Sunday, January 28, 2007

Trusting God Is Sometimes Easier Said Than Done

Every once in a while, I like to search the web to get additional information about the Pettigrew family. Today, I found the Pettigrew Family Genealogy Site, containing detailed information which was apparently compiled by one Pat Fincher Pettigrew before she went on to be with the Lord.

The site features a Bible verse of the day. As it so happens, the verse for today was:

"Don't concern yourself about what you will eat or drink, and quit worrying about these things.... Rather, be concerned about his [the Father's] kingdom. Then these things will be provided for you." ... Luke 12:29

I was undoubtedly meant to see that verse. I'm hardly unfamiliar with the verse, of course. I've known the verse for most of my life. (Matthew has a verse which says pretty much the same thing.) But I have to confess, it touches on a personal weakness of mine.

Some folks have major trouble with sexual sin or addiction to drugs or alcohol. But personally, I find that trusting God to provide for my needs on a daily basis is something I still struggle with. It's my own personal version of "Fear Factor". When the money starts to run low (and it frequently does), I start seeing terrifying visions in which I am tossed out on my ear with no place to live but the mean streets of the city of Chicago.

Why does this frighten me? For numerous reasons, but probably the most powerful reason is that I am not content to merely survive. I have a vision of what God wants to do in my life, and I firmly believe that it is achievable, provided that I can manage to avoid events, such as eviction, which would set me back many years!

The scriptures affirm that a man's life does not consist of that man's possessions. Very true. But there are cases in which possessions are crucial if one is to achieve certain things.

For example, if I were to lose my computer and my access to the Internet, it would be significantly more difficult for me to set up the online ministry I'm trying to start at

When it comes to my fears of living on the street, there is a basis for those fears. I have come very close to losing it all, in terms of my material possessions.

I've never actually lived on the street, per se, but I've been in several situations where I would have had to do so if it had not been for the charitable acts of my fellow Christians.

It also helped that I wasn't too proud to beg for help.

Now, a man has to do what a man has to do, and if begging for assistance is what one has to do in order to survive, then one begs for assistance. But begging is no fun, and that's a mild understatement. Begging is humiliating. The reason it's humiliating is, in part, because the people from whom one is forced to ask for help sometimes do their best to make sure that it's a humiliating experience.

Frequently, one finds that the generosity of others comes with strings attached. Usually, those strings are emotional. It seems that some people think that offering charitable assistance entitles them to denigrate the person they are helping in ways which bear little or no relation to the actual facts of the situation. The mere fact that one has been forced to beg for help is taken as de facto evidence that one's character is severely deficient.

One pastor who helped me out in the early nineties accused me of being "lazy". This, despite the fact that he knew that I had only recently lost my job, and despite his knowledge of the fact that I was devoting approximately 16 hours a day to that job at that time.

It was a job in a retail music store. It took me 2 hours to get there on the bus every morning, and another 2 hours to get home on the bus that night. I worked from 10:00 a.m. when the store opened to 10:00 p.m., which was an hour past the time when the store closed.

If that was "lazy", I couldn't help wondering just what I would have had to do in order to prove to this pastor that I was a hard and diligent worker. Devote all 24 hours of every day to my job? Funny, I didn't see him doing that with his own job!

Yes, I lost the music store job, but it had nothing to do with being "lazy". I just wasn't making enough sales, despite my best efforts. Anyone who has ever worked in sales knows that that is always a possibility. If folks are clueless regarding such matters (as this pastor apparently was), I would suggest that they read "Death of A Salesman", by Arthur Miller.

I was and am genuinely grateful for the temporary help that the aforementioned pastor extended to me for a period of time when I needed that help, but that was no excuse for the abusive things that he said to me in order to force me to leave and find housing elsewhere at a time when I still did not have adequate money with which to do so (thanks to the fact that I had recently been robbed while visiting the Oak Park YMCA in order to try to get a room).

That was hardly the only time that sort of thing had happened to me. Memories of incidents like that one still burn in my mind even to this day. Such memories make it hard for me to trust God to provide for me. Yes, I've survived, but I've had to go through some things no human being should ever have to go through in order to do so.

When it comes to the role Christians have played in dealing with my difficulties, it's kind of a "glass half full, glass half empty" kind of situation. On the one hand, I have always received the help I needed, more or less. And as I say, I am grateful for that fact. Christians certainly could have responded with total indifference to my needs. To their credit, they did not.

But helping a person means more than just providing for that person's material needs. It also means being sensitive to the fact that being forced to beg for help or forbearance is inherently stressful for most normal people. It means showing kindness and love to the people you help, knowing that that is how you would want to be treated if you ever found yourself in a similar situation. (It's called the Golden Rule. Look it up in the Bible. Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you.) I'm sorry to say that most of the Christians I've dealt with have fallen way short in that department.

Not that any of that excuses my failure to trust God for provision. I know, intellectually, that God can be trusted to provide for my needs. It's just that when the sheriff is banging on one's door at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, with the intent of serving one an eviction notice because one has fallen behind on one's rent, it's still difficult to incorporate that intellectual knowledge into the way one views the world. During such moments, the world seems like a cruel and hostile place, and God seems like he is pretty indifferent to the sufferings of those who have to experience that cruelty and hostility.

That visit from the sheriff that happened to me several years ago. I was already starting to sink into depression in response to my situation, and that visit from the sheriff made things even worse. Not long after that, I spent a miserable weekend at a local mental health hospital after trying to kill myself by swallowing more than an entire bottle of over-the-counter sleeping pills.

At the time when I took the pills, I was just sick and tired of dealing with the stress of life on this earth. I was sick and tired of being told that God loved me by people who demonstrated, through their indifference to the truth regarding my own situation, that they really didn't care whether I lived or died.

Yet, I attribute the fact that I am still alive today to God's miraculous intervention.

That night, I knelt beside my bed, in fear and trembling, not knowing what was coming next. I poured my heart out to God. I told God that I just couldn't deal with living in this world of pain any longer. I longed for genuine relief. I longed with all my heart to be joined with God in heaven.

I told God that I wanted to die, but I added that if God wanted me to live, if God had a higher purpose for me here which I couldn't yet see, I was willing to accept his will and to do my best to do his will.

The next morning, to my great surprise, I awoke to a new day. The effects of the pills could be clearly felt. I could barely move my limbs. For about a day or so, my legs would not even support the weight of my body. But I was alive.

I now realize that that was a test of my faith. I almost completely failed the test. If I had not prayed that prayer of submission, I think I might have failed that test, and I might not be typing these words today. But I had not abandoned my faith. I have not abandoned my faith. I will not abandon my faith!

I know in whom I have believed. When I committed my life to Jesus Christ at age 13, in 1969, I was putting my faith in Jesus Christ, not in that imperfect institution known as the Church. Yes, it's true, the Church is in some respects the Body of Christ. But the Church is comprised of weak and fallible sinners. They have been saved, but in terms of personal virtue, they have not yet arrived at their final destination. And when I say "they", perhaps I should include myself and change the pronoun to "we".

My faith in Christ is real, but it is not what it ought to be.

If my faith was what it ought to be, I would live a fearless life. I would remind myself that Jesus himself suffered greatly while he was here on this earth. The scriptures tell us that "foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest his head." For at least 3 years of his life, Jesus was a homeless man. I don't know how many of those nights he had to literally sleep under the stars, but it seems to be clear that when he was not doing so, he was staying with other people who chose to offer him lodging for the night. He was not living in any mansion. He was not staying at any 5 star hotel. He was taking whatever he could get.

As for false accusations, Jesus is no stranger to those, either. He did miracles, and how was he thanked? He was accused by some people (often the religious leaders of the day) of performing those miracles through the power of the Devil! Talk about ingratitude.

Jesus knows my grief and my pain, because he's been there.

I write the above words because once again, I am going through a time of trial in relation to my finances. I know that God will provide for me and I will survive, but it's still stressful, because I don't like having to ask for help, and it is likely that I will have to do so again in the very near future.

I pray that I will receive the mercy and help I need so that this time of trial will be as short as possible.

I further pray that such help will be extended to me in a more loving and generous spirit than I have received from some people who have claimed to speak in God's name.

Most of all, I pray that no matter how people respond and no matter what happens to me, I will never abandon my faith, and I will never forget that God loves me with a love so deep that it cannot be measured.

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