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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The God of All Provision

I don't mean to sound like the proverbial parrot, but we're living in difficult times. Many people I know are without work, and the world is in a massive recession.

Fortunately, I don't think God is in a recession. And that's good news because God is the author of all provision, and as I've looked to Him for wisdom and direction in these years, I've been blessed financially. Despite not being able to work many days.

I think it was the prophet John Paul Jackson who said that in times of economic hardship, the first place that Christians stop giving is to the church- or to God, basically. Maybe we figure that God will forgive us if we don't give away our treasure, time and talents to those in need. Surely, He has grace upon us when illness besets us and there's no bacon to be brought home. He understands when we're a single parent with three kids to support and knows there's nothing leftover after the rent, food and cell phone have all been accounted for. He doesn't condemn us for not throwing five dollars into the Salvation Army bucket after we've been laid off from our jobs. He might even agree that the shabby guy on the corner with the "Hungry, Please Help" sign should get a job instead of spending his donations on his drinking habit.

Our justifications often make good, practical sense. And I don't think God snatches our belongings from us when fear compels us to tighten our grip on the meager few dollars that remain in our wallets. Neither does he scold us for turning a blind eye to the man with a sign or to the widow with a baby, because, after all, He knows we're human.

At the same time, Jesus said that it's more blessed to give than receive, and there's also this spiritual principle that operates in the world, called sowing and reaping; meaning, whenever you sow a blessing into another person's life, you reap a reward from that. Sometimes, it's not a financial award, or in the time or place that you expect- but I think it's fair to say that when we extend a hand to others, God takes our other hand and pulls us up to a higher place.

God also likes it when we trust Him. In the Bible, stories abound of how God provided for the people whenever they looked to Him in expectant faith and hope, believing their needs would be met.

That's not an easy thing to do when the telephone company is threatening to cut off your service and you're once again two months short on the rent-for the tenth month in a row.

Believe me, I know. When Lyme disease snatched my life out from under me in 2004, and I lost my job, savings and home- all within a year- it shook my trust and belief in a loving God who supposedly meets the needs of His people. But God didn't allow my faith to totally crumble, and intuitively, I sensed that if I wanted to survive the days to come, I had to demonstrate my faith in Him to provide, by doing what was hard for me- giving to others out of my lack.

I'm not the most generous person I know, and I've never been without food or a place to live, but for many years beginning in 2004, I didn't know how I would make it. I was sick, disabled, and spending many thousands of dollars to try to fix my ailing body. In 2006, I moved to Costa Rica because I could no longer afford life in the United States, and for several years, I survived mostly on Disability income. I can't say I trusted God with singing praises during those years, but I guess I trusted Him enough to tithe, believing that one day, it would pay off.

And indeed, it has. To this day, I still spend thousands of dollars a year on medical expenses, but I have a home again in the US. I make a full-time income working part-time, and while I still drive an old Honda and have little money in savings, I'm slowly digging my way out of the hole. Or rather, God is digging me out of it.

While God is good and generous and merciful, I'm learning that provision isn't automatic, and neither does it fall upon us like fairy dust most of the time. The spiritual principle of sowing and reaping factors into what we receive in this world, as does our trust in God.

But there's even more to it than that- obedience.

These days, the church in America is anemic because amidst an atmosphere of fear, people are holding on tightly to what they have, instead of asking God where and how He wants them to give. Others are falling prey to an attitude of entitlement, which manifests itself in the belief that if they just trust God, a dream job or bag full of money will fall into their laps. I condemn nobody, as we all have our blind spots, but receiving from God- whether for financial provision, or our health or relationship needs- usually depends upon our obedience to Him, as much as our trust in Him. Our blessings aren't earned, and God loves to generously give to His people, but abiding in Him sets in motion the spiritual principles that enable us to receive all that He has for us.

One manner of abiding is in our giving to others- our time, financial resources, and energy, and in doing the work He's called us to do-faithfully. But it's God who must show us how we're meant to spend our days, as well as when to give, how and to whom. Giving out of compulsion or obligation doesn't earn us brownie points with God (we already have all the favor in the world, anyway, because of Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the Cross) but giving whenever He prompts us to, positions us to receive a downpour of blessing from Heaven.

During the years that my wallet was thin and my body a mess, I wrote books. I wrote while in agonizing pain, and I wrote while tired, brain-fogged and depressed. It was never easy. It's still not easy. And while I don't think God expected me to work full-time, taking on a job that would have been physically, mentally and emotionally impossible- He did expect me to use what remained of my body, brain and talents, to make a way for myself. It wasn't easy, but it was possible. Only God knows what's true in the end, but I believe that because my intent was to honor God and to work as far as I was able, He blessed me.

Fear tells us to be practical in times of struggle. To hoard, save and turn our backs on the needs of others. It justifies, rationalizes, and tells us that we shouldn't give, because we're too sick, needy, depressed, busy or broke...and that guy on the corner with a sign will spend our donation on drugs, anyway. But God's nature is to give, and His desire is that we become like Him.

Whenever we have poverty of mind, spirit or body, our desire to give wanes and withers. It's only natural. Yet God lives above the plane of poverty, in the realm of the supernatural and the impossible. And if He abides in us, He works in us a way to give, when we feel as though we have and are nothing- but are willing to be used by Him. In times of poverty, He may only ask that we drop a dime into the Army bucket. Or He may ask us, according to our faith, to sell all that we have, in order that we may receive more. The important thing is that we rejoice in our giving, knowing that it will bring more abundant blessings down the road.

I'll finish this post with a story. What I'm about to tell you represents just one of many financial miracles that God has worked in my life during this season of extraordinary hardship. I share it with you to encourage you, that you might know how powerfully God can work in the life of a person who is willing to let go of what they have, in order to receive more.

Some years ago, one of my close friends in Costa Rica owed a $1,000 debt on her home, which she owned and used as a base for her catering business. The bank told her that they would take her home away from her unless she paid the debt within three days. Sobbing, she called me on the phone, and asked if I could help. At that time, I didn't have a lot of money, and wasn't sure I could afford to pay the debt for her. But because I loved her, I sent her the money, with little more than a mustard seed of faith that God would make up for the debt. My friend got on a bus in San Jose
and as she was headed home, three armed robbers boarded the bus and proceeded to rob EVERY SINGLE PERSON ON THE BUS EXCEPT FOR HER. In San Jose, people seldom walk around with more than a few dollars in their pockets, partly because they don't have much, and partly because robberies and muggings are common. So the fact that my friend was probably carrying more money than anyone else on that bus, and yet was the only one who didn't get robbed- is a testament to God's provision in one desperate woman's life. What's more, the following week I won a free month of rent- which, at the time, happened to be $1,040 per month. So guess what? God gave back to me what I had given to my friend (and then some!) through that lottery win.

If you are struggling- be encouraged! God's provision isn't contingent upon you giving away all that you have, but if you obey Him, as a manifestation of trust in His love and generosity, I believe you will be abundantly blessed, in ways that go beyond financial provision. Because the greatest reward of giving, perhaps, is the joy in seeing another being provided for, and in knowing that God chose you, above all others, to bring a blessing into that person's life.