Tuesday, June 28, 2011

An Abundance for Every Good Deed

I've been thinking a lot about fear and provision the past few weeks (see the previous two posts). One consistent lesson I've been learning is that fear reveals our answers to these related questions: Whose kingdom am I living in? Whom am I trying to exalt? Who is calling the shots around here?

I know that might sound weird, but hear me out. When it comes to fear in this life--fear of death and the next life might be something different--aren't we often afraid of the loss of something because we think we need that thing to live a happy, fulfilled life? My latest snags have been a fear of how we could live on a low income, and a fear (or perhaps frustration) that I'll never be good enough at my job to earn some kind of positive recognition and accolades. In other words, what I really want is to have our own home, to be able to pursue graduate school or seminary (to feel knowledgeable and competent?), and to have some tangible affirmation that I'm not just some mediocre teacher and coach good enough to hang onto his job, but someone who excels. If these things don't come my way, or something threatens their arrival, then I start fearing failure and all the question marks of what life is going to look like down the road. What would it be like to rent my whole life long? Will I be ineffective in serving the church without more education?

The real problem, I think, is that I'm viewing my own desires and wants as what I really need. Without knowing it, I confuse "God's will for my life" with my own picture of how I think things should work. Then when my picture of life is threatened or doesn't come about, I'll twist that into believing God isn't really meeting my needs or isn't able or doesn't listen to me, so then I feel like life is out of (my) control. When God is at my beck and call, life is great. But when he's not, that turns into either grumbling or panic.

This is just what the Israelites did in the wilderness. They longed for meat, fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic--their own idea of real provision from God--when they were oblivious to the manna God faithfully sent them every day. "There is nothing but this manna to look at!" (Num. 11:4-6). They wanted "the good life" now when in fact they hadn't yet entered the Promised Land. They wanted rest and prosperity when they were still sojourners and pilgrims. Believing then that the Lord was against them (read: he wasn't their servant), they concluded that God had ditched them to die in the wilderness (14:1-4), when in fact God was giving them all they needed. However, it was according to his own terms, with the purpose of testing their hearts and refining their trust in him (Deut. 8:1-3). This is why the godly men Caleb and Joshua equated fear of failure with rebellion against the Lord (Num. 14:9, 11-12).

Our fear doesn't come because life is actually out of control. It's simply shows that it's out of our control. It's not enough for us to know that whatever we have or don't have, it's because God ordained it to be so. We want to have it our own way, on our terms. So we accuse God of being unjust, or playing favorites, or hiding himself, or whatever. Fear is just God knocking out our throne from under us so that we can rest on the infinitely more expansive and solid foundation of his throne.

The fact is, God will never fail to provide for us what we need to obey him and to do his will. "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man" (Eccles. 12:13). Our fear is transformed to trust only once we recognize that our purpose in life isn't to reign over our own little kingdoms, but to live as servants of our heavenly King. "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed" (2 Cor. 9:8 NASB). Notice that word sufficiency. God gives us what we need. And he gives it abundantly for doing good deeds that result in his praise (vv. 11-15). "God is faithful, and will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you maybe able to endure it" (1 Cor. 10:13). God will provide what we need for doing his will and obeying him in the moment he calls us to do it. But if we have other desires for life on our terms apart from what God says is necessary, why should we expect him to open his wallet and shell out for those? He isn't into funding his rivals' campaigns.

This is why Jesus teaches us to pray first, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Only when we have subordinated our desires to his can we then pray rightly, "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matt. 6:9-10).

So if in the end our finances only allow us to rent, then it's because God wants us to rent, and we'll be able to do whatever he asks us to do from our meager apartment. If I can't afford seminary, then he's simply calling me to be faithful in serving others with the knowledge and skills I already have, and I need to be content with that. If I don't receive accolades at work, then he's not calling me to live in the limelight; he's just calling me to be faithful and do my best and receive my praise from him alone. If our children don't end up being athletic, good-looking, intelligent, and popular, that's fine. Even if they're brace-faced Trekkies on the robotics team, God's calling me to recognize that what matters is their character and their love for him, and that I love these kids with all my heart and not some out-there ideal.


Ted M. Gossard said...

"Our fear doesn't come because life is actually out of control. It's simply shows that it's out of our control." Good thought and post.

I think God does give us dreams, but refines them, or let's say they don't come about the way we anticipate (e.g., Joseph). He puts things on our hearts and minds. Of course we need confirmation by the Spirit through the Body. And it's all in and on the Jesus Way. So that, yes, it will likely involve a lot of radical dependence on the Father. Or growth in our faith.

Andrew said...

Ted, what do you mean by "in and on the Jesus Way"? I'm assuming it's some reference to Peterson's book (of whom I know you're fond), but I've never read it.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Andrew, Actually I doubt that I was thinking of Peterson at all when I said that. By the way, haven't you appreciated his writings as well? :-)

The Jesus way is the kingdom of God come in him and all that means. In following him in that in this world. In God's kingdom and grace. Of course as given us in scripture. Which of course is unfolded in the gospels and carries on in the rest of the New Testament in the context of Christ's ascension and Pentecost.

It is shorthand similar in meaning to following Jesus.

I've seen people on their journey made to go through difficulties that actually are bringing them more and more into the calling and life God has for them. Was getting at the point I was trying to make in saying that.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I guess I shouldn't have said that. I honestly become defensive. Peterson sometimes attaches himself to writings which can actually hurt his own reputation, even though he'll say he doesn't agree with everything in "Love Wins." So, sorry about that Andrew.

Andrew said...

No offense taken; I am, in fact, quite fond of Eugene Peterson, even if he did endorse Love Wins. Heck, I thought Velvet Elvis was a good book--not necessarily correct in everything, but good in the sense that it was thought-provoking and causes people to wrestle with what Christianity should look like.

I've actually always wondered if Peterson might've been a universalist of some sort, or perhaps annihilationist, given his support for Karl Barth and how Peterson never really nails down anything hard doctrinally. He's got a lot of really good things to teach and to say about pastoral work and the Christian life, but sometimes I wonder if what he *doesn't* say speaks more loudly than what he does say.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Andrew, I really think a lot like that. I think we can gather so much, so much good- from people like Barth and Peterson, but I too would like them to come forward on everything. Which is why I've been happy that N.T. Wright has come forward on hard issues, and has been clear. And is in good dialogue with evangelicals here. But everyone is different in their calling, and the writing that follows.

I've wondered if Peterson, a part of the Presbyterian USA in which they're grappling over homosexuality, I've wondered if he wants his writings to be able to impact Christians on both sides. So that he is reticent to take a stand on that issue, even if he is likely (in my mind) more on the traditional side. Don't know. We'd lose a lot if we dropped theologians who may disagree with us even on some serious issues. I'm sure you know this, but I just express my thought on it.