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You might be in trouble if . . .

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1

My husband, Phil, and I had a revealing conversation recently with one of our teen boys. We were discussing the definition of the phrase “in trouble.” Our son stated how much he hates feeling like he is in trouble and reasoned that that is why he may not tell us when he is struggling with temptation or stuck in sin. He simply doesn’t want to endure the consequences of his sin or be found out as having done something wrong (his definition of being in trouble).

I can certainly relate—who likes to be exposed? There is something about our very nature that avoids putting ourselves in situations where we look bad. We wrongly reason that if we hide our sin, we can cover up, straighten up, clean up, and fool ourselves, others, and God.

That is where the trouble is. When we’re in that place, we are believing a false gospel, attempting to justify and atone for our own sin, and dismissing the radical grace of Christ that truly frees us from trouble.

The darkness of trouble

As we were talking with our son, the Holy Spirit illuminated for me the truth about trouble. Our son was really in trouble, not now that he had brought this into the light with Phil and me, but before he said anything at all, when he was in darkness.

To be truly known means we have to let others in on our junk. It is painful to reveal our struggles, shameful to admit to our deeds and difficult to admit our hearts are captured by things other than Christ. As Ed Welch writes, though, the only thing we’re really doing when we take that honest assessment is we stop pretending that we’re God—and there’s no humiliation in that.

We are really in trouble when we have forgotten the gospel of grace. The rescue mission of Christ was to free us from our trouble—trouble that we were born and behaved our way into, and from which there is no manmade way out. He took our trouble on as his own, paid the price for it and welcomes us to live a trouble-free life (when trouble is defined as being found out as having done something wrong).

5 signs you’re in trouble

1. You haven’t told anyone

The worst kind of trouble is the kind you are bearing on your own. Trouble is not when someone else finds out about your sin, but when you try hard to hide it. Trouble is secrecy and darkness; darkness is trouble. Cry out to God and others when in trouble.

“When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.” Psalm 91:15

2. You are believing lies

When hiding out, lies abound. The accuser, Satan, fortifies our trouble by whispering to us the supposed dangers of being found out or looking bad in front of others. He attempts to lure us into wrong ways of thinking and doubting the promises of God. Lies we believe about God, ourselves, and others are definite trouble.

“Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Psalm 10:1

3. You have defined righteousness

Our first inclination when we think we are in trouble is to defend and defame: At least I’m not like them. I’m not that bad. When we attempt to set the bar of righteousness at anything less than perfect, we reject the life and grace that Jesus freely gives. When in trouble, we are invited to take refuge in the cleansing blood of Christ. It is there that God the Father recognizes us in the blood of his Son.

“The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.” Nahum 1:7
“I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will perform my vows to you, that which my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble. I will offer to you burnt offerings of fattened animals, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams; I will make an offering of bulls and goats.” Psalm 66:13–15

4. You’ve completely forgotten about grace

Often, to avoid “trouble,” we devise a scheme to make our way out of it. Grace is one-way love poured out on the troubled and the troublemaker. Salvation comes from God alone—not the false saviors we grasp for in times of trouble.

“The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.” Psalm 37:39

5. Your fear is not God-based

When faced with the prospect of being in trouble, our fears escalate. We make contingency plan upon contingency plan, anticipating 12 moves down the line in an attempt to cover our sin. Fear of the Lord cries out in dependence and trust to the only One we should be terrified of being far from.

“Why should I fear in times of trouble? . . . God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.” Psalm 49:5, 15

The next time you find yourself worried about getting or being “in trouble,” consider the world of trouble Jesus has already rescued you from and walk in joyful, obedient freedom out of real trouble, and into the arms of your Rescuer.

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