Earlier I posted about how I forgot to get an exit visa for our
imminent trip to the US. I made
short order of filling out the paperwork; and, by all accounts,
everything went very smoothly. Signatures were given; documents were
presented; and the government affairs department processed my
application more quickly than I had seen before. (I was told that I
would have our visas in two days, and we did!)
I can still remember vividly the state I was in the night before work
that week. I had been characteristically positive about the whole thing:
“It’ll be alright.” “It’s never taken more than five days.” “Good thing
we remembered now.” I had to be. If I wasn’t, I’d drag Andi down, too.
But that night, as I laid in bed, a feeling of helplessness came over
me. I knew that it had been my mistake… my carelessness that had put us
in this situation. What if we didn’t get our visas in time? What if Eid
came before the process was complete and the week of celebration became
an unstoppable countdown to financial and personal loss?
The worst part was that I was stuck in sleepless worry with nothing I
could really do, physically, to improve the situation. The government
affairs office wouldn’t be open until the morning. Still I laid awake.
(Some scheduling information: we were leaving the week after Eid; so if
we didn’t have our visas by Eid, we would be on campus, as planned, but
stuck in the knowledge that we could do nothing to get our visas before
we were supposed to leave.)
So I prayed. I talked with my father about the worry I felt. About the
shame of being careless. About the possibility of letting Andi down. Of
letting our families down. Of being irresponsible with the money that he
has given us. (Flights to the US aren’t cheap from here, after all.)
I’ve been a student of scripture for a long time: I know that our father
cares for us, and that he guides us in his path for our lives. I knew
that my faith, however mundane the circumstances, was faltering. I was
putting my trust in myself, not in him; and I was letting myself down.
Like I said: everything went pretty well, starting the next morning; I
felt a little better when the government affairs representative assured
me that we would have our visas before Eid; I felt a little better when
his prediction left us with two days of leeway; but I didn’t really calm
down until I had the paper in my hand.
Of course, now I’m on the other end of the experience, and I can talk
about faith in God with the calm demeanor of someone who isn’t being
confronted by it; but maybe I can learn something now, through prayer
and study, that will give me peace when I’m in a position to fail myself
All things work together for good
My mind first turns to Romans
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to
those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
My familiarity with scripture is never what I want it to be, so I
stumbled around a bit until I found Philippians
1, where Paul gives
a more explicit example of what a life lived by faith looks like.
Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned
out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment
in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole
praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren,
trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more
courage to speak the word of God without fear. Some, to be sure, are
preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good
will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for
the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish
ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress
in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in
pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.
Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my
deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of
Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I
will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness,
Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by
life or by death.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live
on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not
know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions,
having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much
better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your
sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with
you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud
confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you
Here is Paul, imprisoned for his teaching; but he knows (and has
evidence after-the-fact) that God is using his imprisonment for good. I
think, in particular, about the praetorian
guard; how, if Paul’s
ministry had been simpler, playing out as I would have chosen for
myself, it wouldn’t have touched these people.
There are many examples of men walking in faith throughout history; and
nowhere are they chronicled more compellingly than they are in Hebrews
11. Continuing on in
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding
us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so
easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is
set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of
faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising
the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
James would point out (as he does in James
2) that the faith we see
here doesn’t exist in isolation, but is evidenced in works. Faith, if it
exists, must affect our actions. Otherwise, it’s just a lie we tell
What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has
no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without
clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go
in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what
is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it
has no works, is dead, being by itself.
But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me
your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my
works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also
believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish
fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our
father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the
altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result
of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled
which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS
RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a
man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way,
was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received
the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body
without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
This doesn’t paint me in the best light, of course: but I knew that. I
claimed faith in God–even with the knowledge that anything that could
happen to me would be within his plan for my life–but when that faith
was tested, my actions fell short. My faith was in word only. Maybe
that’s why I got my paperwork in the end: not because I so desperately
needed to travel to the US; but because, were I to miss out, my reaction
would be a hindrance to those around me, rather than a witness. Again, I
think of Paul, imprisoned, sharing his faith with his captors.
Forgiveness, and second chances, are welcome respite.
Great is thy faithfulness
All of this has been about me though, and that’s missing the point. It’s
not about my faith, or the strength of my faith, or some arbitrary,
disconnect ability that I have to put faith in things. The power of my
faith is not my own, but is God’s. I could choose to put my faith in
myself; in political leaders; in charismatic teachers; but the value of
that faith is limited to the faithfulness of the one you trust. Compared
to God, we all fall short. That’s why it’s so amazing and awesome that
we have him.
Your lovingkindness, O LORD, extends to the heavens,
Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
And, of course, there’s always the classic twenty-third
But, in the end, the ultimate expression of appreciation for God’s
faithfulness, in my mind, comes in Lamentations
3. I didn’t know
that, but Wikipedia tells me that it served as the inspiration for the
Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
there is no shadow of turning with thee;
thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
as thou hast been thou forever will be.
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon and stars in their courses above
join with all nature in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
all I have needed thy hand hath provided;
great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
I’ve been staying away from the topic of salvation through faith because
it’s such a large topic on its own; but we shouldn’t forget to remember
that the ultimate expression of God’s faithfulness points back to the
promise that he made so long ago: to fix us and our world; to conquer
death; to cleanse us of our sins (even the sin of faltering in our
faith); even so far as to sacrifice his son, the Christ.
Sometimes my faith is weak, but your faithfulness is so great!