I’ve found some new thinking habits that help me stay out of the “unequal circumstances” maze.
1. Keep a sense of perspective. I remind myself of the many generations it often takes for God to fulfill his promises, and that He is concerned with groups as much as or more than individuals. I wrote more about this a few years ago in Salt. Also, the people who make it into the bible stories are the exceptions, not the rule. Their interactions with God are so out of the ordinary that they are worth recording for posterity.
2. Focus on the New Testament. The promises God makes in the old testament are attractive because they often include what I call “the good stuff”– family, wealth, health, and so on. But they are mostly historically particular, and tied to specific people, times, and places. It is tricky to treat them as eternally and universally applicable. I must not use them as guidelines for what to expect in my own life or the lives of those around me.
3. Practice valuing what the New Testament, especially the recorded words and acts of Jesus, values. This is harder than it sounds. There are few, if any, promises in there about getting awesome spouses, healthy children, good jobs, and excellent deals on personal property. In fact, the contrary: persecution, divided families, and giving all we have to the poor are some things I remember reading more than once. Yet what fills my mind most these days are thoughts of building my family, buying a house, and fulfillment at work. Default attitude, I value the usual ideas of “the good stuff” more than the kingdom of God.
4. Look everywhere for, and testify to, signs of Gods care according to the values and promises of the New Testament. What do Jesus and his early followers describe as signs of God’s grace and care? I’ve got no plans to do a detailed topical survey here, but the following come to mind:
The grace of salvation. Salvation, as a term, comes with a lot of baggage. And yet, the ongoing rescue and restoration of human beings to God is the most important evidence of His care.
The promise of nearness and attention. Jesus promised that he and his father would be with us always. Often, though not always, we can feel that presence and attention, especially in the community of believers. This is evidence of care, though by itself it cannot sustain me– sometimes my awareness of that presence fades or disappears altogether.
True community. Jesus founded and promised to nurture a community of people eager to serve God together in a new way, and that community is the primary way that God reveals love and care. I am a strand in a net of shared hope and love that extends backwards and forwards in time and around the world. Wherever words of encouragement and deeds that bring
The Holy Spirit. The renewing and lifegiving force that shapes my character, helps me to resist temptation, brings wisdom in decision making and interpreting situations, guides my actions, and allows me to impact others with hope and healing. This is a subjective sign as well, and not always detectable, and yet I can claim that any choice I make to do good against my strong desires is evidence of God’s care for me.
Miracles. Here defined as supernatural events in which the chemical or physical nature of something is definitively and measurably changed for the sake of a person or group of people. Like, say, changing water into wine. A headache going away wouldn’t count. There aren’t many of these anymore, but I feel safe claiming them as evidence of God’s care.
So instead of testifying to new jobs and washing machines, we testify to the times people have reached out with kindness in the name of Jesus. We testify to the still small voice that prompted us toward one moral choice instead of another. We offer thanks for the faith that entwines our lives apart from our circumstances, and for the gentle attention of a father who, though he does not always create or intervene as we would like, always sustains our souls and promises to bring them safely through. We give thanks because no moment is a wasted moment, and we live with the knowledge that even the most painful of them contains the promise of redemption and the opportunity to love.