April 24, 2012
There's a game I recall playing with rubber bands as a kid. It involved holding one end between your fingers, and giving the other end to a friend. We would then alternate taking steps backwards, flinching as the band stretched tighter and tighter. The thin strip of rubber would quiver under the pressure, until finally, it snapped.
Faith can feel a lot like that at times. Circumstances stretch us, painfully so. And like some medieval torture device, we feel as if we are just one step away from being ripped apart.
My own journey of faith has recently had me feeling the tug, particularly in the area of finances. The strain of financial pressure had created an uncomfortable tightness in my chest. Now God's Word tells us to find our security in Christ. Mentally, I agreed with that statement. After all, Jesus says not to worry about what we eat or drink - that if he provides for the birds and flowers he will meet our needs as well. In theory it sounds nice. Yet in reality, my security was only as deep as the balance of my bank account. Unfortunately for my faith, I have pretty shallow pockets.
This unavoidably resulted in a Christianity that was stunted in growth and limited in power. I did not realize my malady for a long while. It took a financial crisis to expose the true source of my dependence. God recently used this circumstance to teach me two lessons. On the first occasion God exposed the disease of my heart. On the second, he provided a cure.
I tend to be a level headed person. Patient, not easily ruffled. But when I saw the status of my bank account not long ago, I am embarrassed to admit I kind of lost it. Yahweh had to put up with a bit of a tantrum for a while as I vented my stress, frustration, and doubt. Then, once I was completely spent, he spoke to me. He asked only a single question, but it was deep enough - personal enough - to shake my whole reality.
"So, Mark, you only trusted me when you had $_____ amount of money in the bank?"
Just like that I was face to face with what Jesus calls Mammon, the false god of money. I realized that lately I had been talking a big game about trusting in God and putting my faith in him. But when my resources dipped below a certain limit, my "faith" began to unravel. Of course God's words exposed the truth: if such was the case, my faith had never been in him at all.
I wonder how many Christians bow down daily at the alter of Mammon, while claiming with their lips to honor God. It is such an easy trap to fall into. Yet ask yourself this, if you woke up tomorrow and your funds had evaporated, would you then doubt God's providence? If you had no material resources whatsoever, would you question his plan? Would you deny his ability to supply your needs?
Jesus' stories of the Rich Young Ruler and the rich man's storehouses can lead us to a dangerous assumption: that only the rich idolize money. In many ways, the poor are just as enslaved to it. Why else would the New Testament writers warn us so often of the snares of wealth and greed? Recently I heard a pastor say that the best attitude to have towards money in light of God's Word is that it is a stick of lit dynamite! I think he's right. Consider these passages:
"But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."
"Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire."
Paul says that by foolishly pursuing financial gain, there were Believers who abandoned their faiths and were pierced by countless sorrows! And James has sobering words for those who place their comforts in material wealth and prosperity. In fact, the majority of those Scriptures in the New Testament that talk about money, when they are not focusing on its destructive, addictive nature, focus primarily on one thing. Can you guess? Giving it away. And why not? What better way to show that it does not own us? And Scripture is clear that all Christians should give generously, whether rich OR poor! (2 Cor 8,9)
Oddly, Scripture does not seem to leave much room for middle ground. There are those who hoard their wealth, worshiping it and putting their trust in it, and there are those who use their resources to bless others, in obedience to God's Word. Biblically speaking, God does not provide us with money so that we can bless ourselves.
At any rate, I'm getting side tracked. I already explained that God clearly showed me this idolatry of heart. After a few days of letting that revelation sink in, he provided the remedy.
I was standing at my kitchen sink, looking out the window, and talking to God about my current situation. I expressed that I genuinely wanted to put my trust in him, not my shallow resources, but I was still feeling anxiety. I did not know what sort of attitude to take towards my dilemma either. Indifference? That seemed foolish. Then Jehovah asked me another question.
"Mark, how would you feel if instead of $____, you had twenty thousand dollars in the bank? How would you feel if you were set financially for the next 10 months?"
I admitted that I would feel much better if that were so.
"Do you forget that in me, you are provided for, not just for the next ten months, but for all the years of your life? Your resources may be limited, but mine are limitless, and if you are in me, then you have access to all the riches of the world, which belongs to me. Have I not said I will supply all your needs?"
It was as if I had been carrying a sack of rocks that was suddenly lifted from my shoulders. I felt lighter. Most importantly, I felt a surge of confidence and trust in God. I was reminded of the words of Paul, that we should not put our hope in money, "Which is so uncertain, but... hope in God, who richly provides us with everything." In Christ I have access to untold riches, not only materially, but spiritually as well, and yet for so long I have failed to take God at his Word and believe what he says! If the roots of our faith are only as deep as our pockets, we will have a shallow faith indeed. If instead we recognize the truth that Christ has put all things into our hands, why then we will become immovable, unshakable, dauntless; as our roots dig deep into the heart of the world.
In closing, I share some incredible thoughts on this matter from George Müller, a mighty warrior of faith.
"God's way leads always into trial. The Lord was saying by this poverty, 'I will now see whether you truly lean upon me.' Of all seasons I had passed through I never knew any period in which my faith was tried so sharply...
Faith, with every fresh trial either increases by trusting in God, and thus getting help, or it decreases by not trusting Him; and then there is less and less power of looking simply and directly to Him, and a habit of self-dependence is begotten. One or the other of these will always be the case. Either we trust in God, and in that case we neither trust in ourselves, nor in our fellow-men, nor in circumstances, nor in anything besides; or we DO trust in one or more of these, and in that case do NOT trust in God...
The believer should not shrink from situations in which his faith may be tried; but should cheerfully embrace them as opportunities where he may see the hand of God stretched out on his behalf, to help and deliver him, and whereby his faith may be strengthened."