I used to think of faith as making bold steps of change in obedience to God’s lead. It’s true. Faith is that. But that’s not all of it. That was child’s play. Easy by comparison to the actual walking out of the life He called me to live. The more I walk with God, the more I see faith as the daily exercising of trust in the midst of ordinary life stuff. No big crisis or dramatic changes. Faith is the patience to press on when you’d rather sit down, and maybe pout a little. Or throw a fit. Faith is the denial of the self that wants to act out in response to a life that is not going as we had planned – for days, months, or even years on end. God did not promise the life of faith would be “fair” (in our estimation of what is fair). God promises faith endures. Or rather that we will endure through it because we are shielded and strengthened by God’s power.
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6, 7).
Rejoicing in the trials, that’s the hardest part. The thing about faith is we just don’t know what we don’t know. We can never see beyond where we are. We don’t know what a day may bring: disaster, diagnosis, loss, grief. Often, the grievous reality of the thing we are confronted with catches us by surprise. This thing that is happening to me does not agree with my thoughts about this life of faith. Just where are you leading me, Lord? Can I trust you in this? We find ourselves suddenly cut off at the knees, knocked right off our feet. And we wonder what is next. Fear immobilizes us. It is a struggle to breathe in such moments, much less attempt to get back up and walk on. But that is precisely what faith requires. The continued walking when we are faint with grief, fears on every side.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I see the temptation in suffering to go to extremes. It is our human nature to do so. We swing wildly from one end of the spectrum to the other. I illustrate the extreme positions we often take in our trials from two examples found in the Scriptures:
“Call me Mara”: Naomi was a woman who had lost much – her husband and two sons. She had no offspring and was facing an uncertain future. She and her daughter-in-law, Ruth, returned to her homeland. “When they arrived in Bethlehem…the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?” “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me” (Ruth 1:19-21). The name “Mara” means “bitter”. Naomi’s response to her life exemplifies the extreme position of “giving up”. We are tempted in suffering to resign ourselves in it and lose sight of the possibility for good to come from it.
“A Letter to the Exiles”: God allowed his people to be carried away to captivity in Babylon. The exiles desperately needed to hear from God about their fate. They looked to the prophets around them for answers to relieve their suffering. Jeremiah, the prophet, wrote a letter to communicate God’s message to His people. The letter contained unexpected news, “Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters” (Jeremiah 29:5, 6). God’s message was clearly, “You are going to be here awhile, so get busy right where you are”. Jeremiah warned them not to listen to the false prophets around them who were prophesying lies, offering the false hope of escape. The exiles response to their captivity exemplifies the extreme position of “getting out”. The temptation is great to want to escape the place where God has clearly allowed you to be, or even directly taken you – on purpose for a purpose. To give you a hope and a future right where you are.
The life of faith is not a life of extremes. We don’t give up, or attempt to get out. Faith is the focus to stay centered on Christ in the midst of our suffering. We rise again on shaky feet, eyes firmly fixed on Him. We trust Jesus to guide us one strategic step at a time through the psychological landmines ahead.
“And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10)
“They will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).