“You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you” (II Chron. 20:17)
Do you trust God?
This isn’t a trick question, and our gut response is “Yes, of course!” But it’s actually a more complicated question (and answer) than it appears at face value, isn’t it?
We don’t have God literally talking to us every day, telling us what’s on His mind and what plans He has for us that day. We want to involve Him in our decisions and understand His will, but it’s not always clear how involved He is in day-to-day details.
Does He want a say in every decision we make? How much does He care about the daily “small stuff” versus the big picture? Does He expect us to solve most of our own problems, or does He reward those who ask Him for help in every small issue?
More questions than answers, right…?? What I wanted to dig into in this study is how we approach “problem solving”, through the lens of some examples in the bible. Do think about waiting on God and trusting that He has things under control, or do we seek out worldly, human solutions?
This is one of those studies that’s intended more to share thoughts and spur your own thinking, rather than provide a specific point of view or “how to”. I’d consider it a combination of pointing out what can happen when we try to solve problems our own way and on our own timetable, and a meditation on the balance between relying on God and abdicating responsibility for our lives and decisions. This is a longer one, but only because there are a number of examples provided for context.
“Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord…”
A lot of these questions ultimately boil down to trusting in God’s timing and approach rather than giving in to human reasoning, impatience, and impulsivity.
But that requires us to believe that God knows each of us personally, that He is in control, knows what we want (and need), and wants the absolute best for us.
And I think that last bit (that He wants the best for us) is actually much harder than it sounds to truly grasp. It *sounds* completely logical, but when you’re in the middle of something and don’t see a good solution or understand why it’s happening, or when you want something so badly and don’t get it, that belief is a difficult thing to maintain.
There are many parts of the bible where God’s advice is effectively “be patient”. Many times His people were told to stand still and wait for Him to act on their behalf. Sometimes that was a literal physical command to stand there, but sometimes it referred more to their emotional state—just stop, don’t let your emotions run around like Chicken Little screaming “the sky is falling!”.
This is a topic I’ve been musing on for some time. It’s not clear-cut, and there is almost never an easy answer when we’re right in the middle of a situation. When something happens, what is your first instinct? Where do you look for solutions? How do you go about making decisions?
So I thought it would be good to show some examples from the bible of people who didn’t trust in God and figured out their own solutions (and how that turned out). Then because I’m not all Debby Downer, I wanted to showcase some great examples of people who did wait, and looked to God to accomplish His purpose in His time.
And of course—because it’s me—I have some thoughts on practical applications for our own modern lives at the end for us to consider.
Worldly solutions to (real or perceived) problems
First we’ll look at some examples of when people decided to find their own solutions to problems that were either real, or that they perceived to be real.
It’s kind of sad how easy it is to think of examples for both of these areas…but to be fair, the bible is written for our instruction, so it stands to reason that there are a lot of cautionary tales in there. Most of these are well-known stories, so I’m just going to highlight the important points rather than tell you the whole story.
These examples pretty much boil down to: Do you trust God to take care of you and help solve your problems?
The Israelites…just pretty much overall
Where in the bible: mostly Exodus 14-32
It’s difficult to sympathize with the Israelites sometimes (at least for me). They saw miracle after miracle, were brought out of the bondage of Egypt, and led by a pillar of cloud and fire. They SAW the power of God firsthand. And yet they constantly got tripped up by mundane things…I mean, they watched God part the Red Sea, and yet complained about a lack of protein in their diet rather than asking God to provide.
Between the parting of the Red Sea and the situations that resulted in the manna and quail, the golden calf, the drinking water and so much more, the Israelites were pros at looking at problems through very human, worldly eyes.
Even after being led out of Egypt, fed and watered, and protected through the desert, they approached the Promised Land and panicked at the scouts’ report of the inhabitants, rather than knowing based on recent experience that God could defeat anyone and anything on their behalf.
For their entire lives, they had looked for worldly (Egyptian) solutions to problems rather than looking to God. So they perceived their situations as impossible rather than believing that, when God is in your court, all things are possible (Matt. 19:26).
Saul sacrificing before battle
Where in the bible: I Samuel 13
After Israel begged God to give them a king “like all the other nations”, He anointed Saul. King Saul had early success, but after a couple years started down a path of self-reliance and self-justification that ultimately was his downfall.
The army of the Israelites sat facing the Philistines before battle, and they were afraid. Every day Saul had to watch his army melt away, deserting and growing smaller against an overwhelming enemy. The prophet Samuel had told him to wait seven days and then Samuel would come and offer the sacrifice before they went into battle. God even gave him a specific timeframe!
When Samuel hadn’t shown up (presumably on the seventh day), a panicked Saul decided to offer the burnt offering himself. Almost immediately Samuel showed up and questioned him. Rather than confessing what he’d done and repenting, Saul doubled down and tried to justify his actions. Samuel told him that the country would be taken away from him because of his unbelief.
King David’s murder of Uriah
Where in the bible: II Samuel 11
King David is famously called a “man after God’s own heart”, but he wasn’t a stranger to fantastically-bad decisions. After seeing Bathsheba bathing, he slept with her despite her being married, then when she got pregnant, arranged to have her husband die on the front lines of battle (read: murder).
As the story played out, David finally recognized and repented of his actions, and is named as one of the faithful in Hebrews 11. But the reason I’m bringing this specific example up is to highlight how, when David got himself into a bind, he didn’t trust in God to get him out.
When Bathsheba got pregnant, David could have thrown Himself on God’s mercy and asked for His help in resolving things. Instead he came up with a worldly solution with domino-effect decisions, and an innocent man was killed.
Elijah, a man on the run
Where in the bible: I Kings 18-19
The prophet Elijah gives us a fascinating example of how our immediate circumstances can influence our approach (and emotional reaction) to problems. Elijah had just made (with God’s help) one of the all-time boss moves in challenging the queen’s Ba’al prophets to a direct “god-off”.
He taunted them and trusted in God to bring him victory, including calling fire down from heaven and helping slaughter the 450 false prophets. He outran a chariot. But despite all that, he ran for his life when the queen got angry and ordered his death.
Sitting in the wilderness he became distraught, feeling all alone and asking God to take his life. He fell asleep and then God sent an angel to provide food and water. I love that these verses basically show that a snack and a nap may actually help solve a lot of your problems.
After all of this, he has a self-pity party (trust me, I’m not throwing shade here) and talks to God about his exhaustion and hopelessness. God has him stand there while he’s buffeted by strong winds, fire, and earthquakes. But after that, Elijah hears a “still small voice”—and God was in that voice.
This story isn’t meant to be a “bad” example or say that Elijah behaved unrighteously. I like that it showcases someone who had immense faith in God and who God used for great works. And even he had moments of doubt, of losing sight of what God could do and that he wasn’t alone.
Examples of putting their trust in God
There are many wonderful examples in the bible of people who waited for God to accomplish His purpose or help them in times of distress. These are just a few that come to mind right off.
Joseph’s entire life
Where in the bible: Genesis 37-47
Joseph had a vision early in life of God’s plan for him, but then (seemingly) everything went wrong. From being sold into slavery by his brothers, to being thrown in prison unjustly for years, he showed great patience and faith as his life took many turns.
He stayed faithful to God and was an example of His way, and waited on God to show him the next step in his path—which was ultimately #2 in Egypt’s power structure and helping save thousands of lives from famine.
I have been reading “Leadership Promises for Every Day” by John C. Maxwell every morning, and one day it brought out how basically, Joseph learned to rely on divine promotion rather than self-promotion, and this really resonated with me.
(Future) King David, a fugitive
Where in the bible: I Samuel 20-30
David was anointed as king of Israel as a teenager, and continued on in his life with the promise that he would someday be king. After gaining favor with King Saul and becoming a war hero, Saul’s jealousy eventually made him turn on David.
Throughout the years while David and his mighty men were on the run, hiding in caves and playing a game of “cat and mouse” with Saul’s army, David had multiple opportunities to kill Saul. It would have made his life so much simpler. But he trusts God to handle it, saying “The Lord forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the Lord’s anointed” (I Sam. 26:11).
Daniel, unafraid to pray
Where in the bible: Daniel 6
Daniel, through wisdom and God’s blessing, had risen to a very high place in the Babylonian (and then Persian) government. This engendered jealousy from some of his peers, who put a plan in action to take him down by way of his faithfulness to God.
They had the king make a decree against praying to anyone but the king, on pain of death. Daniel, of course, continued his habit of prayer in the upstairs window, and was thrown in the lion’s den, where God protected him.
This isn’t saying you should shove your faith in people’s faces. The point was that this was already his habit, and he wasn’t going to change it and hide his prayer out of fear—he trusted God to take care of him even unto death.
Practical applications…how do we wait on God?
I feel I have to give a tiny bit of background on my own story, because this topic is one I feel passionately about, and feel I’ve experienced at various points in my life…so it tends to shape my beliefs. At a couple specific life crossroads (both related to my career and relocation), I went to God and prayed about it, and told Him I was leaving it in His hands.
I asked Him to very clearly provide only one choice and show me where He wanted me to be—to open one door, and I would happily walk through it. And in both cases I felt I received a very clear answer, with doors opening in a direction I didn’t necessarily expect but that have ultimately been a huge blessing. In one of those cases, I was in unhappy limbo for a couple years before I finally came to that turning point.
So here’s my take, in a nutshell: We shouldn’t expect God to make every decision for us, shouldn’t believe His plan for us completely hinges on whether you take one job versus another, or that He deeply cares whether we move to Houston rather than Philadelphia. Those things are important, and all those decisions are the building blocks of our lives, so they matter, but God can accomplish His plans regardless.
However, when we have moments in our lives (big or small) that we feel uncertain of how to make the right decision or how to handle a situation, why wouldn’t our next step be going to God and asking for His help? But the waiting is hard. And sometimes the answer is no, or not now, or there doesn’t appear to be an answer. So what can we do?
Deep breaths…time is your friend
It’s good to understand what your biggest personal enemies are in this kind of problem solving. Mine is impatience. I just want the thing to be over, and am driven to problem solve and take action. Yours might be fear, doubt, distraction, or a myriad of others.
Jesus makes a statement in Luke to His disciples that always resonated with me. He said, “By patience possess your souls” (Luke 21:19). The Berean Study Bible expands this a bit, saying “By your patient endurance you will gain your souls”. Basically, be patient and steady, and look to God. This type of patience is an indicator of spiritual maturity.
When I find myself worrying over something distractedly, and can feel the impatience start to push me into acting despite having asked God to show me the path, I say (out loud if I can) “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof”.
This verse from Matthew has become a kind of mantra, a way of giving myself a mental shake and reminder to be patient and not try to solve everything immediately. Figure out what your personal enemy is, and then find a verse that you can use as a shorthand for “get a grip”.
Wait…and listen for that “still, small voice”
When we ask God for help or advice, we are often (whether we realize it or not) looking for a big and showy answer, a loud neon sign pointing us in the right direction. When things are chaotic and our world seems out of control, we expect God to shout over the storm, but often we’re not listening for the still, small voice (I Kings 19:12).
This requires a calmness in the waiting, an ability to listen for God’s voice through all the noise and distractions of life. But God promises many times to be there for His people when they wait on Him.
- “My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense, I shall not be shaken” (Ps. 62:5-6)
- “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Is. 40:31)
- “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord!” (Ps. 27:14)
- “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him (Lamentations 3:25)
Don’t just sit there…”position yourself” for success
In the verse from the intro, King Jehoshaphat tells the people, “You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you” (II Chron. 20:17). I like the “position yourselves” part, because being patient while waiting on God doesn’t mean just doing nothing.
You have to do your part, listen for God, get into position and prepare yourself the best way you can for whatever comes next. LIVE YOUR LIFE.
If you think back to Joseph’s example, he spent many years waiting on God, but in that time he worked very hard—including learning household management and people management skills (as a slave and in prison) that ultimately were what he needed when he became the #2 person in all of Egypt. He wasn’t just laying around moping and waiting on God to make something happen.
Proverbs 16:9 tells us that “a man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps”. In other words, we do think about solutions or next steps, we do our best in any situation, and we look to God. But God is in control and He can and will guide us. Proverbs 3:5-6 has a similar message about trusting in God to direct our paths (deeper study here).
Confidence comes from what you trust in, whether that’s money, your ability, your family name, other people, your profession—or God. We take our existing decision-making process into stressful times…so if we haven’t built patience and a reliance on God in the good-ish times, it doesn’t magically become better under stress.
So it’s worth each of us asking ourselves: Do I trust God??