28 October 2010

Trusting: what it is and isn't

by Dan Phillips

After Tuesday's post, it occurred to me that perhaps I should try to do for the notion of trusting God the same sort of thing I did for (or, some would say, to) Christianoid notions of prayer. So here we go.

My wife and I both work, and even so California severely taxes our resources (pun noted in passing, not intended). But suppose I were suddenly to make this announcement:
For years I have been burdened by the paucity of emphatically Biblical teaching in the Eastern Sierra. The Word burns in my bosom, and I can't hold it in any longer. I'm weary of telling people to reboot their computers all day, when I could be teaching and preaching the Word. So as of this week, my wife and I are going to quit our jobs, put our house on the market, pack up the kids and everything, and drive to Bishop, California, to begin a new faith-based ministry. How we'll manage, what we'll do, where we'll live — we have no idea. We are stepping out on faith. We'll just be trusting God.

If I made that announcement, at least two things would happen:
  1. Scores of folks would burst out, "Who are you, and what have you done with Dan Phillips?" (My dear wife would lead that chorus.)
  2. Scads and scads and scads of Christians, if they heard of it, would glow, nod piously, and say "Ahh, 'tis so sweet to trust in Jesus!"
But it's good to trust, isn't it? Aren't trust and faith and believing God all Biblely pictures? So what is wrong with that picture? Anything? Anyone? Bueller?

It is a pretty good hermeneutical principle that the first occurrence of a major concept controls and informs subsequent Biblical occurrences. I think that holds in this case, where faith makes its first appearance in Genesis 15:6. Let's set it in context.
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:1-6)
What are the essential elements? There are only two:
  1. An explicit word from God
  2. Believing embrace of that word
So that is what faith is: it is trusting an explicit word from God. We could say a lot more about it, but we must say at least that much, and shouldn't let ourselves stray far from it.

Fast-forward a couple of millennia, and we see Jesus saying to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). Nothing has changed. Jesus makes an explicit statement, fastens Martha's attention on it, asks if she embraces it, if she believes it to be true.

The related word trust is not fundamentally different, except that it emphasizes the element of dependence on the truth, leaning and relying on it. But it still is directed towards the Word (Psalm 119:42), and the truth it reveals.

Other similar statements are simply shorthand for the same idea. For instance, when David sings, "O my God, in you I trust" (Psalm 25:2), we must understand this in the background. David isn't saying, "God, I have great self-esteem, and I've plunged myself into the Cloud of Unknowing, listening in the mystic stillness for that still small voice." Such thought would have been foreign to him, repellant. Rather, he is saying in effect "I know what Scripture says about You to be true, and I rest my full weight on it."

So let's move to the bottom-line. This whole area of faith and trust provides yet more rich and verdant pastureland for Christianoid nonsense. Like other pious nonsense phrases ("The Lord told me...."), we're supposed to just grunt and nod piously. We certainly shouldn't ask questions.

But — as with Schuller, as with Chan, as with random anonymous Charismatic-types, as with the Blackabys — I think we should ask questions. I think we must.

In this case, it really isn't rocket-science. I just don't (and never have) seen Biblical Christianity as a "Get-out-of-thinking" ticket. Quite the reverse; I think Christians who practice their professed faith are hard, rigorous thinkers. Have to be.

So in this particular, two questions. Just two simple, straightforward, perfectly-Biblely questions. To wit:
  1. For what?
  2. On what specific Biblical basis?
Let's apply.

Brother Arni M. Pulsive announces he's quitting his job, packing his family up, and hitting the road with the Gospel. How will he feed, clothe, and care for his wife and children?

"We're just trusting God," Arni grins.

And so you cock an eyebrow and ask: "For what?"

Is Arni "trusting God" to drop food into their mouths, clothes onto their backs, and medicine into their glove compartments? Or is he "trusting God" to move people with real jobs to foot his bills? Well then, let's have him say so. Let's press him to be specific, shall we? Why not?

And then, if that's what Arni answers, we follow up: "On what specific Biblical basis?" Because "God" is not another name for "My Good Luck," or "Omnipotent Rubber Stamp of Me." I mean, it simply does not make sense to "trust" a person to do what that person has never promised to do, does it?

Suppose you seminarians "trust" me to write your theses for you. Or you husbands "trust" me to teach your sons for you. Or you pastors "trust" me to compose your sermons for you. I suppose that I could do those things, you know. I have the ability.

So what's missing?

Well, what's missing of course is that I have neither offered nor promised to do any of those things for you. You have no grounds, no basis for that "trust." So the concept of "trusting" me to do something I never said I'd do — well, it's just absurd and silly. You would end up looking ridiculous.

Or not? Suppose a nightmare Bizarro world, where everyone imagined that I was obliged to come through for everyone who concocted some scheme, and then committed me to it in absentia. Why, in that case, I would just look more and more pathetic as people across the globe announced things they were "trusting" me for, and I kept failing to deliver, over and over again.

It could ruin my good name, my reputation, if people were lazy and sloshy-minded enough not to think through what "trust" implies and assumes.

Hold that thought.

So we have asked Arni to identify where God promised to foot the bill for any scheme Arni "imagineered." That's where Arni's going to be in trouble. See, he's going to be confronted with a Bible that puts a grand premium on people making careful and responsible plans (Proverbs 16:1, 3, 9), and commends hard and skilled labor, while warning of idle dreaming (Proverbs 12:24; 14:23; 28:19). He'll have to answer to texts that say that men who don't provide for their family are worse than infidels (in the KJV of 1 Timothy 5:8; or, as a lady I once knew appropriately had it, "imbecile"). Arni will have to imagine explaining how he is "trusting" the Lord who urged people to count the cost (Luke 14:28ff.) for his refusal to do that very thing.

Examples could be multiplied until this column would be measured by the foot rather than the inch, but I trust (hope?) that you take my point. Think about it, take it, keep it.

For yourself, don't shame the name of God by broadcasting that you are "trusting" him for things He has not specifically promised (the in-this-life healing of an ill loved one, the numeric growth of a church, the salvation of a friend or child). Do glorify Him for trusting Him in those areas where he has left us precious promises — such as trusting the utter sufficiency of His word for all of Christian life (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

For others, when you hear someone say that (s)he is "trusting God" for X, just nicely ask two questions.

You know which two.

Dan Phillips's signature


Unknown said...

"California severely taxes our resources"
That better be a joke, I looked California income tax and its absolutely nothing compared to how much is taxed in Australia.

Brian Jonson said...

Very well put. This was a needed teaching. Thank you.

Canyon Shearer, DMin said...

Fantastic illustration! I preached on Mark 7:37 (combined with Colossians 3:17,23-24, 1 Corinthians 15:58) and made a similar point, "When it says Jesus did all things well...it doesn't mean he has painted my car well, or mowed my lawn well, or governed Rome well...part of what makes his work worthwhile and useful is that he didn't partake in every idle activity; he focused his efforts on specific tasks and accomplished all of them well." We ought not expect God to do something he hasn't promised or attribute to him something he has not done. Yet so many do.

Alistair Begg has a great quote which says, "We wouldn't want a carpenter smashing and crashing around without some obvious indication that he knew what he was doing, and yet in the realm of theology we have people smashing and crashing around with all sorts of tools with no obvious indication that they know what they're trying to do or planning to accomplish."

As the "New Calvinist" movement is infiltrating the youth, I find myself at least once a week in this converstion with a student: "Canyon, God told me..." Me: "Oh yeah? That's awesome, which verse?"

Thomas Louw said...

Just this morning I was thinking about these questions.
The question to balance comes to mind again. Where is the balance between “sovereignty of God” and “free will of man? Is it not an either or but more 100% of both?
How does u discern His Will? When do you take a leap of faith or take the safer route?
I must have read over a dozen books and articles on the subject but, the answer is never an easy one. I like Piper and MacArthur’s answers the best, not because they are their answers but because it Biblically based.
Their take on it, align yourself with Christ, love Him and His things, do everything by the book and then do what your hearts desires. It’s plain and simple and true.
If I act on this and do it by the Book as I understand it, I’m doing exactly what I must do. I’m looking after my wife and kids, trying to be best husband, father and spouse I can. (Failing miserably most of the time.) This is what I must do and want to do with all my heart.
But me being the “provider” enabled by God has cost me a dream, no, my life dream, my pie in the sky. (A lot of me, me, me. In there, maybe that worsens the problem?)
Is it a bad trade off, no! Why can’t both work together? Why does it seem from my vantage point that “never the two shall meet?”
Do I still hold out, or do I commit myself in another direction?
I’m convinced you have answered them for me in an around about way. I will have to think about it some more.
Thanks Dan for being the instrument of God.

David Rudd said...

i like the questions, dan.
good stuff.

i'm going to spend some time today merging these thoughts with the end of Matthew 6. i think they provide a helpful lens for that passage.

Pierre Saikaley said...

Ok, Ok. But what about guys who say "well we just didn't know where the money was going to come from, and then next day, as we were praying for funds, a random stranger just stopped by and gave us a cheque for X amount of $. And, Hallelujah! that was EXACTLY the amount we needed!"

What about the Jim Cymbalas of this world like that?

Anonymous said...

Just to save someone who really thinks this thought, I thought I just drop in with the obligatory...


But really, I think you're right on all counts. Great post.

Word Verification :sessatio

I think it applies. Directly.

DJP said...

Yeah, maybe I should explain that...


or not.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't. It was a great call then, great call now.

FX Turk said...

This is the money quote:

See, he's going to be confronted with a Bible that puts a grand premium on people making careful and responsible plans (Proverbs 16:1, 3, 9), and commends hard and skilled labor, while warning of idle dreaming (Proverbs 12:24; 14:23; 28:19). He'll have to answer to texts that say that men who don't provide for their family are worse than infidels (in the KJV of 1 Timothy 5:8; or, as a lady I once knew appropriately had it, "imbecile"). Arni will have to imagine explaining how he is "trusting" the Lord who urged people to count the cost (Luke 14:28ff.) for his refusal to do that very thing.

It's funny how people who will also trust that God gave them the choice to be saved will suddenly become hypercalvinist for things which the Bible says explicitly are largely governed and produced by ordinary means.

Awesome post Dan.

Robert said...

I find it funny that people who do this would be the first to worry about hyper-Calvinism. But isn't this the exact same type of thinking? Use one part of God's Word to justify our own thinking and don't address the other areas of Scripture (especially Proverbs in the case of "trust" vs. wisdom) with regards to how we live.

I usually focus more on God's sovereignty in how He works things out in my life for my benefit. And it is always without me really knowing it beforehand. I think that is where trusting in the Lord is vital. Romans 8:28 always helps keep that focus in mind. Of course, that also has to be balanced out with the wisdom that Proverbs talks about. I think somebody is working on abook about Proverbs...it's gonna be on my shopping list once it is out.

DJP said...

Turk - thanks A LOT for making my day peak so early!

Now it's just going to be, like, 14.5 hours of end-credits!


Christopher said...

I must ask the same question as Zaphon: What about the Cymbalas of the world? Now, I know that the plural of anecdote is not evidence, but, if we take Cymbalas word for it (which we may not be able to, possibly) we would have to say that GOD does not do this sort of thing every now and then, for people who "trust" that he will.

Chip Ingram tells a story about a new believer who walked from (I think) New York to Ingram's church in California. As a new believer he found the verse that says "My GOD will supply all your needs...", did not heed the context and started walking, believing that GOD would do just that. Apparently, GOD met all the man's needs: He always had a place to stay, food to eat, etc... (Assuming this story is true) Do we take this as GOD condescending to a baby believer?

Tom said...

contra DJP, two words:

William Booth



David Rudd said...


God shows grace and mercy to all of us very often. The rain falls on the just and the unjust (as does His favor).

Just because God provides in spite of our foolishness, doesn't mean we should strive to be foolish.

Brad Williams said...

This is why fellowship in the local church and Christian accountability/friendships are so very crucial.

As a younger man, I had the desire to pursue ministry. The local church of which I was a member saw that I had gifts in the areas essential for ministry as per 1 Tim. 3. So they hired me as an intern, gave me a very generous love offering at the end, and sent me off to seminary. I worked while there, was dirt poor, and I did see God's miraculous provision on a couple of very tight occassions.

This is what makes Francis Chan's move so very sad. He does not seem to have gone out with the counsel of his church. To me, his entire scenario is different if he had said, "Guys, I've always wanted to plant a church in a big city. I think that now would be a good time to do that." To which his church responded, "Amen brother. That is a worthy goal, and you've got the gifts to do it. Let's strategize on how to make it happen and how we can support you."

My two cents.

DJP said...

OK, now my day has already officially bottomed out.

I find myself saying — being forced to say — that, to the Christopher/Zaphon question, a really good answer is...



Is David Rudd's answer!

Really, it's an excellent response.

What I would add is that this is yet another instance where we're at that precipice to which I keep trying to bring all of you:

ARE we going to build our Christian faith and practice self-consciously and deliberately on the Bible?

Or are we not?

If the answer is B, then pick your own favorite anecdotes or glandular surges, it really doesn't matter.

MST said...

Well done Dan, You and Frank are on a roll of late.
Hey Phil, lets try to top Dan and Frank in the next post.

DJP said...

So let me add a thought I haven't shared yet about Chan.

To me, it is possible that he will "succeed" wildly in whatever he does — if by "succeed" you mean earn enough money and attract a lot of followers.

The why is the harder part. I'd say it's because he's apparently a winsome, charismatic personality, preaches some good things, and has that indefinable something that makes people want to hang around him.

Now, if that is how you judge (A) the correctness of a person's course and doctrine, and (B) the degree to which a person's decisions please and honor God, then good luck with
* Joel Osteen
* Mohammed
* Buddha
* Confucius
* Arius
* Charles Taze Russell
* Rome
* etc

FX Turk said...

Phil Who?

David Regier said...

Ok, since we're getting all anecdotal. . .

That's exactly how I got out here to California 13 years ago.

I have found that God is patient and slow to anger. He has used the words He saw fit to publish - and His servants who actually pay attention to them - to correct my presumptuous thinking.

So I spend my days repenting of the presumption, and pressing on toward what God has clearly and actually called me to.

DL said...


I agree with your basic premise concerning Arni. While the texts you reference are fair to bring up and should be considered by Arni, can you not think of any texts in all of Scripture that might lead Arni to follow the path he's suggesting?

I'm asking because I've seen Christians quote a couple proverbs (one about an ant comes to mind) to excuse the most worldly priorities on work, saving money, building a nestegg and basically living the American dream. They end up chastising those who make any sacrifice for missions as "irresponsible" because that money should have been used to support their family (which means give them every advantage that every other middle-class American enjoys). I just think there's a danger in falling off the other side of the road as well that you rarely bring up. The people I just referenced actually use your argument in this post to justify their selfishness. They call it biblical faithfulness.

DJP said...

That's why you've got to read the whole thing, Darby.


Chris Tolbert said...


This is a very interesting post as I'm reading "Experiencing God" by Henry Blackaby right now.

I'm just wondering you're take on this. This year, after much prayer and studying scripture, our family began homeschooling. My wife quit her job as a public school teacher, cutting our annual income in half, and we stepped out, "trusting" God to provide for us and began homeschooling our three children.

The "for what" was to "bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph 6). Now in doing so, there was some preparation that had to be done. We had to strive to get out from under some of our debt as "the borrower is slave to the lender" (Prov 22:7). And we had to adjust our lifestyle in that we had to align our definitions of "want" and "need" with what God's definitions are. Now, we trust that God will provide all our needs, based on His promises in Matthew 6.

Neat thing happened this week. I get paid once a month, so we have to budget tightly. Well, as this is the last week in the month, there were some household items that we were out of (napkins, paper towels, milk, etc.) We were down to our last ten dollars or so, so we began using wet rags for napkins. We just continued to pray, "give us this day our daily bread". Well, Monday we received a check in the mail for almost a hundred dollars from a company that had overcharged us sometime earlier. Of course, we praised God for His provisions, based on the truth that all good things come from Him. He had provided for things that in the strictest sense we didn't really need. This is only one example where we believe God has moved to take care of us and affirm to us that we are doing the right thing. And I believe that it is all so that He will get the glory as we tell others what He has done and is doing in our lives.

I'm in no way trying to be critical. I think your post is about extreme things like if we would have began homeschooling when we had thousands of dollars of debt and were just "trusting" God to bail us out because we were doing something we thought He would approve of. I just want to see what you think about this situation in light of what you have posted. And if this isn't true practical Christianity being lived out, what is, because that is what I want.

I look forward to your response. God bless!

Chris Tolbert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DL said...

I'll reread it and see what I missed. Thanks.

Chris Tolbert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris Tolbert said...

Sorry for the multiple post. It kept giving me an error.

DJP said...

Chris -- is it "Tol-bearrrr"?

Good question, but one you should really ask your pastor/elders.

Speaking as a virtual stranger on the intrawebs, I'd say what you did falls within the range of responsible discipleship.

DJP said...

Thanks for the sweet-spirited response, Darby, but what I meant was the whole Bible. We have to take all of it into consideration, as your for-instances illustrate.

Chris H said...


That same thing happened to a pastor of mine; a couple of unexpected car repairs left them at the end of their budget, and tithe was still due to God. He and his family (they included the kids) prayed and thanked God for His goodness, gave their tithe, and started looking to tighten the belt to tourniquet levels.

They did receive a gift from someone that was enough to cover their budget for the month, and received it before the end of the week.

Does God do these things? Absolutely. Should I expect Him to pay for me to be silly? - at my own risk.

DL said...


Going to be a loooong day Dan.

DJP said...

We'll all wait right here.


Chris Tolbert said...

LOL, it's Tol-berttt. :)

I was just wondering your opinion (as a virtual stranger) in light of your post. Thanks

Unknown said...

Very much appreciated... Your candor and vivid instruction on this topic are exactly what people need to hear, although many will not. As always, I greatly enjoyed your post.

Phil said...

Ex 17:2 "Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, "Give us water to drink." And Moses said to them, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?"

Deut 6:16 "You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah."

Seems pretty clear to me Dan. Pack that van up and get driving.

Rob said...

Trying to digest this in light of a book I read with the kids recently on the life of George Mueller, visualizing him sitting at an empty table with a gathering of orphans, praying for the knock at the door for God to provide their daily bread.

Slightly off-topic: How are you still able to tell people to reboot their computers all day? That's a 100% India thing at my company... in fact, that's the ONLY answer they give to any question without having to put me on hold to look up an answer...

Unknown said...

The anecdotal evidences of a leap of faith followed by a near-miraculous provision of “just” what was needed reveal a potential error of judgment. If we look at the anecdote and say, “if God hadn’t done that, we would have [never founded this ministry/lost our home/fallen off a cliff],” then we are not looking at the whole picture.

The flip side of the anecdotes isn’t “what if God hadn’t provided at the last minute?” but “what if I had done what the Bible says instead of running off on my own impulse?” What might have happened if we had done as Dan exhorts, carefully planning in accordance with the Word and trusting God for what He really says He will do? (A bit like Bastiat’s Parable of the broken window.)

DJP said...

Phil - Seems pretty clear to me Dan. Pack that van up and get driving.

Okey doke.

First, though, you trust God to give you 50 blobbazillion dollars to give to me. I see it in the bank, you'll see me in Bishop.

You know, ceteris paribus.

Stefan Ewing said...

I have heard several times from trustworthy believers in my church, about times in their lives when God has miraculously provided for their needs.

The common denominator is usually that it was in response to a need rather than a want (as Chris pointed out), and it was usually due to circumstances beyond the believer's control, or where the believer was walking in obedience to the commandments of God, but still coming up short.

Tom said...

So here's where it stands so far:

Cymbalas, William Booth, George Mueller, Chan -- all presumptuous clowns who tested / are testing God.

If you think these guys have a right perspective on trusting God, you're on the precipice of failure; or what good fundamentalists would call a "slippery slope."

Does that about sum it up?

Stefan Ewing said...

...And they were resting on Jesus Christ's promises in Matthew 6:25-34.

DJP said...

Your wording is yours, Tom. To the degree that there's a serious question there, it was already answered in the post and at 6:51 AM, OCTOBER 28, 2010.

FX Turk said...

It seems to me -- just thinking out loud here -- that Paul hit the missions field willing to work for a living AND preach the Gospel. Because I think he prolly read Proverbs once or twice and understood stuff like how a little folding of the hands leads to things we do not want.

And then he told pastors who got full-fledged bodies of Christ that they are workmen worth their wages -- so it's also right for someone who becomes a full-time elder to expect to be paid for full-time work.

But let's think clearly here: the latter doesn't contradict the former. Those who say it does to make EITHER wishful thinking seem more reasonable OR the working of a job to be something worldly and wicked are simply wrong -- easily and uncomplicatedly tossing the obvious down the garbage disposal for the sake of somehow keeping the unobvious and the unlikely plausible.

FX Turk said...

10 hours 32 minutes until vacation.

Tom said...

So, Dan, you don't think you're being just a tad bit hard nosed on this one? It's either your (the "biblical way") or rank presumption?

You really think God continually provided for George Mueller, not because of Meuller's faith and trust in God, but inspite of his presumption and "testing" of God? Really?

DJP said...

Absolutely not. I give you Bible, you give me an anecdote. Where am I losing you?

David Rudd said...

dan, thanks. you warmed my heart.

and i know it was no small sacrifice on your part! :)

Tom said...

No, Dan. You give me a strawman and then proceed to knock it down with the Bible.

We give you real, well-documented examples of God's continual providential provision in a believer's life, and you dismiss it as presumption because you can't provide any other explanation.

All I'm saying is perhaps you're committing the logical fallacy of a false dilemma.

VcdeChagn said...

Thanks Dan. Fantastic post and relevant to a couple of situations in my life. Already forwarded it to some people.

Faith is not trusting God to make things right when you do something stupid. That's called mercy.

In my own life this year, my faith has been strengthened by trials. Many deaths in my family (my mom, two aunts, two uncles and we lost our son at 18 weeks in utero).

In the end, you lean on what the BIBLE says, and not on your own understanding. You trust God that His purposes are greater than your own.

That's trust and faith...not doing something you want to do and trusting God to provide even when you walk away from His provision.

David Rudd said...


I'm not going to say Dan is not capable of a straw man fallacy, because... well...

But this isn't one.

The standard of whether something is "right" or "wrong" cannot be pragmatism. Read Habakkuk.

Whether you present 1 or 1000 examples of something "working" doesn't change whether or not it is "right" or "wise".

Dan's argument is not "this doesn't work". His argument is "this isn't faithful to Scripture."

Saying, "this DOES work" has nothing to do with his point.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Mueller falls in the Chan category here.

More like Chris Tolbert's category I think.

As in...I need to obey God's clearly written word, I don't know how I'll pay for it, but still I need to obey.

At least that's how I've always seen his life.

Tom said...

David writes, "Dan's argument is not 'this doesn't work'. His argument is "this isn't faithful to Scripture."

According to Dan, that is. All I am positing here for consideration is that Dan is being too wooden in his application of Scripture. I COMPLETELY agree that being foolish and trusting God to bail you out is presumption.

But, when we examine the lives of godly men like George Mueller or Jim Elliot, are we really left with an impression of foolishness and presumption? Really?

Or, is Dan just being Dan...

M said...

This was a really nice post. Thanks for taking the time to make it.

kateg said...

Funny thing is that this pre-supposes that we are NOT trusting God for provision when we get up everyday and have a house, a job, food to eat, and breathe in and out... like all that money or comfort or air is all ours, and everything out there, well that's His. Hmmm.

David Rudd said...


My guess is that Jim Elliot would have have really good answers to Dan's two questions.

And my guess is that Dan might change his tune on a guy like Francis Chan if he heard him give good answers to the same questions.

Rachael Starke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachael Starke said...

It seems like Dan is calling out the difference between living exegetically and living eisegetically.

Living exegetically means, at each opportunity or impulse, weighing the impulse against all 66 books of Scripture, and agreeing with Scripture when Scripture doesn't agree with me.

Living eisegetically means, at each opportunity or impulse, weighing the impulse along with the verses that agree with me, against all the verse that don’t,

and then subtly leaning on the scale until my side wins.

And then saying "Look! God agrees with me!"

Scot said...

Another excellent post Dan. I loved your previous one on prayer. Have you thought about doing an entire series called, "Biblical truth X: what it is and isn't?"

A couple of questions:
First, where can I get a good resource on hermenetical principles? I'm learning that I'm not as careful a reader as I think I am and need some additional learning/teaching. I had never heard of the principle you mentioned until today?

Second, I don't know how relevant this is to the post, but do your questions work against Mr. Pulsive throwing out Malachi 3:10 as a proof-text to "trust God"? Or is that more of a "Oh yeah, then why do you eat shellfish" question?

Stefan Ewing said...

So, Dan...

The work of the Holy Spirit in George Mueller's life (as he was fulfilling the biblical commandment to care for orphans) is an "anecdote" (to use your words)?

I agree with what you wrote in this post, but in your hard-nosedness to disabuse people of their follies, be careful not to write off the lives and testimonies of saints who have gone before us.

Richard Wurmbrand is another believer who testified to the Holy Spirit's doing some amazing things in his life: not for his sake or benefit, but for the sake of the salvation of the lost.

DJP said...

So help me get this straight, Stefan. Which extrabiblical anecdotes should control my exegesis? How do I pick?

Because Mueller pulled off his orphanage idea, are you saying that it is a good idea to say that you are "trusting God" to do something God has never promised to do?

Jugulum said...

Dan: Well said, and the two questions are apt.

When I hit my head against this back in college, it had another twist: Sometimes, "I'm trusting God" translates to "I'm trusting God that I'm right and you're wrong".

A certain campus ministry was considering a course of action that affected another ministry. Many people thought it was a bad, needlessly divisive decision. When they announce that they were going to go ahead and do it, they actually said something like, "We're going to have faith that this is the right thing to do."

I found it rather frustrating. There's a right way to have faith in God's sovereignty and goodness and faithfulness--knowing that He'll work through even our mistakes. But even if their decision was the right one, they shouldn't be saying, "We're having faith that we're right and you're wrong."

Tom said...


God never promised to care for the orphan?

Jugulum said...

Another thought: This reminds me of the general squishy spirituality version of "faith", where people talk about "the importance of just having faith" or "the power of faith".

We need to be clear that faith is always faith in something in particular. And (aside from the placebo effect) the power of faith comes from the power and faithfulness of whoever/whatever you're putting your faith in.

Stefan Ewing said...


No, I'm not going to use his story or Richard Wurmbrand's story as the basis of doing anything.

I'm going to use the promises of God in Holy Scripture, His commandments and precepts, apply them to my heart, on the basis of God's covenant with us through the blood of Jesus Christ, and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, and seek to walk in all His ways every day of my life. (Stumble, repent, repeat.)

But when we see evidence of godly men and women walking in such a way—and using Scripture as their sole authority for testing everything (which Mueller said he did)—and seeing the way in which God is glorifying Himself through them, then we should give praise for the evidence that we are the subjects of a living and active King who is redeeming a people unto Himself.

None of this excuses rash, "God told me to do it" behaviour. None of this should negate a single word of what you wrote in your post. But let's be careful not to dismiss out of hand everything that any believer says about God's miraculous provisio, even if that concept has been so completely abused in our modern "evangelical" church.

David said...

Did you just coin "Biblely" or has that been used before? Because if it hasn't been used before, then I'm feeling like something kind of special is going on here. Something along the line of "truthiness". It's kind of exciting.

DL said...

Okay, I've read the whole thing and I'm back to chime in.

I'm not sure the Muller argument fits in this case because he gave meticulous, scriptural answers to Dan's two questions. Muller did not do what Dan is suggesting Arni did.

Muller said he was trusting God. What for George? He gives his answer in his autobiography: providing for orphans without any direct request for resources. On what specific biblical basis did he do this? Again, he gives numerous examples in his autobiography. Muller's very point was to inspire Christians to truly trust in what God has already promised in Scripture. So he's actually the poster-child for Dan's post. I would think Elliot is as well, considering how much time and thought he gave to deliberately choosing every step on the path he walked.

That said, I do think God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform.

Jugulum said...


Maybe this will help.

We're justified in praying and hoping that God will bless our efforts to love and serve people--that he will provide materially so that we can accomplish them. Sometimes, he will do so, beyond anything we could have planned. And we have testimony from Christians through history that he has done so.

We're not justified in having faith that he will answer "Yes", where he hasn't promised that he will.

We should have faith that even if our hoped-for plan doesn't work out, God is still working all things after the counsel of his will--for his glory and our good.

We shouldn't "have faith" that God will take care of our biblical responsibilities for us. (Example: We shouldn't take our family where they'll starve unless God works a miracle. That's testing God; it's not faith in a promise.)

Tom said...

Darby writes: "Muller said he was trusting God. What for George? He gives his answer in his autobiography: providing for orphans without any direct request for resources."


If you can't give me a chapter and verse that proves this very premise, you're a presumptous clown...


DJP said...

It's the mark of an expert, I guess, that he makes something look so easy that just anyone feels he can do it.

DJP said...

I'm beginning to suspect you haven't read anything beyond a glance, Tom.

Sure, God can support orphans - which has nothing to do with George Muller.

It's be a great idea to develop a terrific skill, get a great job, live frugally, and support orphans - which has nothing to do with George Muller.

There is no Scriptural warrant not to work, not to share needs, and to say you're "trusting God" to do what He has never promised to do (i.e. supplement your refusal to earn money).

To a Christian, that should matter.

Tom, your remaining opportunities to repeat yourself as if you hadn't already been answered repeatedly are dwindling. Fair warning.

Tom said...

Sorry, Dan, I already NEXT-ed you.

Be silent and genuflect in amazement...

word verification: dropik -- what I just did to Sensei Dan using his own techniques.

Love you, man.

Matt said...

Dan: Really enjoyed the post! I am flabbergasted at how many "christian" young men today go to college, with no apparent direction, graduate, do not really feel like working so they join up with some "Christian" organization where they have to send out support letters to live on. Or maybe they run to seminary because they feel "called" to the ministry. It rubs me the wrong way (maybe some pride) because as a husband and father of two I MUST work to provide for them while at the same time discern/wrestle with a passionate desire for the ministry in my life. I do not have the 'luxury' of running off to a seminary and 'trusting' God to provide for my wife and kids.

I do have one thought though on the back and forth with Tom:

you said:

"It's be a great idea to develop a terrific skill, get a great job, live frugally, and support orphans - which has nothing to do with George Muller."

(I don't want to play the what-if game- just humor me) What if someone feels a passionate call (ie 'hunch') (another good post) to devote themselves to taking care of orphans, but they do not live in a context where opportunity abounds and developing a skill set, getting a good job, and living frugally doesn't translate?

His Grace

DL said...

"(I don't want to play the what-if game- just humor me) What if someone feels a passionate call (ie 'hunch') (another good post) to devote themselves to taking care of orphans, but they do not live in a context where opportunity abounds and developing a skill set, getting a good job, and living frugally doesn't translate?"

The more pressing question is: are there any orphans in this downtrodden context?

DL said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DJP said...

Matt, let me make two clarifications, see if it helps you.

First: the post isn't about whether or not God does stuff, does remarkable stuff, does hugely remarkable stuff. It is only about whether it's Biblically warranted to SAY you're TRUSTING God to do such stuff (or any stuff) He hasn't specifically promised to do in His Word.

The subject and focus of the post is whether it's Biblically warranted to say you are "trusting" God to do what God has not promised to do.

Hint: it's not.

Second: I do not say that no one should ever take risks or attempt daring things. I do have a problem with doing so irresponsibly, and filling in the "my-responsibility" portion of the questionnaire with "I'm trusting God!"


Ron (aka RealityCheck) said...


Let’s say I’m a successful pastor of a local church in Yawn City, USA and I feel like God is calling me to go to Invigorating City, USA (thankfully not Afghanistan huh?) and every time someone asks me how I know it’s really Gods will that I do this I respond by saying a) it feels right and b) look at how well George Mueller did trusting God, would you say that I’m good to go? Or is it just possible that I may need something a little more concrete to rely on?

Phil said...

Dan -
Well you have a deal. I'll call my buddy Barak and tell him to give me some stimulus/bailout money because I'm a hostile 3rd world dictator, and we can have you on your way.

Or, since I'm pretending to be a Charismatic, I'll quit my job and wait for the money to magically appear by faith, since there is no longer such a thing as God working in the ordinary course of providence.

Or, best yet, I'll pretend to get upset and turn the tables by saying shaking me down demonstrates a lack of faith on your part, which is why it's more important than ever to go. After all, the apostles were to go out without a coin purse.
Yeah that's the one. Let's go with that option.

David Rudd said...

i'm not on the same page as you on this post, although i think we're in the same chapter. but this...

Sorry, Dan, I already NEXT-ed you.

Be silent and genuflect in amazement...

word verification: dropik -- what I just did to Sensei Dan using his own techniques.

Love you, man.

is hillarious.

Angie B. said...

When I was a teen, I read "Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret," which was written by a couple of his descendants. Taylor really did live a remarkable life, giving up comfort and ease to bring the gospel to the Chinese.

But the spiritual secret was faith--not just that God would provide what was promised, but that He would provide even when the believer was passive.

The examples of Taylor's waiting on God were impressive to me as a 17-year-old, but I held back from embracing the concept. Maybe I thought the practice was beyond my capabilities.

At one point, Hudson is training himself to live by faith before he goes to China. He commits to several weeks of, I think it was refusing to ask for anything. So his rent is due, but his employer forgets to pay him. He will not remind the employer to give him his wages, so he can hone his faith. He always gets everything he needs right on time.

Over the years, I've moved from awe at the Taylor story to skepticism about the theology behind such behavior. God graciously used Taylor. He lived sacrificially. That does not mean the he flawlessly modeled how to live by faith. Taylor may have been spiritual, but passivity in the name of faith was not the secret.

I agree with a previous poster, in that if we undertake a project for God, we do so with the attitude that God will provide as it pleases Him. Otherwise, we have faith that God is orchestrating all things for His perfect plan.

DJP said...

Glorious, isn't it, to be free, responsible Christians, armed with a sufficient Scripture and not bound to repeat the mistakes of the past?

Jim Pemberton said...

I've been struggling with this, but my struggle is not over what to believe. In fact, I must say I rather agree with you. The Bible gives us general principles and even a few standard procedures. But there is no indication on how to go from the general to the particular.

How this works out personally is that God has gifted me in many different ways and given me a desire to use those gifts to His glory. However, He has not provided the means to use the bulk of these gifts. For example, I have a growing body of Christian music that I've written that will likely never grace the air. Therefore, unless I "step out in faith", which is Biblically uncertain, then I can only conclude that God doesn't want me to do much for Him. And when I do get to do something, it seems more like I went to the Forrest Gump school of leadership: it just happens that I was in the right place at the right time, which doesn't happen often.

The tension comes because scripture would seem to indicate that we are to be about the business of Kingdom work, but that general principle doesn't seem to comport with the particular opportunities, or lack thereof, that God has provided to do just that. Anyway, your articles along this line have only reinforced my thinking that God might want me saved, but He doesn't much want me particularly involved with His work.

Paul said...

What king, when preparing to go to war with against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to meet with him who comes against him with twenty thousand?

I've used this before in talking about trust. Even in a high-pressure situation (like impending war) Jesus says we should sit and deliberate. On the other hand, Jesus doesn't say you have to calculate that you'll definitely win/succeed. The people around when we taught through this tended to auto-correct it to read "defeat" rather than "meet." The word for "meet" there is used elsewhere to describe combat encounters, but it has no connotation of victory.

I'd paraphrase it as, when you get this idea, sit down and make sure you're not going to get destroyed before you get going. Don't go get embarrassed. Have a decent chance. There's still risk involved, but it's not rank foolishness.

DJP said...

You didn't get that from anything I've ever written, Jim. Don't bury your talent and try to bill me for it.

The options are not refusing to move until God flutters our gizzards on the one hand, or standing idle until forced to act on the other.

Beyond that, it sounds like a question for pastoral counseling, which a blog isn't, and I encourage you thither.

Anonymous said...


If I may use you as an example...

Well, I will anyway.

You're a man who has both gifting and desire to be a pastor. You're also a man who is committed to becoming prepared for ministry.
You're also a man who sees the need to care for his family, and are working hard to that end.

No pastorate yet, but a rather significant (in my eyes) ministry to many of us, one which you probably never imagined would/could happen.

You've been faithful Dan, both with the gifts you've been given AND the responsibility you've been given.

A man can do both, well.

you give the lie to the idea that, since I haven't the opportunity to use my gifts as I would chose, I cannot then serve.

Never fear, no pedestal for you. But still, you're an example, I think, of someone who is living what you wrote in this post.

Which is exactly how it's supposed to work, no?

Matt said...

Thanks, yeah, Sometimes I really feel like I need to "test" myself to see if I am in the faith or if the way that I view the Bible and true biblical Christianity is solely based upon the context of my comfortable American life that I was raised in. I feel that many times I take my American context to the Bible instead of taking the Bible and defining how I live in my world.

Many times when I try and discern or speak to a brother who is trying to discern something in his life I try and always go back to...."What do we KNOW to be true! What can we count on to be the will of God in our lives?" Well, in this conversation, we know that everything must center on the true biblical Gospel of Christ. As the spirit leads us in a constant understanding of this, then we begin walking in obedience to what we KNOW in the Bible and we know that God will not contradict what He has said there. I think the problem with blogging is the discussion is always limited to "yeah, but what about this guy". Even if that 'guy' was led by the Lord that does not mean it is normative for the entire body of Christ.

Anyway, thanks for the post

Matt said...

Hey, here is a great interview on Youtube with Phil Vischer - Creator of Veggie Tales. Dan, I if you haven't seen it I think it will make your point exactly! (not really sure who the interviewer is). He speaks about how he started Veggie Tales as this great idea (leap of faith) for God and in hindsight realizes that God may have never even led him to do it....even though it was wildly successful. I was really encouraged and challenged at his humility in admitting this!

Check it out!

Aaron said...


California's state income tax is on top of the Federal income tax. So if you are in the top tax bracket, your tax in CA will be about 48% not including Medicare and Social Security, which would bump that up closer to 55%.

Aaron said...


I have the opposite experience. People claiming to sacrifice for God meanwhile they have rising debt, kids for whom they can't afford proper medical and dental care, and cars they can't maintain. And these people look down their noses at me because I have money.

Aaron said...

@Dan: I don't see why this is such a tough concept for people to grasp.

"For by wise guidance you will wage war, And in abundance of counselors there is victory."

God doesn't draw up my battle plans. He doesn't tell me where to place the troops, what hill to charge, or what time to attack. Those decisions He's left to me, so long as I've followed all His other commands (such as seeking wise guidance). I don't need to justify personal command decisions because "God led me to do it." No. I charged that hill at sunrise because I listened to counsel and felt that was the best approach to take.

As long as I've followed the Bible's guidance on the matters it does speak to, I can trust that God is working everything to His glory. And if He is glorified by my success, then I'll praise Him. And if I am a horrendous failure, I'll also praise Him, content in the knowledge that I followed God's Word.


John said...

"Tom" isn't "Tom"

Thomas Louw said...

I have been following your posts now for three years.
This one by far has been the most opportune and instructing one.
It summarized something that has been bothered me for the longest time.
Thanks Dan

Robert said...

Wow...looks like I missed a lot yesterday evening. At least I got to see the Giants go up 2-0 (they shut out the Rangers...that only happened to them 5 times all year).

So, I guess I have one question for all the people who are throwing out names and such. Can God not bring about good works in spite of people working in the wrong fashion? Does He not do so with each one of us every day? The Bible gives some pretty clear advice on wisdom and also on the fact that everybody is supposed to care for widows, orphans, and everybody in the church.

I have a sister-in-law who is a member of a large baptist church. She has Krohn's Disease and has had a lot of surgeries, tumors, etc. She has not told anybody in her church about what is going on because she has faith that God will take care of it and she doesn't want to be a burden. That's only half of the problem, though. She lives in Georgia, we live in Texas (her mom lives with us). Every time one of these surgeries happens, she calls and has her mom fly out there to help take care of her three year-old daughter and around the house. That wouldn't be so much of a problem except that her mom is over 60, diabetic, and has blockages in her neck. This is the type of situation that some people put others in when they are acting upon "faith" instead of doing what is wise and is prescribed in the Bible. To me, it actually is more of a display of pride than anything...and God hates pride. And yes, I am also looking in the mirror when I say that.

DJP said...

Can God not bring about good works in spite of people working in the wrong fashion?

Thank you - a should-be-obvious point that apparently is too elusive for some.

I would add that every time God blesses, it is in spite of us to some degree.

Stefan Ewing said...

Everything we receive is in spite of our own sinful nature. Everything is an unmerited gift of God, paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post Dan.

It's rare that I encounter such clear thoughts on this, especially coming from Canada where discerning God's will is apparently an epic mystery for most pastors I know.

I've received so much amazingly bad counsel on this subject over the years that I'm still trying to consistently deprogram myself and bring my thinking into subjection to the word of God. It's annoying how bad ideas have deep roots that grow back if not properly dug out.

If you're ever looking to get into vocational ministry (assuming you're already not, I don't know...), I'll invite you to Canada.

Doug Hibbard said...

Then there's this 'anecdote':

The young couple went to her parents house, home from college for the weekend. The young man went out back to speak with the young lady's father, seeking permission to ask her hand in marriage.

Father: "What will you do?"

Suitor: "I will attend the seminary, and God will provide."

Father: "And for groceries, rent, utilities?"

Suitor: "I shall be diligent in my studies, she shall encourage me, and God will provide."

Father: "And what about insurance, or children, or car repairs?"

Suitor: "We will live by faith, for God will provide."

That night, the father and his wife were discussing the situation.

Wife: "Well, what do you think?"

Husband: "He has no plans, no skills, and no money. On the bright side, he thinks I'm God."

There, laugh a little. I'm seeing what Dan is saying here, and it's been rehearsed many times, as this: the only way to be assured that God is going to do something is if it is explicitly stated in Scripture that He will do so.

You may draw encouragement from the lives of other believers, and you may see God's hand at work, but you are responsible to see that your own behavior is matched to the direction in the Word of God, be it KJV, ESV, or the original Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic, not matched to their behavior. I am neither Mueller nor Elliot, neither Bonhoeffer nor Booth. I am only Doug, and must build my life on Scripture alone.

Have a great Reformation Day tomorrow. If anyone knocks on your door to trick-or-treat, tell them you're Tetzel and give them an indulgence.

DJP said...

Good illustration, Doug.

Sad, isn't it, to see so many locked into the notion that there's traditionalism or nothing? That if you can't "trust God" like (insert carefully-selected illustration here) did, then you just won't dare or risk anything?

Where's the attitude of young Jonathan, who "said Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, 'Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few'" (1 Samuel 14:6)?

God did not tell him he'd win that fight, but it was a God-honoring endeavor with Biblical backing. So Jonathan set about to do it, looking to God, but not assuming any guarantees he didn't have.

Stefan Ewing said...
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Stefan Ewing said...
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Stefan Ewing said...
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Stefan Ewing said...

Doug and Dan:

I can't speak for the anonymous Tom, but you'll get no disagreement from me.

It is quite true that if we think the supernatural life is somewhere "out there," and our own circumstances are "unspiritual," then we haven't really learned anything at all.

God ordains the circumstances in our lives...our ordinary, day-to-day lives are a gift from Him. Every meal we eat, and every item of clothing we own, every morning we wake up alive and healthy, every day we drive the car without an accident, every breath we take—everything is a gift of God's providence.

Every encounter we have with a person, no matter how mundane, is a unique and potentially Christ-exalting event. Every mundane decision we make was foreknown by God, and He works everything according to His purposes.

And in everything we do, it is quite true that we must consult the Scriptures, be diligent, obey God's explicit commandments and trust in His explicit promises, and leave the rest to providence and to our own reason and judgment.

BUT my concern was only this: every time we have one of these posts and one of these comment threads, and the question of "but what about so-and-so" comes up, we are so quick to disabuse the interlocutor of his or her ideas, and there seems to be such a determination to squelch any tendency towards anything that seems even vaguely like charismaticism, that the opposite impression is sometimes made: as if some kind of hyper-cessationism is believed.

One sometimes comes away from here with the erroneous impression that we are to expect no help or protection from God, no answer to prayers, no provision or guidance from Him for anything at all—as if God were not at work in the world today in any way whatsoever.

I know—I trust—that's not what anyone hear thinks. And if even this comment marks me out as some kind of "closet charismatic" (to borrow Frank's term—presumably because I dared to use the term "Holy Spirit" in an earlier comment), then so be it.

Stefan Ewing said...

(Sorry for the deleted comments...Blogger acting up.)

And lest anyone still wants to write me off as some kind of "Christianoid" (as if my last three and a half years of interaction here count for nothing), I will reiterate that I believe very much in the ordinary means by which God has ordained for us to lead our lives.

I have been working steadily at the same job for seven and a half years, commuting 2-4 hours per day every day, and plodding along, taking one Bible school course per term (because that's all I can handle), precisely because I believe in the ordinary means of God's providence.

(And as I look back, I can see God's hand at work in every high AND every low I've had in my life and in my career, as much as I can discern my own responsibility or lack thereof.)

By God's grace, I have remained committed to my wife through thick and thin, because I live by the Word, and have made 2 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5 my watchwords—and because of God's gracious work in our transforming our hearts and our marriage, through a series of difficult circumstances.

God places us where He places us—no matter how ordinary, no matter how difficult—according to His sovereign purposes, far beyond anything we can comprehend. But He IS very much at work in our lives every single day. Not in a charismatic way, but through His sovereign grace and providence.

Every day is a new challenge to us, and a new blessing, as we grow in discipleship and service to the Lord, build up the body of Christ, seek to obey the Great Commandment, and carry out the Great Commission.

Stefan Ewing said...

D'oh, 1 Corinthians 7, not 2 Corinthians 7.

trogdor said...

Saw this as I was reviewing my sermon notes from a recent message on Exodus 5ff, on 5:22-23 where Moses is shocked that Pharaoh refused to let his entire slave labor force leave without a fight:

"Disillusionment comes when we start attributing to God what we want to be true rather than what was actually promised."

Seems to fit here. Not only can such presumption cause us unnecessary consternation, it can also cause others to doubt God because He doesn't do what He didn't promise to do. Great witness to the world, there.

DJP said...

David asked if I'd coined "Biblely," and I meant to answer earlier. Sorry, David; hope you're still reading.

Here is where it got started.