Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).
Yesterday morning the full weight (at least it felt that way) of my future fatherhood landed on my shoulders like a millstone. I had been going over the numbers in our budget to see what it would take for us to survive with a new member in the family and with half the income, and I was overcome with the pressure of it all. And on top of that, I soon realized that it was only the financial side of fatherhood that had so easily overcome me, not to mention the other more important facets of it that had escaped my concern that morning.
I became considerably depressed for the next several hours (an unusual mood for me), feeling that I had become the man in 1 Timothy 5:8, the one who was worse than an unbeliever for not being able to provide for the members of his household. In spite of my efforts over the past several months to procure some increase in income, I had fallen short time-and-time again, and I felt then that that our financial situation was set in stone and that it would not change between now and the time that I needed it to.
Despite that, I could not shake off a nagging feeling of hope. At the time I did not want to feel the hope that “everything was going to work out” because I honestly didn’t feel like I deserved that hope. And I didn’t deserve it. And I don’t. For that hope is grounded in the Gospel, and just as I did nothing to earn favor with God (but gained it anyway), so also I did nothing to earn the comfort of: “[D]o not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:25, 33). All of God’s gifts, provisions, and promises are all purchased by the blood of Christ, therefore I don’t deserve them (and never will), yet they are freely given nevertheless.
Faith and Troubles
I read the above passage from James this morning. In it I was reminded that we are not called to have everything perfectly mapped out, but rather we are to have faith in God. This is not to say that we shouldn’t make plans, budgets, and the like, but it is to say that our ultimate hope and stay is not in those things but in God. I might rework a budget a hundred times, cut costs here and there, take on a second job, etc., but it’s God’s hand that makes any of those plans work. Furthermore, we simply do not know how God is going to provide for us. I can think of countless times over the past several years where I’ve made general plans (which I esteemed to be God-honoring), but it was God who filled in the all-important particulars, oftentimes in ways that I could not have imagined and always in ways that were far better than what I would have asked for.
And this is what I think James is getting at when he writes that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness. As our faith is tested and we trust God despite our fears and watch him work things out in ways that seemed impossible, improbable, or totally off of our radars, we learn to trust God more and more. And as we endure a life filled with such faith-trials, those trials will bear the fruit of steadfastness, rooted in the God who has proved himself time-and-time again.
The Perspective of the Church
One of the greatest joys and benefits of being in the Church is that we get drawn out of ourselves and into the sufferings of others. As I was having a pity-party for myself yesterday morning, the sufferings of a family in my church was brought to my remembrance. Their suffering has been far greater and has been far more drawn out than my small, financial conundrum, and yet they have been faithful through it all.
Their suffering put into perspective how near-sighted I have been and made me full-aware of my selfishness. It drew me out of myself (for that moment) and into prayer for them and praise toward God in how he has been using their suffering to strengthen them and to strengthen his Church. As they suffered faithfully and shared their sufferings with the church, God has been shown to be faithful, and they have imparted steadfastness to the church. Likewise, when other members suffer (no matter the degree) and remain faithful, they also impart steadfastness to the Body. Our present situation is no different in that, once God demonstrates his power and faithfulness, we will praise him for it and strengthen ourselves and our church by it.
Missing the Forest for the Trees
I’m also reminded how focusing on our financial situation has caused me to lose sight of the blessings that have made this “problem” possible. Lord willing, in three months my wife will give birth to our son. A year ago we would have given anything to have this burden, but now my near-sightedness has caused my heart to doubt God at times. I feel like a moron even typing that out. God has blessed us abundantly, more than we could have asked or thought, and my heart has the audacity to doubt God when my puny mind can’t see a way out! God forgive my unbelief!
My resolve has now become to step back and to consider what God has done. I will continue to do budgets and the like, but I resolve not to pour over them as I have done in the past. God knows our needs, has provided our needs in the past, and has promised to meet those needs in the future. All he asks us for is a little faith.