Tag Archives: trust

The Purpose of Pain

I’ve noticed a growing trend in our society marked by an aversion to pain. I suspect this trend is due to the easy availability of drugs that mask pain. It seems as if pain is another malady to be conquered by science, along with cancer and heart disease. But pain is not a disease. We forget that pain is a natural and helpful mechanism meant to inform us when something is wrong. We tend to not listen to our bodies and, thus, not listen to our pain. Pain is a symptom, not a problem. When we mask our pain, we stifle the messages our bodies are trying to give us. We need to learn to listen.

I don’t intend to take on the drug companies or to convince you to not take pain medications. Instead, I want to explore the workings of pain in our lives and what we can learn from it. I believe pain can be our teacher.

Learning from Pain

At its most basic level, pain is a warning. It triggers when we touch something hot or when we injure ourselves. We feel pain when something is wrong inside us, such as a stomachache or headache. From the pain messages, we learn what behaviors to avoid, such as not touching the hot stovetop. We also learn new behaviors, such as wearing sunglasses when spending hours in the bright sun. If pain is repetitive, then we need to change our behaviors to mitigate the pain, such as not eating foods that give us heartburn. Listen to the messages your body is giving you and try to learn from them.

These principles also apply to emotional pain. Can we learn from our pain to change our behaviors so we aren’t inflicting pain on ourselves or allowing others to inflict pain on us? What is your pain telling you? If you’re experiencing emotional pain, you’ll be tempted to mask or medicate it. But sit with it long enough to understand it and to learn what you need to do to remedy it. If you medicate your pain, then you’re only treating the symptom and remain in the dark as to its cause. Seek to understand its cause so you can correct it.

Transformed by Pain

In my book, Four in the Garden, Creator said, “The soul attains full maturation when transformed by life of which pain is an integral component.” Pain has value if we allow it to transform us. Pain has spiritual purpose. The apostle, Paul, understood this and sought to partake in Christ’s sufferings as a way to know Christ better and to become more like Him. “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” (Philippians 3:10). I admit this concept is far beyond me, but I recognize that Paul’s attitude toward suffering is rare when compared to the importance placed on minimizing pain these days. This is evident in advertisements that promote weight loss or great abs without exercising. What happened to “no pain, no gain?”

Paul believed that suffering had the power to raise us to a higher spiritual state. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17). This power isn’t found in the suffering itself, but in God’s ability to use the suffering to our benefit when we trust Him to do so. God can only transform what we hand over to Him. During my back injury, I believed there was some spiritual purpose in it, although I couldn’t see it at the time. Nevertheless, I trusted God during that dark time and entrusted my body and soul to Him, believing He could use the situation to bring about spiritual growth in me. Had I not done so, I doubt I would have learned or grown as much as I had.

Paul saw benefits to suffering. “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4). Paul lists three areas that can develop from suffering: perseverance, character, and hope. Learning to endure pain develops perseverance that helps us stick it out during long or tough challenges in life. Perseverance produces character that is more focused on others than on our own comfort. And character leads to hope that, in this context, means an abiding trust in God during times of trial where reward and gratification are delayed, but still believed in.

God’s Intention

If, during our suffering, we focus on our misery and complain, I believe we can sabotage God’s intention to use it to transform us. Even of Jesus, it is said that He was made perfect through suffering (Hebrews 2:10). If Jesus, our example, needed to suffer to be made perfect, then much more do we need to be perfected through life’s experiences. An attitude of trust is important. Can you entrust your painful circumstances to God so He can use it to deepen your character? Our transformation has paramount importance to God, more than our comfort. Our bodies and circumstances don’t last forever, but our souls do, so God is invested in developing our souls, making them ready for eternity.

I believe we will continue to grow in the next life, but this life is about developing an elasticity and humility that fosters the greatest capacity for future growth. Through life’s experiences, we can develop a spiritual capacity for partaking in God’s abundant and overflowing Life and Spirit. Without the necessary transformation to our souls, we won’t be able to contain the immensity of such abundance and Presence.

Benefits of Pain

One lesson I learned from pain is a deeper acceptance and trust. It’s natural to resist pain and discomfort. I resisted the thought that I would be permanently disabled. But God was saying to me, “What if you don’t get better? Will you trust Me anyway?” I wrestled with that question for some time. In the end, the question boiled down to, “Is God trustworthy or not?” I decided He was trustworthy and would be no less able to care for me if I were permanently disabled. What helped me was meeting a lady named Marcy ten years earlier. When I met her, she was still confined to bed because of a back injury five years prior. She radiated joy and gratitude in spite of her disability and had tremendous trust in God.

Another lesson I learned during that time was to live in the present moment. During my injury, I kept dreading the future, seeing it as an unmanageable burden. I also looked back at the many months of immobility and debt, and got depressed about the unproductive time of being confined to bed and not making income. God taught me to focus on Him in the moment and to not dwell on the past or future. He reminded me that He doesn’t inhabit the past or future. Those things are abstract and have no present reality. But God dwells in the present and we can experience Him there. When we focus on the past or future, we sever our active connection to God because we jump into our minds to obsess on past events or future worries.

One surprising benefit I discovered was that focusing on the present moment made my pain more manageable. The thought of an entire day of pain was crushing, but I found I could manage the current moment of pain I was experiencing. And I would manage the next moment of pain, and then the next. I didn’t worry about how I would get through the day or week or month. Instead, I stayed in the moment and managed that moment. This is a great way to tackle life when it feels overwhelming. Also, it keeps us centered on God who inhabits the present moment and makes Himself available to us in that moment.

Character and Maturity

Today’s society is accustomed to instant gratification. I worry that we are losing the virtues of sacrifice, denial, and delayed gratification. During World War II, when rationing was enacted, the entire country made voluntary sacrifices to support the war effort. The Great Depression and World War II taught my parents how to make sacrifices and to live on less. I see how those instilled values created an incredible generosity in my parents. Pain and suffering can do the same for us. Pain can teach us humility, endurance, willingness to suffer for others, and gratitude for what we have.

James encourages us be grateful for our trials. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4). Our reason for joy is that when we persevere, it produces a complete maturity that Paul defines as “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13). And that is God’s intention for our transformation, that we be filled with the fullness of God and, thus, bear His image in all its glory.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income, and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His goal was to help people have a close relationship with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

For more articles, visit http://www.rickhocker.com/articles.html
Website: http://www.rickhocker.com
Email: mail@rickhocker.com

Overcoming Fear

Addressing fear takes more than applying methods or formulas. It requires a shift in consciousness, a new way of thinking. While preparing to write this article, God told me:

“Fear has everything to do with one’s relationship with oneself.”

I’ve been thinking about that statement for the past week and will try to unpack it for you.

A Fearful Parent

How do you relate to yourself? Take time to think about your answer. Try to put it into words. Do you behave as an over-protective parent who always fears for the welfare of her child? Or do you behave as a judgmental parent who always finds fault with his child? Do you behave as a controlling parent who puts strict limits on her child? In these examples, the parent is you and the child is your life. By substituting these terms, the first example describes a fear-based person who relates to her life by always thinking of potential misfortune or harm. In a real way, we parent ourselves by encouraging or discouraging our growth by the judgments we make about our lives.

When fear is active, then our response to life will be to protect, resist, or contract. We focus on ourselves and on what we risk losing. This focus on self creates a climate of fear within us. In this mindset, we see ourselves as threatened and powerless. We perceive our lives as small bubbles, and everything that exists outside our bubbles are a potential threat. Because we view the world as a threat, we take an oppositional stance against life. We resist all intrusions, both real and imagined, against our protected bubbles.

Moving Beyond Fear

To move beyond fear, we need to change how we see ourselves. Instead of regarding ourselves as tiny bubbles of existence fighting to survive, we choose to view ourselves as part of a larger whole, where we and the whole are not at odds with each other.

What is this whole? The whole is everything that comprises the universe. It is God who holds it all together. The whole is the greater Life that encompasses your life. It is the continuous flow of creation, decay, death, and transformation in which we all take part, whether consenting or not.

When we focus on the whole, we find it easier to trust because our stories are recognized as part of a larger story. This larger story is about the inherent goodness of God and the constancy of God. When we fix our attention on this overarching theme, what happens to us matters little because we’re more focused on participating in God and less focused on preserving our bubbles. We cannot do both. So we entrust our tiny bubbles to God—they were never really ours in the first place—and now identify with the grander, all-encompassing bubble that is God. We overcome fear by entrusting our fragile lives to God and choosing to not focus on ourselves or on what may happen to us.

Moving Away from Self

When we shift our focus from our tiny selves onto God, we learn to trust that God is bigger than our little stories. We take on a new story that is no longer about us, but about God’s activity in us and through us. The larger story of God’s sweep across all lives subsumes the smaller stories of our single selves.

We learn to trust the flow that carries us from event to event, from change to change, through difficulty and pain. We entrust ourselves to the whole, to the flow that is Life. We entrust ourselves to God, believing He will bring us to our destination. Our destination, in case you wondered, is God Himself.

How do we do this when we’ve spent our entire lives focused on ourselves? It means laying down our stories and our control over those narratives. It means giving God control over our stories and letting Him direct them. When we don’t like the direction He is taking us, we trust instead of resisting.

Trusting Life and God

Because of this new identification with the larger story, we can learn to no longer fear life, but trust it, even embrace it. From this new vantage point, we can define life as participation in the flow of God that requires our willingness to be transformed. If we’re to trust life, then we need to accept all stages of existence, including decay and death. Pain and suffering are an unavoidable part of life. Instead of resisting them, we learn to accept them as part of the whole, no longer judging them as needless or terrible. God inhabits both suffering and joy. He inhabits the entire spectrum of life.

When we resist life, we won’t grow. In my book, Four in the Garden, the Teachers tell Cherished, “Nothing is ever annihilated. When Creator destroys something, its substance is merely transformed. The rhythm of the universe is transformation.” Natural phenomena demonstrate this principle of transformation. Since this principle is elemental to life, then we ought not to resist it. When we accept change and hardship, then we move through life with grace and peace, and are transformed by it. God’s purpose is that we be transformed more and more into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Connection

When we perceive our connection to this larger whole, then our lives have greater meaning. We see ourselves as an integral part of things rather than separate from them. When we’re connected, we don’t feel as threatened, so we have less reason to resist or fear. Our little self becomes hidden in God (Colossians 3:3) and embraced by God. Life is less scary because we are in God and with God. We choose to believe in the goodness of God to sustain us along the journey, no matter where our journey takes us.

A focus on self reinforces our perception of separateness. Separateness creates isolation. It’s the sense of isolation that creates fear. We believe we are alone and must fend for ourselves. Thus, we must protect and defend our tiny bubbles of existence. That’s why we need to shift to a viewpoint that is larger than self. We can enhance our sense of connection by reminding ourselves we are not separate and by telling ourselves we are already connected to God. We can’t grow in our relationship with God if we believe we are always disconnected from Him.

A Larger Vision

A larger vision of connection to and participation in God frees us from fear because we no longer have to worry about our bubbles. God invites us to share in His being and to let go of our tiny self-bubbles, to join Him in the flow of His Spirit. Our focus shifts from our little lives to the greater Life that is God. We move from a self-centered focus to a God-centered focus. When we fear, we focus inward and contract. When we trust, we focus outward toward God and expand.

When we’re connected, God ceases to be “out there.” We become joined with Him in relationship. Our life becomes connected to His Life. When God interacts with us, it will be from the inside out, not the other way around. He meets us at the intersection where spirit touches Spirit, where deep touches Deep.

The Trusting Parent

At the proper time, a parent gives up control over her child when her child has matured. When this time comes, the parent allows his child to make mistakes and learn from them, to experience the world without parental supervision. She entrusts her child to God, believing that God will take care of her child. Like a trusting parent, we need to give up control and entrust our lives to God. We transfer our parental rights to God, allowing God to be the parent over us, a parent more patient and loving than we could ever be. We release our tight grip on our lives and choose to have a loose grip, instead, allowing God freedom to have His way.

As we relax our grip, we release fear. At the same time, releasing our grip is terrifying to our egos. It’s illustrated by the difference between clutching the side of a deep swimming pool or floating in the middle. We fear the depths may swallow us, so we clutch something for security. We will never learn to trust if we never let go. God coaxes us to release our tight grip on life and trust Him to keep us afloat. Real trust clings to nothing, but believes God is our life-vest each moment.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income, and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His goal was to help people have a close relationship with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

For more articles, visit http://www.rickhocker.com/articles.html
Website: http://www.rickhocker.com
Email: mail@rickhocker.com

When God Feels Far Away

In my book, Four in the Garden, the protagonist, Cherished, loses his connection to Creator. Because of this loss, Cherished feels as though Creator has abandoned him. In the story, I had neglected to show that Creator stayed close. I recently revised my book and added this missing scene. In this new scene, Creator kneels next to Cherished as he weeps. We see Creator’s pain and emotion regarding the damage to their relationship. We see Creator’s longing for the relationship to be restored. Cherished can’t see or hear Creator, but Creator has not abandoned him.

We all have experienced times where God seemed absent, not listening, or uncaring. During those times, our prayers feel empty and futile. We can’t connect to God. It feels as if all lines of communication have been cut. It’s tempting to give up on God when He seems unresponsive. But God says that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Deut. 31:6, Hebrews 13:5). So in spite our perceptions, God is not far from each one of us, according to Paul (Acts 17:27).

Pain and Fear

This perceived distancing from God has many possible causes, but I want to discuss two of them: pain and fear. Pain or fear blocks our experience of God. Think of them as loud noises that drown out all other sounds, including God. They steal our attention and focus away from God and onto ourselves.

When I was dealing with back pain, it took all my energy to manage my pain. When my pain was severe, I could barely carry a conversation or watch television. The pain pulled all my attention inward. I found it difficult to focus on anything except the pain because it was intense and constant. Because of that, I found it almost impossible to connect to God or feel God. The pain was much louder than God. We believe we need God most when we’re in pain, but our pain hinders our experience God during those times, so God may feel far away. Nevertheless, when we suffer, God suffers with us (Isaiah 63:9).

Love is Greater Than Pain

During my back injury, God did break through on rare occasions and remind me that His love was no less real. Some of you may see a contradiction between God’s love and pain. One might ask, “How could God be loving if He let you suffer such pain?” But I was able to embrace the paradox where love can coexist with pain, even excruciating pain. I think the best example of that is Jesus hanging on the cross and forgiving those who condemned Him. God’s love supersedes our pain. My pain did not negate God’s love. Instead of turning from God, I entrusted my pain to Him and entrusted my body to His care, because I believed that His love was greater than my pain.

If you are experiencing pain of any kind, whether physical or emotional, don’t be surprised if God seems far away to you. Your pain acts as a veil that blocks or hinders your ability to access God. Pain is a primary, raw sensation that overrides our subtle spiritual senses. Pain has that effect on everyone. But don’t assume that God has abandoned you. God is with you. Joshua 1:9 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Moving Through Pain

My advice is to entrust your pain to God. Don’t hold it close, but keep a loose grip on it so God has ready access to it. Secondly, try to move through your pain. Pain has stages, and we tend to emotionally resist the intense stages, so we get stuck on one side of the valley and never complete the spiritual crossing because we’re afraid. As we give God access to our pain, we give Him permission to heal us and transform us. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” We may never understand why our lives have pain, but we trust God with our lives and with our pain, believing He can create something good from it.

Fear is Self-Centered

Fear is the other state that blocks God. It operates the same as pain in that it steals our attention and focus. When we are afraid, we pull inward, our body constricts, our thoughts center on self. By contrast, trust is characterized by relaxing and reaching outward. If we trust and relax, then we can float during stormy seas. If we fear and panic, then we fight and resist the waters, and cause ourselves to sink. When we fear, we close ourselves off from God because we curl up like a pill bug, shielding ourselves from everything outside of our vulnerable self. When we choose to trust, entrusting our fear to God, we make ourselves open to His activity and peace. “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you,” says Isaiah 36:3.

Many years ago, I struggled with low self-esteem. I was convinced that no one liked me. I carried a continual fear of rejection. Because of my fear, I behaved in ways that gave people more reason to keep their distance. Their behavior caused me to withdraw more, to be more insecure and awkward, which pushed people even further away. One thing I learned from that struggle was how fear draws energy from self-focus. My need to be liked put my focus on me. Fear centers on ourselves, what we risk losing. When we focus on ourselves, we can’t receive much from God. When we trust, we shift our focus from ourselves onto God and open a channel for Him to help us. If your fear is active and God feels far away, it may be that your fear is blocking His ability to comfort and help. Next month, I will write about ways one can overcome fear.

God can do so much more for us when we trust Him. When we fear, we make the situation about us and keep God at a distance. If we want God’s involvement in our lives, then we need to learn to trust Him.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income, and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His goal was to help people have a close relationship with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

For more articles, visit http://www.rickhocker.com/articles.html
Website: http://www.rickhocker.com
Email: mail@rickhocker.com

The Insidious Self

Our greatest enemy follows us wherever we go, and yet we consider it our best friend. It is our self. Time and time again, our self gets us into trouble because it’s insecure and fearful. In spite of this, it gives us our marching orders, setting the direction of our lives. And we listen to it, allowing it to control us.

Because our self is insecure, it worries about anything that might threaten it. It worries about instability, loss, rejection, betrayal, and its ability to cope. Much of our insecurity arises from the fact that we can’t control these things or entirely protect ourselves from them. Our predisposition to worry affects our everyday choices.

Fear Controls Us

We make decisions that mitigate our fears. We stay in the abusive relationship because we are more terrified of being alone or because we think no one else will have us. We don’t speak up because we’re afraid of confrontation or retribution. We stay in our hated job because we can’t see how to provide for our family any other way. We let people take advantage of us because we’re afraid of offending them, hurting their feelings, or them rejecting us.

Much of the time, we don’t realize how fear drives our choices. We act and react without introspection. We don’t examine our decisions to see if fear is at work. Is fear causing us to rule out available options? Do we shrink back from taking risks because of fear? What are we telling ourselves to justify our choices? What we think is a wise course of action may actually be a strategy to keep us safe from what we fear.

My major insecurity is fear of rejection. From the beginning, I felt different from the rest, out of place, unable to relate to my peers. As a result, I kept aloof, thinking that people wouldn’t accept me. In high school, I ate my lunch with the outcasts. I hardly spoke, even to them, because I feared saying anything that might cause people to reject me. In P.E. class, a budding friendship with a classmate encouraged me, but when he suggested we practice throwing and catching a baseball, I knew our future friendship was doomed. Sure enough, once he saw my ineptitude at sports, he never interacted with me again. Years later, I wrestle with this insecurity on a regular basis. What I have since learned is that the presence of fear doesn’t mean it has to control me. I acknowledge the fear, but empower myself to take risks, believing I can survive rejection because I know I’m accepted by God, myself, and others.

Guilt Trips Us

Another weakness that trips us up is guilt. Whereas fear is focused on the future, guilt finds its focus in the past. Our decisions are tied to what’s taken place in the past and our judgments of those events. We make guilt-induced choices because we feel indebted to others or bad about our past behavior. We overcompensate for our failings by going the extra mile and allowing others to take advantage. We may even be aware of this dynamic but tell ourselves that it’s a necessary penance for our sins.

In my life, I allowed guilt to have power because my soul was too fragile. The most effective manipulation was for someone to say, “If you were truly my friend, you would do this for me.” I had no choice but to comply. The alternative was to be rejected as a “bad” friend. I have learned a lot about boundaries since then. “No” is not a bad word and can be used with grace and respect. In addition, maturity must make room for self-nurture, which can’t happen when we allow others to direct our lives.

Transferring Control

When self is in control, then ego sits at the steering wheel. We are driven to and fro by our fears and insecurities. If we can recognize how counterproductive it is to allow self to be in charge, then we might be ready to set self aside and rely less on our ego. By this I mean we reduce the influence of fear, guilt, and insecurity in our lives. We move away from trusting in ourselves to trusting more in God who is more reliable than our feeble egos and who can empower us to push past our fears.

It’s not enough to identify our fears if we can’t overcome them. As one who has spent time in therapy, I recommend it for everyone, but therapy can only take us so far. God can see deep into our souls and uncover those wounds that impair us. Not only that, but God can mend those wounds as no one else can. Fear is not a wound. It is a weakness, like bad eyesight, that handicaps us if we let it. With the help of eyeglasses, we can clearly see. So with fear, we can overcome it with God’s help. Fear doesn’t go away completely; it still whispers in our ears. But we can learn to ignore its threats and take risks and live the abundant life that Jesus spoke about (John 10:10).

In my book, Four in the Garden, Creator tells Cherished, “When fear is strongest, you won’t trust. When trust is strongest, you won’t fear.” If we can learn to trust in God, then fear will have less hold on us. People who have great trust in God fear nothing. That’s because they know that God can take care of them in any circumstance, no matter how terrible. They rely on Him for strength and peace that will sustain them through any adversity. But even during times of contentment, they still rely on Him knowing that living for Him is far better than living for their egos.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income, and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His intent was to illustrate one’s growth toward deep communion with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

For more articles, visit http://www.rickhocker.com/articles.html
Website:
http://www.rickhocker.com
Email:
mail@rickhocker.com

Trust Versus Fear

The opposite of trust is fear, and fear causes us to make wrong choices. Trusting in God frees us from desperate actions because we believe God will take care of us. When we don’t trust in God, we are left to rely on ourselves. But when we doubt our ability to manage our security, we fall into fear. The uncertainty of the future causes us dread and we feel uneasy because we have little or no control over it.

Fear and trust oppose each other. When we’re filled with fear, we find it hard to trust, if not impossible. When we fully trust, we don’t fear because we have complete confidence in God’s promise and ability to care for us. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. We’re afraid to trust in God because we doubt He exists or doubt His love and concern. Every choice we make is based on what we believe about our security, what or whom we rely on.

Trusting in God’s Provision

A few years after college, my roommate, Tim, and I went crabbing off the Pismo Beach pier. We had a crab trap, fishing line, and some bait. In setting up the trap, we discovered we had nothing to cut the fishing line. Tim left to search for something sharp to cut the line, hoping someone might help. While I waited for him to return, I asked God for something to cut the line. As soon as I had finished praying, I saw a knife less than three feet away at the edge of the pier. Why hadn’t I seen it before? Was it always there? Had my expectation of God opened my eyes? When Tim came back empty-handed, I held up the knife and smiled. “Look what God provided,” I said.

When we trust in God’s provision, we believe He will provide for our needs. He doesn’t promise to give us our dream job or house, but He will take care of us, often in unexpected ways. Nor does He promise to keep us in our current job or housing. What God will do is keep us in His care when we trust Him to do so, even if it shows up as a friend’s couch to sleep on. If God responded to need alone, He would meet all the unmet needs in the world. But God responds to belief, not to need. He responds to what we believe about our needs and God’s ability to meet them.

When we don’t trust, we fear we won’t have what we need. So we worry about how we will get those things. We worry about what will happen to us. Because of fear, we rationalize our need to keep more for ourselves or take more for ourselves. We lie, cheat, and steal to insure our security because we believe we alone are responsible for it. When we trust God for our needs, we have peace because we know God will meet our basic needs in response to our trust.

Trusting in God’s Protection

I grew up in a neighborhood built near an undeveloped shoreline. The shoreline had unmanaged trails between the tall scrub where kids used to ride their bikes on the weekends. Most of the time, the area was devoid of people. I used to go to this deserted area to think and pray. One time, I noticed a pack of four teenagers in the distance moving in my direction. Feeling unsafe, I turned around to go back to the street. I heard someone shout, “Hey, you,” but I didn’t look so as to pretend I didn’t hear. I asked God to protect me. Then I heard many feet running toward me from behind, getting louder. I continued to trust in God and didn’t run or look behind me, but stayed calm. It would be a lie to say I wasn’t afraid, but in spite of my fear, I placed my safety in God’s hands, believing that if they attacked me, He would be with me. To my amazement, the running sounds stopped abruptly. Curious, I looked behind me, but saw no one. When I looked ahead, I saw a police car parked on the street fifty feet away. God has answered my prayer and protected me.

When we trust in God for protection, we believe in God’s peace in the midst of threat. God doesn’t always protect us from harm. The apostle Paul was jailed and beaten. But he had peace because he believed God was with him. God gave him strength and endurance in those situations. When we don’t trust, we don’t have peace, we feel unsafe everywhere we go, even at home. We buy a gun, we distrust all strangers, we don’t go out alone, we always fear the worst. When we entrust our lives to God, then He becomes responsible for what happens to us. Whatever happens to us, He can give us peace and confidence that He will take care of us in the midst of threat.

Trusting in God’s Justice

When a close friend had wronged me, I was deeply hurt and disappointed. But I entrusted the situation to God. My friend felt justified in his actions at the time, but a year later, he contacted me to apologize. He said that what he had done to me had now happened to him. He now knew how awful he had been and how it felt to be on the receiving end of such treatment. I wasn’t expecting an apology, but God had worked in his life to open his eyes. In my mind, God had brought about His flavor of justice.

When we trust in God’s justice, we believe God sees everything. We believe that God feels deeply about what He sees and will respond when we entrust the situation to Him. I think we often judge God for being inactive, but we often fail to exercise our belief in God’s justice by committing situations to His care. God responds to our belief regarding His handling of injustice, not to the injustice itself. When we don’t trust in God, we feel we must secure our own justice. We get even, we protest, we sue, we refuse to forgive. When we entrust our lives to God, He doesn’t protect us from injustice. But God will work circumstances toward our eventual good, if only to teach us trust, patience, and forgiveness. An example from the Bible is the story of Joseph whose brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. Joseph experienced many injustices, but he trusted in God who eventually rescued him and raised him to a position of honor where he saved many people during a time of famine.

Trusting in God’s Kindness

You may have noticed a theme in this article that God doesn’t protect us from hardship. What good is it to trust in God if we can’t be assured of an easier life? We experience hardship either way. When we trust in God, we can live in peace instead of fear. Hardship becomes a vehicle for God to show Himself to help us through challenges. God uses the hardship to teach us and change us into people of strength, confidence, and joy.

What we believe about God is important. If we believe in a stingy, distant God, then we experience that very thing. If we believe in a loving, generous God, then we experience mercy and abundance. Our experience of God is based on what we believe about Him. Our belief is often formed by how we have judged the circumstances of our lives. We interpret hardship as God’s abandonment. If we entrust our hardship to God, He can work it to strip away those blocks in our lives that prevent us from experiencing Him.

Benefits of Trusting God

If our experience of God has been negative, then it will be hard to trust. Try to move past judging God for your disappointments. Learn to trust God with your life circumstances. In doing so, fear will have less hold on you and peace will have a stronger hold. When we trust, we find it easier to be patient, to make sacrifices, and to take risks. When we fear, we take shortcuts and miss out on the benefits of a life lived deeply.

Romans 14:23 says that whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Using the language of this article, I can rephrase this to say: Whenever we don’t trust in God, we sin. When we don’t trust in God, we act from self-preservation that results in behaviors that oppose God’s law of love and deny His goodness. When we trust in God, we are free from sin because we are depending on Him. The goal for me is not freedom from sin because I know that Jesus had died to free me. My goal is freedom to experience God in every way possible, to experience His goodness and presence. When we trust in Him, we experience His involvement in our lives, which encourages us to trust in Him more.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His intent was to illustrate one’s growth toward deep communion with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

Website: http://www.rickhocker.com
Email: mail@rickhocker.com

Engaging God

How do we come to know God? Do we grasp God by reading books? Or by listening to others tell us who God is? Reading a book about someone isn’t as instructive as interacting with that person firsthand. Someone can read all the books written about God, but never experience the living God who interacts with us humans. Our relationship is with an actual person, so our understanding of God ought to include a direct experience of Him. The various people in the Bible all had a direct experience of God. For God to be real to us, we need to experience Him in a real way. I believe God wants us to experience Him.

I want to know the living God, not the God confined to pages in a book. A book cannot contain God because His nature is unlimited. John 21:25 says, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” Besides, our relationship isn’t with a book, but with a living God. The Bible points us to God, but the Bible shouldn’t take the place of God. So how do we engage the living God, the One who right now is watching you read this article?

Starting with Trust

Here is a spiritual principle: God reveals Himself in response to our trust in Him. God doesn’t stand on a street corner and say, “Here I am.” He has no need to prove His existence to the skeptic. If we wait for God to show Himself, it won’t happen. Rather, He waits for us to make the first move in His direction. We risk by choosing to trust God. In response, God makes Himself more real to us.

For the novice, it starts with an initial belief that God is real, often with no solid proof. Later, we understand that God expects us to fully entrust our lives to Him in light of His mercy and sovereignty. At that point, we take the scary step of entrusting our lives to a being we have never seen. For many people, God rewards that step of “faith” with an undeniable experience that validates their act of trusting.

This principle is repeated over and over in our lives. We entrust God with a specific situation, believing that God will work it out according to His wisdom. We place at risk our control over the outcome. By trusting, we risk failure, embarrassment, and loss. Nevertheless, we choose to trust God with the outcome. In response to our trust, God intervenes and makes Himself real by how He answers. We experience God when He sustains us, encourages us, surprises us, or when He sends people who lend a hand or speak the words we need to hear. We glimpse God in those things. We learn about God’s love for us. We learn that God hears us and helps us. We experience God in a way that’s real, but it’s in response to our decision to trust in Him.

Trusting Within Hardships

This principle is one theme in my book, Four in the Garden. Creator tries to impress upon Cherished, the protagonist, that every hardship is an opportunity to trust in Creator. By trusting, Cherished grows in his knowledge of Creator by experiencing Him within those hardships.

In 2004, I suffered a terrible back injury. I couldn’t stand or sit because of excruciating pain. I spent most of my day in bed. At other times, I would lie on the sofa if I could manage the trip from the bedroom. On one occasion, my friend, John, visited me while I was lying on the couch. During that visit, I learned that he had been suffering from abdominal pain for three months. I felt compelled to pray for him and asked him to move closer so I could place my hand on his stomach. After a minute or two, I stopped praying and removed my hand. He said his pain was completely gone. He wept from gratitude and amazement. I wept with him.

The Rewards of Risk

Had I not risked to pray for John, God wouldn’t have healed him that day. I was in tremendous pain during his visit. I could have focused on myself and not have considered offering to pray for him. But I stepped out in trust and faith, not knowing if God would heal him. God surprised both of us.

I suppose I could have been jealous because I was in greater need of healing than John, but I wasn’t jealous at all. I had learned a few things about God from that event. I learned that God is compassionate. I learned that God heals. I needed to be reminded of those things right then. The greatest lesson I learned that day is that God can use me when I am at my lowest point. When I was disabled and in pain, God used me. When I was most in need of healing, God used me to heal. That is a profound lesson in giving, receiving and God’s timing.

My healing wasn’t instantaneous like John’s. It came slowly, over the course of many months. But I took comfort in knowing God as a compassionate healer. So, by taking risks with God, God makes Himself real to us. We come to know God as He reveals Himself to us in response to our trust in Him. By faith, we step into the unknown, and He meets us there to make Himself known.

Getting Out of Our Boat

The story of Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33) seems to center more on Peter than on Jesus. Jesus’ disciples were in a boat fighting rough weather at night when they saw Jesus walking on the water toward them. On seeing Jesus, Peter asked for permission to come out to Jesus on the water. Peter walked on the water for a short time, but started sinking when he became afraid. At that point, Jesus took hold of him to keep him from sinking and brought him into the boat (verse 31). His experience of Jesus was more dramatic than the other disciples because he took a risk and got out of the boat. Because of that event, all of them were convinced that Jesus was God’s Son (verse 33). But Peter learned so much more. He learned firsthand that Jesus could empower him to do the impossible. Of more importance, he learned that Jesus would take hold of him if he ever found himself sinking or afraid.

If we play it safe and stay in our boat, we won’t encounter God. To the degree we risk is the degree we experience God. God wants us to know Him, but He waits for us to get out of our safety zone and step toward Him in faith and trust. I challenge you to trust God more. If you take that risk, He will engage you and surprise you.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His intent was to illustrate one’s growth toward deep communion with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

Website: http://www.rickhocker.com
Email: mail@rickhocker.com

Transformation Through Trust

Here is an excerpt from a speech I gave about trust:

Do you know what a cistern is? A cistern is an underground reservoir for storing water. Friends of ours in Hawaii have a cistern underneath their house. Rainwater is collected in their cistern and they use this stored rainwater to water their yard and gardens. Each of us has a spiritual cistern within our souls. It is the space within our souls where God dwells. This cistern is like an elastic bladder than can be stretched and expanded to contain more of God’s life within us. We enlarge our cisterns by choosing to trust God, especially when trusting is the most difficult, when life tempts us to doubt and fear.

We can be transformed by life or not. If we choose to trust God, then we are changed to more closely match His holy blueprint for our lives. If we don’t trust, then the transformative effect doesn’t touch us and the things we have gone through are for naught. We miss out and stay the same as before.

God is powerful enough to use anything in our lives to transform us, if we allow it. It is our trust in God that transforms us, not the event itself. At its most basic level, it is our struggle to remain in that state of trust that stretches and enlarges our souls, that increases our capacity for God’s life within us, so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.

You can read the full speech here.