob with the word EFFORT! On the other side of the door is a vast hall filled with people who are sincerely determined to live God-pleasing lives. In public, they ooze well-groomed devotion—though it comes across rather… um, “plastic.” They display dedication and continual smiles—but sometimes that smile seems rather… um, “uncertain.” Still, their hearts seem noble, and their quest is clear:
Strive to be free from sin and work to achieve an intimate relationship with God.
Yes, it sounds and looks sort of right, but almost imperceptibly, the road of “pleasing God” turns into a rut of “What I must do to keep God pleased with me.”
I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? (Galatians 3:2-3)
Does this resonate with you? Has the road you have chosen lead to good intentions where you are trying to flesh out a life that pleases God?
Holy Spirit, reveal to me which road I am on and the implications of that choice. Amen.
Your Identity Option
It is our choices… that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. —J.K. Rowling
If you are striving to “please God,” there are a bunch of voices in your head telling you things like this: I should be more sold out for God. I should care more. I need to get on fire. I must buck up, shape up, and tighten up. Yes, it sounds like the mantra of good intentions and spiritual humility. But…
There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 16:25)
Thankfully, God has provided another route. But we must back up to the intersection where we made the choice to go with the religious crowd in an attempt to please God by our own self-effort. At this intersection, another sign points down a different road. It says, “Trusting God.”
This road is definitely less worn than the other one, and it seems illogical. If you are uncomfortable with trusting God rather than pleasing God, a bunch of other voices in your head are saying things like this: When do I get to do something for God? Where’s the part where I get to prove my sincerity? Where are my guidelines? Where do I get to give God my best?
If you overcome those voices and walk this path, you come to another door that says, “Living Out Who God says I Am.” The doorknob reads, “Humility.” It’s a room full of people who are obviously imperfect, full of compromise and struggle—yet they are authentic. They are both laughing and crying—yet underneath any expression is a genuine joy.
Yeah, it’s not nearly as orderly and polished as the room filled with those who are trying in their own effort to “please God.” But there is something real about them… and there is a peace that surpasses all comprehension around them.
Yes, this group knows who they are in Christ, and they are resting in what He has done for them.
As Bruce McNichol says, “Welcome to the room of Grace!”
Abba Father, I cry out to You as Your adopted child. Show me the path I am on. Give me eyes to see the consequences of the choices I have made. Lead me in the way that leads to Life. Lead me in an everlasting way. Lead me to the room of Grace. Amen.
The Road Less Traveled
Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. —Robert Frost
Bruce McNicol’s book, TrueFaced, brought me face to face with a paradoxical, perplexing dilemma—a question that all of us must answer:
Am I trying to live a life that is pleasing God, or am I trusting God?
It really came down to trust, faith, and whom I was placing my trust in.
- I can choose to trust in myself and in my own efforts in order to earn God’s pleasure.
- I can choose to trust in Christ, living His life through me, to enable me to live a life that is pleasing to God.
Trusting God means a life of faith. It is a life of deepening intimacy and moment-by-moment surrender and dependency. Amazingly and paradoxically, this road of trusting God is the one that actually leads to pleasing God!
Consider Hebrews 11:5-6:
By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And 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.
That’s the twist that brings it all together. “Pleasing God” and “trusting God” are not mutually exclusive after all!
Do I choose to “please God” or will I “trust God?” The choice is yours, of course. Moment by moment, day by day until this one life is over, you must choose your path. Just know this:
The road of trust leads to both. The road of attempting to please God leads to neither.
God of Grace, by the power of Your Spirit in me and the Truth of Your Living Word, I choose the road of trust. I trust in You—and You alone—to live through me in a way that is pleasing to You. Amen.
Trusting God With the Small Stuff
Few delights can equal the presence of the one whom we trust utterly. —George MacDonald
Life is filled with little burdens. Lots of them. You know, the details of life like bills and carpools and in-laws (not my in-laws, of course). The flesh tells me that God is pleased when I carry the load, that He will help me when I help myself—particularly on the trivial, little stuff.
Sure, I know I can trust God to carry the burden on the things that are beyond my ability—like getting me to heaven or curing a child’s cancer… or getting me out of a speeding ticket (ahem). But why should I bother Him with the small stuff when He has all these wars and earthquakes to deal with when I can deal with them myself? Another good question. Why exercise faith and trust Him in the little things?
Because God evaluates “success” differently than we do, we measure “success” based on what the flesh can produce, whereas God measures success based on the degree of trust we show.
Choosing to do things myself is called independence—the exact opposite of moment-by-moment dependence that brings intimacy with God through trusting Him.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Walking in the Spirit is how we have been designed to live as followers of Christ—every day, every moment, through every burden, large or small. This intimate dependency is part of our new identity in Christ!
Lord Jesus, change the method I use to define “success.” I want to place my trust in You, even in the little stuff. Live Your life through me in such a way that brings intimacy between You and me, no matter what the result. I’m all Yours. You are in me. Make my life today a natural expression of trust in that fact. Amen.
Gambling On God
In these times, God’s people must trust Him for rest of body and soul. —David Wilkerson
When we choose to trust God (rather than try to please God), we enter into the realm of faith, believing in what cannot be seen, yet acting as if we can see it. It’s a gamble!
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. (Hebrews 11:1-2)
Our identity and position in Christ is “unseen” in the physical world. In fact, the world screams out the exact opposite, telling us that we are failures, guilty, and inadequate. It takes real faith to act on God’s proclamation that we are accepted, forgiven, and complete in Christ. Yes, faith is putting our trust in Him, and what He says is true. Faith is putting our lives in His hands, even though we can’t see Him.
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:3)
The physical evidence for God’s creation is conclusive, yet it still takes faith for us to believe that God created the universe because we weren’t there to see it happen—but I think it also takes faith to believe that God has made us new creatures in Christ!
… anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
Blaise Pascal, the famous French philosopher, physicist, and mathematician, put it this way:
“Belief is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.”
Dear God, I believe that You exist. I believe that by trusting You, I am pleasing You. This day, by the promise of Your Holy Spirit, my Counselor, I choose to believe what You say is true about me. I am loved, adopted, accepted, and cherished by You in Christ!
- In what ways do you try to please God in your own effort instead of trusting Him?
- Are you willing to trust Christ to live a life through you that’s pleasing to God?