(A three minute read)
Every apparent trial or setback is an opportunity to see God’s grace in action, if I choose it. Or, it can become a source of anxiety, fear and frustration.
Here’s an example
Less than six weeks after moving to London in 2018, I suddenly could not not not find my wallet. I looked everywhere, twice. When I finally realized I seriously could not find it, I had a choice. The choice was about my point of view, not about what to do.
My mind seems to automatically veer toward a worst case scenario. My wallet ‘is missing’ or ‘has been stolen’ or ‘is lost’. If I declare one of these to be true I kick the door open to fear, anxiety and frustration.
But wait a minute. I knew none of those things for sure, so why decide one of them is true? The only thing I knew with 100% certainty was ‘I can’t locate my wallet.’ Inventing the why of it is useless speculation, which takes me away from the truth.
So let’s forget the why, and stick with the what: I can’t locate my wallet. That gives me two paths. I can abdicate choice and react to this, or I can choose to respond to it.
This only effective choice started with the one thing I knew, ‘I can’t find my wallet.’ The circumstances of my separation from it were an enigma. The reason for not finding it, I didn’t know. The circumstances of me finding it again (if I did), also unknown. A circumstance of me finding it at all, who knows? It was all a mystery.
I’m not naturally comfortable with mystery. I can feel fear from the possibilities of ‘missing’, ‘lost’ and ‘stolen’, so I’m foolish to let them drive my action. Feelings aren’t signposts. They are paint thrown on the signpost so I can’t find the way.
Reaction versus response
When I react to the mystery, I abdicate choice, creating anxiety, fretfulness and stress. Reaction is something without thought or process: the doctor taps the tendon across my knee with a rubber mallet and my foot jerks up.
In reacting, the speculation I dwell on becomes a ‘reason’ or ‘a reasonable explanation’. Even though it may be grim, it gives me the illusion of control. However, the reality remains, and the mystery remains. Nothing is gained.
Choosing to embrace the mystery and declare only the truth (I can’t find it) is to trust God that the matter will work out. It’s a response instead of a reaction, and I can rest more comfortably without an answer.
In this scenario, I rest, and wait. Yes, there’s an answer – God’s answer – but it hasn’t arrived yet. I don’t pretend to have control. I’m under no illusion. And nothing is lost.
By having faith, God’s promises can do their work. 1
The response of faith means I accept that all this will work for my good. In reality, there’s no trouble, and no need to fear. My ID can be replaced. My debit card can be canceled and replaced. Maybe the £30 inside the wallet was found by someone who really needed a meal or a kip, instead of a fix.
The response of faith means I trust that God can use all these circumstances for my benefit (and perhaps the benefit of others), even if I don’t see it at the time. 2
Response is something done in relationship, with thought, care and love. It opens me up to God’s grace, so I can be at peace. Reaction defies grace because there’s no relationship involved. It is brute, visceral and unthinking.
Response invites grace because it opens the heart vulnerably, to the full goodness God wants to pour into my life. This is because I choose to trust Him and rely on Him.
Grace wins out
When I was out of contact with my wallet I became dependent on God’s grace whether I liked it or not. After all, the contents of my wallet – my ID, my permission card to reside in the UK, my transit pass, my bank and credit cards, my US driving license, my cash, the other items – represented all my earthly power. For a while, it was all swept away, leaving me dependent on grace. So why not partner with that grace – go with that flow?
At the highest level, I’m not dependent on money, or government documents. I’m dependent on God to safeguard my true identity and give me provender. He gives me life. He gives me breath. My true identity is in my relationship with Him, not with human agencies.
I may have lost contact with my wallet and all it represents. But, because I have a relationship with the Lord, I myself stood unchanged. What passed for earthly control was gone, but the kingdom of God remained at hand. I made the wise choice and grasped it.
After all, it’s much more enduring than the pieces of plastic and paper I use to temporarily navigate the world. And to me, more real.
My wallet? I still haven’t a clue. But I’m comfortable with the mystery.
1. ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ Hebrews 13:5
2. ‘Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!’ Psalm 139:6 (NLT)