“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace; behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.” ~William Cowper, God Works in Mysterious Ways
I just happened to be sitting in church, two weeks ago Sunday, when the pastor read one of the most famous (and abused) passages of Scripture in all of the Bible: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).” This is a Scripture I have recalled, prayed and shared more times than I can count. It has been a sure and trusted anchor, a faithful reminder that there is limitless power available to me in and through Jesus Christ. (Amen!)
But surprisingly, I have never particularly noticed the verses that precede it, and have never been fixated with any real interest on the introduction of this great spiritual truth. A little background - the Apostle Paul wrote the book of Philippians while imprisoned in Rome to the church at Philippi, in part to thank them for the resources they gave to support his ministry. It’s a beautiful manifesto on joy in suffering and in Philippians 4:10-13, Paul writes these words:
“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
For years, I’ve read this passage, and for years, I’ve missed the seven small words that have seemingly been the resounding chorus of my heart these past weeks and months:
”I know how to be brought low.”
If you read my last post, you know we recently stepped out on faith and followed God’s call to homeschool. So many people have asked us either curiously or excitedly how it’s going. The truth is there are two parts to this journey. The day-to-day business of homeschooling is one thing — an exercise in patience, humility and selflessness that repeats every 24 hours — but the financial sacrifices we’ve made to be able to homeschool are another beast altogether. Even the Biblical call for faith the size of a mustard seed at times has felt like an impossible standard when funds are low.
I stopped working, and suddenly, we’ve found ourselves in a season of scarcity. Suddenly, there are new and incredibly tempting opportunities to complain about seemingly everything. Suddenly, we are being brought low.
I feel the need to pause here and offer a brief disclaimer. This blog is a space where I peel back the curtain and share some of the vulnerable parts of our lives. I have written about things like miscarriage, infertility, post partum depression, the woes of pregnancy and now finances. These are all taboo in their own right. These are topics reserved for closed-door conversations … things you’re never ever supposed to talk and struggles you’re never supposed to reveal publicly. I get it.
And while I appreciate my friendships and the genuine concerns of those around me for my welfare, I want to assure you in no uncertain terms that God is taking care of us and fulfilling His promise to supply our needs. We are in His hands, and quite frankly, there’s nowhere I’d rather be. He has been beyond faithful and I could write a whole book about his nearness and goodness in just this season. My husband has an amazing job with a great salary that is paying all our bills and I’m so thankful for how he works day-in and day-out to provide for us.
So please hear me when I say: we are okay. We are okay. We are okay.
But we are also in lean years. I stopped working to invest my full energy into raising and homeschooling our children because this is where we believe God is calling me personally for such a time as this.
Which is why Paul’s words, God’s words, humble me. I thought I knew the secret to contentment, but I find myself on unfamiliar battleground, realizing only now that I know how to abound far more than I have ever known how to be brought low. I thrive best in seasons of surplus, or so I thought. I have prayed the Lord’s prayer at least a million times and yet I have never ACTUALLY desired to be in a position where I receive “daily bread,” unless we’re talking about Biblical truth, not dollars and cents, and certainly not food. (Did anyone else know that’s what we’ve been praying all this time??!) I want to see God provide surplus in the name of Jesus, not just enough for what I need today.
I’m reminded of the children of Israel in the wilderness, God’s chosen people who He led out of slavery in Egypt with a mighty hand. When they got into the desert, they complained to Moses they didn’t have food to eat. This was not untrue, but it was the way they complained that incensed a Holy God. Their complaining assumed that the same God who cared about their freedom cared nothing about their hunger.
In Exodus 16:3, the whole community grumbles against Moses and Aaron saying:
“If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
Having married into a family with a very strong African background, I tend to think this had something to do with the fact that the Israelites had tasted the splendor of God’s creation in the form of African food. They were actually recalling previous meals, that’s how hungry they were.
But it was their need, their hunger, in fact, that led them to reject the goodness of God and assault His character. They incorrectly assumed that because God had not produced food in the way He had previously, in the quantity He had previously, in the prepared style they had previously, that God was not good. Indeed, because He had not produced food at all, He could not be good.
In actuality, it was God’s goodness that heard their cries in slavery. It was God’s goodness that raised up a leader to rescue them from their bondage. It was God’s goodness that led them through the Red Sea and triumphed over Pharaoh and his army. The Israelites didn’t even have to lift a finger, they only had to walk into their victory.
Except who wants to walk into a desert? Suddenly they didn’t feel so victorious wandering in the wilderness with no food. And so they questioned God’s goodness.
Let me just pause here and ask — who are you when God leads you into the wilderness? Who are you when like Paul, you’re in need or hungry or brought low? How do you respond when God beckons you to follow Him into the desert place? When the resources get low and you’re unable to live the lifestyle you’re used to? Who are you when you feel the tug to pursue a different job with a smaller salary so you can be more present for your family, or when you’re a mother and He calls you out of the workplace and into the home? Who are you when there are no figs on the vine?
Do you fall into depression? Do you grumble and complain about your circumstances like the Israelites? Do you trust in your own abilities and resort to working yourself to death to try and make ends meet? Do you question God’s goodness? His purpose for your life? His wisdom?
We know from Scripture that God had a purpose for taking the Israelites into the desert. He knew that if they went through Philistine country they would turn back for fear of the giants. They didn’t have the faith yet to face giants. So He took them to the boot camp of the wilderness where He would prove His love for them to them by providing for them. He would use the same mighty hand that killed the Egyptian army and parted the Red Sea to lovingly feed them manna from heaven day by day. He would go before and behind them so they would not fear.
The wilderness is where they would learn to trust.
But they failed the test miserably. They failed to see God’s provision as enough … to see God Himself as enough. In addition to the manna God provided, they requested meat. In addition to God’s presence, they sought the comfort of tangible idols they could see and touch. They rejected both His presence and His provision as good. They rejected His grace as sufficient. Instead of being grateful, they grumbled, failing to believe what God had already told them - that He would lead them into the Promised Land.
I often look at the Israelites and judge them for their unbelief while ignoring my own. Has not God given me the same promise of a heavenly Promised Land? Am I not walking through this wilderness below? And yet His call to His people echoes through the portals of time:
“Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God” Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:27-31
This is why complaining about our lot in life is so egregious: because God is in control. This is why grumbling about our circumstances is so sinful: because we deny God’s goodness based on what we have determined we need. This is why waiting on the Lord is such a necessary spiritual discipline: because He has promised that those who wait on Him shall renew their strength.
I can’t say that I am loving the reflection of my character I see in the mirror every day as I trust God in this season and wait on Him. I am often anxious about the numbers adding up. Far too often I get stressed when the bank account gets low or a new bill comes out of nowhere, or the car starts making a funny noise.
The truth is this: for the believer, seasons of scarcity and abundance in this world are the same in Christ. With our eternal salvation secure and through the lens of God’s past, present and future grace, we can acknowledge our limited resources and humbly accept whatever God provides for us, knowing that He, in His wisdom, will always give us enough because He is infinitely good.
This does not mean, however, that we get to determine what “enough” is. Returning to Philippians 4:12-13, we see that Paul writes:
“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Paul says he has learned the secret of facing not only plenty and abundance but also hunger and need. Paul, the great church planter of the New Testament and an undeniable servant of God, experienced hunger and need??! Yes, Paul had been through the wilderness and learned the lessons it came to teach. He had mastered the discipline of accepting from God’s hand as good and sufficient whatever He provided.
As modern-day Christians, we too will experience what we perceive to be the shortage of resources. Some days you might be eating canned tuna for dinner instead of organic chicken. Some days your check might not cover all the bills. Some days you might be broke and broken (or am I just preaching to myself?) But Paul says this: Christ gives you the faith you need to face hardship and the self control you need to face abundance. Though your job, marital status, bank account, 401k, housing and friendships may change, He is your constant. Your expectation is from Him and Him alone.
In Christ, you can have the appropriate response to your every circumstance, and that response, as we see throughout Philippians is both peace and joy. Philippians 4:4-7 says:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
I am slowly learning this peace and joy in these lean years and experiencing God’s provision in new ways through an increased awareness of my own neediness. And you know what I’ve found?
He is faithful. Y’all, this is the antidote to so many of my life’s challenges and fears,. This is probably the thesis of every blog post I will ever write. He is faithful. And so I don’t have to worry. I can have peace and joy even when my circumstances might justify angst. I can eat my daily bread with joy and trust that God will provide again tomorrow.
When what He has provided does not seem like enough, faith is teaching me to trust in His goodness, in His purpose and in His promises. And you know what? It is in this season, when what I have is so little to offer in the first place, when I am bringing my mere two small and five barley loaves like the boy who offered Jesus his lunch, or my few drops of oil like the widow who found favor in the eyes of Elisha (2 Kings 4:1-7) and yes, when I humbly offer God my very last two mites like the widow in faith (Luke 21:1-4), that God shows up and multiplies my resources into more than I could ever imagine.
For those of you trusting God in seasons of scarcity and seeking His face even when the struggle is all the way real, be encouraged. It is those who are poor in spirit that receive the kingdom of God (Matthew 5:3). It is those who hunger and thirst for righteousness that will be filled (Matthew 5:6). Yes, when God brings you low, take comfort in the fact that it is the meek who will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).
“Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.” Psalm 27:14