Can God provide?
Published 11:13 pm Friday, July 12, 2019
By Ross Reitz
For adults, Jesus’ hardest teaching may be “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6).
Isn’t that what we do as adults — worry? Aren’t responsible people concerned about material provision for their families? Growing up, I noticed that as the church moved more toward teaching responsibility, we also moved more toward economic gain as evidence that God was blessing us.
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Yet Jesus says that pagans, not His followers, are the ones who base their religion on economic certainty. We think of pagans as irresponsible hippies, floating in and out of jobs, without stable beliefs. But in Jesus’ day, pagans were quite responsible. Pagans built the roads and culture of Greece and Rome. Pagans developed much of the legal system we use today. Pagans simply were people who built their religion around gods who could provide for them.
Pagans wanted to provide for their families — so rural pagans had gods of rain, sun and harvest. Pagans prayed to these gods to calm their anxiety and ensure they had food for their families. In urban areas, these gods became part of the nation, and people prayed to Jupiter, Apollo or the Emperor as a way of praying for their national security and culture.
Today, we often do the same things. Maybe we pray to “Jesus,” but are our prayers any different? Like pagans, do we pray for safety, material possessions or national superiority?
Jesus doesn’t just say we shouldn’t pray to other gods for these things; he specifically tells us not to worry about these things at all. God already knows what we need — so Jesus tells us to skip our list of financial and safety requests and focus on righteousness. What would happen if every time we worried about our bills, we prayed instead for God to bless our enemies? Instead of praying for a new car, we asked God to help the unborn or refugees? Instead of craving the house we can’t afford, we prayed for people hurt by trafficking or abuse?
Of course, it’s easy to say not to worry. It’s hard to actually stop worrying.
Early in our marriage, I was going to school — 19 hours per semester. I was also the only financial provider, so I tried balancing three part-time jobs. I walked home from school — since we had to save gas money — to grab food and run out to my next job. I thought I was being a good Christian by limiting my debt, providing for my wife, and preparing for our future. In reality, I was frazzled, angry, and not like Christ at all.
At the end of that year, I knew I needed to change. I got a new job — only one. I took out more school loans, and I made a budget. But no matter how I worked the numbers, we were short $200 a month. I knew I couldn’t add a second job, so I prayed. The next day, without a word from me to anyone, a man from our church came up to me and said, “God wants me to give you $200 each month until you graduate.”
Even with our full budget, God’s provision was ugly sometimes. We went to food banks. Our car had as much rust as paint. Our families bought my textbooks for our Christmas gifts. And then I graduated into the middle of the recession — with no full-time job for months. But the day before our left-over money from school ran out, I got my first paycheck.
1 Timothy 6 says that false prophets preach that you will get financial gain by following God. Jesus never promises we will get rich. He simply tells us to stop caring about wealth, because God already knows our needs. Instead, Jesus wants us to so completely trust God to provide that we can focus on loving others instead of ourselves.
Ross Reitz has been a Suffolk resident since 2009. Prior to that, he taught the Bible in Africa for two years and spent six years as a teacher at a Christian school in Philadelphia, Pa.