A few years ago someone gave me a copy of a movie about Corrie ten Boom’s life and ministry under Nazi occupation. I decided to check it out, but half-way through, I had to shut it off. It’s a little embarrassing, but I finally realized that I couldn’t take it. It was stressing me out. And I thought, why would I take a perfectly good couple hours and spend it stressed about Nazis? But the experience bothered me for a few days. Why had I been so anxious during that movie? It was kind of embarrassing, actually. For today’s post I wanted to share what the Lord so graciously taught me through that situation, about worry over the future.
So, why was the experience of the movie so stressful? Because in viewing the movie, I was contemplating the experience of living under Nazi occupation without actually experiencing it. It seems counter-intuitive to talk this way—wouldn’t living through the experience be more stressful than just watching it on a screen? Well, of course, except for one reality which changes everything. Followers of Jesus do not walk through their days alone. We walk through our days with God. His presence, in us, with us, fills our days. He fills our thoughts. He strengthens our hearts. And who is He, as it pertains to this particular need of ours? He is the great ocean of calm. He is the most peaceful, secure, confident being in existence. And he generously shares his peaceful calm with all one who draw near to him. So, when a child of God walks through stressful times, they do it with Him, and they have the opportunity, at every moment, to receive his peace and strength while they do so.
However, when we think ourselves into the future, and walk through situations in our thoughts that we’re not actually experiencing yet, we don’t find the same peace. That’s what a lot of our worry is over, right? It’s contemplating the future, and experiencing how hard we think it will be then. (What if that horrible thing happens? That will be hard! How will I manage?) And so, in our minds, we’re living through stressful things, and feeling all the stress—but here’s the key—when we do that, we’re experiencing it without God, or at least, our brains are imagining what it would be like to experience it without God.
Why should this be the case? Because God lives in our present, and he strengthens us to thrive in the actual situation we’re living through, at any given moment. But when we contemplate the future, we might feel some of what it feels like to go through those things, but we’re not actually going through it. That day in my basement, I wasn’t living under Nazi occupation. I was just watching a story about people who did, and thinking about what it would be like. God did not give me the grace to live through that stressful situation, because I wasn’t living through it. If I had paid attention to the story, it would have been pretty clear to me that God did in fact give Corrie ten Boom the strength to live through that exact situation. But why should he give that to me, a guy sitting at home on a quiet day? Has God ever promised to give me strength for situations I’m not facing? Of course not.
What does he give us the grace to handle? The day at hand. His presence is with us, always, to strengthen us to do that actual thing we have to do, today. And as soon as you say it like that, you realize that this is exactly the way Jesus spoke: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” In other words, today is the thing God takes care of. Whatever I have to do today, God will strengthen me to do it. So I can wake up, seek God for strength, and then depend on him moment by moment, for whatever the day brings. Many days are made up of repetitive, mundane things. God gives us the grace to handle the thousands of those days we live through, one day at a time. Some days have extraordinary, difficult things. When those things come, and that day is today, God is there with us, in the moment, giving us exactly what we need to live and serve him despite it, in it, and through it.
So…if you know the Bible, just scan your mind back and forth through it, and think about all those stories of people who went through crazy things. Some of them are our favorite stories. And you can tell how much we love them by how much we talk about them. Think about how many sermons have been preached on David and Goliath. But have you ever noticed, in every “What’s your Goliath?” sermon, and every “What’s your Jericho?” sermon, it’s always assumed that you’re not actually facing an exceptionally huge man who’s trying to kill you, or a walled city of hostile warriors who want to exterminate your people. Of course not. God wouldn’t let people he loves go through situations that hard, would he? Think about it. Don’t we tend to make a lot of the stories in the Bible allegories for the things we expect to face? And of course, it’s true: God can be with me in my trials, because he was with them in theirs. But what about if we actually face something that’s more…biblical in nature? The people in the Bible did, after all. Just to take a representative sampling, here are some of the things people in the Bible went through:
- Surviving a civilization-ending flood in a home-made boat
- Running into the desert alone, fleeing a brother bent on murder
- Being sold into slavery by jealous brothers
- Being thrown into prison for refusing the boss’ wife
- Forty years of futile wandering in a desert
- That giant, in a valley, with armor and a sword
- Running from a murderous king, to sleep in a cave
- Running from a murderous queen, to sleep in a cave
- Invasion by hostile, cruel armies
- Spending months in a city under siege
- Being thrown into a cesspool pit for telling the king God’s truth.
- Being abducted and taken far away from home by an invading army.
- Being thrown into a furnace for not bowing down to a statue.
- Bring thrown into a pit with hungry lions.
- Living life in exile, in a strange, hostile country.
Now, you can probably name the main characters in all those stories. And what else do you know about them? In every one of them—God was there. He was there speaking, protecting, guiding, working. The people in those stories saw great things. They knew God. He was close to them. They did great things. They earned mention in, say, the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Their life was hard, full of twists and turns and upheavals. They often probably felt very exposed to things too big for them to handle. And God let it all happen to them. But he was there the whole time. He was with them. And that changed everything.
He’s there in the stories, for us, because it’s his word. That’s why we love reading them. We read those words and God is there, with us, speaking to us. And often he applies those stories to our situations, which are very much not like those stories. But what if our lives, one day, start to look more like the actual stories in the Bible? What if we’re called to live through things as intense as the people in the Bible? Doesn’t the question answer itself? He was with them, not in the metaphorical fire, but in the real fire. He was with them, not when they felt like they were in exile, but when they were actually in exile. He helped them face, not a giant of a problem, but a real huge man.
And he has not changed. Should we ever be called on to live through the things the people in the Bible lived through, God will be with us. And that will change everything.