I woke up this morning thinking about faith–the kind of faith that steadfastly believes in the invisible God–the God of all Creation; the God of the Bible; the God Who Is There. In fact, the only God there is. Unfortunately, we often worship at the altar of a thousand lesser gods that cry out for our attention–money, fame, power, position, sex, materialism, pride, ego (and that list is endless)–as well as what we can actually see, hear, and touch. And all of these lesser gods get in the way of our knowledge, obedience, and love for the One True God, and we allow them to do that on a very regular basis.
Consider the fact that printed on our money here in America is “In God We Trust” (and sometimes even printed on the designer license plates on our vehicles). It tends to twist the concept of who or what we really believe in. In fact, it gets twisted so much of the time that we convince ourselves that it is God we are serving when in reality it is anything but God. We are mostly serving ourselves with an occasional nod in God’s direction to thank Him for all the stuff we’ve been accumulating. However, how often did we seek His guidance before we went headlong into the day to seek our own way and accumulate more stuff?
Let me ask a question. Do we spend more time thinking about ways to get more money (or whatever it is we focus on) then we do seeking after God and how He would have us to live? And what are we willing to do to get “more” of whatever it is we want to get? And where does God fit into that equation, or is He even considered in the many choices we make throughout any given day? And do we even seek His advice? What about what God wants? Where does He fit in? He’s not just a “Sunday Morning” God that we worship for a couple of hours each week that we have allotted to Him. He is the Creator of the entire universe and He has made Himself known to us through the prophets in the Old Testament and His only Son, Jesus Christ, in the New Testament.
A favorite verse we often like to quote is Jeremiah 29:11 which states–“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” However, we don’t pay much attention to the requirement in the following two verses–12 & 13. Jeremiah 29:11-13 states:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
Ah, there’s the rub . . . “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” And our hearts are mostly divided between what we want and what God wants. We are very good at deceiving ourselves into thinking that what we want is what God wants for us without giving any consideration as to how He would have us to live. I think we’d be shocked if we really knew how much we try to control our own lives and move them in the direction we want to take as opposed to what God would have us to do. We give God a “wish list” of our own wants and desires and then try every way we know how to get them on our own. And that’s not living by faith in the One True God to give us what we need instead of running after all of our “wants” and doing our best to accumulate them in our own wily ways. And we know a few wily ways, too, that can get us into deep trouble down the road of life.
As I look back on these past almost six years now of unemployment plus an additional issue related to housing that has popped up since late September and is still ongoing, we tend to have a somewhat warped view in America as to what the Christian life is supposed to look like. If you believe a lot of the hype out there you might believe that what has happened to me and many, many others across America is a sign of, at the very least, being out of the will of God or some sort of proof that we have somehow gotten on the wrong side of the track with this whole Christianity thing. Of course, I can speculate on my own set of circumstances and why they happened and have lasted this long, but the bottom line is this: God has His reasons. And as Isaiah 55:8-9 state (and we often forget because we have such a low view of God and a too high view of ourselves):
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
We are far too used to hearing all of the “Success ‘N More” hype that is portrayed as the real Christian experience we should be seeking after here in America. And you won’t find that kind of hype in the pages of the New Testament or the experiences of the early Church is the Book of Acts. In fact, what you will find is a whole lot more of the type of experiences some folks are going through today that make us wonder what they did wrong. And often they didn’t do anything wrong. Trials come to test our faith, and if our faith is never tested, something is definitely wrong in our Christian experience.
As Christians, we are not in this life to accumulate as much as we can get our hands on so we can impress ourselves and others and live “the good life.” James 1:2-18 has a lot to say about the trials we find ourselves in (and there is no time limit as to how long they will last):
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
The kind of “wealth” James mentions has nothing to do with our material world and acquiring as much “stuff” as possible. He states that our trials come as a test of our faith in order to produce perseverance so that we can be mature and complete, lacking nothing. And further down he states: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” That is far more valuable than seeking after and acquiring material wealth in this world.
James tells us to ask God for wisdom and God will give it to us generously and without finding fault if we believe and do not doubt. And wisdom is far better then a Porsche, or a bigger house, higher salary, and fancy title. Now I’m not saying there is anything wrong with nice possessions, a high salary, or fancy title, but it’s where our heart’s desire is located that matters–on God or on this material world. And God has a way of showing each and every one of us who call ourselves Christian at some point in time exactly where our heart is really located (and on who or what it is focused on).
Trials are necessary in the Christian life. It is through trials that our faith is tested, and we either learn to trust God completely and persevere through them (without trying to wiggle out of them or finding our own solutions) so that we can be mature and complete, lacking nothing, and receive the crown of life (which is eternal life), which is far greater than anything this material world of ours, which is so incredibly temporal compared to eternity, has to offer. Faith and perseverance . . . these are the gifts that no amount of money can buy and can only be acquired by going through trials.
No matter what we may be going through at any given point it time, it comes down to this: Do we believe in the invisible God, the God Who Is There, or do we believe in what we can see, hear, and touch? If it’s the latter, we are on very shaky ground, especially when the trials of life hit hard and heavy. The only path to knowing the God Who Is There is through his Son, Jesus Christ. As the apostle Paul states in Colossians 1:15-23:
The Son [Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.”
I’ll end this post with what the apostle Paul had to say to his young protégé, Timothy, in I Timothy 1:15-17:
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God . . .
Be honor and glory for ever and ever . . .
Amen . . . .
YouTube Video: “God of Wonders” sung by Third Day: