One of the gratifying things about my coming to Jackson Heights has been the conversations with the Christians here who cared enough to read up on what I’ve written before and ask me questions about it. These haven’t been looking to prove a point; they’ve been looking to understand, and people like that are a joy to teach!
One such question came from Landon Loveall (side note: if you have a suggestion for a blog post but don’t want your name associated with it, I’m open to leaving the inquirer anonymous), who, as a financial planner, was naturally very interested in my series on Biblical finance. The most recent post in the series (http://hisexcellentword.blogspot.com/2017/07/money-as-protection-biblical-finance-5.html) addressed one of the subtler financial temptations Christians can face: the temptation to become so adept at saving money that we start trusting the money rather than God to protect us. Landon wanted to know, quite reasonably, what the difference is between financial prudence on the one hand and idolatrous confidence in wealth on the other. How do I know when I’ve stopped trusting God and started trusting my savings?
I think the important thing to recognize here is that just as saving for the future isn’t necessarily godly, loudly relying on God isn’t necessarily godly either. Consider, for instance, the Christians Paul describes in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12. Perhaps because they expected the imminent return of the Lord, these Christians quit working. Instead, they relied on handouts from their more industrious brethren to survive. That’s certainly an attitude of trusting that God will provide (through the generosity of other Christians), but it’s also an attitude that Paul condemns. He tells the Thessalonians to stop feeding those who could work but won’t, and to throw them out of the church if they persist in idleness.
In reality, if we truly trust God, we will trust Him in everything. That means not only trusting that He will take care of us no matter what, but also trusting that His word is wise and good, and that we will benefit if we follow it. Isn’t that how we ordinarily treat those whom we trust? If I tell you that I trust your wisdom, but I never actually take your advice in anything, my life says something different than my lips do.
If we trust God’s wisdom, we will listen to 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 and work to the extent that we are able. We will recognize the benefits of being able to provide for ourselves, being able to share with those in need, and having a good reputation in the community. Like any other blessing except God, work can assume too much importance in our lives, but work per se is a good and godly thing.
Similarly, if we trust God’s wisdom, we will follow His advice in Proverbs 6:6-11 and go to the ant. Ants aren’t slaves; no government makes ants do anything. However, ants work hard anyway, not only to provide for the present, but to prepare for the future. They store up resources so that even when food isn’t readily available, the colony will continue to survive.
Ants are supposed to be our example. If we learn from them, we won’t be lazy or consume everything we make. Instead, we will store up for tomorrow’s needs like they do. We’ll do it not because we’re amateur entomologists and are impressed with the cleverness of the insect world, but because God tells us that we will be better off if we do.
However, these same activities and attitudes that are provoked by our trust in God are also limited by that trust. I don’t honor myself as the one who provides for my needs; instead, as per Acts 14:17, I honor God as the Giver of all good things. I acknowledge that no matter how hard I work and how diligently I prepare, the future still lies in His hands, not mine.
There’s a sense in which working and trusting seem to be opposed, but I think that’s because most Christians nowadays aren’t farmers. Farmers work, all right! They work about as hard as their bodies will allow them to work (which was even more true back in Bible days). However, despite their work, their success still depends entirely on God. No farmer can make the sun shine and the rain fall and the seeds sprout. God sends rain on the just and the unjust, but no righteous farmer would ever make the mistake of thinking that just because God provided, he didn’t have to work!
More generally, working and trusting aren’t opposed. They’re connected. People can (and often do) work without trusting in God, but everyone who trusts in God will work. Additionally, His generosity does not absolve us of the responsibility to be wise and frugal with the money we earn. Those things can be a sign of trusting in ourselves, but in the godly, they can also be a sign of trusting in Him.