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Dude, Where's My Faith?

Picture CC from haily.baily on Flickr
Alright, already! Even the confectionary they gave us on the aeroplane to stop our ears from popping as we landed seemed to pester me to let go of my agenda and anxiety and simply trust in God. I wrote some weeks ago about my reluctant agreement to travel to the US to present some work at a conference. I guess I'd be hard-pressed to stir up sympathy for the fact that I 'had' to go on a paid trip to sunny California... Most would be extremely grateful for the chance, but for me, well, 's complicated. I came up with all sorts of strategies to wriggle out of it, but in the end I glumly reconciled myself to the reality that opting to get on and meet my 'obligation' was the action which, under the circumstances, most demonstrated faith -- in God's protection and provision, in His desire for me to be challenged and transformed, and in His bigger picture which goes way beyond whether or not I'm comfortable or having a 'nice time' (both of which are far more likely, in my mind, to happen in the quiet, unexciting safety of my own home).

And so I went. And, aargh, whaddya know, it was a pretty awesome trip all told. Ridiculously smooth transport connections; miraculously(?) good sleep and lack of jet-lag; time with supportive, fun, and all-round delightful colleagues; positive encounters with other researchers in my field; tasty food and slightly too abundant wine...and then, at the end, a super-fun long weekend in San Francisco with the truly wonderful Mr. W and some dear, much-missed friends who moved back there from England a few years ago. Very, very much to be grateful for. [1]

Mind you, I don't believe that God's provision always (or even usually) looks like this. My faith, as I stepped out and went, was not that He had guaranteed that I would have a pleasant time. It wasn't even that He would bring me back alive and/or well, or that none of the things I was worried about would befall me. It was simply that He loves me, and the people I am blessed to know (as well as those I'll never meet), and that His plans and His desires for me and them are always and immensely better than my own desires for myself. So the best place I can ever be in is the place of obedience to His will -- which, on this occasion, meant letting go of my felt need to control my own routine, and of all sorts of worries about my health, my work, and my ability to cope with tiredness/change of environment/the unknown...
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:25-33)
"O you of little faith" says Jesus to those who fixate on day-to-day material concerns of life without regard for the sovereignty and love of God. It is a reproach which he repeats several times in Matthew's gospel: in 8:23-27 when the disciples panic at the raging storm around their boat; in 14:22-33 when Peter, walking on the water, gets freaked out and starts to sink, his eyes on the wind rather than Jesus; in 16:5-12 when they miss the point of his spiritual analogy about the 'leaven of the Pharisees' and begin fretting about their food supplies, so soon forgetting his miraculous provision in feeding gathered crowds.

One thing which particularly strikes me about each of these accounts is how quickly the disciples seem to forget Jesus' love and power -- which they have seen first-hand repeatedly -- and allow themselves to be gripped all over again by fear or anxiety each time an intimidating or unsettling circumstance arises. Ha, do I do that or what?! Looking back over the years I can identify ample, ample evidence of God at work providing and protecting -- sometimes in externally visible and tangibly understandable ways (things 'turning out good'), sometimes in the midst of heartache and hardship when my circumstances don't improve and yet I distinctly experience His presence and redemptive transforming grace. And yet even with so much historical reason to trust God I'm very very quickly overwhelmed whenever things go 'wrong' or differently to how I planned, or when I am confronted with something I don't want to do. Why, in this case (as acknowledged in that earlier post I mentioned) I'd even done nigh-on the exact same trip once already, with much to be grateful for the first time round -- and still the prospect filled me with immense reluctance and unease! Ridiculous. O me of little faith indeed. Oh well, I guess I will just have to add this latest notable experience of grace to the growing pile of 'reasons to be faith-full', and persist in that much-repeated prayer: "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" (cf Mark 9:24)

[1] Oh, and I walked! Boy, did I walk. So, I've not talked about it all that much on here but 3 years ago I gave myself a pretty vicious running injury which has caused me not inconsiderable mobility problems and for which I couldn't seem to get the right medical advice or help. A bit traumatic at points but I've really been able to see God's hand at work sustaining me and transforming it into an opportunity for character growth and renewed perspective. A few months ago things began to turn a corner and, with the help of a brilliant NHS physiotherapist, it would seem I'm finally back in the walking game. Our holiday was the perfect demonstration of the massive progress made -- the streets and hills of San Francisco were no match for me...and when we got completely lost in Golden Gate Park (adding several miles onto our intended route) I could honestly say by the time we made it back to the car that both my feet hurt equally... :-)