I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
Oh, Lord! Please provide! I really need you to provide! I found myself desperately uttering this prayer in my mind before my eyes had even opened. It was one of those times in life when I couldn’t see past tomorrow. I had four grown up children with grown up worries, a dear and very overworked husband, and a diminishing bank account. At that moment, my prayer was for the needs of one of my children’s university tuition. Over and over again I had seen God work, but at that point, after a year that felt like a boxing match, I found the eyes of my heart couldn’t see around the bend in the road.
I believe all of us come to the moment where we can’t see around the next corner. In fact, in my life, there have been too many such times to count. It is at those corners and crossroads that our claim to “have faith” begins to mean something for the real, practical, present world we live in. When I was a young Christian, I think I pictured faith as looking something like the enthusiastic hand-raising worshippers I saw at youth conferences. As I have grown, I have come to see that faith more often looks like the quiet trust and sincere outpouring of a heart before God. It is most visible at moments of crisis, death, hurt, need, and new beginnings.
It comes at the moment when we are faced with the choice to trust in ourselves or in the world, to give into despair, or to trust in God to take us beyond what we can imagine and see.
Fear is our natural response to the unknown. That day as I prayed a cold cloud of fear came to me: What if I couldn’t send the child to this program she dreamed of for so many years? Had I failed her as a parent? Fear comes to me in the form of a thousand imagined undesirable futures. It comes in the form of what-ifs: What if we start a ministry and it flops?
What if the kids resent us for raising them in ministry? What if I am not strong/wise/good enough to do what God has called me to do? Fear drives us to retreat. In the defensive stance of fear, we try to live in our own strength rather than trusting in the mysterious, beautiful, and powerful work God could do in our lives.
But God is well acquainted with our fears. Three-hundred sixty-five times in the Bible, the heartening and seemingly impossible command is uttered, “Do not fear.” I learned in the early days of our ministry that if God called me to something, He would never leave me stranded.
In Deuteronomy 31:6, God speaks to the Israelites saying, "Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you." We have the power to be courageous only because we know that wherever we go, God goes with us. Faith is the power.
Another tempting response is to live by formula. As I pondered that morning, I thought of all the systems and methods I should have lived by if I was really a helpful mother. Perhaps I just hadn’t done the right thing and it was going to cost my child their education. Trusting in a formula, even if it sounds good, is not living by faith in God, but living by well-intentioned superstition—if I pray, act a certain way, and say the right things, then God will be obligated to respond and grant my desire.
That kind of thinking comes too close to the beliefs of idol worshipers in the Old Testament, rather than to followers of the faithful, loving God who revealed Himself in order to be known and worshiped by His people. God cannot be made to fit into our man-made formulas. In Isaiah, God said,
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways” (55:8). Our God is more gracious and more powerful than any formula we can conjure, and we as image bearers of God are more complex and exciting than any formula can contain. When we reduce faith to a formula we will be disappointed. We will be disappointed in ourselves, thinking if only we had prayed or acted a little differently God would be blessing us. Or, we will be disappointed with God, feeling He has not “lived up to his side of the bargain.” God does not negotiate, but we try to.
Finally, perhaps the most tempting option is to live by flesh. Living by your flesh means clenching your teeth and saying, “I can do this. I don’t need help.” This kind of thinking can be pernicious because we can find ourselves thinking, “I’m persevering for God,” when we’re actually denying our need for His grace to help us persevere.
With this mindset, when we encounter hardships or challenges, rather than admitting our need and asking the Father who cares for us for help, our flesh says to us, “Try harder! Do more! Accomplish it on your own!” God never calls us on a path for which he has not prepared us. This is not to say that living by faith is not hard work; it is! But, as Psalm 127:1 says: “Unless the LORD builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted” (NLT). His very name, Immanuel, means “God with us.” When we try to live by flesh, we will burn out as we deny God’s life-giving Spirit the opportunity to work.
After praying my prayer that morning, I opened my eyes. I peered out the beautiful bay window by my bed, I rubbed my face across the soft blanket on my bed, and then I laughed. My desperate prayer was prayed as if God had not already provided for me. I suddenly realized that God had already met my needs in a thousand ways. My spiritual amnesia made me want to doubt, but as I rose that morning, it was with a trust that God was providing and would continue to provide whatever my family truly needed.
The day that followed my commitment to trust God was not extraordinary; I cleaned and cooked and laughed with my children. As I look back, I cherish the fact that I have been able to see the hand of God work so powerfully in my lifetime. If I lived only by what was possible in my own power, I would have never taken risks that allowed me to see God’s faithfulness. My walk of faith with God has been a mysterious dance of listening, resting, working, and watching as God causes growth. With each crossroad I encounter, I believe even more firmly that God goes before me to prepare the path.
An excerpt from Own Your Life, Chapter 9.