Faith should be easier when our lives are untroubled, but sometimes we take our faith for granted during good times. It’s wise to be as attentive to our faith in good times as in bad, because the easier periods let us build the faith resources we need for when difficulties come. Periods of personal blessings do give us a hint of life as God intends it, and in such times, we can also gain strength to help those who are having it rough. Further, we need to tend our faith in good times because contentment often breeds discontent. The final lesson is that our changing circumstances are no measure of our need for God, nor of his love for us.
How’s your life been this year?
That’s a question that has resonance." The stock market too has taken some wild plunges. Some of us now look at our 401k plans with dismay. A lot of pension plans had healthy balances at the start of 2020, but by the opening of 2021, they were worth a lot less. In the months since, some financial ground may have been regained, but by many standards, the high-times bubble has burst.
But maybe not at your house. For many of us, the doom-and-gloom talk goes on only as a backdrop to our lives. It may have little actual effect on us if things are going okay in our personal situation. Sure, your investments may have taken a hit, but unless you are cashing them in this year, the loss is still just on paper. And if you are working, then the unemployment rate at your house is zero, as good as it can be. If our circumstances are pretty good, then that’s the indicator that counts.
Despite local and nationwide calamities, there are always some of us for whom things are going well. A young woman talking to a friend recently said, "You know, I’ve been lucky -- no, not lucky, blessed. I have good parents. I have happy relations at home and a nice husband. All but one of my grandparents are living, and I am in good health myself. I have a lot to be thankful for." Many of us, too, if we take the time to count our blessings, can say something similar. And even if we happen to go through a rough spot now, we can often look back at long periods of smooth sailing.
Being a Christian when things are going well should be easier than when they are not. After all, when life is looking up, we have no cause to doubt God’s goodness or his love -- nor, for that matter, his existence. The prickly questions about our faith usually come during times of personal anguish or inner struggle.
So being a Christian when everything’s coming up roses ought to be easier than during hard times, but experience doesn’t always bear that out.
Consider Jesus’ parable of the rich man. Everything was going great for him. His fields yielded such abundant crops that he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. There was nothing wrong with that.
Where he went astray was in believing that he had it made, that he owed thanks to no one, not even to God, for his good fortune. Of course, we know how the parable ends. When death called, the rich man discovered that his soul was impoverished.
One lesson of the parable is that good times are no time to neglect our faith. In fact, getting careless about our Christianity during easy times leaves us without the resources of faith when tough times come.
Have you ever wondered why, despite the warnings of weather forecasters, some people build their homes in low-lying areas where storm surges can wipe them out? What happens, apparently, is that long periods of good weather lull these homeowners into a false sense of security. There’s been no serious storm in the region for years, and so, we conclude, there’s not going to be. Things will continue as they are.
But, of course, they don’t. You may escape harm for a while, but if you build on coastal plains frequented by hurricanes, you better not count too heavily on retaining your possessions -- and perhaps not even your life -- for very long.
Likewise, we may build our lives counting on things remaining as they are -- and thus we think we don’t need faith -- but we’re likely to hear the same thing the rich man in Jesus’ parable heard: "You fool!"
You see, problems and suffering can help our faith because they hurt us enough to seek the great resources of Christianity. But when we are not hurting, it’s easy to take our faith for granted.
We see the same tendency around the world. In many places, especially in Africa and Muslim countries, Christians are being actively persecuted. In those places, Christian often evidences a higher level of commitment than in locales where Christianity is accepted. Easy times are not necessarily strong times for the church.
Here’s the point: While we wish for prosperity, success, and well-being for all of us, we need to be careful in such times not to take our faith for granted.
In contrast to the rich man who built bigger barns, note the healthy attitude toward success demonstrated by Joseph, whose story is told in Genesis. At one point, he is a servant in the house of Potiphar, a high official in the Egyptian government. It’s a good position for Joseph, and he performs his duties so well that Potiphar makes him the overseer of the house. There are rewards to that position, and so for Joseph, the sun is shining. As the Bible, points out, "the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hands" (Genesis 39:3).
Joseph, however, does not let success blind him and he continues to actively worship God. Thus, when his fortunes change -- and they do a short while later because of false charges brought against him -- his connection to the resources of God is still intact, and they sustain him in the dark days ahead.
Another reason we to feed our faith during times of well-being is because those times give us strength to help others who are going through hard times. Christ calls us to love our neighbor, which can be tough anytime, depending on who our neighbor is, but it’s even harder when we are walking through dark valleys ourselves. It’s true that some people, even in the midst of personal agony, will reach out and help others, but it’s a whole lot easier to do that when we are not personally suffering.
Yet another reason to be attentive to our faith during the happy times is because even those periods are not without their stresses that challenge us. For some of us, contentment breeds discontent. That may seem an odd thing to say, but haven’t you known that to happen in your own life? You come to a period where everything is going pretty well. Like the rich fool, you can say, "Relax, eat, drink, be merry!" But somehow you are not merry. Beneath the surface of your contented life runs a thread of restlessness. Somehow, without the challenge of hard times, you are at less than your best. And you know it, and it gives you no peace. I am hardly suggesting that you should deliberately upset the fruit basket of your life, but at least you need to be aware of the deceptiveness of good times. They are never a reason to forget to tend our soul.
We should also be attentive to our faith during good times because they help us catch a glimpse of the world as God intended it. Whatever else the Garden of Eden story in Genesis tells us, it declares that God intended those human beings would live in happy fellowship with him. Disobedience loused that up, but when we are living lives, we consider blest, we have a hint of reality as God wants it.
And that gives a different perspective on the difficulties that come our way. Some folks will look at the problems of life and say bad stuff just happens. But if you’ve been attentive to your faith during the good times, you can say, "Yes, but grace is part of life too."
Perhaps the best lesson we can learn from the rich fool is that our changing circumstances are no measure of our need for God, nor of his love for us. We are forever in debt to God and always in need of his love. He never owes us anything. Yet his grace comes to us nonetheless.
Here’s an old Irish benediction you may have heard, but I think it asks for the wrong things:
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sunshine be warm upon your face,
the rains fall soft upon your fields,
And, until we meet again --
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.
I’d like to suggest a rewording, more in line with the moral of this parable:
May the strength from the days when the road rises to meet you,
the days when the wind is at your back,
the days when the sunshine is warm upon your face,
the days when the rains fall soft upon your fields,
carry you through the days when you fall on the road,
when the wind blows your house away
when it seems like the sun will never shine again,
and the rains are washing your foundations away.
But in every kind of day -- sunshine or storm -- God holds you in the palm of his hand.
Let’s be thankful for our good days, and let’s make them times to build our faith even stronger.