“There are two obstacles to faith, hopeless circumstances and staggering possibilities.” Ray Stedman
There are times when God reaches down into our circumstances, into the open grave that is threatening to claim us and He lifts us right out without even a scratch. A Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego moment. Phew, dodged that furnace. The test results that were all clear; the new job offer that came with a needed raise; the cheque that actually came in the mail. Sometimes I wonder though if those stories that are meant to cheer us are not the very source of our misery, the apple tree in our own private Eden. Only this time it’s not that we are forbidden to eat the fruit. No, the problem comes when that is the only fruit we want to eat; when we believe the lie that this is the only fruit that will satisfy, that we must be taken out of our circumstances, that our situation has to change. I can’t do it God, I can’t take it, I cannot walk through this. But the garden is full of different fruit trees and there are many ways that God rescues us. You see it is the principle that is important. God rescues us. In or out of our circumstances, He is our deliverer. He works all things together for the good of those who love Him. (Romans 8:28) He doesn’t always rescue us out of our circumstances but He will rescue us from ourselves; from our doubt, from our fear, from our unbelief. We can refuse of course. We can stubbornly circle the one tree, waiting for it to produce fruit, waiting for God to take us out of our hopeless circumstances; or we can see that He made another way, planted another tree. First, we have to leave that empty tree and make our way across the garden. It might be challenging; maybe we haven’t crossed over to that side of the garden in a long time and there are stones and weeds and other obstacles in our path. And then when we make it to the tree, its fruit is unfamiliar. If the fruit of that tree is “perseverance” or “endurance”, we might think it ripe or ready when it is not. We might become impatient and try to eat it. If we haven’t waited for the right time, the bitterness of its flesh might make us believe that the fruit is no good, that we are wasting our time, that we have crab apples instead of McIntosh or Golden Delicious. Maybe, we think, we’re not tending the tree correctly; maybe we are not pruning it properly. We may want to go back to the first tree … maybe it will have some fruit we think.
The other day someone asked me about the people over in Africa or other impoverished countries, people who are starving, who may be living in mud huts with barely two grains of rice to rub together and no clean drinking water. This African stereotype provides a generalization for all the very real ills, hardships and heartaches that the world faces daily, things I will probably never understand. Does God love the least of these; does God love all the little children of the world. If I see the world around me and I still believe that God is love, that He sent His Son to die so that whosoever might benefit from the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead, then I have to see my circumstances in the light of a global context. If God loves the rag-clothed children of Africa and does not rescue them out of a life of poverty and physical hardship, then God can love me in my circumstances. He can use me in my circumstances. He can make me what He wants me to be in my circumstances. In fact, God probably wants me in these circumstances to accomplish what I could not learn outside them. The favor of God does not consist of living the “good life” here and now. The favor of God rests in the courage He gives us to train and persevere to run the race that is set before us (1 Cor. 9:26), to take ahold of that for which Christ Jesus took ahold of us. (Phil. 3:12) And that can be done regardless of circumstance. It is the courage to boldly take God at His word, not just to believe but to act as though we have been called to advance His kingdom. To know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is God, that He is who He says He is and that He will do what He has said He will do. And how can we know that, if we never have the strength to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, if we are always rescued out of our circumstances instead of rescued through our circumstances. There are indeed two obstacles to faith. Once we have wrestled with our hopeless circumstances, let us cast them aside, reach up from the grave and take hold of the staggering possibilities. For it is then we find that we have clasped the very hand of God.