I’ve always been taught the biblical principle of sowing and reaping. In Christianity, it is taught over and over again that obedience and sacrifice in the short-term will produce blessing and abundance in the long-term. Many Christians believe the long-term blessings will come in heaven, but I’ve been taught to believe that we can expect these blessings on earth as well.*
Financially, Christians are to give at least 10% of their income back to the church. All money belongs to God, who has given it to us to use, and we are to be good stewards of it. Part of being a good steward is giving back just 10% of it for the work of the church. In elementary school, I was given an allowance of $2 a week and taught to turn $.20 over to church and to save $.20. I was never very good at the savings part, but the tithe part stuck with me. To the best of my knowledge, my parents have tithed on every dime they’ve ever made, plus given offerings over and above for things they felt were special needs. I wish I could say I’ve been that faithful, but that is my goal.
Obedience is also said to produce blessings. If God calls a person to do something too big and hard for them, He will give them the strength and means to do so. If God calls a person to become a missionary in a foreign country, their desire to go will match the call and it will be a time of great joy in their lives – even if the joy is mingled with suffering.
While it hasn’t always been the case in my life, I’ve been working hard at total surrender and obedience over the last several years. With a few exceptions that I remember with sorrow, I can say that I’ve done all I know to do to honor God and follow His lead. I’ve left everything I know, the life I built for myself, in order to go where I believe He sent me. I waited for the man I felt called to marry, rather than jumping in to a lifelong commitment without God’s peace. I’ve been humbled more than I can say, watching dreams and plans float away with the belief that if they were from God, He will be the one to bring them back to me. And He has rewarded me.
This time in my life has been wonderful – peace and stability and joyful answers to prayer. I prayed for a husband, children, and a home of my own. I prayed for the ability to focus on writing and let that be my primary goal. God has granted me my requests in amazing ways, granting promises I waited years to see fulfilled and giving me such peace in the process. But as it seems life is prone to do, the blessings have been mingled with suffering and difficulties and fear. I guess the two go hand in hand.
My long-desired pregnancy, the gift of this child growing in my womb, has demanded more from me physically than I ever imagined. There have been nights when I’m so overwhelmed with the challenge of this daily sickness and difficulty that I just cry, wondering if I’ll ever feel normal and healthy again, wondering if I’ll ever have the energy to make friends here. During my pregnancy, we discovered that my mother and aunt had breast cancer and have been walking through their difficult medical interventions. I’ve found it difficult to pray, to read the Bible, to even think much about God. While I should be grateful and blessed, I’ve struggled with resentment and frustration.
Why? Well, I guess I thought that after waiting so long for the right one to come along, after doing the right thing, I would be blessed with a blissful pregnancy. And I certainly shouldn’t have to watch my sweet, godly, faithful mother suffer the ravages of a terrible disease and its treatment.
I’m an older mom because I didn’t feel God release me to marry until I found Rick. I rested in the promise that He would “renew my strength like the eagles”** and touch me with a special grace for this time in my life. But it seems genetics and age-related pregnancy complications are mine to deal with anyway.
Surely I’ll have a smooth delivery and perfect angel of a baby though, right? I have to admit that my optimism for that is not good. I find myself bracing for the worst.
As I consider my own difficulties, I think of families I know where major health problems cause them to deal with frighteningly large bills, fraudulent insurance companies, and the inability to work consistently (to make money to pay the bills) due to the treatments they must endure to save their lives. They are people who have given their lives to Christian service and been faithful to tithe for many years, who now face mountains of hospital bills on top of the fears for their health. I think of the childhood friend who prayed for years and turned herself inside out to have children, now facing the challenges of nurturing a baby who is unlikely to live outside the womb. Will the child live until birth, if she makes it that long will she live more than a few hours, and what life-saving measures should they take to prolong her life? What kind of a life will she have? Yes, this is a friend who has faithfully served the Lord with her whole heart.
How do we reconcile these challenges with the God who promises blessing and abundance in exchange for obedience and sacrifice? Are we to believe that relief only comes once we meet Jesus face to face?
I wish I had an answer, a neat bow to tie this blog up with, something to set all our minds at ease… I don’t. One thing and one thing only, I know. It is that God is in control and He is still God, in spite of the difficulties we face. We are fearful people, wanting reassurance that we can control our future and reduce our risk of problems. We look to the Bible for formulas that will keep us from trouble. We pay our tithe, like insurance, in the hope that we’ll be spared from financial trouble and suffering. We surrender our lives to God’s control in the hope that He will rescue us from all trouble and give us “exceedingly, abundantly above what we could ask for or think.” And trouble still comes.
I will serve the Lord, no matter the trouble, all the days of my life. I will honor Him and bless His name, even when I don’t understand. And I will struggle against the arrogance that says, “I don’t deserve this trial.” When I truly compare myself to Christ, I find that I am weak, poor, broken, and sinful. I will continue to believe that God is working all things for my good, even if that good is a long, long way off.
Trouble may come, but it will not keep me from worshipping my Savior.
*Psalm 27:13 **Isaiah 40:31