I am not, by nature, someone who does well in situations where I have to go blind into unknown territory. I am basically a methodical and analytical person, and before making decisions I like to know all the options, and all the ramifications of those options. I don’t like to make mistakes, and prefer to move slowly and cautiously, seeing far ahead before taking even the first step. Inevitably, God has allowed me to be in situations where I can only see one small step in front of me, and I must choose either to make that step, not really knowing where it will take me, or remain static.
The first time I remember experiencing this was when friends of mine had lost a baby to SIDS, and another couple we knew had a baby who had a congenital malformation of the liver, and would only live, painfully, for two or three years. I was terrified for my own babies, and essentially shook my fist in God’s face and challenged Him: “You can do what you like with me; I have already lived – but don’t You touch my children!” It took several years of struggling with Him before I could come to the place where I could genuinely offer Him even the lives of my children if He asked that of me, because I trusted Him. He kept me there, not growing, until I realized I must trust Him, and then we moved on together toward the next thing in my life which He wanted me to relinquish in the ongoing process of becoming more like His Son.
Time after time He would give me the choice: either stay where I was spiritually, or trust Him and take the step in front of me into the unknown. I would argue with Him, and cling hard to my self-will, and refuse to trust, and find that He persisted in setting things up so that I would be forced to make a decision. Sometimes I could even see His wry sense of humor in the situation, as I would try to twist and turn to get out of it – only to find he had foreseen all my maneuvering, and blocked me. Eventually, because I loved Him, I would let go and take the next step of faith, and find every time that He had not betrayed me. It wasn’t that I never had problems; sometimes to take that leap of faith took me straight into some situation where there was pain and suffering. Yet, after the Lord brought me through it, as He inevitably did, I could always look back and see that I had come out stronger or wiser, or more deeply trusting Him.
I began to see that there were reasons for His taking me one step at a time. Most importantly, it was because He saw that I needed to learn to trust Him if I was going to grow in Him. My life had given me very few people on whom I could lean. I t had been necessary to learn to make decisions and go where I was uncomfortable, just in order to survive. I trusted my own judgment enough to believe I knew when to draw back. I had taught myself to be cautious, and was comfortable knowing my limitations. I felt in control of my life, and was reluctant to trust others who might not be as trustworthy. When God asked me to let go of that control and trust Him, it was hard to let go and put my faith in someone else, even God.
Eventually I came to see Him a little like a physical trainer. Our trust in Him is the muscle which needs to be developed. He starts us out by exercising the muscle gently, a little problem here, another problem there, until the muscle of our trust is beginning to be strengthened. He trains our faith; gives us bigger and harder burdens to deal with, heavier and heavier weights to lift. As we struggle through each one in His strength, we eventually realize that He never puts more on us than we are able to bear, and we grow stronger and stronger. As time goes on we are capable of more and more trust as the burdens get progressively heavier and more serious. Then, if something disastrous happens, we have the capacity to put our full trust in Him. He wants us to trust Him; He wants us to have such a belief in His love for us that we are willing to follow Him anywhere, even into the valley of death.
Sometimes if we saw too far into the future we would be too afraid to let go. Someone has said faith is like swinging out over an abyss, and letting go – fully trusting that God will be there on the other side to catch us. To reach that point – to be able to let go in the face of real danger – is sometimes just too scary for our human minds. By taking us one step at a time, He makes it easier for us to make the decision to move. We are led through small “training” exercises, building our confidence in Him. Eventually it becomes reasonable to let go. In the process of our training, He will increase the weight when He feels we are ready; push us a little past our comfort zone toward the next level.
By taking us one step at a time, He is demonstrating His fatherly love for us, and so the next time, we will trust that He will be there with us at the next obstacle, even if the water is deeper, the mountain higher. Sometimes the enemy will insinuate himself into our lives, and try to throw us off balance; bring some catastrophic thing into our lives. This is where we draw on the faith which we have already developed and trust that God is able to bring good out of every situation. He never abandons us; He is always with us, and nothing is able to snatch us out of His hand. Romans 8:35-39 tells us this. When we trust in Him we find that even in the depths of pain and suffering, we can find peace and even joy. All along the path He walks with us; empowering us when we need it, comforting us when the briars scratch, and picking us up when we stumble.
Right now I have a number of friends who are suffering with very serious illness; they are in constant pain, and having to undergo treatment which makes them even sicker. It is devastating to their bodies, and almost impossible to watch for their families and friends. Yet, they look to the future without fear, even if it should mean that they don’t survive. They know the ultimate test of our faith is death, and they are not afraid. They have learned by experience that even in this situation, God is with them, holding their hands, and that their trust in Him will not be betrayed. Job said, so many thousands of years ago, “Yea, though He slay me, still will I trust in Him!”
How kind is our God, Who knows all our limitations and human frailties, to teach us to trust Him so that in all things we eventually realize that nothing He does, nothing He allows, is outside His love. It may be terribly frightening, especially if it is our children or other loved ones who are suffering, or who may even die – and we find ourselves powerless to change things. It is in situations like this that we have to cling hard to our faith that God is love; knowing that our believing loved ones will be with Him in heaven, and it is only we who will be left with the pain and sorrow. It is then we need to choose to believe that nothing, not even death, is too hard when we have Him with us, bearing us up and guiding our every step. It is easy to be a Christian when nothing is being asked of our faith; it is more difficult when we have something to lose. We either trust Him, or we don’t. It is as simple as that. We just have to take it one step at a time.