Paul David Tripp: When Bad Things Happen to Good People
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Paul Tripp Ministries and works to connect the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life. This vision has led Paul to write 17 books on Christian living, produce 14 teaching series and travel aroun...more
When bad things happen to good people like Paul Tripp facing kidney failure, fatigue, and more, we’re forced to face our doubts but try to understand how God can use our weakness.
Paul David Tripp: When Bad Things Happen to Good People
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Season 1, Episode 6:
What to Know Before You Deconstruct, Part 2:
Sexual Identity: You’re More Than That
Guest: Paul David Tripp
Air Date: October 15, 2022
Paul: My life is regularly out of my control, so why isn't that terrifying to me?—because God's in control. He is the definition of everything that's wise, everything that's loving, everything that's good, everything that’s faithful; and so I understand that my life, with all the unexpected unwanted things, is in absolutely the best of hands; it couldn't be in better hands.
Shelby: Somewhat anxious—always authentic—this is Real Life Loading… I’m your host, Shelby Abbott. Our desire with this podcast is to help guide you toward the life- changing power of Jesus for relationships in a constantly-shifting culture. We're called Real Life Loading, dot, dot, dot. And those three dots at the end of our title are super significant. The dots describe being in process—we haven't arrived—we're very much in a state of loading. It's my job to be a trusted friend to come alongside you and help you walk closely with God in the humor and hardship of life.
Today is Part 2 of my time with author, pastor and international conference speaker, Paul David Tripp. If you missed Part 1, definitely go back and give that a listen; because it was amazing. But today, Paul and I are going to talk about several important things. We'll process suffering and weakness as a Christian; control; fear and anxiety; and then, we'll unpack the right and wrong ways to find our identity. We're going to go deep today in the best possible way with Paul Tripp. I know you're going to love it.
Shelby: You have been a sufferer: you have gone through a lot of areas in life, where you would kind of label yourself as someone who is weak. How has God's power been made perfect in your life through your weakness? And why does that make sense?—when it seems to be absurd on a surface level.
Paul: So when I realized that I would, in ways never be healthy again in my life—that the things that now are part of my physical condition—
Shelby: —which was kidney failure, among other things.
Paul: —has made my immune system dysfunctional. I have basically what is like chronic fatigue. This is happening at the moment of my greatest influence. On a human level, that just seems ridiculously irrational: “Why would You give me this platform and then take away my strength to use it?” And so, in my struggle with that, things began to happen as I cried out to God.
Now, I want to say something: “It's important, in those moments, not to run away from God—run to Him—so I was crying: “Help me,” “Please help me. I don't know what's going on here.”
I began to realize that much of what I would've named as faith in Jesus was just self-reliance. I happen to be project-oriented. I happen to have a quick mind; I'm able to produce things quickly. And there's a pride in that, but that's dangerous. At some point, it's hard to thank God for things when you really think it's because you're just great.
Shelby: You did it; yes.
Paul: And I realized that what I should be afraid of is not my weakness; I should be afraid of my delusions of strength. The reason I would say that is because, as long as you look at yourself, and you think, “I'm strong and not needy,” you quit seeking God's help.
I realized that weakness, rather than being a tragedy, is actually a workroom/a doorway to a deeper understanding of God's grace and a deeper power. Second Corinthians 4 says we have this “treasure in jars of clay” to show that the all-surpassing power is from God and not from us; so “We're perplexed, but not crushed; we're beaten down, but not destroyed,” —and it goes on.
Now, in case you didn't understand the word picture—a jar of clay is not a picture of strength—drop it, and it shatters. And so he's [Apostle Paul] saying, “Don't you get it? Weakness is a gift because, in that weakness, you understand the beauty of this God of power who has connected Himself to you. And so because He's in you, and for you, and with you, what would normally destroy you won't destroy you anymore.”
It's the end of Matthew, where Jesus says to the disciples—these guys are scared to death—He's leaving; they're supposed to go out and represent Him. They feel unqualified and unprepared. And He says, “All power is given to Me in heaven and earth.” And then he says, “And I'm with you always.”
Now, He's not saying, “Guys, you're going to be capable. You got the right [indecipherable]; just go for it.”
Shelby: “You were Me for three years; you're good.”
Paul: Yes, yes; “Just go for it.”
He just says, “No, no, no; I got the power, but guess what?—I'm with you.” You see, if you don't think that you need power—if you think you got all the power you need—that's not meaningful to you; it's not encouraging to you. But if God has, in His goodness, placed you in a situation, where you're now faced with your weakness, all of a sudden, the reality of what His grace offers you just changes you.
Shelby: Yes; so counterintuitive too. When the Bible talks about—the way up is down; the way forward is back; the way to be exalted is to be low; the way to lead is to serve—those things, on the surface, don't make sense.
I think it's okay for young people to wrestle with that. Because even what you were saying, at the end of Matthew, Chapter 28, where before Jesus says all that—this is the resurrected Christ that they're talking to—He's just appeared: He's died and has been resurrected. They see Him; they are with Him. And before He says that, it says some of them doubted—so they're in the context of being with the risen Christ—and they're wrestling with doubt right before he gives the Great Commission and ascends into the clouds like Ironman.
We might read that, and scoff at the disciples, and go, “Why would you doubt? You're literally standing in front of the resurrected Christ.” But I'm oddly comforted by that; because in those moments, where it doesn't make sense to me, that weakness is strength: “Oh, this didn't make sense to the disciples either; yet, they were faithful; and God provided for them. So lean into your relationship with God and watch Him show up.”
Paul: Yes, it, I could say that—here's a good question—"Why is it, for me, that weakness is terrifying?—when it's not presented that way in the Bible. What if I bought into—that I need to get rid of—in order to understand the fact that God has designed for me to be weak?”
And here is one of these things—it's just so counterintuitive—if you're raising a child, you're basically hoping that the child will move from complete dependence to adult independence; right? That's not so with God's grace. The move of God's grace—it's not from dependence to independence—it's from independence to dependence.
Shelby: Yes, it's the opposite.
Paul: It's the complete opposite. And I know that there still must be things in me that are old ways of thinking, that I need to dig out and get rid of, because they're in the way of my full understanding and my full experience of the fact that what God has for me is good. I mean, the cultural negativity toward authority is one of those things: our demand is: “No one should tell me what to do; I must be my own authority.” Well, boy, that's not what the Bible teaches; so there's a lot of those things that we need to be looking for.
Shelby: Yes; and that actually leads me nicely into what I was going to mention next. This is a quote from one of your books. You said: “A desire for control is a symptom of fear; and fear is a symptom of trusting a replacement savior, who just can't deliver what your heart cries for.” That's your quote.
Now, when it comes to leadership or influence, as a young person, I've seen that the elements of control and fear are pretty consistently intermingled throughout decision-making. A lot of people are either paralyzed by fear, so they make decisions to protect themselves; or they just don't do anything at all. “How does an understanding of the gospel of grace—namely, what our heart truly cries for—get in there and actually begin to heal the problems of fear, anxiety, or a constant desire for control?”
Paul: First of all, the Bible would tell me that my life is never out of control. Daniel 4: “He rules over the host of heaven and the inhabitants of earth. And no one can stop His hand or ask Him what He's done.” Act 17: “He's determined the exact place we will live and the exact length of our days; God's in control.”
Now, life is regularly out of my control, so why isn't that terrifying to me?—because the One who is in control is my Father. He is the definition of everything that's wise, everything that's loving, everything that's good, everything that's faithful; and so I understand that my life, with all the unexpected unwanted things, is in absolutely the best of hands; it couldn't be in better hands. So that's the first thing.
The second thing is I think that it's only ever fear that diminishes fear. Here's what I mean by that: it is the fear of God. And we don't mean a terror of the evil that He could do to me in His power; but it's that awe of His power, all of His wisdom, all of His glory that actually drives me to Him. It's when I'm overwhelmed with—the power, and wisdom, and glory, and rule of God—I am able not to be paralyzed by all the little fears along the way. There's something that is capturing in my heart that doesn't give those fears a place to take control of in my heart.
And there’s a very practical story that everybody knows is that moment, where Israel's in the Valley of Elah, and they're facing the Philistine army; and it's going to be a big horrible battle. And the army of Israel comes out. And the first day, this big giant warrior comes out and mocks them; and they run back to their tents, and they commiserate. They do this for 40 days.
Now, what's shocking is: this is the army of Almighty God. He's promised He will deliver these enemies into [their] hands. David shows up; he's basically there to deliver provisions to his brothers: bread and cheese. He looks around and, basically, says, “Why aren't we fighting?” And he says—he's speaking of God—He's delivered [me from] the lion; He's delivered [me from] the bear. I've seen this One work; I know His power; I'll go.” They try to put armor on him; he said, “I don't need that armor.” And he goes—he goes with a stupid little sling and some stones—and ends up defeating the giant and [Philistines].
“Why is he in a different place than everybody else?”—fear of God. He went in that valley, just overwhelmed by the power of God; and that awe of God diminished the fear of this incredible warrior that he would otherwise have.
Shelby: And now it's time for what I call a “Shelby Sidebar” on Real Life Loading… This will be a short story, an illustration, or a thought that simply helps you process gospel truth.
Shelby: So my folks got divorced when I was three, and my mom remarried my stepdad when I was six. And when the marriage happened, I immediately—not only got a new stepdad—I got a stepbrother and stepsister as well. It was fun to have a stepbrother, who was only six months older than me; because I had a new playmate. And my stepdad was in the Air Force, and we got assigned to Minot, North Dakota, at the Air Force base out there.
I remember going with my new brother to the playground that was on the Air Force base there for the very first time. And I remember going to the teeter totter that was on the playground then. Now, teeter totters aren't—you don't find them very much now on current playgrounds—it's just basically like this fulcrum in the middle/this kind of triangle, with a big board between it, and like metal tips where you would sit on one end and kind of just go up and down with your playmate.
My brother and I are playing on this teeter totter. Being little boys, we got bored of it pretty quickly; so we wanted to do unique things on it. I remember it—laying down on my stomach on the teeter totter, with my head facing toward the middle of the fulcrum. My brother would jump up and grab the other end. And when he did, it would pull me up; and I would slide toward the middle. And when I did, a big splinter, about two inches long, slid into my chest—now, not into my heart—but like along the skin, right in my chest. And that feeling, you're probably feeling right now, is how I felt when the splinter went into my chest. I was like, “Whoa!”
I remember grabbing/kind of pinching the area, where some blood was coming out, where the splinter went in. I ran all the way home, and I was crying. Got to my house; and my mom was like, “What's the big deal?” And I kind of go—point to my chest—and she's like, “Whoa!” She grabs me; and then, she grabbed the tweezers. She started to pull little pieces of the splinter out of my chest in sections and got it all out.
Now, in my mind, and even in my heart, I knew, in that moment, that what my mom was doing was what was best for me; because I knew that needed to come out of my body.
And I knew that it was not good to have it in me. I knew that what she was doing was what was best for me; but in the midst of the pain, and the pieces of wood that were coming out, and the blood that I saw—as a little kid—I still had my doubts about whether what was happening in that moment was actually good.
I think we find ourselves there a lot, as followers of Jesus Christ. In our minds, and in our hearts, we know that what is happening to us, we could intellectually ascent to the fact that it's what's best for me; because God is good, and He's in control. But when the pain comes—when the difficult times arise—we could still have our doubts about whether what is happening to us is actually good. Living in that tension is often what it means to be a Christian.
This has been a “Shelby Sidebar” on Real Life Loading… Now, let's get back to my chat with Paul David Tripp. We're going to talk about the beauty and the dangers of social media and, then, unpack why he and his wife are members of a primarily black church in Center City, Philadelphia.
Shelby: Identity is the kind of overarching theme in our culture right now. Identity: “Who am I?” Why is looking horizontally, in an attempt to find that identity, always going to be a problem?
Paul: Well, these horizontal things—they will all fail me—because everything in this world right now is in the process of dying; so they're all temporary, and they weren't designed to give me identity.
I knew a man, who was very successful in business, but the world and his industry changed; and he lost his job. He not only lost his job, Shelby, he lost himself: he became depressed, began to do dysfunctional things, forsook his family. Now, what does that tell me? It tells me that wasn't his job—it was his identity—he didn't know how to live without that: “I'm a successful ex-identity.” But there was no guarantee that he was going to have that forever. It doesn't work.
The Bible roots stability of identity in my union with Christ—that I have been united with Him: He is in me and I am in Him, and He is everything that I need, and He won't leave me nor forsake me—and I can build meaning and purpose on that identity. And it will never come up short for.
I'm convinced the reason God inserts Himself on the scene, right away with Adam and Eve, and begins to talk to them, is because He's saying to them: “You're supposed to understand everything you are and everything that you do in relationship to Me,”—that's identity stuff there.
Shelby: That's important in many, many ways; because the culture is searching for identity. Each of us, individually, seem to be encouraged to find our own identity in some different ways. We attach that to different experiences, or different people, or whatever kind of sect that we're in, or sexuality, or whatever.
I found that social media reinforces that in some pretty strong ways. You and I have talked about this quite a bit in our times together: “How can young people view and use social media differently?” You've talked about using it as a tool.
Paul: There's a way in which I love and I'm deeply grateful for social media. I can remember when Twitter first came online; I thought, “This is going to be a powerful form of communication; why wouldn't I want to use this?”
Saying that social media is a tool means this: you can do all kinds of good things with tools—you can build things; you can assist people and repair something for them that's broken—or you can kill somebody with a hammer. The tool, itself, is neutral—the way I use it is anything but neutral. So I decided that I wanted to use this tool to do good—to encourage; to comfort; in a loving sense, to confront—and all of that flowing out of the gospel. I want to remind hurting people what they've been given in their relationship with God. I want to remind people, who didn't think that they could ever do anything, of the potential of the good they can do because they’re children of God.
I continue with that commitment today. Now, there are temptations to project an image of myself that's not true.
Shelby: —which, basically, what almost all of social media is.
Paul: Yes; so I project power when I don't have power; I project beauty when I don't think I'm beautiful; or I project a happiness when I'm not happy—and that's all a mess—and I want you to think I'm something because of who I'm with.
And so I think it's really important to ask the question: “How is my life being influenced by my use of social media?”
- “Do I love God more?”
- “Do I love people more?”
- “Am I more committed to do good than I ever was?”
- “Have I grown stronger in my confidence in sharing and communicating my faith?”
- “Has social media helped me with all those things or has it actually taken me in another direction?”
We know that there's a connection to anxiety, depression, and even suicide by the amount of time [a person’s] life is controlled by social media. So visiting its influence in my life is super important.
Shelby: Yes, that's good.
I only have a couple more questions. One of them is—and a lot of/maybe, a lot of people don't know this—you and your wife, Luella, are members of a primarily black church in Philadelphia: “Why was this such an important decision for you to be a part of that church?”
Paul: The primary reason we went there, in the beginning, was not because it was a black church; but because we were very attracted to the power of the gospel teaching that was there. And we know that teaching would form a community that would live out that gospel.
But as we were just regular attenders, we just began/God began to expose things in our heart that we hadn't realized were there. We began to understand in a way we had never understood the suffering in the black community. It's not an exaggeration to say every man that we talked to had one of those stories to tell us—young men confessing that they loved me, but they were/I represented a class of people that they were terrified by, older white men—and out of that rose this new understanding and new awareness of the justice themes in Scripture and the heart that my Lord has for justice.
And we all know that perfect justice won't rain until we're on the other side; but the values of the other side clarify our values today, and we should live out those commitments. And so we are deeply thankful.
Shelby: That's great.
And in many ways, this is a family of God for you. And so I want to conclude with these two questions: “How has the family of God been a life-giving anchor for you?”
Paul: First of all, there have been mentors who have loved me. There are these key moments in my life, where I look back: “Without those moments, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing and wouldn't be committed to what I'm committed to,”—that's the first thing.
The regular fellowship of God's people—to have people in my life, who love me; who pray for me; who care for me; who would provide for us food, or whatever, in moments of my sickness; who speak into my life in times, where I'm blind, and I can't see clearly—I just think my walk with God is a community project, full stop.
Shelby: Yes; and that's the element of community is something that we miss quite a bit if we're not looking for it.
One of the things that you talk about is worship and what that actually looks like—not only practically, maybe on a Sunday morning or someone behind a guitar, singing—but you say that worship is, not best shown on Sunday morning, but demonstrated by your words and behavior the rest of the week. I found that this is absolutely true, even for people, who have been walking with God, or Christians for decades.
“Why is this truth important for a young person to grasp, as a college student, or a 20-something that what we worship is demonstrated by our words and behavior the rest of the week and not, necessarily, on a Sunday morning?”
Paul: It's really, really important to understand that it's not enough to say that, in moments in my life, I worship. The Bible says I am a worshiper; it's my nature. You cannot be a human being without worshiping.
Now, in order to understand that you have to take worship out of its religious context: “What does it mean to worship?” Well, I'm always attaching my identity—my meaning and purpose/my inner sense of wellbeing—to something. There is something or some things that are always in control of my heart—that's worship—and whatever is in control of your heart will then exercise inescapable control over your life and your behavior.
So I need to ask the question: “What am I worshiping?” It's interesting to understand that the way the Bible uses the term, “idolatry,” in most places is not talking about formal religious idols—it's not talking about carved things of wood, stone, or metal—it's talking about something that rules my heart. Ezekiel 14:3 says: “If anyone has an idol in his heart, it puts a wicked stumbling block before his face”; isn’t that interesting?
Paul: That idol in the heart will cause me to stumble.
And when the writers of the New Testaments say, “Flee idolatry,” that's what they're talking about. They're talking about: “Don't allow your heart to be captured by anything other than this God, who's good in every way and all the time.”
Shelby: The first part of Proverbs 13: 20 says: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise.” I think today's conversation was a really great walk alongside the wisdom of Paul Tripp. I love that guy, and I hope you loved what he had to say today too.
If this episode with Paul Tripp was helpful for you, I'd love for you to share today's podcast with a friend; and wherever you get your podcasts, it can really advance what we're doing with Real Life Loading… if you'd rate and review us. And it's remarkably easy to find us on our social channels, just search for Real Life Loading… or look for our links in the show notes.
I want to thank my producers, and my boys, Josh Batson and Bruce Goff. I’m Shelby Abbott. I’ll see you back next time on Real Life Loading…
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