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The Jeremiah Johnston Show

Alister McGrath: Mere Discipleship (Encore Presentation)

January 11, 2020

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Improvement in mental wellness in 2020 only seen in those regularly attending worship services. 

Improvement in mental wellness in 2020 only seen in those regularly attending worship services.

Dear Friend,

A close friend texted me this morning words from the third stanza of How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord:

“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.”

Our foundation is in God Himself. We never forget Jesus asleep in the boat during the storm. Jesus asked only one question: “Where is your faith?” (See Luke 8:25)

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Gallup polling has found the only demographic with improved mental wellness in 2020 are those regularly participating in worship services. Or to put it another way, mental illness has increased for every category except those who participate in weekly worship. I encourage you to read their report “Americans’ Mental Health Ratings Sink to New Low.” The opening words are cryptic, as much as they are a new reality: “Americans’ latest assessment of their mental health is worse than it has been at any point in the last two decades. Seventy-six percent of U.S. adults rate their mental health positively, representing a nine-point decline from 2019.” This is an opportunity for all believers to shine the light of Jesus Christ as never before. He is our hope; indeed, Jesus is our peace. In Jesus, we experience peace with God (Romans 5:1) and the peace of God (Colossians 3:15). Jesus established a lasting, eternal peace for us through his death and resurrection, which is now available to all on the basis, not of works, but faith in Him. According to Pastor Nicky Gumbel, “Peace is not the absence of trouble, it is the presence of Jesus in the midst of trouble.” ​

In 2021, my new book and our new ministry campaign begins: Unleashing Peace: Experiencing God’s Shalom in Your Pursuit of Happiness. 

Here is an excerpt I pray will encourage you:

We Live on Promises, Not Explanations

If we are going to experience peace, we must learn to live by faith in the promises and character of God. No one lived by faith in explanations in the Bible. All of the heroes of the Scriptures lived by faith in the promises of God. Faith is taking God at his word, not asking God for an explanation. It doesn’t mean we cannot ask God to show us why; however, in my experience God wants us to trust Him in the moment, rather than asking for the explanation. When God promises Shalompeace—a peace that passes all understanding, He means it. As a father of five children, our kiddos often want explanations on why they cannot do certain activities. Even if I explained the ramifications of why they should not do some dangerous activity, they would likely still not understand why they couldn’t do that or what is going on. In those moments, my children trust me and the promise I make to them, “follow me . . . don’t do this . . . do that. . . .” The point is they trust the promise, not the explanation. If you are injured, you may not even care how specifically the injury occurred (explanation), rather, you want the promise of the doctor for when you will be better. We live life on promises, not explanations. Life happens fast. The great Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe discussed this point at length in his Genesis commentary, both in the preface and his comments on Genesis 22:3–5, “Focus on promises, not explanations”:

Living by faith means obeying God’s Word in spite of feelings, circumstances, or consequences. It means holding on to God’s truth no matter how heavy the burden or how dark the day, knowing that He is working out His perfect plan. It means living by promises and not by explanations.[i]

One of the particularly challenging comments Wiersbe made is “Faith does not demand explanations; faith rests on promises.”[ii] This reminds me as I pray for peace and Shlaom, I trust God to bring his peace, but it does not mean I should expect a full explanation for my trial. Our job is to obey God’s word, His promises, knowing that since God is truth, He can never lie and is fully reliable! There are many positive aspects of resting in God’s promises rather than requiring explanations. For one, it allows you to stay focused on your calling, your priorities, your family, and continue moving in the direction of your values. Perhaps God will show you, in His time (not ours), why the road bent in your life.

Habakkuk is known for his powerful statement in 2:4, “The just shall live by faith,” (quoted in Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; and Hebrews 10:38). Lesser known is the same prophet who said the “just shall live by faith” asked God for an explanation in chapter one “How long, O Lord, will I call for and you will not hear?” (1:2). Habakkuk’s calling was to prophesy the doom of Judah days before the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar (605 BC). Of course, he did not realize what God was doing. Daniel and his three friends would be taken captive in Nebuchadnezzar’s sacking of Jerusalem and you are likely familiar with the events that followed in Daniel’s life. Nevertheless, I am quite certain Habakkuk was not very excited about his prophetic assignment.

The Lord’s response to Habakkuk’s request for an explanation is profound: “Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days—you would not believe if you were told” (Habakkuk 1:5). Though perplexed, Habakkuk learned to trust God because of who God is! It is interesting, God gave Habakkuk a vision of what He was doing and Habakkuk nearly collapsed! (see Habakkuk 3:16) Only then did Habakkuk utter the great faith statement of the Bible, we have to live by faith! Habakkuk chapter three, according to Dr. Charles Ryrie, is “a great psalm of praise, scarcely equaled anywhere else in the Old Testament.”[iii] I see the progression:

1) Lord, I need an explanation. God replies that he couldn’t handle the explanation;

2) I will live by faith, and

3) Praise erupts!

“The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet and makes me walk on my high places”—all his confidence was in the Lord God.
Sincerely,

Jeremiah J. Johnston, Ph.D.

[i] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Obedient, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1991), 9.

[ii] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Obedient, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1991), 110.

[iii] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible: New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, Expanded ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 1442.