Enjoy free chapters from both Winter with God and T.W.S. Hunt's upcoming book The Way of Faith.
All's Well That Ends Well
“Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” –Matthew 6:43
Jesus said, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). But many could scoff, That’s easy enough for a God-man to say. Remove the hyphen and subtract the “God,” and man’s troubles quickly become more than sufficient. For we are not, as Dostoyevsky wrote, “creatures who can get used to anything.” We are creatures who are constantly worn down and worried because life is long and complex. It’s busy, and it’s expensive and demanding. But Jesus was not making an observation. He was making a promise: “Come unto me ... and I will give you rest” (11:28).
The peace of Christ isn’t found by looking for it but at it. That is, as the old hymn goes, by “turning our eyes upon Jesus, [and] looking full on His wonderful face.” Only then, do “the things of this world grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” Similarly, His peace is lost when we look away from Him. When we fix our eyes upon our worries, it is the things of the next world that grow strangely dim. A sad fact, because, as C. S. Lewis said, “The Christians who did the most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.”
Worry, if we let it, can become like atheism. It can grow into unbelief about who Jesus is and what Jesus says. This worry acts as if Jesus didn’t exist; or that Jesus isn’t who He says He is. But if we examine this worry, we’ll discover that the reason Jesus isn’t there isn’t because He left, it’s because He wasn’t invited.
Peter recommends “casting all your anxieties on [Jesus], because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Likewise, Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). But if this is too much, we can simply pray, “I believe; help me in my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). For whatever the occasion or extremity—minor or monumental—the love of God is ready to illuminate our darkness. God is like the sun, and we’re the earth. God is always shining but not always seen because He waits for us to turn to Him, just as the dawn awaits the rotation of the earth.
In all things and by all means, we should cast our worries onto God. But even more, we should cast ourselves upon God. For the heart of man belongs in the hands of God. Once it resides there, “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
How Long ?
"The LORD has made everything for its purpose"
The human desire for purpose is as natural as our need for food. If we have a purpose, we can get by with little else; as Nietzsche wrote, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” But the opposite is also true. He who has no purpose has no how or why to live. After all, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). When King David couldn’t discern any purpose behind his suffering, he cried out, “How Long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (Psalm 13:1). And how long will it be for us until the life we believe that we were made for becomes the one we actually get to live? How long will it be until we see God’s purposes come to fruition in what we do, whom we love, where we live, and who we are?
The answer to “how long?” might be very long. The biblical imagery for life and growth is organic, seasonal, and perennial. The growth of a vine, for instance, is gradual. A new vine takes three years before its branches can produce the first grapes fit for wine, and it takes another seven years of pruning before reaching full production. “Be patient, therefore,” wrote James. “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth ... until it receives the early and the late rains” (James 5:7). Be patient, when there is no rain at all—no hope of purpose or fulfillment in life—because in times of drought a vine’s roots grow stronger as it digs for moisture. In the future, the wine produced by these grapes tastes better, not worse, for having experienced drought. And the same is true for the dryness we experience when our lives seem to lack direction or meaning. The absence of purpose can produce an abundance of character because who we are isn’t dependent on what we do.
Jesus said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit” (John 15:5 NIV). This harvest might come when the conditions seem just right, when the vines are ready to be picked, and the wine to be produced. Instead, the harvest might be delayed until winter—when our hopes and dreams are frozen on the vine—because God has a special vintage in mind. This will probably seem like too little or too late, but as every spiritual sommelier knows, God is, in fact, making ice wine: an exquisite drink of terrific sweetness, which is produced through terrible stress. As Adam Gopnik explains, “Every winter, the grapes ... are left [on the vine] not merely to chill but to freeze ... and the brutal cold forces all the natural sugar into the core of the grape, where it waits to be pressed out.” So long as the fruit remains on the vine, the temporary pain contributes to the winemaker’s true purpose: the world’s most remarkable wine.
Faith Speaks Through Prayer
"Be still"–Psalm 46:10
If love is the life of faith, surely prayer is it’s language. For there is nothing so essential to faith as prayer, since faith is essentially a relationship, not merely a belief. To not pray to God—whom we love and who loves us so much more—is like a child not talking to their parents or a spouse who remains silent at the dinner table.
Prayer is the language of faith, but it is nevertheless spoken with syllables of sound as well as silence. For prayer consists of things both said and unsaid, because love doesn’t necessarily have to talk in order to communicate. In fact, there is both serenity and reassurance in the stillness of silence, because we don’t have to fear the dreaded sound of a Zeus-like thunderbolt.
Nor do we have to fear that the distance between us will ultimately divide us. For just as there is a physical phenomenon called quantum entanglement, which as Marilynne Robinson explains, means that, “Particles that are ‘entangled,’ however distant from one another, undergo the same changes simultaneously.”1 So there is a similar phenomenon that occurs during prayerful silence, when the Spirit that entangles our hearts with the heart of God, shares a simultaneous love that no longer needs to be declared. It is the kind of love that can abide without having to confide, which can be enjoyed without silence being destroyed. For it’s a moment when nothing has to be said and nothing needs to be done; it’s the moment we see that love is what binds us together.
There are moments of silence, however, when our hushed serenity is supplanted by muted anxiety. It can stem from a fear—common in relationships—that when there is nothing left to say there is no reason left to stay. It’s based on the concern that a communication of words, rather than a communion of love, was the thing keeping us together. But that is not the case with God, because the basis of God’s love for us is not how lovable we are—nor even how much we love God—but instead it’s based on the fact that, “God is love” (1 John 4:8 NIV).
Love is what holds us together in silence, but it is also what allows us to accept God’s absence, which seems like the ultimate silence. For the presence of God—the kind we feel—blows like a wind wherever it wishes. “[But] you who love Him,” as Thomas Merton wrote, “must love Him as arriving from where you do not know and going where you do not know... Otherwise you do not respect His liberty to come and go as He pleases.”2 But such love still requires prayer—since prayer is precisely how we wait upon the Lord. Indeed, without prayer, there would be no substance behind the silence.